Surface Book Hands-on: Meet Microsoft's MacBook Pro Killer

NEW YORK - Microsoft is going right after the MacBook Pro with its first-ever laptop. The company says this is the fastest 13-inch laptop ever made, offering a 13.5-inch touch display, an optional Nvidia GPU and up to 12 hours of battery life. But unlike the MacBook Pro, this laptop has a detachable screen, so it can double as a tablet.

The Surface Book will start at $1,499 when it goes on sale October 26th. Pre-orders start October 7th. We had a chance to go hands-on with the Surface Book, and it looks like a very compelling premium laptop for those looking for something more versatile than a traditional clamshell. However, going from laptop to tablet mode could be easier.

The Surface Book boasts a precision glass trackpad and backlit keys that Microsoft says are very quiet. During my hands-on time with a unit, the keys didn't make a peep. However, the layout felt a little shallower than I'd like.

Really, it's all about the speed. In fact, Microsoft claims that the Core i5 or Core i7-powered Surface Book is twice as fast as the MacBook Pro. The notebook also employes a PCIe SSD, which is at least twice as fast as traditional, SATA-based drives. and comes in capacities ranging from 128GB to 1TB. The system had no problem keeping up with my scribbles as I used the pen, and I loved that I could press the button in the air to summon Cortana.

This Microsoft notebook sports a very unique fulcrum hinge that allows it to be detachable. This feels very secure when the display is attached. In fact, I had no problem lifting the system by its display. However, the trade-off is that you need to detach the screen with a long press of a button on the keyboard. This is not as seamless as the Surface Pro 4, which is a cinch to just tear apart when you're ready to leave the keyboard behind. 

The screen on the Surface Book's 13.5-inch display is exactly 3000 x 2000 pixels for a density of 267 PPI. The company also claims that the display can show 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut. Close up, the screen looked gorgeous, with bold hues and ultra-wide viewing angles. 

The GPU in the Surface Book is in the base, as are the full-size USB ports, a full-size SD card slot and a mini DisplayPort out. The Surface Book has two cameras, a front-facing 5-MP shooter that supports Windows Hello face authentication and a rear-facing 8-MP lens.

The tablet portion of the Surface Book is just 1.6 pounds and 7.7mm thick., but that weight grows to 3.34 or 3.48 pounds (with GPU) when you attach the base.  The slate felt incredibly light given the large display. Even with the GPU, the Surface Book weighs the same as the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

The Surface Book will be available in five configurations, ranging in price from $1,499 to $2,699. The base config comes with an Intel 6th Generation Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD while the highest-end model has a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and an Nvidia graphics card. Microsoft has yet to disclose which model of graphics card and which Core i5 and Core i7 SKUs it is using.

Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.