It's cool to see Microsoft think different.
I was hoping by now to share some thoughts on a new MacBook Pro line as we're almost at the end of the back to school buying season, however, there is nothing to share. While we wait to see when, how or even if the MacBook Pro line gets an update, I could speculate as to why the delays or discuss upgrade cycles, and, speculate on future product designs or features.
Instead, I thought I'd talk about a book by a different author. I've been using a Microsoft Surface Book for a little over a week now as my primary computing device. My quick, quick take? Surface Book is arguably one of the very best laptops on the market today, on par with the best of Apple's current line — with a few interesting tricks.
The Surface product line always had a clear, if controversial, message. It was the tablet that could also be your computer. (Of course today Apple markets the iPad Pro as a computer so is that a tablet that's also a computer? Just what is a computer?) Surface Book has a different philosophy, it's a traditional laptop form factor, with Microsoft's equivalent of a Retina display (and a higher pixel density than a MacBook Pro). The display is also touch sensitive, comes with a pen capable of 1024 levels of pressure, and runs the full version of Windows Anniversary edition. Oh, the screen also detaches to become an independent tablet, sort of like the saucer separation from the rest of the Enterprise. The Surface Book is definitely a PC first, a tablet second, and that's an interesting combination.
The Surface Book is roughly the size and weight of a 13" MacBook Pro. The screen is a somewhat unusual 3:2 aspect ratio. Design, and build quality are excellent, the keyboard has a nice feel. Most importantly, this is a Windows PC with a really great trackpad. It took forever, but it's here.
My unit is an i5 with a 256GB SSD. There are various configurations with and without a dedicated GPU, with prices that go up and down accordingly. I don't think I'd want to play heavy duty games on this thing, but I wouldn't on a MacBook Pro either. Microsoft claims around 13 hours of battery life. I didn't do a specific battery test, but I easily worked through a long day with power to spare.
So it's a pretty great Windows machine. The magic happens when you press a button on the keyboard, wait a moment for the light to turn green, and off comes the screen turning it into a 1.6-pound tablet (or, as Microsoft calls it, a clipboard). Battery life in tablet mode is around three to four hours. Not good enough for a dedicated device, but more than acceptable for a companion tool. Windows Anniversary is quite adept at switching from a UI optimized for a traditional form factor to a UI optimized for a tablet. WAE also has some nice support for pen apps integrated directly into the OS. The pen also is held magnetically to the side of the tablet, therefore it's a lot harder to lose. Battery life is rated at one year with replaceable batteries instead of charging. I could make a case for both philosophies but the Microsoft Pen doesn't have a cap easily lost when charging. (Apple Pencil team, are you listening?) There are also different pen tips available for different writing experiences, although I did not get a chance to try them.
I'm not trying to compare Surface Books to MacBooks. They're written for different audiences, albeit with some overlapping use cases. Depending on how you use a traditional PC relative to a tablet, and your desire to care — and feed — two devices makes the cost/benefit different for everyone.
The beauty of Surface Book that I found was that if offered a fresh take on traditional laptop design, with features that aren't gratuitous but are well thought out. Surface Book isn't a Toaster/Fridge. I think of it more a refrigerator freezer, or clock radio. Two different functions living together in a single device, each delivering the appropriate experience (this is the last time I make a kitchen appliance metaphor … ever).
I doubt we'll see an equivalent product from Apple. A MacBook with a detachable screen that turned it into an iPad doesn't seem like it would be part of Apple's design philosophy. Nor would it make a whole lot of sense. That's not the point.
It's nice to see a major vendor taking a different spin on personal computing. It shows there's more than just thinner, lighter, faster or gratuitous differentiators. In short, it's cool to see Microsoft think different.