What it is: The Surface Book is Microsoft’s latest device designed to create a high-end Windows 10 laptop.
Microsoft’s Surface Book is a well-designed laptop designed to capture the high-end market. Naturally you can get Windows 10 laptops that are far less expensive than the $1,499 minimum price of the Surface Book, but they likely won’t have the speed, touch screen, or detachable screen of the Surface Book. If you count features alone, the Surface Book is the most versatile laptop on the market.
To promote the Surface Book, Microsoft is comparing is to Apple’s older MacBook Pro laptops that are in dire need of an update due to Intel’s bungling of their Skylake processors. Once again, comparing technical specifications, the Surface Book has a touch screen and tablet feature while the MacBook Pro does not.
However, technical specifications only tell half of the story. The other half of the story involves what those technical specifications will do for you. If you absolutely need a touch screen laptop, then get a Surface Book. Otherwise, ask yourself what does a touch screen laptop do to make you more productive?
In many cases, a touch screen is a nice luxury that won’t be used. When you’re using a laptop, do you find it easier to reach over and touch the screen or just manipulate items using the trackpad instead? Some people might like a touch screen while others won’t bother using it at all.
Having a stylus to write on the touch screen is another nice feature, but again, if you need that feature, you’ll want it. If you don’t need that feature, it doesn’t matter how well that stylus works if you never bother using it.
The real feature of the touch screen is that you can remove the screen and use it as a tablet. That’s when the touch screen and stylus suddenly become useful. Of course, you also need software optimized for this type of interface as well. An ordinary desktop application with touch gesture support won’t be optimized for touch screen interaction.
And that’s where the Surface Book stumbles. The hardware is superb. It’s the software (Windows 10 and Windows applications) that need to seamlessly make the transition from a laptop to a tablet interface. That’s like asking a motorcycle to make the transition to an RV and vice versa. A program will either be optimized for the desktop or for the tablet interface, not both. It may be useful as both interfaces but it certainly can’t be optimized for both a keyboard/trackpad combination and touch gestures and a stylus. One type of interface will always be less although it may still be serviceable.
While Microsoft can justly be proud of their hardware design accomplishments with the Surface Book, they need to focus on the software aspect. Beyond Windows 10, has Microsoft demonstrated any software that can seamlessly transition from a desktop application and a tablet app? Even Microsoft offers a different interface for their iPad and Android version of Office compared to their Windows 10/OS X version of Office. they look similar, but they’re not identical.
Perhaps that’s one way a combination desktop/tablet program can work by simply offering two different interfaces depending on how a device like the Surface book is being used. That means developers will need to create two user interfaces, but at least each user interface can be optimized for its particular form factor. To believe that one user interface can seamlessly work on all devices is simply delusional.
For the Surface Book to truly reach its potential as a laptop that can also be a tablet, it needs software that highlights this transition between a desktop to tablet. If you really want to see if the Surface Book can be both a laptop and a tablet, load your favorite program and try using it as a desktop application and a tablet app. Chances are good it won’t be optimized as a tablet app, which means the Surface Book’s hardware is capable but the software is still lagging.
The Surface Book and its sibling, the Surface Pro, are interesting hardware compromises, but they are still compromises. If you’re fine with the limitations of the Surface Book or Surface Pro, then get them knowing that the Surface Book may not have enough software to take advantage of its tablet form and the Surface Pro may not be a satisfactory laptop replacement due to its flimsier keyboard.
When comparing the Surface Book to the MacBook Pro, ask yourself if the touch screen, tablet features of the Surface Book are what you really want and need. If not, then even the best features mean nothing if they do nothing for you.