Four years ago when Microsoft released the first generation of their Surface line-up of tablet computers, I gave Surface RT a try. While I was pleased with the hardware construction of the device, I was deeply disappointed how few apps that they actually worked on the RT version of Windows.
In 2015, after several re-iterations of the Surface line-ups, Microsoft finally made a full laptop version: the Surface Book. It is convertible laptop, the screen can be detached and used on its own as a tablet, while when its docked on the keyboard, it has extra battery and a dedicated GPU chip. Being the nerd as I am, I immediately jumped on getting my hand on one of these devices.
In November of 2015, I bought myself a C$2700 Surface Book with a dedicated GPU.
Hardware: I only have one thing to say - amazing.
The laptop is light, chassis is rigid, and beautifully put together. Currently Apple's 13-inch MacBook line-up does not have anything that can match this 12 and half inch Microsoft laptop. First of all it has the latest Intel Skylake processor, Apple hasn't got that on any of their Macbooks yet. Secondly, it has a dedicated GPU. If you want a dedicated GPU on a MacBook you would have to go to the larger and much heavier 15-inch MacBook Pro. So in terms of combining a light weight compact laptop with processing power, the Surface Book is a hands down win and months ahead of Apple.
The cool new features such as the detachable screen/keyboard works really well. the display is fantastic. The laptop is dead quite for simple tasks like browsing, and only turns the fan on when running heavier tasks such as gaming and film editing. The keyboard is as good as any you would find on the Apple MacBook Pro line-up. The stylus is superb and works really well, although I do not like some of the default Windows settings pertaining to the stylus.
Software: where things start to fall apart.
I like where Microsoft is going with the Windows 10. They have definitely made it better than the Windows 8, which was at times confusing even for someone like me who has been using Windows all my life. Some major improvement includes a better Start menu (over what was on Windows 8), integration of a number of productivity apps such as Weather, Mail, Calendar, and a contact book. This is something that had been missing from Windows for years, and one would have to buy the Office Outlook before - now these are standard on Windows 10, to match those that come with Apple's OS X.
- Search: improved, but not as good as Mac's Spotlight
Microsoft has also made significant improvement on its search function, there is even the voice assistant called Cortana. It kind of reminds me of the movie 'Her' (I can see nerds falling in love with Cortana in the years to come). Now with the search function, you can search for system settings, web, and files on your hard drive. I'm not sure if this was the same as on Windows 8, but definitive better than the Search function on Windows 7. However, it is not quite yet as powerful as Apple OS X's Spotlight search. It does not search in the content of the files on your hard drive, it only looks at the file name ... something for Microsoft to improve on.
- Firmware not ready, feels like a beta product
There had been so many problems related firmware driver crashing right out of box that I thought I had bought a lemon. Luckily after installing updates most of these issues have disappeared. Few that remained are not critical but absolutely adds to the user experience frustration.
- OS does not sleep properly, causing heavy battery drain during sleep mode
The biggest problem is with Windows sleep. The computer doesn't go to sleep as it is supposed to. It consumes about 3% battery per hour even when it's sleeping. It turns out it's a Windows issue, they haven't figured out how to put the Intel CPU in deep stage of sleep and some tasks are running from time to time, causing the battery to drop. The funny thing is that the battery life on the Surface Book is actually quite good, so some users have reported worse battery life during sleep than during light use such as browsing! The work around for this is to set Windows to hibernation instead of sleep, luckily Surface Book resumes from hibernation fairly fast - although not instant.
- Improved touch pad, but still lacks behind Mac in software support for advanced gesture
While the Surface touch pad works really well for scrolling and zooming with two fingers. Those who are use to the gestures on the OS X will be disappointed with the Surface. While I'm sure the hardware is capable of anything that Apple's laptops do, the Windows 10 does not have sufficient gesture support. Windows 10 does not support 3-finger dragging, 4-finger desktop switch, etc. All of these little things do add up, and get in the way of productivity. While there are work around to most of these, they do not feel as natural as on a OS X.
Verdict: Windows 10 needs improvement
Overall, I think the Surface Book has got some of the best hardware and so beautifully put together in such a light weight and portable format. However it fell short on the software most due to Windows 10 being so new and full of issues that have yet to be addressed by Microsoft.
After almost two months of use, I decided to return the Surface Book and get a 15-inch MacBook Pro instead. I know the 15-inch MacBook Pro has older CPU, has shorter battery life, and heavier. But the seamless personal experience delivered by OS X makes up for everything that the Surface Book does better than the MacBook. In the end, although Surface Book has superior hardware than MacBook in almost every way, it leaves much to be desired when it comes to the operating system stability and features.