It’s really no secret that I like reviewing the technology that I use just to give folks an unbiased look at what a real working creative professional thinks of everything from phones to tablets to computers. So before I review this laptop, I have to give you a little backstory.
A few years back I bought a Surface RT. LOVED it. I still love it. It fits in my big purse and it’s a fantastic alternative to lugging around a laptop bag. I use it to work when on vacation and I carry it to conferences and conventions because it is so portable. I can use it to write wherever I am. It easily goes with me to appointments so I can work in the waiting room, or work in the car while waiting for my niece to get out of school. The Surface tablet, IMHO, is a writer’s dream device. My ONLY bitch about my RT (and the Surface in general) is that it’s not lap friendly. You do need a table, desk, or something of that nature to set it on to use it comfortably. Notice I said comfortably — if you have some ingenuity, you can easily make a Surface tablet work on your lap with the keyboard. I’ve done it — many times. It’s just not ideal for typing with the keyboard unless you have a table or flat surface to set it on.
So this past September I was at a writer’s conference with my Surface RT and there was a surprising lack of tables. I spent the weekend precariously balancing the tablet and keyboard on my lap. When I got home I told my husband, “You know, I LOVE this thing, but I really wish it was more “lap stable” like a laptop.”
To which my husband, who is a software engineer by trade, told me, “Oh, you should wait and see what Microsoft is coming out with. There’s a Surface laptop.”
Naturally, I was curious. I waited a few months, then I started reading reviews. It didn’t look promising. So many people were reporting bugs. Sadly, my eight-year-old, 17″ Dell was on its last legs. The battery finally stopped charging and my concern was that if I wasn’t careful and didn’t replace it sooner rather than later, I’d be without a proper laptop for a few weeks when it died like happened with the previous 15″ Dell that lasted me 10 years before the hardware started to fail.
I took the plunge and ordered a rather pricey Surface Book. I ordered the 256GB/ Intel Core i7 – 8GB / dGPU. Ouch. But that’s usually what I spend on hefty work machines when I bought them from Dell, and they were lasting me 8-10 years each. The 17″ still works BTW, but only if it’s plugged in.
So first thing’s first. Switching computers is such a breeze these days, especially with cloud storage. Whether you use Mac or Microsoft, or you’re a fan of Google or Drop Box – get yourself a few terabytes of cloud storage. Unless you’re paranoid that the government will see your pictures of aunt Martha or your plans to take over the western world, you’ll be happy you did. Having all your stuff offloaded to both an external hard drive AND cloud storage makes switching computers a breeze. All you have to do then is reinstall your software, download the files you want back onto your new machine (or sync it up!), and you’re ready to get back to work. Easy peasy – right?
It’s been my experience that setting up a new work laptop usually takes at least one day. The Surface Book was no different. First – before using a new computer you need to do all of your updates. Then I had to activate my Office installation, I had to install my graphics programs and eBook editing software. I had to reinstall Scrivener. I had to add Anymeeting. I am still looking for good video editing software and voice recording software because I think it’s time for an upgrade there. I think what took the longest was syncing my OneDrive. I have over 15 GB of data there. So all in all, yeah, It took me about 6 hours of setup. After that, I was off the ground running!
Naturally I experimented with the pen that came with my Surface Book. It attaches, via strong magnet, to the left side of the screen, which is handy. If you click the top of the pen once it opens OneNote (which is pretty much the same thing as EverNote, only more versatile). If you click the pen twice, it takes a screen shot. The pen on the screen works fantastic and you can get pens with better tips. I might just do that since I create some of my own sigil graphics for my books (one of the reasons I wanted a Surface Book to begin with). I also have occasionally found the need to tweak cover art for my books and I have to create advertising graphics for my books. Plus I plan on using this machine for presentations, so having the pen and touch screen is just handy overall.
