My History with the Surface Line
I have been a big fan of the Microsoft Surface line since it first launched. Hell I even purchased a Surface RT, and to the device’s credit it lasted all the way up until mid 2017 before the battery was no longer any good and trying to load a web page was near impossible. Windows RT might not have been the future but Microsoft had something with the original Surface products and I am happy that they continued to refine and rework them. They could have easily thrown the line out like the did with the Zune, RIP Zune I will miss you.
My primary mobile computing device was a Surface Pro 3 and one of the main reasons why I purchased that product was that it was a laptop and tablet in one with decent performance and a good battery. Plus the Surface Pen and OneNote made taking notes in my Artificial Intelligence and Mathematics classes while doing my post graduate Computer Science degree far easier. I also credit that device to my higher average marks overall. With the combination of better note taking and easier material management I recommend that any student who wishes to take notes in class and have everything digital then a Surface product with OneNote and the Surface Pen is the way to go.
While my Surface Pro 3 had done the job while I was studying, some of my side projects were not running as well on that device compared to my gaming PC. Over time the more I started looking at AI and emulation programming the more I realised that purchasing a device with only 128GB of total hard drive space and 4GB worth of RAM might have been a mistake. I should have saved up a little more cash and purchased the 8GB and 256GB model, but we all make mistakes and we all learn from them (I know I have).
With the announcement of the new Surface Pro 2017 edition, and the new Surface Laptop I knew that I had options. Before pulling the trigger I waited a little longer to see if Microsoft will be doing a refresh of the Surface Book line. There was the Surface Book with the Performance Base, but I didn’t want a first generation Surface Book and the discrete GPU did not interest me. Thankfully my patience paid off as Microsoft announced the new Surface Book 2. I started to read and follow any news about the new Surface Book 2, making note of the little details that were mentioned in the videos and blog posts I read. One week before the release date I decided to pre-order the device from the Microsoft Store. It had everything that I needed.
My Laptop Needs
I used my Surface Pro 3 originally as my primary mobile study device while at university, but I also used it as a development laptop while and after I graduated. I used Android Studio, Visual Studio and IntelliJ on it. So any new device needs to be a workhorse, but it also needs to be built like a tank with all the ports that I need. I really appreciate the details that Microsoft put into their Surface line so I decided to stick with them as the build quality of my Surface Pro 3 was top notch.
I have used other manufacturers laptops in the past and they have been hit and miss. I had a Lenovo but the device is very “plasticy” and the trackpad is horrible, but the keyboard is amazing; I had a HP which has a more solid feel than the Lenovo but the keyboard is one of the worst I have used (poor spacing and key travel). I also had an ASUS gaming laptop which has all the necessary power I need but is not very portable.
The Surface Book 2 appeared to check all my boxes (according to the initial impressions from the media and the individuals who had used the device at preview events). It has:
- A fundamentally solid build, no obvious plastic here.
- A keyboard that is spaced well and the keys have a near perfect travel, plus there is backlighting to the keys (I sometimes code deep into the night so this is now a necessary feature).
- A trackpad that is Apple like.
- More than one USB port (this is something that I needed, as having a single USB port on my Surface Pro 3 was quite annoying and even the new Surface Pro 2017 edition and Surface Laptop only have one USB port).
- The ability to function as a tablet and has touch/pen support (I still use OneNote to draw up wireframes for apps and take notes, plus at time I just want to watch Netflix in bed).
- Enough horsepower to run Visual Studio and any emulation software I need when developing my apps and working on side projects.
- A battery that can last a near full day’s worth of work (so around 6 hours worth of development and Internet browsing at a minimum).
How Big and How Much Horsepower?
I have used laptops from both ends of the spectrum with regard to size and performance. What I have found is that the optimal size for me is a device that does not have a screen much larger than 13”. Any larger and the device becomes too large to lug around and is too heavy. So right out of the gate the Surface Book 2 that I was getting was the 13.5” and not the 15”.
Do I need a laptop with a discrete graphics card? No. I don’t play any video games on laptops, all my gaming is done on my Xbox One X or my gaming PC which has a GTX 980. Maybe a GPU would be useful in regard to AI programming but I doubt a single card would matter too much. The new Surface Book that I would end up purchasing would not have a discrete GPU.
Something unfortunate is that all the i7 laptops have a discrete GPU. This means that the Surface Book 2 that I would be purchasing would have an older generation i5. I had spoken about this with the other software engineers at work and they all felt that having an i7 option with no discrete GPU would have been great. I most likely would have purchased that build. Maybe in the future Microsoft will offer an i7 with no discrete GPU, but I highly doubt it. One nice feature with the i5 version is that it is completely san fan 🙂 Not a major loss here, but having a new generation CPU which has better performance would have been nice.
With the i5 version I don’t really get much choice in regard to RAM and HDD size (in Australia anyway, not sure about the rest of the world). It comes with 256GB worth of storage space, which is going to be a big relief after living with only 128GB worth of space on my Surface Pro 3. Having 8GB worth of RAM is also going to be a nice bump from the 4GB that I had with my Surface Pro 3 (2x worth the bump I might add).
I plan on releasing two more blog posts, one about the build quality of the Surface Book 2 and one about the performance. The build quality post will be released very shortly, but the performance post will take a little longer. I want to spend some more time running the Surface Book 2 through it’s paces while I am doing some development work. So stay tuned in the coming days for part two and in the coming weeks for my final (part three) Surface Book 2 impressions.