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Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch) review: A satisfying sequel

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The Good The new Surface Book 2 adds a long list of worthy upgrades, from new CPUs and gamer-ready graphics cards to a bigger 15-inch version. Battery life and performance are both excellent.

The Bad The two-in-one design still feels awkward at times, and for some users, the detachable screen may be superfluous. The most interesting new components are only available in very expensive configurations.

The Bottom Line The Surface Book 2 is a satisfying sequel, but like many sequels, it may be trying to broadly serve too many audiences.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 9

There's a lot going on with the new Surface Book 2.

It's not just a laptop, it's a laptop with the latest 8th-gen Intel Core-series CPUs.

You can detach the screen and cart it around as a standalone tablet, or connect it to the keyboard base for extra battery life and graphics power. And that graphics power comes from a couple of gamer-friendly Nvidia GPUs, up to the very popular GeForce 1060.

You lose the graphics power when detaching the tablet, but that just makes it easier to use the proprietary (and sold separately) Microsoft Pen stylus for drawing or note-taking, which has been a standout feature of the entire Surface line since Day 1.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15 inch)
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It also has the camera hardware and updated Windows software for trendy new augmented reality experiences.

And don't forget, the 13-inch version is now joined by a second model, with a bigger, higher-resolution 15-inch display, clearly designed to go head-to-head with Apple's category-defining 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Long story short, there's a lot to unpack in Microsoft's new Surface Book 2, a computer that aims to satisfy many different audiences.

The new models start at $1,499 for the 13-inch and $2,499 for the 15-inch. The 13-inch model is hitting several global markets, with a starting price of £1,449 or AU$2,199, while the 15-inch model is US-only for now (but it converts to £1,880 or AU$3,180).

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Price as reviewed $2,499.00
Display size/resolution 15.1-inch, 3,240x2,160 touch display
PC CPU 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-8650U
PC Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 6GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
Storage 1TB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)

Under the Surface

The Surface Pro tablet and cloth-covered Surface Laptop may get more buzz (and there's also the Surface Studio, an all-in-one desktop built like a drafting desk). But since its launch in 2015, the Surface Book ($750 at Amazon) has been the high-powered member of the Surface family targeted at pro-level buyers such as artists, designers, engineers, or photo/video editors.

A grab bag of features has led to the Surface Book, now in its third incarnation, feeling like an attempt to juggle too many hats at times. Is it a graphics powerhouse? A portable slate? A MacBook Pro alternative and/or an iPad Pro ($649 at Amazon) alternative? Thanks in part to a slightly awkward hinge mechanism and how the components are split between the screen and body, it historically felt like a machine designed as a standard clamshell laptop, with the two-in-one part thrown in as an afterthought.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15 inch)
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Sarah Tew/CNET

None of those fundamental questions are resolved by the Surface Book 2, but this new version of the system does improve on the first two generations (the original 2015 Surface Book, and an intermediate 2016 model with a few design tweaks and a CPU upgrade) in a great many substantial ways.

If you were on the fence about the Surface Book because you wanted more power, VR and mixed reality support, or a bigger screen, then I'm pleased to say this is a smart set of upgrades that should push you into the buy-now category. The new 15-inch model in particular feels, big, powerful and fun, and will also play any current PC game at decent medium/high settings.

But if you don't think you'll ever need or want to pop the screen off as a standalone tablet, then maybe look for similar parts (an 8th-gen Intel Core i5/i7 and an Nvidia GeForce 1050 or 1060 GPU) in a less-expensive clamshell.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15 inch)
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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Surface Book's articulated "dynamic fulcrum" hinge gets some minor tweaks in the Surface Book 2, and translates well to the larger 15-inch size. It feels stiff enough and stays where you put it, although there's a little screen bounce when adjusting the angle.

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