Microsoft makes its first real laptop, but can Surface Book take on MacBook Air?

7 Oct 2015

Innovation has been flagging in the laptop market of late, with it becoming something of a turkey shoot for Apple with its sleek and stylish MacBook products. But Microsoft may have just lit the spark with a new Surface Book device, its first formal laptop with an ace up its sleeve – the screen can detach.

Until lately, Microsoft seemed focused on convertible devices, like its innovative Surface device range – tablets that incidentally had desktop/laptop power. These devices were a huge leap forward in computing capability, but are still largely underrated in the overall PC market.

The traditional laptop market has trucked along, and the market has only a few real innovators: Apple with its hugely popular MacBook Air, and some clever designs from players like Lenovo and Toshiba.

But last night something changed. Last night, Microsoft decided to swagger in New York.

You get the sense that Microsoft has decided to light the fires of innovation and throw its own competing laptop, the Surface Book, into the mix.

The Surface Book physically connects the screen to the laptop so it can be moved up and down, or forward and back like any laptop. But there is a twist: the screen can detach.

The specs are immense, and Microsoft might be right in claiming it is the most advanced laptop on the market right now. It is also Microsoft’s priciest, starting at US$1,499.

The machine is powered by a 6th-Gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, and also comes with an i5/i7 NVIDIA GPU.

Weighing 3.34 pounds, the Windows 10 computer also comes with a battery that can last up to 12 hours.

The 13.5-inch PixelSense display has a resolution of 3,000×2,000 and an aspect ratio of 3:2.

Storage options are 128GB, 256GB or 1TB.

This is quite a lot of firepower, and no doubt Apple, which recently launched its iPad Pro 12.9-inch tablet, will be watching with interest. Apple has consistently stuck to its guns and kept its OS X and iOS ecosystems separate, albeit with greater compatibility between devices.

Microsoft is now making hardware sexy … wait, what?

As well as the Surface Book, Microsoft had a number of devices to roll out in New York.

It revealed the new Surface Pro 4, a tablet that can replace your laptop, which is thinner, lighter and faster than its predecessor, the Surface Pro 3, with prices starting at US$899. The machine, which has a 12.3-inch PixelSense display weights just 1.69Ibs (766 grams) and is powered by 6th-Gen Intel Core processors.

Microsoft is full of surprises, and showed considerable sleight of hand with the new Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL smartphones, its first smartphones powered by Windows 10.


Not only are these a mobile version of Windows 10, but, when plugged into a Display Dock device and a monitor, they function as an entire Windows 10 PC using Microsoft’s Continuum technology. This potentially changes the dimension of what we view as mobile computing. Impressive stuff.

Microsoft also revealed a new Lumia Band wearable device and its HoloLens development edition, which comes with a hefty US$3,000 price tag but, nevertheless, wowed audience in New York.

Microsoft also revealed that an update to Windows 10 will bring backward compatibility to Xbox One, so all those Xbox 360 games you loved can be dusted off.

Can Microsoft save the PC industry from itself?

It says a lot about conditions in the PC industry that Microsoft, whose focus was mostly on the operating system, has had to show the hardware makers how to do their jobs. The tepid nature of innovation among PC makers has left the market wide open for Apple to exploit.

The result has been consistently strong growth of Apple MacBook Pro and Air products, and Apple smells blood.

There is a new spirit in Microsoft; a rebellious one of swagger, led by design and guided by a clear-cut vision of the future of Windows.

The Surface Book is a statement of intent by Microsoft, but it is also a suggestion for PC hardware makers to get their act together.


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years