Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Notebook: The Choice Is Surprisingly Easy

By Rob Enderle June 27, 2017

I’ve been using Microsoft’s latest versions—or, in some cases, the only versions—of its Surface PC line of products. Each is very different in terms of use and has its preferred usage.  Surface Book, which now has a GPU-enabled performance base as an option, actually has two. Let’s get to it…which Surface product is best for you?

Surface Pro

This is the oldest product and the least expensive of the group yet, starting at $800. However, the Surface Pro is no slouch when it comes to work; I have the Core i5 with 255M drive and 8M memory (list is around $1,200). Basically, the Surface Pro was designed to address the market that had suddenly fallen in love with the iPad as a laptop alternative, and this focus shows.  This product has the strongest tablet experience of the line and it is basically a tablet with a removable keyboard while, when we get to the Surface Book, it is more of a notebook with a removable tablet.  This product reports a battery life of around 13 hours, allowing you to largely leave the charger in your room or at home when you are on the road.  

This product is for someone that really wants the tablet experience because this is by far the best tablet.  If you like to draw, have to fill out a lot of forms, or like to edit with a pen, this is your product.  The keyboard has improved a great deal since it started and now it is far more solid, but the product still isn’t very good on a lap or on an airplane tray because the screen supporting kickstand can fall off the back.  

Surface Notebook

The Surface Notebook is a touch notebook.  This doesn’t even try to be a tablet but it uses much of the same design language. It runs about $200 more than the Surface pro and has a tad more battery life.  It is a full-on laptop though and has a decent touch screen. Even though it is only $100 more, this product feels far richer largely because the Notebook’s keyboard is a solid part of the product and not a magnetically attached option. This is a far prettier product than the Surface Pro, largely because it is one component, not two magnetically attached.  

This is for someone that wants a more traditional notebook and likely has had a bit of Apple envy over the years.  In short, if you have always wanted your Apple friends to have a bit of envy about what you carry, but don’t need or want a tablet, then the Surface Notebook is for you.  Oh, and it comes in colors so you can pick one to better match your personality. 

Surface Book

Falling between the two—both when it was released and in what it does—is the Surface Book. This is the best blend of Notebook and Tablet, with one exception, and that is the tablet-only battery life of less than four hours.  This product matches how most 2-in-1 laptops are actually used. Generally, they are mostly used as notebook computers and occasionally the tablet is removed and used as a tablet. This product has an optional performance base with a GPU, making it the only product in this group that plays high level video games and can be used by engineers as a light workstation.  Price is around $200 to $400+ more than the Surface Notebook, but that gets more flexibility and at least the option of using a very thin and very light tablet.  

This is more of a showcase product using an electronic latch for the tablet; it offers a unique hinge and the ability to reverse the screen for presentations if you want. With the performance base, this is by far the highest performing product, while the regular base performance should be more in line with the Surface Notebook.  So, overall, it’s best for those that need to push performance if they get the performance base and, if not, for those that mostly want a showcase notebook but think that occasionally they’ll want some tablet capability. This is also the most impressive of the products, so it looks best for those that like to show off a bit.  

Wrapping Up

There are consistencies with every product.  All of them look almost as much like art as they do notebooks and tablets.  They all incorporate metals, with the exception of the Surface Pro keyboard, and a look suggesting they were crafted and not manufactured.  Each of these products falls into the premium category of products, thus the higher prices and the emphasis on design. In effect, this line was created to directly battle Apple’s offerings at the high end. One other consistent feature is Microsoft Hello face recognition. This is one of those features that, once you get used to it, you miss it when it is gone.  No password or PIN, it just knows your face. 

My personal favorite, even though I’m typing this on the Surface Pro, is the Surface Notebook. That is, with one exception: gaming.  So, you’d think I’d mostly want to carry the Surface Book, but I don’t; I mostly carry the Surface Notebook now because I’ve learned that I like to game with a big honking monitor, which means that I mostly game at home. I don’t draw so the little $79 Kindle Fire has been perfect for me for what I use a tablet for.  

But overall, if you are tablet focused then the Surface Pro is the best choice. If not, then it is the Surface Notebook, and if you want the product that pushes the edge the most and think you might occasionally want a tablet then the blended Surface Book would be your best choice. Good hunting!




 

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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