I have used a MacBook Pro as my main computing machine
for the past five years, and switched to Microsoft’s new
Surface Book 2 for a week to see how the transition
The hardware is fantastic — but you need some time to
adjust and appreciate it.
The complexity is tied to Windows 10, which is a more
flexible and intricate operating system than macOS.
To fully appreciate the Surface Book and Windows 10,
Microsoft indirectly asks you to switch to its suite of
software and services, and
my strong ties with
Google’s ecosystem made that nearly impossible.
I have been using a MacBook Pro as my main computing machine for
the past five years, and have grown to love it. From the
fantastic hardware to the sleekness of macOS, despite a few
shortcomings, Apple’s offering has mostly kept me happy.
More recently, I have also become a big fan of what Microsoft has
been doing with its hardware, and when I got the chance to try
out one of its new Surface Book 2 devices, I jumped on the
I have used a family Surface Pro 4 extensively, and even got to
spend some time with
the most recent model, simply called Surface Pro, which I
adored, so I had had my fair share of experience with Windows
10 (in addition to years of using Windows XP, 7, and 8).
With the Surface Book 2, however, I decided to take a different
approach: I fully switched for a week, and used it as my primary
laptop, as if I had purchased it myself to replace the MacBook.
This inevitably left me with some strong impressions, and a big,
partly unexpected, realisation: I am more tied to Google’s suite
of software and services than I ever thought.
Here’s what I learned:
The hardware is spectacular
This is the first thing that’s immediately obvious the moment you
remove the plastic wrap: The cold feeling of the magnesium
casing, its softly brushed texture, the sturdiness of the device
itself — it hits you right away, and it’s the kind of thing you
would expect from Apple rather than Microsoft.
Magnesium is also surprisingly refreshing to the touch opposed to
the MacBook’s aluminum as it’s generally colder and it feels more
genuine, as if the alloy itself hadn’t gone through dozens of
machines; it’s not a big deal, obviously, but it’s the kind of
subtle, distinctive detail that shows that Microsoft
cares, and it wants its devices to stand out in an
ever-increasing sea of homogeneous products from all sorts of
The Surface Book 2 is a product like nothing else: It opens up as
a laptop, but it has a fully detachable screen that turns into a
tablet in its own right; or you can flip it around, re-attach it
to the keyboard, and fold it, all the way down if you want.
If you do detach and then reattach the top portion backwards,
there are two main positions: Flat, where you might want to use
it for activities such as drawing, or with a 45-degree angle,
which can be very comfortable if you plan to watch videos.
And, in any way you look at it, the 13.5-inch, 3000×2000 display
is insanely gorgeous: It’s sharp and detailed, with colours that
really pop while not being overly saturated, and a slightly
warmer tone than my MacBook’s, which made it a tad easier and
more pleasing to the eye.
The buttons, as well as the trackpad and keyboard keys, are stiff
and with good, satisfying travel, involuntarily reminding you
that this is a high-quality product. After all, at £1,500 for the
base model (with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of
storage), it should be (it goes all the way up to i7/16GB/1TB for
Performance is also top notch: My device always kept things
speedy and quiet — it never froze, slowed down, or needed to
reboot — even with three browsers (with dozens of tabs open),
Steam, Spotify, OneNote, and other apps open at the same time.
It can also run games at decent settings, but don’t expect
top-notch performance; if that’s what you’re looking for, the
bigger 15-inch version has an option with a GTX 1060 GPU, which
is decidedly more powerful than the 1050 my unit had (the 15-inch
model is only available in the US right now).
The Book did get a little warm at times, but overall I was
surprised by its performance — in comparison, my aging MacBook’s
fans kick in rapidly if I don’t pay attention to my workload
(although it too did just fine for the first years of its life).
There are other nice things you’ll find on the outer case, such
as two full-size USB-A ports, — the ones you won’t see on more
recent MacBooks — a USB-C hole, and Microsoft’s MagSafe-like
opening for charging.
But the most interesting nicety hides underneath the top portion
of the screen’s bezel, where the Windows Hello-enabling camera is
Windows 10 is a great operating system that’s both powerful and
That camera is one of the few things that begin to really
separate Microsoft’s and Apple’s offerings.
Windows Hello is Microsoft’s system that allows biometric
authentications, like fingerprint reading and face scanning. The
Surface Book has the latter, and in my testing it has been
consistently accurate in recognising me, as well as blazing fast.
There’s something special about lifting the lid, opening it and
being automatically and securely logged in to your desktop; Apple
already has Face ID on the iPhone X, which works very well in my
experience, but on the laptop it makes even more sense, as you’re
always looking at the screen at angles that don’t require
you to adjust.
It will probably be a matter of time before Face ID finds its way
to Apple’s computers, but for now, Mac users are “stuck” with
fingerprint readers on MacBook Pros, which work well but aren’t
as seamless. For me, coming from an older machine, it was a very
nice bump ahead.
Then there’s Windows 10 itself — and this is where people,
particularly tempted MacBook users like me, should weigh up
carefully before deciding whether it’s worth jumping ship.
In a nutshell, I think that Windows 10 is a fantastic operating
system (OS), and one that’s possibly more interesting than macOS.
Apple’s focus is clearly on iOS, with its desktop OS being
treated more like legacy software with no real upgrades,
Microsoft has turned Windows 10 into a service that’s constantly
evolving and adding new things.
There are two problems I’ve had with it, however: One is more
likely to be shared by the majority, while the other one was more
personal — although that, too, is an issue many might run into.
After using the Surface Book 2 for a week, I got left with the
feeling that Windows 10 is an incredibly powerful, flexible, and
capable OS, one that actually does much more than I need. This
can be good at times, but it feels overwhelming at others.
