Our kind friends at Microsoft sent a little package our way this week. It was a demonstration unit for us to have a little play with
 and to take around a few customers that were considering what their next personal computer refresh will look like. I was so taken by the contents of this slender carton, the equivalent of a chunky high-end workstation computer only a few years ago, I thought that I would note down my thoughts here to share them with you.

Enclosed within was a new Surface Book, the daddy of the much-improved tablet family from the guys over in Redmond, WA.  Actually, a convertible class of device to extend the Surface tablet range and turn the heads of traditional laptop users, who may already pack an accompanying tablet or are considering a touch-screen companion for their business work-horse. This is the thing with convertibles (of the silicon chip-kind, not open top cars, silly), they are designed to give you the best of both worlds. A business machine to rest on your knees when you need to be productive on the move as well as a flexible ‘fondle-slab’ when a lot of typing isn’t necessary; or when you are just slouching on the sofa. On first inspection, it looks like a thoroughly modern laptop, in the Apple Macbook mould, with a familiar, crisp magnesium alloy casing and minimal input slots punched out along each of its very slim sides. Its unique feature is a thick, curved hinge (resembling some kind of robot caterpillar) that doesn’t close fully flush, leaving a considerable gap between screen and keyboard at one end and which lost it points in our office beauty contest.

Personally, I didn’t mind it, especially when I saw the magic happen. The whole point of this oddly designed hinge becomes apparent when you hit and hold a button on top row of the keyboard. After a couple of seconds with this key depressed, a green light appears on it along with the words ‘Ready to Detach’ on the screen. With a gentle tug, the screen releases from the keyboard base at the point they are joined by this metallic insect exoskeleton. At this point, you hold in your hand a very slight, if quite broad, tablet with a bright, crystal-clear screen.

Surface Book

To slow your heart-rate which may be raised in panic or excitement (or both), you may find yourself immediately re-attaching it to make sure it is not broken and will note that the two-pieces re-join (either screen toward keyboard or the other way around so that the base becomes a sturdy stand) with a very reassuring clunk.

The concept of a detachable keyboard isn’t new, of course, but few are packing this level of hardware concealed inside such a sleekly designed body. Neither are they, in my experience at least, as solidly built as this one. Nor are they, and here is the crux, anywhere near as expensive. With the entry model coming in at £1300, and the one that you really consider to be the minimum spec you would like to own costing £1800, it is not an investment that you will make lightly, especially if you have reservations about abandoning your trusty laptop at a fraction of the price.

If you are somebody that has concerns about whether a tablet device has enough grunt to deal with your workload, don’t worry. As I have previously mentioned, it has the gubbins of a big, powerful workstation shoe-horned into a very slender frame. An Intel Core i7 processor, NVidia Graphics Chip plus 16Gb RAM and up to 1Tb of flash storage will not leave you short-changed in the performance department. It 

will handle most of what your business ‘power-user’ can throw at it without breaking sweat. Windows 10, pre-loaded on this machine, flies along in either tablet or traditional desktop mode (you are asked which mode you would like to use with every attach/detach action) and here you really feel Microsoft’s one OS for all come into its own and feel they finally nailed it with the latest release after the disastrous 8 and 8.1.

One last mention is left for the pen, which I only stumbled upon the day before it had to go back (damn!) to its owners. Not expecting too much from it and having a pre-conception that I would never use a pen with a tablet (I can’t type faster than write), I gave it a go for japes. I popped a couple of sticky notes up and started to scribble. Wow. I had heard that stylus technology had improved a lot of late, but this was a real eye-opener. The swirls and patterns I made on the note looked indistinguishable from an ink pen and with the lightest bit of pressure, the lines became bolder. My cynicism of the advert that shows a designer sketching away on his Surface Book disappeared in an instant and my mind turned to using this device to draw diagrams and take notes for my own work immediately entered my mind.

Surface Book

In summary, the Surface Book is reassuringly expensive. Not only in terms of its build quality and spec, but also due to the fact that it has the potential to pay for itself as a tool of your trade rather than just a novelty trinket that many, myself included until now, may consider it to be.