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Microsoft Surface Book i7 (2016) review:

All about that base

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Microsoft Surface Book i7

(Part #: 5074012200)
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The Good Improved speed, graphics and battery life in a similar, crisp design. Detachable tablet comes included, as does the Surface Pen. Has USB ports and SD card slot.

The Bad It's also slightly thicker and heavier than last year's version, and retains the odd gap on the folding hinge. Expensive compared to other options. Doesn't meet minimum specs for VR gaming.

The Bottom Line The design remains mostly unchanged, but PC power users will like the extra power and battery life on the updated 2016 version of the Surface Book.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery 8.0

The Surface Book was Microsoft's first-ever laptop, and now it's back for an encore.

The Surface Book with Performance Base is an update to last year's Surface Book, a laptop with detaching tablet screen that had an iconic look and some pretty good -- and weird -- design flourishes.

What the Surface Book isn't is a Surface Pro sequel. The Surface Pro 4, released a year ago as well, hasn't been updated in 2016 (and isn't compatible with the Surface Book at all).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

But the funny thing is, this year's version of the Microsoft Surface Book is actually more everyday-practical than Apple's MacBook Pro in some key areas. It has full tablet and stylus modes for art and creative work, and retains legacy ports like full-size USB 3 and an SD card slot, unlike Apple's new MacBooks.

If you're looking for a Windows laptop with good performance chops that can also double as a tablet on the fly, you've come to the right place. As long as you can afford the price. The biggest change to last year's model is the base's boost in battery, processor and graphics. "Performance base," indeed.

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Can you tell the difference between last year and this year?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design: Staying the course from 2015

If you looked at Microsoft's Surface Book last year, lusted after it, but wanted it to be a more powerful computer, this is your answer. It's a better laptop, and a better experience. But in exchange for that power, it also gets a bit heavier.

The side edges feel the same, but there's a clear curving bulge on the base now. You won't notice it unless you stack these laptops side by side, but it's there.

Last year, we remarked that the Surface Book size and weight was comparable to the then-current MacBook Pro models. This year, the MacBooks got thinner and the Surface Book got thicker. The new Book with Performance Base ranges from 13mm thick at the front to 22.8mm thick in the back, and it weighs at least 3.62 pounds. Last year's version maxed at 3.5 pounds for the step-up model with Nvidia graphics.

It's a slightly heavier feel, but it's so close to last year's concept that a newcomer probably won't notice the difference.

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Notice the thicker base on the right (the new one).

Sarah Tew/CNET

The problem is that it's not just MacBooks that have gotten smaller and lighter: the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is down to 3 pounds (1.36 kg). Thin is in for other Windows laptops, too. 3.6 pounds (1.63 kg) now counts as a heavyweight in the ultraportable world.

We had a few issues with the Surface Book design last year, which have unfortunately stayed: The futuristic magnesium hinge unfolded beautifully, but unlike with devices like the Lenovo Yoga it doesn't flip over end-to-end. To turn it into a tabletop touchscreen, you detach the top and flip it around and re-dock into the base.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

There's also still a weird gap between the top and base when closed, as if the whole Surface Book was a sheet of metal curved and folded in half. A gap-free, slimmer design would still be preferred.

But at least the Surface Book retains its classic ports. Unlike the MacBook Pro's crazy all-USB-C array, the Surface Book base has two USB-3 ports, a Mini DisplayPort and an SD card slot, plus Microsoft's magnetic charge connector. USB-C would have been nice, too, but for pros this is probably the preferred arrangement for the present.

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