Today is a big day at Microsoft, because the company revealed the Surface Book, Microsoft’s first ever laptop. With its 13.5 inch display packing 3,000 x 2,000 pixels (3:2 aspect ratio, which is great for photography) the screen is very impressive with 267 pixels per inch. And since this machine just like the Surface Pro and Surface 3 can run the full version of Windows 10, you can run any calibration software to get the color precision you need. The cool thing about the Surface Book is that you can use it both as a tablet and a laptop – something Apple MacBook Pro cannot compete with. That’s a neat feature, because some tasks, like online browsing do not require a keyboard, so the ability to disconnect the screen from the keyboard is amazing. The keyboard module is not just a keyboard – it is actually another shell that hosts another battery and an optional NVIDIA graphics card (GPU), which is something I did not expect to see. This means that the Surface Book will be perfectly usable not only for gaming, but also for many challenging tasks, including 3D modeling. GPU speed was the weakness of the Surface Pro line and a lot of people have been asking for a way to hook up an external GPU. Looks like Microsoft listened and delivered. There is, however, a caveat with the tablet vs full laptop mode: since the larger capacity battery sits in the keyboard shell, the battery life is greatly diminished, with the tablet only being able to run for up to 3 hours. Still, that’s pretty darn impressive for such a small powerhouse. And speaking of battery life, once you hook up the keyboard, you will be able to get up to 12 hours of battery life!
In terms of its core capabilities, the Surface Book is a very impressive machine. Sporting Intel’s sixth generation “Skylake” processors, you can expect the Surface Book to be a performance monster, since Skylake not only delivers faster performance than its predecessors, but also better battery life and lower heat generation – all huge pluses for any laptop design. The lower-end version of the Surface Book will feature a Core i5 CPU and you can move up to a Core i7 to get the best performance. On top of that, you will be able to get up to 16 GB of RAM and up to 1 TB of SSD storage, which is what I have been hoping to see, as 8 GB of RAM is quite limiting nowadays with memory-hungry applications. With more RAM And GPU power, there is a lot you can do with the Surface Book – it is hard to believe that Microsoft was able to squeeze all this technology into a machine that is lighter than the Surface Pro 3. You can easily connect it to an external display via the Mini DisplayPort (you can push 4K or more resolution) and since DisplayPort can be daisy-chained, you can hook up multiple external screens! If you have external devices, the Surface Book will feature two full-size USB 3.0 ports and a full-size SD card reader. Yes, no more external SD card readers taking up the USB port. Due to space constraints, all of these external ports will be sitting in the keyboard shell. And if you want even more ports, you will be able to get a separate docking station: Microsoft’s Surface Dock.
Similar to the Surface Pro 3, the Surface Book will feature two cameras – a 5 MP front-facing camera and an 8 MP rear-facing camera with autofocus and up to 1080p HD video recording capabilities. The surface pen, which has 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, will also be included with the Surface Book. If you already have a Surface Pro 3, you will not have to worry about additional adapters and third party chargers / accessories, as the Surface Book will feature the same Surface Connect port.
In terms of price points, the lower-end configuration with 128 GB SSD storage, Intel Core i5 and 8 GB of RAM will retail for $1,499 and the best configuration with 512 GB SSD storage, Intel Core i7 and 16 GB of RAM + dedicated NVIDIA GPU will be sold for a hefty $2,699. While that’s a bit pricier than Apple’s high-end MacBook Pro, keep in mind that Apple has not yet refreshed its MacBook Pro line with sixth generation Intel CPUs yet. Plus, Apple will most likely continue making MacBook Pro as a regular laptop, which means no touch-screen capability and all the hardware sitting under the keyboard, which is a deal breaker for me personally – I have little tolerance for the heat generated by laptops when putting them on my lap, as detailed in this article. Lastly, it is pretty clear that Adobe provides a lot more support for NVIDIA GPUs than AMD, so if you do any serious work in Lightroom or Premiere Pro, you will be better off going with NVIDIA. All in all, the Surface Book set a high bar today in the computer world and it looks like Apple will have a hard time surpassing the performance of the Surface Book with its upcoming MacBook Pro line. Unless Apple has something really special planned this fall, which I doubt is the case.
Congrats to Microsoft for making a very functional, powerful, and yet a highly desirable device. In my opinion, the Surface Book is a game-changer, particularly for us photographers. No more heavy and oversized laptops to take on remote jobs and travel – the Surface Book looks like an ideal machine, with plenty of juice to run Lightroom and Photoshop.
You can pre-order Microsoft’s Surface Book starting today from Microsoft’s Online Store.