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Gabe / on Mon, Nov 16 2015 at 10:30 am

Surface Book

I’ve been playing around with a Surface Book for a couple of weeks now and I wanted to share some thoughts. It’s an interesting device, that for me has been equal parts frustrating and awesome.

The Good Stuff

The Surface Book is a beautiful piece of hardware. In terms of its construction I have zero complaints. I suppose the best compliment I can give it, is to say it feels like an Apple product. Specifically a Macbook. Maybe that sounds like a dig but I honestly don’t mean it that way. The keyboard, the monitor, the trackpad, the body of the device, all of it is just top notch.

When it’s all put together the Book is a solid laptop. It’s not going to replace my Razer laptop for gaming, but I was honestly surprised by what I was able to play on it. I tested out Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends, and even Overwatch. All of them were playable but required lowering the graphics settings. You’re not gonna play games on ultra settings but turn some of the fancy stuff off and they work surprisingly well. Again, this is not a gaming machine, but with that said, it is significantly better at playing games that my old Surface Pro 3.

The ability to pop the “screen” off and use it as a fully functional tablet is obviously the Book’s big trick and it is by far my favorite feature. Pressing a button on the keyboard unlocks the screen and you can just pull it right off. This device by itself is surprisingly powerful. I was able to pop the screen off, sit on the couch with it and draw in Manga Studio with no problem. It was very smooth and honestly felt better than drawing on my old Pro 3. The screen by itself is very light and comfortable to hold in your lap. I loved taking it with me up to bed or out on the deck to sketch. It’s also a badass Hearthstone tablet with it’s big beautiful screen.

It really is two distinct devices. Microsoft says the Surface Pro is a tablet that can replace your laptop. The Surface Book is a tablet that is also your laptop. I think that’s really the selling point here. In much the same way that a mullet encompasses the properties of both business AND party, The Surface Book is a true two in one. It’s a laptop in the front and Surface pro in the back…or on the top I guess. That metaphor broke down fast. The point is that this device is really giving you the best of both worlds.

The Bad

I’ve had some problems with my Surface Book that make this first iteration of the machine a bit frustrating. Overall I’d say it feels a bit undercooked at times. Popping the screen off is rad but I was often left with a big green message on my tablet telling me it was okay to remove it from the base. Even though I had already done this. The message stayed and floated above any windows I tried to open. I could fix this by restarting but that’s a pain. I was told to clean the connectors and that seemed to help but who wants to clean little metal connectors with a lint free cloth all the time?

I also had a handful of blue screen crashes. The little frowny face popped up three or four times during my two weeks with the machine and as a user that makes me nervous. I lost work each time it happened and that makes me not “trust” the device. I have no doubt that these are things MS will smooth out with software updates but it’s still frustrating.

The other problem I had was with the new stylus. After only a few days of drawing I busted the tip. The black coating around the nub cracked and then flaked off. The grey stylus point underneath cracked as well and I ended going back to using my old Surface Pro stylus. I don’t mind the old stylus but I was really hoping for a better stylus on this new machine. My guess is that it works fine for taking notes but I was trying to paint with it and maybe it just wasn’t tested for the kind of pressure an artist uses?

The only other complaint I have is that the battery life of the tablet alone is not the best. When using it to draw and work with big files in a program like Manga Studio I was only able to get a couple hours out of it.

In the end I’m excited by the Surface Book. I’m the sort of user who is willing to put up with some bullshit with a new gadget. It sort of goes along with being an early adopter in my opinion. It does a lot of stuff I love even if it has a few hiccups or doesn’t do it as long as I’d like. I’ve always come at the Surface products as an artist because that’s how I use them. The Book is a fantastic drawing device. The screen is huge and sharp. The drawing feels accurate and responsive. Get me a top of the line stylus, maybe wring out some more battery life from the tablet and I’m one happy cartoonist.

I’ll leave you with a piece I did last week on my Surface Book. I did all of this from start to finish on the tablet only.

(click for the big version)

I also played a shit ton Hearthstone on it and if Blizzard does not make the cooperative tavern brawl from last week a mode I can play anytime, they are criminals.

-Gabe out


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