I’ve had a laptop in one form or another since the late nineteen-eighties. Sufficed to say, I’ve had a lot of them. Some of my favorites have been various models of the Sony VAIO, Dell XPS, MacBook Air, and the Microsoft Surface line. I’ve had huge, almost suitcase sized machines, miniscule eight point nine inch netbooks, and everything in between.
What makes a laptop a good fit for most people tends to revolve around how they use it. A road-warrior that mostly checks email and writes Word documents, it isn’t likely to rank a six-pound gaming laptop as one of the best. Likewise, a gaming enthusiast is probably not going to pine over a super-thin notebook that lacks a GPU. Therefore, people typically purchase a system designed for their primary use case. This method works but has some issues. What happens when that road warrior is bored in the hotel room and wants to play a game of Overwatch? Likewise, how does the gamer deal with dragging their system around an all-day convention?
I use my portable machines for a wide range of tasks. I travel, write, game, design graphics, write code, and crunch numbers. For me, the best laptops are the ones that can do it all. I need something that can adapt to my requirements on the fly. It doesn’t have to be the best at any one thing, it needs to do everything reasonably well.
This year alone, I’ve had a Lenovo ThinkPad, an HP Elite Book, a Surface Go, a Surface Pro 6, and a Surface Book 2 as daily drivers. All of them are great systems but only the Surface Book 2 manages to do it all. It’s one of the fastest tablets you can buy. A laptop that can run all-day on one charge. It can play AAA games better than an Original Xbox One, and still fits in fourteen-inch sleeve.
The Surface Book is Microsoft’s very own transformer. The screen is a tablet that houses a 13.5″ (or 15″) HDR touch screen, an Intel I-7 Quad Core CPU (or I-5), 16GB of RAM (or 8GB), and a 512GB SSD (or 256GB, 1 TB). The base has the keyboard, trackpad, another battery and an Nvidia 1050 GPU (or 1060).
The two halves attach and detach via an electromagnetic hinge. When the tablet is docked to the base the system is a high-end laptop capable of almost any job. Play games, edit video, get into some serious diagrams, the GPU handles it all. The system is well balanced and feels like a single unit unlike some other two-in-one devices.
A dedicated gaming laptop with a more powerful GPU will game better, but this thing runs Overwatch at 1900 x 1200 in full screen with everything on high at 60 FPS, more performance than the original Xbox One or PS4 can offer. I wish that the 13.5″ model was available with thunderbolt and/or HDMI out, but it isn’t a deal breaker for me. The 15” model is available with HDMI out and a slightly higher power Nvidia 1060 GPU.
When you disconnect the base, you are left holding one of the most powerful tablets in existence. It’s screaming fast and ridiculously light for its size. The screen is mesmerizing. There’s plenty of storage and memory to open countless browser tabs and apps. I have owned the original Surface Pro, the Surface Pro 3, the Surface Go, and a Surface Pro 6; the tablet on the Surface Book is the best that Microsoft makes for writing, taking notes, drawing, and most non-keyboard tasks.
When the tablet is separated from the base it has no ports of its own. Only wirelessly connected peripherals (except headphones) are available. The battery life is shorter than most tablets and there’s no built-in kickstand. None of that matters once you start using it. The speed of the full Intel CPU and available memory means that this tablet runs Windows 10 and all your apps and full desktop software just as fast as your desktop does. The lack of the stand and re-enforcements required for it, means the tablet is lighter than a Surface Pro even though the screen is larger.
If you’re looking for a portable system that can do it all you would be hard pressed to do better than a Surface Book 2. Other 2-n-1 tablets and laptops are either good tablets and mediocre laptops or vice versa. A very select few systems are excellent at both roles.