It isn’t easy to review Microsoft’s least interesting product release of the fall.
A few weeks ago, Microsoft pulled another October surprise, unveiling the big-screen, all-in-one Surface Studio. It’s a stunner few of us can wait to get our hands on.
The state of the laptop race
If one were to compare Microsoft to Apple at this laptop juncture, you might say that Apple is compressing while Microsoft is staying static or expanding just a bit. There is no shedding of legacy ports for the Redmond-based Windows parent. Microsoft’s updated Surface Book kept the SD card slot, two USB-3 ports and Display Port.
And while the Surface Book with Performance Base is virtually the same size as the last model — 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.9 inches — the new laptop is slightly heavier than the old one. The first Surface Book weighed 3.48 pounds with a Core i7 CPU. The new Core i7 system I tested weighs 3.63 pounds. By contrast, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro weighs 3 pounds (a half-pound lighter than the last MacBook Pro).
Don’t misunderstand me. I still love this laptop. It’s smartly designed with solid, magnesium chassis and an excellent, high-resolution (3,000 x 2,000), 13.5-inch touchscreen that is up for anything. It’s big enough for multi-window work (Twitter in Chrome or Microsoft Edge and Word) and a great drawing canvas with 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity. I love that I can pull off the screen (there’s a dedicated keyboard button), flip it around, reattach it and use it to watch movies or as an angled drawing surface.
What the Performance Base adds, though, is something that pro users were craving: better graphics performance and longer battery life.
You see, the Surface Book has always been like one-and-a-half computers in one. The tablet/clipboard is a standalone touch computer with the Core i7 chip and integrated Intel HD graphics. The base houses a big GPU upgrade — now the Nvidia GTX 965M — and a lot more battery power. The last Surface Book boasted 12 hours of battery life. The Performance Base can, according to Microsoft, get you up to 16.
Obviously, battery life varies widely based on activity. You may get 16 hours if all you do is watch videos. But with a mix of productivity work, drawing and gaming, between 10 and 12 is far more likely. My battery life usually ran between 9 and 14 hours. I got 9 when I played Forza for a couple of hours. Also, the system did get a little hot on the base during those gameplay sessions.