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Microsoft's Surface Book laptop-tablet mashup gives MacBook Pro a run for its money (hands-on)

A step up from the Surface, the Surface Book looks and behaves like a laptop but can convert into a tablet.

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Do you like the Surface, but want a more traditional laptop design? Microsoft has built the Surface Book, a Surface tablet that clicks into a keyboard dock that makes it look like a laptop. The software giant showed it off during its press event in New York today.

This is a slim, stark-looking 13-inch laptop -- the off-white design reminds me of the classic white MacBook, although this is metal, not polycarbonate plastic.

The hinge, with its flexible "dynamic fulcrum" design is one of the truly unique design elements here. It needs to move freely, but remain in place when you set it to your preferred angle. The movement is smooth, at least in the few moments we could try it.

There's a glass touchpad with multitouch, and backlit keys that are quiet and comfortable. The key depth, sometimes called travel, feels very thick for such a small laptop. It's a big change from the very shallow keys on something like the 12-inch MacBook. A big touchpad is a must. In a few swipes, it's impossible to tell how well it works with multitouch gestures and Windows 10 gestures, but that's one area no one has been able to beat Apple on, at least so far.

The big surprise here is that the screen pops off, making this a laptop-first hybrid, rather than the Surface Pro 4, which is a tablet-first hybrid. Removing the screen was not as seamless as it is on some other magnetic hybrid hinges we've tried, but it may just take some practice to get used to. The tablet half feels bigger and heftier than a Surface Pro, but not by much. Unless they were side by side, you might have trouble telling them apart at first.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Surface Book has a 13.5-inch diagonal PixelSense, 3,000x2,000 pixel display, with 6 million pixels at 267 pixels per inch. The screen supports touch and you can write on it with the included Surface Pen.

It's equipped with a 5-megapixel front-facing Windows Hello face-authentication camera to unlock the laptop, plus an 8-megapixel rear camera that can record 1080p HD video.

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The tablet by itself weighs 1.6 pounds (700 grams) and is just 0.3 inches (7.7mm) thick. Add the keyboard and it goes to 3.3 pounds (1.5kg) and between 0.5-0.9 inches (13-22.8 mm) thick.

Inside, the Surface Book has a PCIe 3.0 solid-state drive, with either 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB of storage space. There's also an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor depending on the model you choose, an Nvidia GeForce GPU with dedicated high-speed GDDR5 16GB of storage and 8GB or 16GB of RAM.

The 128 GB model costs $1,499 or AU$2,299 (£985 converted), while the 1TB option goes up to $2,699 (£1,770 or AU$2,699 converted, no confirmed Australian pricing yet). The lower-end model doesn't have the Nvidia GPU, which keeps costs lower.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Surface Book's battery can last for 12 hours while playing video. When the lid is closed, it allegedly won't drain battery, so it can last for several days on a single charge, as long as you don't use it too much.

It's an all-around premium device and the fastest 13-inch laptop (well really, laptop-tablet), according to the company. Microsoft is taking a direct shot at Apple's MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models, promising better battery life and more power and better performance for gaming and watching video.

See all of today's Microsoft news.

Editors' note: This story was originally published at 8:57 a.m. PT and has been updated to add hands-on impressions and video.

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