Oh, how fast those laptops grow. Microsoft's pre-eminent workstation is back, and it's literally bigger than ever. The Surface Book 2 ($2,499 to start; $3,299 as tested) comes in a 15-inch size and has a few new additions, including an 8th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU and, finally, USB Type-C. While it's aesthetically quite similar to the old, 13-inch model, the under-the-hood improvements make it superfast, and the new size allows more room to create and play. If you can overcome its massive price tag, the Surface Book 2 is the most powerful and functional 2-in-1 laptop you can get.
The biggest aesthetic change Microsoft made with the Surface Book 2 was making it larger. The 15-inch model is the new flagship, with a larger screen and base. (If you prefer the 13.5-inch size, don't worry; that's still available. See Configurations, below.)
The magnesium lid is still a matte gray, with the Windows logo in reflective silver. It continues Microsoft's plain-but-modern look that emphasizes the screen over all else. Lifting the lid reveals the 3240 x 2160 display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, as well as the base, which includes the removable base with keyboard. The keyboard dock features the same gentle slopes as the previous Surface Book with performance base, and has a few vents near the hinge, which is especially important now that this thing is packing a GTX 1060 GPU.
The design is still a little awkward because of the fulcrum hinge. Microsoft says it's stronger than those on previous models, though I did find that it would wobble a bit when I used the Surface Book 2 on my lap. And, as on the original Surface Book before it, the Surface Book 2's hinge doesn't allow it to close completely flush. Porsche Design managed to pull off similar functionality without any extra space, and I wish Microsoft would have updated its own machine for a cleaner look.
At 4.2 pounds and 13.5 x 9.9 x 0.9 inches, the Surface Book 2 is significantly larger than competing laptops in length and height. The Dell XPS 15 is 4.6 pounds and 14.1 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches, the Lenovo Yoga 720 is also 4.6 pounds and 14.3 x 9.5 x 0.8 inches, and Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro is 4 pounds and 3.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches. However, the Surface Book 2 is unique in that it's a detachable.
The Surface Book 2 largely maintains the same ports from the original, 2015 Surface Book, with one noticeable exception: USB Type-C. Microsoft had previously left the new connector off all its previous devices, including the Surface Laptop.
It's unfortunate, however, that the company didn't make it a Thunderbolt 3 port; Thunderbolt 3 can connect to any USB-C device but also allows you to use high-speed peripherals such as external GPUs and power-dual 4K displays. All MacBook Pros have Thunderbolt 3, because the creative professionals Apple and Microsoft are targeting need that kind of connectivity.
On the Surface Book, the USB-C port joins the proprietary Surface Connect charging port on the right side of the base. The left side features a pair of USB 3.1 ports and an SD card slot. The headphone jack is awkwardly placed on the tablet, which means wires will hang a bit while you're using it as a laptop. It's a necessary trade-off, though, to use the headphone with the tablet. The tablet portion has its own Surface Connect port, so you can charge it independently.
The Surface Book 2's 3240 x 2160 display is bright and vivid, so it's perfect for drawing, video editing or just kicking back and watching five or six too many YouTube videos. When I watched the 4K movie Tears of Steel, green ivy leaves popped on a gray column, and I could see the folds around the plants' veins. Pink and green holograms were vivid on a backdrop of silver consoles and black walls.
Microsoft's screen covers an excellent 131 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is more vivid than the mainstream average (102 percent), the Lenovo Yoga 720 (114 percent) and the MacBook Pro (126 percent). The Dell XPS 15 showed off more impressive hues at an incredible 188 percent.
The Surface Book 2's display is bright. I mean really, really bright. It measured an average of 417 nits on our light meter, outclassing the average (256 nits), the XPS 15 (282 nits) and the Yoga 720 (272 nits). But the MacBook Pro (460 nits) is even more blazingly luminous.
The 3:2 aspect ratio is great in most settings. You get more room to view web pages, edit text and video or draw. The only time I had a problem with the shape was when playing a game (see Gaming, Graphics and VR, below). Because games tend not to letterbox, they had to adapt to the new screen size, which means that they included too much vertical space, or were squished to fit. If you're gaming, you're best off changing the display resolution to 1920 x 1080p, which will play games in a proper format.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Stylus
The Surface Book 2's keyboard is shallow, with just 1.2 millimeters of travel and 65 grams of actuation. But don't let that fool you: The typing experience is pretty good. The keys have a solid amount of click, and I didn't find myself bottoming out while I typed. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I reached 111 words per minute (within my average range) with my usual 2 percent error rate.
It's no surprise that the 4.1 x 2.7-inch touchpad works perfectly with Windows. The device responded instantly to gestures such as swiping up three fingers to show all open windows or tapping four fingers to open the Action Center.
Then there's the Surface Pen, which is still one of the best laptop styli in the business. It doesn't come with the Surface Book 2, so you'll have to shell out $99.99. But it works flawlessly and allows for tilt sensitivity, shading, 4,096 degrees of pressure and an eraser. It also connects to either side of the tablet with magnets for easy storage.
The speakers on the Surface Book 2 are squarely average. When I listened to Jet's "She's a Genius," it filled a midsize conference room with sound, and the vocals, guitars and drums were clear. But the bass line was flat and often hard to make out at all. Microsoft didn't include any audio software on the machine, so there's no way to customize levels or presets.
Armed with an Intel Core i7-8650U CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB PCIe SSD, the Surface Book 2 is plenty fast for all of your multitasking needs. I had 30 tabs open in Chrome, including one streaming a 1080p episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, without a hint of lag, even when I added in some sketching in the Windows Ink Workspace.
