Microsoft’s Surface Book has spawned an abundance of imitations. Since its release, most of those big hitters from Dell to HP have been vying for that ultraportable crown. While some, like Dell’s latest XPS 13 2-in-1 have come close, that original 2016 Surface Book is still cemented as top dog.
Now, Microsoft has long affirmed the notion that its Surface line of laptop/tablet hybrids are “the tablet that could replace your laptop”. And while its impressive Surface Pro 4 hit very close to the mark, I’m yet to be convinced. There’s no such thing as a laptop replacement in this day and age, even if it does come with some stand-out bells and whistles like Lenovo’s recent Yoga Book.
Sure, some people are in the market for a laptop-replacing tablet, and that’s fair enough but 2-in-1’s are hardly a viable alternative as a work device. Microsoft’s Surface Book however, books this trend, with the firm’s first ever laptop rightly earning the top spot as one of the best Windows 10 devices ever released.
Design and Dynamic Fulcrum Hinge
Much has been said of the Surface Book’s ‘dynamic fulcrum hinge’. It’s one of the first things you notice about the device. In some ways, it’s similar to Lenovo’s watch-hinge from the Yoga 900, but its inner-workings are very different to almost every other laptop hinge that’s come before it.
For instance, rather than just bending at a pivot point like a standard hinge, the internal mechanism actually unfurls and uncoils. The hinge has multiple grooves that allow it to bend and contort when the lid is shut, but when it’s open the numerous ridges press together to provide support.
The clever design of the fulcrum hinge means that when you open the lid, the depth of the Surface Book actually extends back by nearly 20mm, giving the Surface Book a greater contact footprint on your desk’s surface to help stabilise and balance the system as a whole. This is important, as most of the Surface Book’s components are housed within the display so it can be used as a tablet, which could have made it very top-heavy. Thankfully, this isn’t the case, as the whole system feels very weighty and sturdy when it’s fully open. Of course, the fulcrum hinge does mean that the screen can’t be tilted back as far as some laptops, but I rarely felt the need to tilt it back any further than its default viewing angle.
With the lid closed, the unusual hinge also means that there’s an exposed gap at the rear of the laptop between the screen and the base. This might prove problematic if you transport the Surface Book in a particularly grubby bag, but in testing I never encountered any issues with dirt accumulating in the grooves of the hinge. Viewed in profile, the hinge and gap do give the Surface Book an unmistakable charm, and its uninterrupted magnesium body looks superb both inside and out.
The other piece of clever engineering is Microsoft’s ‘muscle wire’ attachment mechanism. This is what keeps the screen connected to the keyboard base. To release it, you need to hold down the dedicated button in the top right corner of the keyboard, or select the relevant option in the taskbar. The mechanism’s nitinol alloy then tightens when an electrical charge is delivered, and these are used as springs that disengage the locks. Those clamps are incredibly strong, too. I could grab the system by its display and confidently let the weight of the keyboard base dangle without any worries of it falling off.
It’s not instant, though, as you’ll hear a distinct clicking sound when the screen is ready to be removed. Bizarrely, the sound is actually artificial, as the mechanism itself is completely silent. However, it’s still a very satisfying sound and it provides a useful piece of aural feedback to let you know when you can safely remove it from the keyboard. Since this is also Microsoft’s flagship Windows 10 device, you can configure it to switch into tablet mode automatically when you pull it apart.
The display can also be mounted back to its base reversed, so that you can fold it down flat or use it in a pitched up tent mode. The Surface Book knows when it’s been reverse-mounted, too, so it will stay in tablet mode.
This software-based release method is crucial, as certain Surface Book configurations have a dedicated GPU in the keyboard base. If the dedicated GPU is in use, attempting to separate the display from its base will prompt you to save any work before continuing.
Aside from its special hinge, the rest of the Surface Book’s design is rather utilitarian. Its simplicity lends it a rather industrial appearance, and from a distance you could almost mistake its plain, magnesium chassis for something more akin to plastic. Up close, though, it looks stunning. It feels robust and pleasant to the touch and it has a delightfully uncluttered design without any garish embellishments – much unlike the carbon fibre used on Dell’s XPS 13. Instead, the only decoration is Microsoft’s mirrored logo on the back of the lid, which contrasts beautifully against the metallic grey.
As far as 13in laptops go, it’s quite heavy. With a dedicated GPU, it weighs 1.58kg, or 1.52kg without. Next to the Dell XPS 13, which weighs 1.29kg, the difference is palpable. The fulcrum hinge also adds to its thickness, as it tapers from 22.8mm down to 13mm at the front.