Microsoft Surface Book – the Ultimate Form Factor ? (…almost)

Source: Microsoft online store

Note:  The below post is based on published information, as I have not had a chance to use the Surface Book personally.

At long last, we have finally reached what I believe to be the ultimate form factor in the personal computer sector.

The just-announced Microsoft Surface Book, running Windows 10, looks like a true “one device fits all” personal computer.  While Lenovo’s Thinkpad Helix was the first device to combine a tablet with a powerful keyboard/dock and spawned several competitors from Acer, Sharp, etc., they all were handicapped by hardware limitations and suffered from bulkiness, lackluster performance, poor battery life, and/or OS constraints (you simply cannot do real work on a smartphone OS).

The new Surface Book ticks the boxes in all of the absolutely necessary areas:

  • handy size (in the 10″-14″ range to do “real” work) and light weight
  • excellent screen (13.5″ PixelSense 3000×2000 !!!) and input quality (keyboard and pen)
  • excellent performance specs (CPU, memory, storage)
  • great battery life (if as claimed)
  • (perhaps most controversially) a highly functional and efficient touch-capable operating system in Windows 10
  • flexible form factor among laptop, tablet, and easel modes
  • excellent build quality
  • fair pricing, considering what you are getting

They say you should never buy version 1.0 of anything, and I generally agree wholeheartedly, but Microsoft’s first Surface (and updates since) have been impressive enough to show that Microsoft’s hardware team has both the talent and luck to shock and awe as they take the fight to Apple and Google.

Microsoft obviously had a solid vision for Windows being the convergence OS among among full-size computers, mobile computers, and embedded computing.  However, Windows 8 (version 1.0 of the current-gen OS) was crippled by a dodgy feature set and Microsoft’s insistence on putting the widely-despised Modern UI front and center, as well as inadequate hardware (both in terms of technology and design).  On the other hand, Windows 10 masterfully delivers the ideal experience depending on what the user wants and needs at the time.  The Modern UI is sleek and efficient in tablet mode (especially in landscape orientation) and is highly usable in easel mode or with a desktop touchscreen.  Meanwhile, the full Windows desktop is still accessible when the user needs to use fully featured applications for document creation, email, spreadsheet, media creation, database, and technical/scientific use.  Underneath it all is a state-of-the-art operating system with a featureset meeting all the requirements of corporate use, running on hardware that is fast, energy efficient, and ergonomic.

It remains a big question mark whether Microsoft will eventually grow to be a significant hardware maker.  This will be critical in terms of after-sales service and support.  Lenovo is the segment leader with its Helix and could easily and quickly release an upgraded model with specs to match or rival the Surface Book.  Dell has recently been on a tear with its latest crop of XPS models and they could also release a viable competitor.

Meanwhile, the Surface Book is at the top of my gadget wish list.