Today, the two most common types of Windows 10 2-in-1s are tablets with detachable keyboards like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, and more standard notebooks with screens that swivel 360 degrees into tablet mode. Microsoft’s Surface Book is in its own category as a sort of hybrid between the two. It’s a more traditional notebook that morphs into a tablet, but with its own unique twist — the display detaches completely from its keyboard base via Microsoft’s “muscle wire” locking mechanism, and becomes a large yet still thin-and-light tablet.
Although it’s an innovative — and somewhat complex — approach to the notebook-oriented 2-in-1, the Surface Book provides the same basic benefits as more common flip-around 2-in-1s like HP’s new Spectre x360 15. The Surface Book is also an expensive machine, and while its 13.5-inch screen is smaller than the 15.6-inch display on HP’s machine, it’s also quite a bit larger than the 12-inch or so screens on tablets with detachable keyboards.
That makes the comparison between the Surface Book and the Spectre x360 15 an interesting one. The question is: does the Surface Book’s unique design make it better than the much less expensive Spectre x360 15?
Microsoft Surface Book
HP Spectre x360 15
|Dimensions||12.30 x 9.14 x .51 – .90 (in)||14.00 x 9.88 x .70 (in)|
|Weight||3.34 pounds, Intel HD graphics
3.48 pounds, GTX 940M graphics
3.68 pounds, GTX 965M graphics (Performance Base)
|Processor||6th Generation Intel Core i5 and i7 dual-core||7th Generation Intel Core i7 dual-core|
|RAM||8GB or 16GB DDR4||8 or 16GB DDR4|
|Display||13.5-inch IPS touchscreen||15.6-inch IPS touchscreen|
|Resolution||3,000 x 2,000, 3:2 aspect ratio||3,840 x 2,160, 16:9 aspect ratio|
|Storage||256GB, 512GB, 1TB PCIe SSD||256GB, 512GB, 1TB PCIe SSD|
|Networking||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2|
|Ports||2 x USB 3.0, 1 x mini-DisplayPort, Headset, SD Card Reader||1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB Type-C, 1 x USB Type-c with Thunderbolt 3, 1 x HDMI, Headset, SD Card reader|
|Webcam||1080P webcam with IR camera and Windows Hello support||1080p webcam with IR camera and Windows Hello support|
|Operating System||Windows 10||Windows 10|
81 watt-hours (Performance Base)
$2,399+ (Performance Base)
|Availability||Available now – Amazon, Microsoft||Available late-February – HP|
|Review||3.5 out of 5 stars||4 out of 5 stars|
Revolutionary vs. evolutionary design
Microsoft’s Surface Book is an extremely well-made machine that’s a bit odd to look at. It has a subdued magnesium chassis that evokes Microsoft’s contemporary Surface aesthetic, and it will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s experienced any of the other recent Microsoft hardware such as the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Studio. In the hand, the Surface Book feels as luxurious as it looks — the build quality is excellent and the machine is firm without a hint of flex.
The Surface Book is also differently designed than other 2-in-1 devices. The screen portion, which Microsoft calls the “clipboard,” is the actual computer, containing the CPU, RAM, SSD, and a portion of the machine’s overall battery capacity. The keyboard base includes the larger portion of battery capacity, and the discrete GPU in models that include one. One nice touch is the magnet embedded in the left-hand side of the clipboard for securing the Surface Pen.
In order to better balance the heavier-than-usual screen portion, the Surface Book uses a “fulcrum hinge,” as Microsoft calls it, that pushes the screen further out to better balance the clipboard’s weight, and it curls over and leaves a gap between the screen and the keyboard deck. It’s a strange look that’s much thicker toward the back and thinner up front. The clipboard section detaches from the base and can be used as a tablet or placed on the base in reverse for tent, presentation, and drawing modes.
The HP Spectre x360 15, on the other hand, is a much more traditional 2-in-1 of the standard 360-degree variety. The widescreen display flips around from standard notebook format to presentation, tent, and tablet modes, with the keyboard exposed in all but standard notebook mode.
In terms of appearance, the Spectre x360 15 is an elegant ash silver (dark gray) color with copper accents. It’s bold without being obnoxious, and it’s as well-built as it is good-looking. There’s no discernible flex, and the hinge is firm enough to hold the screen in the desired mode but still moves easily and smoothly through its full 360 degrees.
Both machines are very well-built and exude quality. Both are also attractive machines in their own rights, with the Spectre x360 15 being a little flashier than the more businesslike — but still futuristic — Surface Book. The HP’s keyboard is exposed in the alternate modes, whereas the Surface Book keyboard is not. As with many comparisons between these two machines, which design is better comes down to personal preference. We give the nod to the Surface Book because of its overall flexibility and innovative design, but the HP is a very nice machine as well.
Winner: Surface Book