Microsoft Surface Book 2 13.5in full review

Microsoft recently announced the Surface Laptop 2. It’s a traditional laptop, albeit with a touchscreen, which makes it a bit different to the design of the Surface Book 2 which is really a tablet that has a detachable keyboard.

However, unlike the Surface Pro 6 (and previous models) it is probably the best example of a 2-in1 hybrid laptop / tablet we’ve seen and works well in both modes.

You do pay a premium for it: it’s a high-end machine that’s aimed at power users.

Surface Book 2 vs Surface Laptop 2

The Surface Laptop 2, on the other hand, is pitched more at those who want a laptop like the MacBook Air, and is more affordable than the Surface Book. It’s stylish and minimalist: you won’t find much in the way of ports and connectors, and is instead designed to provide the best “Windows experience”.

You can read our review of the Surface Book 2 as well as our Surface Laptop review. We’ve yet to review the Laptop 2, but there are hardly any differences in this second-gen model: just a newer processor and a screen with improved contrast. If you count it as a difference, the new model comes in black, whereas the older one doesn’t.

Price

Here’s what you’ll pay for each model. We haven’t listed every available version here: just those where the core specs are the same.

You can buy the Surface Laptop 2 and Surface Book 2 direct from Microsoft's website.

 

Surface Book 2 (13.5)

Surface Book 2 (15)

Surface Laptop 2

Core i5 / 8GB / 128GB

N/A / US$1,199

N/A

£979 / US$999

Core i5 / 8GB / 256GB

£1,499 / US$1,499

N/A

£1,249 / US$1,299

Core i7 / 16GB / 512GB

£2,499 / US$2,499

£2,749 / US$2,899

£2,079 / US$2,199

Core i7 / 16GB / 1TB

£2,999 / US$2,999

£3,149 / US$3,299

£2,529 / US$2,699

It’s fairly obvious, then, that these are top-end laptops which don’t come cheap. But don’t assume they’re vastly overpriced compared to other laptops that have similar specifications: you’re paying for the premium materials here along with excellent-quality screens and top-notch battery life.

That’s not to say there aren’t alternatives: look to the Dell XPS 13 for a cheaper version of the Surface Laptop 2 and try the Lenovo Yoga 920 if you want a 2-in-1, though note that it doesn’t have a detachable screen like the Surface Book.

Features & design

Compare the 13.5in models and the Surface Book 2 is a similar size and weight to the Surface Laptop 2. Nothing hugely surprising there. However, and we can’t overstate this, the Surface Book 2 looks and feels like a normal laptop even enough you can release the screen and turn it into a Windows 10 Pro tablet. In tablet mode, it's a useful design tool, especially when paired with a Surface Dial and Surface Pen as shown below.

Surface Book 2 vs Surface Laptop 2

The Surface Book 2's keyboard has a touchpad, a feature missing from quite a few 2-in-1 devices, and also a built-in battery. This is why it can offer up to 17 hours of battery life, but it’s important to remember that you’ll have to charge it sooner if you’re only using the tablet part without the keyboard.

Strangely enough, models with Nvidia graphics chips have this built into the keyboard as well, so you only have the built-in Intel graphics available if the keyboard is detached.

Surface Book 2 vs Surface Laptop 2

The Surface Laptop 2 (below) is lighter and has a fabric-covered keyboard surround so is quite a different-looking beast. The screen doesn’t tilt all that far back which means it isn’t as useful as a touchscreen, despite being compatible with the Surface Pen. The Pen is optional with both devices and costs £99.99 / US$99.99.

Surface Book 2 vs Surface Laptop 2

Specs and hardware

This table shows a summary of the key specs for each device.