It’s a double-edged sword. Windows 10’s learning curve is steeper
than macOS’, which remains a relatively simple, straightforward
OS; but it’s also a more rewarding one: The more I delved into
Windows, the more I realised just how much stuff you can do.
Just think about how many ways of interacting with it you have:
There’s the normal laptop mode, with trackpad and keyboard; then
there’s tablet mode — with dedicated software tweaks — then the
flip-mode; and beyond the touchscreen you can also use
peripherals such as the Surface Pen stylus, and the Surface Dial
(a puck-shaped accessory that you rotate and changes its
functionality based on the app you’re using).
They change the experience, ideally for the better, but all ask
for some learning time. You are not forced to use them, and could
simply stick to using it as a laptop — but then the Book
shouldn’t be the machine you buy. The more time passes, the more
you find yourself taking advantage of all this flexibility.
That’s nice, but unless you are using specific applications and
have particular needs (where using the Pen, the Dial, the
flip-mode or else are obvious, immediate improvements), it still
feels like overkill.
The Surface Book 2 is, by far, the machine that better
encapsulates Windows 10: A system for pro users, who have
specific needs and know how to take advantage of such a complex
and capable machine. It feels like using a technologically
advanced supercar, if you will — but if all you do is commuting
to and from work with the occasional jaunt, you probably don’t
need a Ferrari.
Windows 10 only gives its best if you use Microsoft’s software
This makes the move to Windows more of a question of having too
much to gain rather risking to lose something by leaving another
system like macOS, and all the acquired familiarity with it.
Personally, I believe I could switch without too much trouble and
keep doing what I do. There is some readjustment — namely with
gestures, which I use a lot on macOS and have grown accustomed to
— but nothing that would make me wish I had never made the move.
Over time, as mentioned, you slowly learn to master and
appreciate the Book 2’s and Windows 10’s versatility, and going
back to the Mac actually feels like a bit of sacrifice.
My final assessment on the platform itself is “I like it, I like
it a lot, but I don’t really need all this added
functionality.” What I use my computer for, I thought, I can do
just as well whether I’m on my old MacBook or a Windows 10
Except I can’t; not really.
When I considered switching permanently (for the sake of change),
one aspect eventually stopped me, and that’s Microsoft’s suite of
services. Let me elaborate:
As someone who spends the vast majority of his online time within
a browser, I devoted much of my online life to Google. In this,
Apple isn’t too invasive, as I simply ignore most of its services
and just stick to Google’s.
It’s what I thought I’d be doing on Windows. But Microsoft —
which has an ostensibly superior software suite compared to
Apple’s — always tries to lure you in. And it does a good job at
that, not least because of the constant pop-up reminders that ask
you to try out Cortana, its Edge browser, or the Office 365
suite. It may seem trivial, but when Cortana starts opening
search queries on Bing inside Edge, you realise how invasive this
And that’s certainly annoying, but Microsoft takes it a step
further. That’s because its suite of products is the only one
that actually takes advantage of all the hardware and software
perks built into the Book and Windows. As you get more and more
accustomed to Windows and start using its features, you slowly
realise how insanely wide the gap between its products and those
from other software makers are.
The most staggering example comes in the way of performance:
Using Microsoft Edge I noticed considerable speed improvements
over Chrome, and OneNote’s integration with one click of the
Surface Pen obliterates the poor experience of opening Google
Keep in a new tab.
On that example: I love using the Surface Pen and the Surface
Book’s touchscreen to draw on Google Keep, my go-to notes app,
but OneNote is much better integrated into the experience, so I’m
torn between choosing the software I have always used and the one
that actually works better.
On my Mac, using Apple’s Notes app is better than opening a new
tab and firing up Keep, but the difference is not nearly as big.
In that case, the “ecosystem superiority” (aka sticking to what
you already use) takes priority over small functional
And I use many of Google’s software products: Gmail, Inbox, Keep,
Maps, YouTube, Search, Photos — the list goes on, and I’m sure
I’m not alone in this. On my Mac — and Apple’s hardware in
general — it’s much easier to keep Apple’s influence down and
just live with Google.
Microsoft, on the other hand, makes this really hard, and
essentially asks for a full commitment — the OneNote example
above is just one. For every online service Google has, Microsoft
has a counterpart, and it often works better.
There where the hardware switch from Apple to Microsoft is
feasible, the software migration over to the Redmond giant’s
services is not — at least not in my case. The problem is not
that Microsoft’s offering is bad, but that it’s demanding.
If you’re already a user of Microsoft’s software, then by all
means go for it; the Surface Book 2 is genuinely a spectacular
product that will have a lot to offer — and if you think the
Surface Book 2 itself is too much of a pro machine, look at the
Surface Laptop or the Surface Pro, or any of the other great
Windows machines manufacturers like HP and Dell offer.
If, like me, you are already tied to another ecosystem, however,
you will either have to adapt, look elsewhere, or keep doing what
you do with a few added annoyances. I was saddened by this,
because it showed me how strong of a hold Google has on me. But
it is what it is.
The whole package is great, but you need to take it all
I liked using the Surface Book 2 a lot, and am genuinely excited
about the development of Windows 10. It’s a great operating
system, and the Book 2 is possibly its best incarnation as of
But to enjoy it fully — and justify the purchase — you need to be
in a very niche group of people that are both not too heavily
tied to other companies’ ecosystems of software and services and
that can really take advantage of all of that the Surface
Book/Windows combo has to give.
I, for one, couldn’t justify the full switch. Even the MacBook
Pro that I own, save for some Photoshop and a few heavier
applications, is a machine I bought only because of my admittedly
over-demanding browsing needs, but I could very well live with a
If only the Pixelbook were half as nice as a Surface Book, that