Microsoft’s Windows 10 device event had many of the expected product updates including the new Surface Pro 4 and new Lumia phones. The big surprise was the company’s first dedicated laptop product with the Surface Book. It really is more of a hybrid convertible as the Surface Book display can detach from from the keyboard to function much like a Surface tablet. With the keyboard attached, it can be used as both a laptop or have it folded back to function as a tablet as well like the . But can the form factor make many people skeptical of getting the Surface Pro 4 want to spend a bit more money to get a more laptop like experience?
Microsoft wanted to be unique with its Surface Pro tablets. They offered the same performance as traditional ultrabooks but in the form factor of tablet. To try and get people who wanted laptops to use the new form factor, they also developed their touch keyboards. While they did not quite emulate a true laptop experience, they were still quite popular with those that did get the new systems. Many companies have now started announcing similar tablet concepts nearly identical to what the Surface provide. The Surface Book is designed by Microsoft to get those people who want a true keyboard experience for heavy typing to get a Surface product. Problem is, it is not really that unique.
With the screen and keyboard fully docked. the system does indeed look like a traditional laptop. The hinge on it looks very similar in design to the previously mentioned Yoga 3 Pro but with a solid cover over it to not have the gaps between the various links. This lets the laptop function as a tablet without having to remove it from the keyboard section. This is important if you happen to want to plug in a USB peripheral as the two USB 3.0 ports are only on the keyboard dock and not on the display.
Laptops that function as tablets with detachable screens are also not really new. Intel’s whole 2-in-1 marketing push tried to gain mainstream acceptance for the form factor either through folding screens or detachable keyboards. Of course, most of these were aimed at consumers and had considerably less performance or cost.
To make it really different than other laptops though, Microsoft integrated its Surface Pen into the design. This allows for the same level of input thanks to the digitizer technology built into the display and the stylus. In fact, Microsoft reversed some of the design decisions with the more affordable Surface Pro 3 design that reduced the levels of detail with the stylus back to something that designers will appreciate much more. The Surface Pen is also included in the price of the device.
One of the big problems with the announcement today of the Surface Book and the Surface Pro was the specifications. Sure, they made sure they defined some of them such as size and weight but some were a bit less specific. For instance, they are very keen to mention that it uses a 6th generation of Core i processor. Microsoft does not state the model number of the processor that they use for the various versions nor do they list the speeds of the processors. More than likely, the Core i5 version uses the Core i5-6200U which is the base 15 watt part that Intel lists. Similarly, they do not mention the type of memory (probably DDR3 as DDR4 specifications have not be settled for laptop class modules) or the NVIDIA graphics processor version.
This makes comparison of the product quite difficult. Microsoft made the claim that it is twice as fast as a 13-inch MacBook Pro. This seems like a but of a stretch as the 5th generation and 6th generation processors do not vary that much when it comes to similar processor models (say the Core i5-5200U and a i5-6200U). It would seem much more likely if you are comparing very different processors like the Core M from a MacBook and the Core i5 of the Surface Book. As a result, I would not believe any performance claims without more verification of the specific models that Microsoft used to get such numbers or until third parties have a chance to actually sit down and test production units.
In terms of comparison with the Surface Pro 4. Things are a bit more difficult. On the performance level, they should be nearly identical as they both can have the same 6th generation Core processors. If this is true, then they should be nearly identical in performance but the Surface Book has the edge though as it uses a slightly larger display with a 3000×2000 resolution and is slightly thinner and lighter as well if the keyboard is not docked with the display.
Pricing is a Problem
With a starting price of $1499, the Surface Book is clearly not targeted at the average consumer. Most consumers are unwilling to spend over $1000 for a computer these days and will likely only spend around $500. This is first and foremost a corporate class laptop designed to compete with premium systems such as those from Apple. That price though quickly goes up if you want to get more memory, larger storage or the Core i7 processor with the NVIDIA graphics. In fact, the highest model prices at $2799, almost twice the cost of the base laptop.
In fact, a Core i5 Surface Pro 4 with 8GB of memory and 256GB SSD (twice the base Surface Book) costs just $1299. This makes the Surface Pro a much more affordable option. Of course, once you add in the Type Cover, the price will be similar but is still has twice the storage space. Of course, the Surface Pro 4 has a starting price of just $899. Sure, that model will have a lot less performance from using the Intel Core m3 with just 4GB of memory but it still is enough for the average consumer.
But what about Apple products that Microsoft compared them against? In general, Apple is more affordable. For instance, the MacBook starts at $1299 and is lighter than the Surface Book with its full keyboard attached. It may not offer the same performance but it is less expensive. The MacBook Pro 13 has a starting price of $1299. Once again, this makes it less expensive than the Surface Pro. Admittedly, both of these Apple products don’t have a pen input, so what about the iPad Pro? Well, the 128GB version of the new tablet is still not out and will cost $949. The Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard accessories are necessary to match the features which will add several hundred to the cost but once again, still less than the new Surface Pro. The iPad Pro has the problem of requiring iOS apps rather than using the full Mac OS X software.
So overall, Microsoft has certainly offered some compelling features but the price is going to hurt the initial device at launch. Consumers will pick the more affordable Surface Pro 4 or still opt for a much less expensive traditional laptop. Of course, there will be a huge number of Surface Pro 4 competitors out in coming months so we may very well see similar products from other companies such as Dell or Lenovo but with lower price tags.