Microsoft has been slowly but steadily converting artists, audio pros and digital workers away from their precious MacBooks for a few years now.
The Surface Pro might have done a lot of that heavy lifting, but it was the Surface Book that delivered performance as well as portability - and now there’s a second-gen version with even more grunt.
Don’t think of it as a mere spec bump, though: the addition of some arty accessories make the combination of tablet ease-of-use and laptop power even more potent than last year’s model.
Simply put: the Surface Book is an absolute productivity powerhouse - although that means it might be overkill for everyone else.
DESIGN & BUILD: THAT HINGE TWINGE
With sharp lines and industrial looks, the Surface Book 2 is an enviably slick machine. The angular approach contrasts well with Apple’s more shapely curves, meaning there’s no mistaking this for a MacBook.
Just like before, the Book is actually two separate parts: a 13.5in tablet and accompanying keyboard base, which holds the more power-hungry bits like the Nvidia graphics card.
Both tablet and base are machined from magnesium alloy, with a tank tred-style hinge connecting the two. It's gorgeous, and a lot sturdier than last year’s version so the tablet doesn’t wobble alarmingly whenever you tap the touchscreen.
The unique shape still leaves a big gap when it's closed, though - enough to swallow the loose contents of your laptop bag.
OK, so it’s not as thin as an iPad Pro, but the tablet is still thin and light enough to kick back on the sofa with once the work day is over. Combined, the pair only weigh 1.5kg, which is perfect for working on the move.
It might not be overflowing with ports, but the Surface Book 2 fares far better than the latest MacBook Pro with two full-size USB3 ports, an SD card reader and a single USB-C in the base, in addition to the headphone jack on the tablet.
Microsoft’s proprietary charging port is still here, but if you’ve got a powerful enough USB-C adapter, you’ll also be able to top up the Book 2 with the same cable you use for your smartphone.
IN USE: TOP TYPIST
Just like the first Surface Book, the sequel is all about that base. With the screen clipped into place, it acts like a regular ol' laptop, but hold down a keyboard button and the magic happens.
Software switches from the base’s dedicated graphics card to the built-in GPU behind the screen. Magnetic latches are released, and the display pops off into tablet mode. You can then dock the screen backwards for some impromptu presentations, or return to laptop mode when you need to type something longer than a Facebook post.
In laptop mode, the Surface Book 2's excellent keyboard is a joy to type on. Each backlit key has a reassuring amount of depth, and feels pleasingly chunky to hit. There's a lot more feedback here than you get from the butterfly keys on Apple's latest MacBooks, and in our minds is the best typing experience you'll find on a laptop right now.
The multi-touch trackpad works brilliantly too, recognising gestures and working out right clicks from left clicks with great accuracy. Windows touchpads aren't usually this slick, but Microsoft has done a great job keeping the software in check.
ACCESSORIES: ART ATTACK
That's only half the story, of course: The Surface Book also comes with the Surface Pen, and plays nicely with the Surface Dial too.
The Surface Pen remains mostly unchanged from last year, with many thousands of levels of pressure detection and a magnetic dock that lets you hang it off the side of the machine when you're not using it.
As always, latency between pen and screen is some of the best in the business, helping you to concentrate on your lines rather than waiting for the digital ink to start flowing.
The Dial is more exciting, letting you rotate and click to change Photoshop brushes, screen brightness and volume, or zoom and scroll in any application.
With Pen in one hand and Dial pressed on the screen with the other, it's an artist's drafting table updated for 2017. We like it. A lot.