Microsoft Surface Laptop vs. Surface Book: Which Is Right for You?

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Of Microsoft’s two laptops, the newer Surface Laptop (starting at $999, available June 15) is getting all the buzz. It’s sleek, comes in a wide range of colors and features a soft Alcantara fabric that will turn heads. It’s also fairly well equipped for the price. However, the Surface Book (starting at $1,499) is the more versatile powerhouse, packing beefier specs and more ports in a detachable 2-in-1 design. The question isn’t which Microsoft laptop is better, but which one is better for you.

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Surface Laptop vs. Surface Book: Specs

Microsoft Surface Laptop Microsoft Surface Book
Price Range $999 to $2,199 $1,499 to $3,299
Weight & Thickness 2.8 pounds, 0.6 inches thick 3.3 pounds, 0.9 inches thick
Colors Platinum, burgundy, cobalt blue, graphite gold (colors other than platinum are available only at the $1,299 level) Silver
Materials Aluminum, Alcantara keyboard deck Magnesium
Display 13.5 inches, 2256 x 1504 13.5 inches, 3000 x 2000
Ports USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, headphone jack Two USB 3.0 ports, full-size SD card reader, mini DisplayPort,
headphone jack
CPU 7th Gen Core i5, Core i7 6th Gen Intel Core i5, Core i7
RAM 4GB, 8GB, 16GB 8GB, 16GB
SSD 128GB, 256GB, 512GB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Graphics Intel HD 620, Iris Plus 640 Intel HD 520, Nvidia GeForce GPU (1GB), Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M (2GB)
Special Features Works with Surface Pen
and Surface Dial
Works with Surface Pen (included) and Surface Dial. Detachable display

 

Design

The Surface Laptop is built with form in mind, while the Surface Book is clearly all about function. The Surface Laptop is an all-around jaw-dropper, with an aluminum build just 0.6 inches thick; a classy, shiny Windows logo; and an Alcantara deck that’s soft, comfortable and reminiscent of a luxury car’s interior. All models of the Surface Laptop come in a platinum color, but if you get the $1,299 model, you can also choose from three additional colors: burgundy, cobalt blue and graphite gold. 

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The Surface Book, on the other hand, is a heavier 3.3 pounds and 0.9 inches thick. It’s not what you would expect from a typical laptop, thanks to its fulcrum hinge, with bendable treads that connect the display to the base. Otherwise, it’s plain and gray, though with sleek, rounded edges we’ve come to expect from premium notebooks. But the Surface Book has a unique feature that differentiates it from the Surface Laptop: The display disconnects and can be used as a tablet for drawing and inking. You can also flip it around backward into the dock, which lets you use it as a drawing pad or a display.

Display

Both the Book and the Laptop boast 13.5-inch displays, but the former pushes more pixels. The Surface Book has a resolution of 3000 x 2000, whereas the Surface Laptop’s is 2256 x 1504. This difference is so small that most people won’t notice it. Both screens support touch, including input from the Surface Pen and the Surface Dial. However, only the Book comes with the stylus.

surface book serparated

The Surface Book is bright (387 nits) and vivid (it reproduced 98.5 percent of the sRGB color gamut), so we have high hopes for the Surface Laptop. We’ll see how it compares when it shows up in our labs.

MORE: Microsoft Surface Laptop vs Dell XPS 13: Face-off!

Ports

The Surface Book has two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size SD card reader, a mini DisplayPort and a headphone jack. That isn’t a ton of ports, but the selection is solid for most people. The Surface Laptop’s port selection is paltry by comparison. You get a single USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort and a headphone jack — that’s it.

surface book performance ri

Both machines use a proprietary connector for charging. That connector is also used to power the Surface Dock, an optional $200 peripheral. We would prefer to see a USB Type-C port on the Surface Laptop, as there’s a growing array of accessories available. (The Surface Book gets a pass for now because it’s an older design, but we’d like to see it show up there the next time it’s refreshed.)

Specs and Configuration Options

The Surface Laptop starts at $999, which gets you a 7th Generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. However, we’d opt for the $1,299 model, which includes a roomier 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, as well as more color options.

For $1,599, you get a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics. At $2,199, you’ll bump up to a 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM.

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The Surface Laptop also comes with Windows 10 S, which can download apps only from the Windows Store. For now, you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free, but in 2018, you’ll have to pay an extra $50 for the privilege.

The Surface Book has far more configurations than the Surface Laptop. It starts at $1,499 for an older, 6th Generation Core i5 CPU, 8GB or RAM and a 128GB SSD. There are a variety of storage and RAM options, and then there’s the newer model with Performance Base, which includes a 6th-Gen Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M graphics. That starts at $2,399 for 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD and ranges up to $3,299 for a 1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM. The high-octane configuration options for the Surface Book really illustrate the difference between these two machines. The Book is for creators who need to run powerful apps, whereas the Surface Laptop is for more average users.

Battery Life

The Surface Book lasted for 12 and a half hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which continuously browses the web over Wi-Fi. That’s some serious endurance, but Microsoft promises that the Surface Laptop will run for a whopping 14.5 hours (at least with Windows 10 S). We’ll put the Surface Laptop to the test when it shows up in our labs.

What Should You Get?

Despite their similar names, the Surface Laptop and the Surface Book couldn’t be more different. Sure, they’re both are made by Microsoft, and both sport 13.5-inch screens. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The Surface Laptop is a high-end device for the MacBook Air crowd: students, young professionals and anyone who is mostly browsing the web, working on word processors or spreadsheets, and listening to music. The Surface Book, by contrast, is a creator’s device, with a stylus in the box for drawing and the power to run software such as Photoshop, thanks to its optional discrete GPU. Is one better than the other? Well, the Surface Book is more powerful. But the decision of which one is right for you will be based entirely on the type of work you do, your budget and how portable you want your notebook to be.

Images: Composite - Microsoft, Laptop Mag; Surface Laptop - Andrew E. Freedman / Laptop Mag; Surface Book - Sam Rutherford/Laptop Mag

Author Bio
Andrew E. Freedman
Andrew E. Freedman,
Andrew joined Laptopmag.com in 2015, reviewing computers and keeping up with the latest news. He holds a M.S. in Journalism (Digital Media) from Columbia University. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Twitter @FreedmanAE.
Andrew E. Freedman, on
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