Last time Microsoft released a Surface, it was the Surface Laptop, the mainstream computer in its lineup. For years, Microsoft has tried to introduce new categories into the PC market, with the Surface Pro, a tablet that’s also a laptop, and a Surface Book, a laptop that’s also a tablet. (They’re more different than they sound I swear.) The Surface Laptop was Microsoft’s recognition that lots of users don’t want new and category-busting. They just want a laptop.
But as Microsoft went to create the Surface Book 2, the company once again tried to bust categories. The result is the most combinatory device Microsoft’s made yet. It’s a laptop (screens measure 13 or 15 inches; there’s a keyboard and trackpad)—and it’s also a tablet (the screen detaches, you can use a pen, everything’s touch-friendly), and it’s also a desktop. A stupendously powerful one, at that: It runs on Intel’s new eighth-generation quad-core processors, in either a Core i5 or Core i7 version. The higher-end models come with Nvidia’s GeForce discrete graphics, up to 16 gigs of RAM, and as much as 1 terabyte of solid storage. All that in a fanless body that gets up to 17 hours of battery life, and weighs about 3.5 pounds for the smaller model or 4.2 pounds for the larger.
What does all that mean? Microsoft claims the smaller model is three times more powerful than the last Surface Book, and the 15-inch runs five times as fast. Those are meaningless comparisons, but the point holds. This thing screams. More useful are the comparisons to Apple’s latest MacBook Pros: Microsoft claims up to 70 percent more battery life, and double the performance of Apple’s laptops.
The Book 2 doesn’t quite nail the center of the device-type Venn diagram. A 15-inch tablet qualifies as hilariously huge, and you’re not exactly going to hold a 13-inch screen for hours on the subway either. The whole thing’s a lot heavier than your MacBook Air, too. But it’s close enough to be interesting. So much of Microsoft’s hardware plans center on the idea that your device should do everything, every way imaginable. With the Book 2, Microsoft created a PC that can be used for almost anything.
The Surface Book 2 exists to serve the same sorts of creatives as the Surface Studio, or the Surface Pro. It’s just that Book customers apparently need roughly the same amount of computing power as a space station. Panos Panay, Microsoft’s head of hardware, says that Surface Book owners use their devices more and more intensely than users of any other Surface. He wants to sell the Book 2 to people who are working on machine-learning projects, and want to test their algorithms without leaving their laptop to use a more powerful machine. It’s for people who are making augmented reality experiences and need both pen input and discrete graphics. It’s for gamers who want to take their laptop into work without having to explain all the blinking red lights.
The Book 2 comes out November 16 and starts at a whopping $1,499 for the base 13-inch model. Power don’t come cheap. This isn’t the laptop for everyone, though. The Surface Laptop’s still there, and still pretty great. This one’s for people who might’ve otherwise bought a desktop and a laptop, or a laptop and a Wacom tablet. It’s for people who make stuff, and have some money (or a corporate card) to spend on making stuff. Microsoft hopes the device enables the first generation of Windows Mixed Reality apps, new games for the even-more-powerful Xbox One X, and a whole bunch of Hololens fun. Plus whatever other crazy stuff people make when they’re backed by a mountain of processing power. Even if it’s just really cool videos in that new Story Remix app.