The video camera, front and back, works for what I use it for. That would be video conferencing, Skype, teaching live online video workshops, and shooting YouTube videos. It doesn’t seem to like AnyMeeting, but I’m hoping between AnyMeeting and me, we can work out those issues in 2016. In the meantime – my 17″ laptop will be kept in commission as my AnyMeeting machine until I can work out third party software issues.
The internet connection is flawless and I can use it in the opposite side of the house, upstairs from where the wireless is. So good range. Over 2000 square feet. This summer I’ll test it to see if it will work on the back porch since I sometimes like to work out there.
The overall feel of the Surface Book is sturdy. I am notoriously hard on keyboards (being a writer and all that), so I am not feeling too confident that the keys on this thing will hold up under my average 65 WPM for 2-8 hours every day, but we’ll see. I can’t really speak to that since I’ve only had the machine for a few weeks. But the body of the machine feels sturdy – more like my MacBook. To be honest – the keys feel like the MacBook, too. I suppose I could have just used my MacBook, but that’s my backup-backup machine that I use for surfing the web in bed, writing blog posts, and recording live video events.
Battery power. Okay – so, since I got the higher graphics processor, the batteries do tend to drain a little faster. Bigger processor, more power drain. I am still doing some benchmarking on this, but so far I’ve been charging every other day, and I turn the machine off completely when not in use. There is some drain when the machine is sitting doing nothing. But this is true for my Surface RT, my Dells, and my MacBook, so…. no big surprise there. Your power consumption is going to vary during use based on what you’re doing. If you’re just word processing, you’re not going to use nearly as much power as you might if you’re gaming or working with a power hungry graphics program.
I did have the experience where the Surface Book froze once after I closed a third party program. But I held down the power button and rebooted. Problem solved and I have not had the problem since.
So far, my experience with the Surface Book has made me believe that the “bugs” and issues people are having is because they don’t take into consideration what they do with their laptop (power consumption), their third party software is an issue (occasional freeze ups), or basic computer illiteracy (everything else). Because seriously — some of my initial issues with this thing had to do with me getting used to the keyboard and having a laptop with a touch screen.
Yes – going down from a 17″ screen to a 13″ screen has been a huge adjustment, but quite frankly I was getting tired of lugging the 17″ behemoth around. The keyboard is also considerably smaller, which is annoying at times, but I’m getting used to it. At some point in the future I might just get a keyboard, mouse, and bigger monitor for this baby and keep that in my office on the desk so I can hook the Surface Book up when I’m working at home, but then I can still take my machine wherever I go. As for now, whenever I find the screen too small, I just enlarge it with my fingers and there you go. Problem solved. I love the touch screen.
All of my programs (Scrivener, MS Office, Gimp, Calibre, Sigil) are running fantastic on the Windows 10 platform. I’m one of those people who loved Windows 7, loved 8, and love 10. But then I actually took the time to learn how to use 8, whereas most of the people I knew didn’t, and they hated it as a result. The OS since 7 has been very stable. Those who have issues with Windows blue screening or freezing likely have hardware or third party software issues, or they just don’t know how to computer. (PS – not trying to be an asshole when I say that. There are a lot of computer illiterate folks out there. I know because I stand in as IT at the day job sometimes, and a lot of the time the error is between the chair and keyboard. We don’t even bother the IT guy until I’ve looked at something just because we need to make sure it’s not user error.)
So overall – the Surface Book appears to be a solid machine and I think I’m going to love it. Of course time will be the true test. How well will it hold up to my harsh use of the keyboard? How many years will I get out of the hardware before it fails? These are the questions only time will answer. Of course now I can’t harp on my MacBook anymore because this thing is the same size, similar cost, and for video and word processing, the machines are likely comparable. However, my 2011 MacBook doesn’t have a touchscreen and it can’t double as a tablet that I can write on with a stylus. So there you go.
Remember, my first computer was a Commodor Vic 20, after that an IBM XT. If you don’t remember either of those – you’re a lot younger than me. LOL