It’s been roughly two months of ownership over a Microsoft Surface Book, the laptop version of the tablet that replaces laptops. Chew on that for a few minutes. Marketing issues aside, the device has been a complete success for me and has replaced my much loved Surface Pro 3 for everything but desktop Netflix watching. That said, life with the new hardware has not been without problems or unwanted surprises. The short of it is that while the hardware brilliantly fills a gap in Microsoft’s ecosystem, the software layer that supports it leaves a lot to be desired.
I’ve owned a Surface Pro 3 essentially since the launch of the device and have used it tremendously while traveling or visiting clients. The keyboard/kickstand and pen trick is definitely fantastic. A big part of this “review” is comparing the importance of factual data and more subjective points; having a kickstand and not needing a lumpy case that adds to the overall size & weight is a huge win. My mother’s iPad case is falling apart, but my SP3’s stand is still going strong. But as good as the Surface Pro 3 was, the keyboard was always lacking that professional feel. The new Surface 4 keyboard has helped, but only in an iterative way you’d expect.
“If you own or are purchasing a Surface Pro 3, the new Surface 4 keyboard is a must-buy.”
Enter the Surface Book: a device designed to fix the shortcomings of the Surface Pro while remaining squarely in the Laplet (laptop + tablet) category. In this sense is it 100% a success. Where as I would normally use the MacBook Pro as the bar for professional looking and feeling ecosystem, the Surface Book exceeds in all areas. Going back to my fiancé’s MacBook now leaves me feeling as though I’m playing with a late 90’s Dell.
The number one reason for me either enjoying or hating a laptop device is the usability of the trackpad. While some are infatuated with the Lenovo hardware, I simply loathe it. My Lenovo always ghost clicks and the additional buttons simply get in the way. My Dell’s have had similar problems or have not had the accuracy and sensitivity compared to the Apple counterparts. I love the Surface Book, if for no reason other than its amazing trackpad. It is precise, sensitive, never ghost clicks and the builtin hard clicks are well proportioned.
While the hardware looks great, feels fantastic and responds quickly, the problems seem to start as soon as you hit the power button. At least, that’s what the community would have you believe. With titans like Paul Thurrott openly complaining about BSODs and general failures, you were seen as crazy for being an early adopter.
That’s exactly what I did – I bought as early as I could – and I’ve only had a single BSOD to date. There is a lot that can be said about this. My shipment was delayed until the second hardware revision, so there is a chance I’ve simply been “lucky.” I’m in the insider ring, so there is a chance I’ve had updates that main consumers may not received. And finally, it’s common that the loudest voices in a community are those who are having problems, and rightfully so. Certainly in that respect, I have not, until now, spoken anything positive (or negative) regarding my experience.
“I love the Surface Book, if for no reason other than its amazing trackpad.”
But perhaps more importantly is that, as a software engineer, I am incredibly tolerant of a device or software having issues, especially in the first iteration. The fact is that Microsoft simply cannot replicate all the use cases that a million consumers will throw at the device. When comparing or considering any device, it’s important not only to look at the factual information (how much battery life does it get?) but also the personal and emotional experience with that device. Microsoft drives that home with Windows 10 and specifically Windows Hello, a new chunk of software and hardware that authenticates users with facial recognition. And it works better than you would expect. In Apple-talk, it simply works. I’ve been in hooded sweatshirts, hats, no hates, buzzed head, bearded, and all sorts of variations and it has, without a single fault, logged me in every single time. It’s just that smooth.
Unlike others in the community, this is where my problems start. While Windows 10 is a fantastic iteration on the revolution, there are parts that feel like slapware and abandonware. For instance, when the OS updates, why is it that I need to sit through a minute long “reintroduction” to my desktop, telling me that my files are in the same place, as if that would ever be in doubt? And why has Edge still not received significant updates several months after its launch? When I open a new tab why am I still facing the age old question of whether or not my cursor will be placed in the search box? While the new control panel interface is touch friendly, I’m still stuck going through the old UX to scan paper from my Canon MX880 because the functionality (provided via right click) just isn’t available otherwise. But there are workarounds and the percentage of my life that these issues plague is incredibly low. Most of my time is spent in Chrome, Visual Studio, Office, and Adobe software. And those are wonderful and smooth and run beautifully on the Surface Book.
In the end, it simply doesn’t matter what device has the best screen, the best keyboard, the best CPU or the best battery life. What matters most is how you use it and how often it is used. For me, the Surface Book gets used everyday and used to develop software. It excels at what it does and there is no other device I’d rather have in its place.