 

Surface Book 2

Surface Laptop 2

Screen

13.5in or 15in

13.5in

Memory

8 or 16GB

8 or 16GB

Processor

Intel Core i5 (7th gen) or Core i7 (8th gen)

Intel Core i5 / i7 8th-gen

Storage

128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB

128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB

OS

Windows 10 Pro

Windows 10 Home

Ports

2x USB 3.1, USB-C, headphone, 2x Surface Connect, SD reader

1x USB 3, headphone, mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect

Dimensions

13.5in: 312 mm x 232 mm x 13 mm-23 mm

15in: 343 mm x 251 mm x 15 mm-23 mm

308 mm x 223 mm x 14 mm

Weight

1.6kg (13.5in), 1.9kg (15in)

<1.3kg

Colours

Silver

Black, Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue

Battery life

Up to 17 hours

Up to 14.5 hours

Connectivity is something of a sticking point for many people considering a Surface Laptop 2. There’s just one USB 3 port, no SD or microSD reader and no USB-C port. On the Surface Book you get a pair of USB 3 ports, a full-size SDXC card reader and USB-C.

Screen resolution is higher on the Surface Book, but you get the same 3:2 aspect ratio that you’ll find on all Surfaces including the Surface Pro. As mentioned already, these are excellent-quality screens with accurate colours, great brightness, contrast and viewing angles.

Surface Book 2 vs Surface Laptop 2

It’s unlikely that you will notice the difference between Windows 10 Home and Pro, so that should only be a factor in your decision if this will be a work device that needs to connect to a company domain: Windows 10 Home can’t join a domain.

It’s worth noting that the original Surface Laptop came with Windows 10 S, a version Microsoft has all but abandoned and which limited you to installing apps from the Windows Store. The idea was sound, but the Store simply doesn’t have the breadth of choice necessary to make Windows 10 S a success.

Surface Book 2 vs Surface Laptop 2
Surface Laptop 2 in Cobalt Blue

If you care about processors, know that the Surface Book 2 is the older model here and only the Core i7 versions benefit from 8th-gen chips. The Core i5 models have 7th-gen processors which are approaching their ‘best-before’ date. They’re not slow, but it doesn’t really make sense to spend a lot of money on a laptop with a processor that (pretty soon) will be two generations old.

Another oddity about the Surface Book is that it has built-in Xbox Wireless support. So you can connect an Xbox controller and play games on it. We’re still not sure who would pick a Surface Book as a gaming laptop, but with the GeForce GTX 1050 and 1060 GPUs on offer in various models, there’s certainly enough grunt on offer for some play time after work time.

Verdict

These are fundamentally different machines even if they both appear to be laptops on the surface – no pun intended.

The Surface Book is intended as a work machine for those who need both a tablet and a laptop but don’t want to carry two devices. The entry-level 13.5in model doesn’t have the Nvidia GPU, which is one reason why it’s cheaper. Conversely, there is no entry-level 15in model: they’re all expensive and well-specified.

If you don’t need a tablet, buying a Surface Book is probably overkill and you’ll find you can buy a laptop with the same or better specifications for less, whether you want it for work or gaming.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13.5in: Specs

  • Windows 10 Pro Creators Update
  • 13.5in screen with 3:2 aspect ratio. 3000x2000 pixel resolution
  • Intel Core i5 (7th-gen) or Core i7 (8th-gen) processor
  • Intel HD Graphics 620 (Core i5) or Nvidia GTX 1050 (Core i7)
  • 8/16GB RAM
  • 256GB/512GB/1TB SSD
  • 2x full-size USB 3.0 ports
  • USB-C
  • Full-size SD slot
  • 8Mp rear camera, 5Mp front camera
  • Dual microphones
  • Headphone port
  • Front-facing stereo speakers
  • 802.11ac WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • 1.53kg (Core i5) 1.64kg (Core i7)
  • Windows 10 Pro Creators Update
  • 13.5in screen with 3:2 aspect ratio. 3000x2000 pixel resolution
  • Intel Core i5 (7th-gen) or Core i7 (8th-gen) processor
  • Intel HD Graphics 620 (Core i5) or Nvidia GTX 1050 (Core i7)
  • 8/16GB RAM
  • 256GB/512GB/1TB SSD
  • 2x full-size USB 3.0 ports
  • USB-C
  • Full-size SD slot
  • 8Mp rear camera, 5Mp front camera
  • Dual microphones
  • Headphone port
  • Front-facing stereo speakers
  • 802.11ac WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • 1.53kg (Core i5) 1.64kg (Core i7)