Microsoft has unveiled the second generation of its convertible laptop/tablet Surface Book — pitching it as twice as powerful as an Apple MacBook Pro.
Like its predecessor, the Surface Book 2 is billed as a premium hybrid device, a laptop with a full, back-lit keyboard but whose screen can be detached so it can be used as a tablet.
Unlike the first-gen machine, the new Surface Book is also available with a 15-inch display with a slightly higher 3240 x 2160 resolution touchscreen, PixelSense display. Alongside is a 13-inch model with a 3000 x 2000 resolution touchscreen, PixelSense display, the same as the first-gen Surface Book.
Other than the bump in size, the design seems unchanged from the first gen, but the specs have been upgraded, with the Surface Book 2 packing a 7th-gen dual-core, Intel Core i5 or the latest 8th-gen quad-core, Core i7 processor and available with up to a mid-range Nvidia graphics card, the GTX 1060.
Microsoft claims the new Surface Book has fives times the graphics performance of the original and is twice as powerful as the latest MacBook Pro — interestingly the same claim it made when the original Surface Book was announced.
Battery life is better than the original, according to Microsoft, which says its tests found the Core i5 and i7 versions of the Surface Book 2 were able to manage "up to 17-hours" of video playback on a single charge. When the screen was detached and used as a tablet, Microsoft claims the battery lasted five hours.
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Like the original, the Surface Book is aimed at professional creatives, with the machine running Windows 10 Pro, the touchscreen display support sketching using a Microsoft Surface Pen and the GPU able to power 4K video on an external monitor. Microsoft is also emphasising the Surface Book's packing an Nvidia GPU will be well-suited to powering the new VR headsets released by Microsoft partners today.
Roberta Cozza, research director at analysts Gartner, said: "On the performance side of things I think it's as good as could be," adding "it's a very solid machine."
But she said that having a detachable screen was also, in some respects, less important in a modern laptop than being thin and light, and that a light convertible laptop with a 360-degree hinge, such as the HP Spectre x360, could be just as convenient for the user.
"For me, one of the big limitations of the previous [Surface Book] model was the portability aspect, it was really heavy," she said, pointing out the Surface Book 2 weighed pretty much the same as its predecessor.
Cozza said the Surface Book 2 also doesn't look as innovative as its the first-gen machine, because of the plethora of 2-in-1 tablet/laptops available today that had been inspired by the design of the Surface computers.
"Overall there is nothing that is really groundbreaking from all of this because the OEMs have been very good at catching-up with the design of the Surface line since its introduction."
But she said it made sense for Microsoft to continue to design hardware that was a showcase for the best that Windows 10 had to offer.
"We are in a market now where—you also see it from Apple and Google—the integration between the software and the hardware is going to become more and more relevant. So it makes sense that Microsoft continues to put out their hardware to show the direction they want their platform to go."
TechRepublic's sister site CNET praised the sharp display and high-end specs of the first-gen Surface Book but criticized the high cost of the premium models and quirks in the design.
The maximum amount of memory has doubled from the original Surface Book, up to 16GB, while the largest amount of storage remains a 1TB SSD. This time around a single USB Type-C port is included, alongside two Type-A 3.1 ports.
The dimensions of the 13-inch laptop stay the same, while the weight for the 13-inch laptop is very slightly heavier, ranging from 1533g (3.38lbs) to 1642g (3.62lbs), and 1905g (4.20lbs) for the 15-inch version.
For those interested in a bit more detail specswise, the Intel Core i7-8650U processor used in the Surface Book 2 has a notably higher turbo speed than the i7 in the first-gen machine, 4.2GHz compared to 3.4GHz, however, the new CPU's base frequency is lower, 1.9GHz compared to 2.6GHz. The Intel Core i5 version relies on a i5-7300U with a 3.5GHz turbo frequency and 2.6GHz base frequency, compared to 3GHz and 2.6GHz in the original.
The Surface Book 2 will be available to pre-order from November 9th and will be available to buy from November 16th. The 13-inch models will be available from Microsoft Stores, MicrosoftStore.com and retailers in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Austria. The 15-inch model will be available from Microsoft Stores, MicrosoftStore.com, and select retailers in the US.
The Surface Book 2 will cost from $1,499, for the lowest spec 13-inch model, through to $3,299, for the highest spec 15-inch model.
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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.