On the Geekbench 4 overall performance benchmark, the Surface Book 2 notched a score of 12,505, beating the 15-inch laptop average (11,004) and the Lenovo Yoga 720 (11,951) but coming in below the Dell XPS 15 (13,911) and the MacBook Pro (15,170).
The Surface Pro copied 4.97GB of files in 16 seconds, or 318.1 megabytes per second, blazing past the mainstream average of 263 MBps. The Yoga was slower, at 267.9 MBps, but the XPS 15 (339.3 MBps) and the MacBook Pro (an incredible 654 MBps) outpaced the competition.
The Surface Pro paired 20,000 names and addresses in the OpenOffice spreadsheet macro in 3 minutes and 23 seconds, beating the average (4:19) and the Yoga 720 (3:42) while tying the XPS 15.
Gaming and Graphics
The Surface Book 2 packs an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM. That's a powerful, VR-ready card that handles intensive editing tasks. We did notice some hiccups with a few games, but overall, this graphics card delivers very good performance.
On our Hitman benchmark (1920 x 1080, ultra settings) it ran at 71.9 frames per second (fps), surpassing the mainstream category average of 60 fps.
When it came to Rise of the Tomb Raider (1920 x 1080, very high), the rate dropped to just 28 fps, lower than the 35-fps average. We had to lower the settings to our budget gaming test (high settings with less than anti-aliasing) to get a more playable 43 fps.
On Grand Theft Auto V, it ran at 45 fps, just beating out the average of 42 fps.
To test these games, we manually adjusted the screen to 1920 x 1080 and occasionally in windowed mode. This allowed them to render as intended and, in many cases, allowed for better performance. If you intend to play games on the Surface Book 2, you'll want to take those steps.
Of course, for games or any other graphically intense work, you'll need to be attached to the dock, where the GTX 1060 GPU is located. With just the tablet, you'll only be able to use integrated graphics.
Expect the Surface Book 2 to get you through a long day of work and then some. It lasted 12 hours and 9 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which continuously browses the web over Wi-Fi. The average is just 6:33, and neither the MacBook Pro (10:59) nor the Yoga 720 (8:59) nor the XPS 15 (8:23) came close the Surface's endurance.
Of course, most of the Surface's battery capacity is based in the keyboard. As a tablet, it lasted only 2:37 on the test.
The front-facing webcam on the Surface Book 2 is one of the best I've seen. With a resolution of 2560 x 1440, it's really sharp, and it caught every hair on my head (and a few unfortunate wrinkles in my sweater) in a shot at my desk. It's color-accurate, too, capturing the perfect shade of burgundy in my shirt and the blue of my eyes.
The rear shooter takes large 3264 x 1836 photos, and they're also detailed. When I took the tablet up to our roof, some of my photos showed the inside of conference rooms in faraway buildings. There was decent contrast between the light-blue sky and the clouds, and I could make out individual bricks in buildings.
However, I question the utility of using the Surface Book 2's rear camera at all. In fact, as an act of kindness to your fellow human beings, I'd ask you never to hold up a 15-inch tablet at concerts or in other public spaces where views will be blocked. But if you really need to capture photos and videos for business reasons, the Surface Book 2 will work in a pinch.
The Surface Book 2 stayed nice and cool during simple tasks. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, it measured 76 degrees Fahrenheit on the touchpad, 77 degrees at the center of the keyboard and 78 degrees on the bottom of the base.
Software and Warranty
One of the best benefits of buying a Surface-branded computer is that you don't get much extra junk on top of Windows. The only extra program Microsoft added is a Surface utility detailing stylus options and adjusting settings.
Otherwise, you get the same bloat that comes with every other Windows 10 machine, including Drawboard PDF, Keeper, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Bubble Witch 3 Saga, March of Empires: War of Lords and Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition.
The Surface Book 2 we reviewed costs $3,299 with an Intel Core i7-8650 CPU, 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of VRAM and a 1TB PCIe SSD.
The base model costs $2,499 and comes with 256GB of storage but is otherwise identical. For $2,899, you can bump up to 512GB.
Microsoft is also selling 13.5-inch models with Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs and either Intel's integrated graphics ($1,499) or an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU (starting at $1,999).
The Surface Book 2 proudly continues Microsoft's tradition of speedy, powerful computers that take all of the focus off the machine and put it on what you're working on. It's expensive, but for the cost, you'll get an incredible, vibrant 3:2 display; long battery life; a modern design with a detachable tablet; and, finally, USB Type-C. Perhaps more important, there's no other detachable 2-in-1 that has enough graphics might for artists to draw with a pen on the same machine they use to edit 4K videos.
The biggest downside is the cost. The 15-inch model's entry price is $2,499, and that's for limited storage. If you're looking for something cheaper, consider the Dell XPS 15, which has a jaw-dropping display, solid battery life and great performance. You can get a similar configuration for $2,000 (less if you don't want the touch screen), but you'd lose the tablet, get a last-gen CPU and have to downgrade to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU.
You could also check out the Lenovo Yoga 720. An identical configuration costs just $1,549, includes a sharp 4K display and has long battery life, but it has a 7th Gen CPU and a GTX 1050. Instead of getting the detachable tablet, you have to fold the display backward.
That leaves the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Book 2 as a singular vision from Microsoft. It's pricey, but it's still the purest way to use Windows 10, from work to inking. Pair that with a solid suite of ports and one of the best styli on the market, and there's a reason that it's the most versatile large-screen 2-in-1 you can get.