Microsoft Surface Book review: Premium but problematic

Alex Kidman 20 November 2015

Microsoft’s first laptop is super stylish, but also very unstable.

Historically Microsoft’s been a software company whose only hardware interests lay in a range of productivity peripherals and its Xbox line of gaming consoles.

The launch of the Surface line saw the operating systems giant dabble in premium laptops for the first time, but with tablet sensibilities, as the Surface and Surface Pro systems offered keyboards as an optional extra. To date, Surface PCs have always been tablets with laptop options, but the Surface Book approaches the idea from the other side as a laptop that also works in tablet modes.

Here are the core specifications for the Microsoft Surface Book alongside the new Surface Pro 4:

ModelSurface BookSurface Pro 4
Display13.5in12.3in
Resolution3000 x 20002736 x 1824
Pixels per inch267ppi267ppi
Weight1516g766-786g
Rear camera8.0MP8.0MP
Front camera5.0MP5.0MP
ProcessorIntel Core i5/i7Intel Core M3/i5/i7
Memory8GB/16GB4GB/8GB/16GB
Storage128/256/512GB SSD128/256/512GB SSD
BatteryUp to 12 hoursUp to 9 hours
SoftwareWindows 10 ProWindows 10 Pro
PriceFrom $2,299From $1,349

MicrosoftSurfaceBook

Upsides: Why you’d want the Microsoft Surface Book

  • Great physical design: The Surface Book’s design includes a very nicely built flexible hinge, high resolution display screen and the kind of external connectivity that you’d expect out of a laptop, rather than the more limited connectivity approach of most tablets.
  • Choice of laptop or tablet modes: Like the Surface Pro, the Surface Book allows for direct tablet usage when you remove the screen, giving it some considerable work flexibility, at least in theory.
  • Excellent keyboard: The Surface Pro keyboard is decent, but the Surface Book keyboard is genuinely superb, with a light and quiet touch, plenty of key travel and good key spacing making it a great option for touch typists.
  • Decent battery life: The Surface Book comes with two inbuilt batteries, split between the tablet display and the keyboard dock. Both charge from the laptop base for a claimed 12 hour battery life, although we did have some issues readily testing this aspect of performance.
  • Integrated or discrete graphics: In its tablet form, the Surface Book relies on Intel’s HD graphics solution, but when plugged into the base dock, it can also draw on a custom NVIDIA GPU for additional processing power. This isn’t just applicable to games, but could also be useful for heavy duty image or video processing. It’s notably absent from the cheapest Surface Book in Australia at this time, however.
  • Optimised for Windows 10: As you might expect for a premium laptop designed to show off what Windows 10 can do, the Surface Book supports just about every feature you'd care to name, from the Cortana virtual assistant to Windows Hello for unlocking. It also supports the newest model of Microsoft's excellent Surface Pen if you have artistic needs or just like jotting down notes rather than typing them.

Downsides: Why you might not want the Microsoft Surface Book

  • Serious instability problems: Microsoft has something of a history with the first version of a given product, and sadly the Surface Book suffers from this a lot. We struggled to simply get the Surface Book to install at first, and then it hit a recurring problem where the screen detach function failed to work.
    Despite the presence of a physical button to start the screen removal process, the actual removal is handled by software. It’s a necessary step because of the integrated Nvidia GPU, because it has to allow any apps using it to be gracefully stopped or swap to the Intel GPU as needed, but all too often the driver misbehaves. Sometimes it decided that we weren’t connected when we were, allowing the display to charge but not to use the keyboard. Sometimes it was the reverse, where it would allow us to use the keyboard but not charge the tablet section, while simultaneously being physically unable to separate the screen from the keyboard.
    Instability also stopped us being able to adequately test real world battery life, because every time we tried to set up a battery looping test, the Surface Book would crash before it could conclude the test. By way of contrast, running the Surface Pro 4 through the same tests turned up no such issues, and there are numerous online reports that mirror our experiences with the Surface Book.
  • Very thin profile: Thin laptops are nothing new, but Microsoft’s shaved every possible millimetre from the Surface Book that it could while still retaining USB port compatibility. The challenge here is that when the Surface Book sits on a desk there’s very little clearance for those USB ports, which means some peripherals (especially chunkier USB drives) won’t sit neatly on the desk when plugged in.
  • Limited availability: Microsoft's only supplying the Surface Book through its single retail location and via online sales in Australia. Aside from potential stock issues, the other problem here is that if you do need after-sales support, you've either got to be in Sydney or deal with online support if anything goes wrong with the Surface Book.

Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?

If you’re a professional user who needs the full power of a laptop not met by the excellent Surface Pro 4, the Surface Book could be a good purchase option, but we’d be wary of dropping significant cash on it given its early instability problems. It’s very much a "version one" type product at this stage, and while Microsoft may patch away its issues, we’d suggest buying a premium product that delivers premium performance out of the box.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 from Microsoft Store

With its 12.3-inch PixelSense touchscreen, Windows 10 operating system and interchangeable Surface Pen tips, the Surface Pro 4 looks to improve upon every aspect that made its predecessor so popular.

View details

Microsoft Surface Book from Microsoft Store

Is it a laptop, or is it a tablet? It's both. The 13.5-inch Surface Book is a high-performance laptop with the unprecedented versatility of a tablet.

View details

That field is quite wide, and if you like Microsoft’s general Surface approach, you could buy the top-end Surface Pro 4 as a very solid, very stable alternative. The Surface Book’s premium pricing puts it at the top of the tier of available Windows laptops, so virtually any other laptop could be yours, but if you’re after a system with a hybrid feel, consider Lenovo’s Yoga Pro lines or Toshiba’s Portege offerings.

Where can I get it?

Microsoft sells the Surface Book in Australia exclusively through its single retail store in Sydney, as well as online through its Microsoft store. Unlike the Surface Pro 4, it is not currently available through other retailers.

More great ideas from finder.com.au

Get a life insurance quote
Get a life insurance quote

Find out what it costs to protect yourself and your family

More info...
Refinancing home loans
Refinancing home loans

Choose from offers with rates as low as 3.39% p.a.

More info...
Google Pixel
Google Pixel

Compare plans for Google's flagship Android phone

More info...
Christmas ideas
Christmas ideas

Visit our Christmas homepage for gift ideas, markets, travel & deals

More info...

Ask a Question

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Disclaimer: At finder.com.au we provide factual information and general advice. Before you make any decision about a product read the Product Disclosure Statement and consider your own circumstances to decide whether it is appropriate for you.
Rates and fees mentioned in comments are correct at the time of publication.
By submitting this question you agree to the finder.com.au privacy policy, receive follow up emails related to finder.com.au and to create a user account where further replies to your questions will be sent.

Ask a question
feedback