So I recently have been playing around with a Microsoft Surface Book. It's kind of a halfway point between something like a Cintiq Companion and a Macbook Pro. Its a very interesting and exciting portable computer for creative people. I've been playing with the Core i7/nVidia GPU/16GB Ram/512GB Storage model, which retails for $2699. There are lots of reviews from the usual tech blogs but fewer from the perspective of a person using it purely for creative uses so I thought I'd throw in my two cents.
The screen is pretty excellent. In my opinion the large screen size and the nVidia GPU are the biggest reasons to get the Surface Book over the alternatives. This large screen allows you to be much more productive than the other options on the market (which I'll highlight later) and I can't overstate how good of a balance Microsoft has struck here.
The 13.5" 3:2 screen makes the Surface Book feel close in size to a 13" MacBook Pro or so, but the screen feels like you get a lot more work area. The 3:2 aspect ratio means the display is quite a bit taller and really helps to make things less cramped. I believe you get comparable working area to a 14" 16:9 laptop and almost as much as a 15" laptop with this layout. It also makes working in portrait a lot more sensible, as well as its the right ratio for standard 35mm film. Of course, you get bigger black bars with video though.
The screen was large enough to accommodate Photoshop with reduced palettes, a touch UI to control photoshop, my drawing, as well as reference material all at the same time. This is probably the first time I've felt comfortable doing this on a portable machine.
Unfortunately its still a glossy screen but feels a fair bit less reflective than most in my experience. I'd still recommend a matte screen protector on this guy. I've noticed its possible for the base of the laptop to scratch the screen, as there's no bumper to make sure the two sides of the laptop don't contact each other.
The screen is calibrated to show the full sRGB spectrum, which means its reasonably color accurate. It also gets very bright. Microsoft hasn't tried to match it to the Adobe RGB gamut though, like most color managed monitors. It is harder to make sure color is always accurate on a laptop, though, since you tend to move a portable device to multiple places.
Touch, like most Surface products, works very well for apps that support it. Right now touch still isn't really taking hold on the Windows platform but for many UI elements I prefer using touch to the trackpad. Windows' app store is slowly gaining momentum but nothing like Apple or Google's on their respective mobile platforms.
The parallax/glass thickness seems very small. The screen is very close to the glass and therefore so is the tip of a pen.
There's a keyboard key to detach the keyboard from the clipboard (screen), and while that part works generally well, removing and attaching the screen takes a little more effort and aligning than I'd like. There are 5 pins you need to align exactly to attach it properly, which is more difficult than is ideal. It's definitely more difficult to attach than the type covers on a Surface Pro, or a screen cover for an iPad for instance. Removing the clipboard from the base requires just the right grip as well. Its possible to lift up the laptop by the screen even when you've signaled the clipboard to detach.
You have to use both hands to separate the two sides. I've also had the process of detaching the screen crash the computer, requiring a hard restart, though recent firmware updates have all but eliminated this issue from my perspective.
Not all apps properly support scaling for the Surface Book's 3000x2000 resolution. This means palletes and UI elements look absolutely tiny on some programs. By default Microsoft is doing 200% UI scaling, I've set it to 150 which feels right to me. Most older programs won't take advantage of this though, and I'm regularly finding even newer apps that haven't caught up yet.
The pen is alright. I still would prefer the days that Microsoft and Wacom were working together. The nTrig-based Surface Pen is small and lightweight and it appears well built, but I still prefer the feel of a Wacom pen. A few scattered impressions:-
The Surface Pen requires a AAAA battery, not exactly a standard size, though it lasts a long time - up to a year. This still means it has to be replaced at some point. Better than Apple's solution but not as awesome as Wacom's batteryless solution.
The side button on the pen has limited configurability, and is harder to click than I think it should be. Its very low profile and requires a lot of pressure to depress. It would also be nice to have two buttons on the side.
The eraser is also a button, which has plenty of configuration options. Not sure why they didn't extend the same to the side button.
The settings for the pen are scattered all over the place (in typical Windows fashion). There's a 'Pen and Touch' pane in the Control Panel which lets you adjust things like single and double taps, and press and hold settings. There's also a 'Pen' pane in the Settings app, which lets you set right or left handedness, and turning off cursors or visual flairs. There's also 'Tablet PC Settings' in the Control Panel where you can calibrate the Pen, and lastly there's a surface app that allows you adjust the pressure sensitivity curve and the eraser button functions. You really have to dig to remember which app controls what aspect of the pen.
Curved, horizontal, and vertical lines work very well. However, when you draw diagonal lines slowly - slower than I would realistically draw - lines tend to have a fair amount of uncontrollable wiggle. There also sometimes are odd shapes made with the tapered ends of strokes. I've heard microsoft is 'working' on these issues, but currently this is a problem. Because of this, I've resorted to using Lazy Nezumi Pro in conjunction with Photoshop if I need really clean lines. It reduces or alleviates issues like wiggly lines, and strange shapes when you feather off lines with pressure sensitivity. It takes some configuring to get what you want and is easily toggled, so I'd recommend giving it a try if you regularly with with an nTrig product. It does depend on your drawing style and brushes you use though (for instance, I typically draw with a rougher brush for lines, and have found the pen quite forgiving). However, if you typically use the smooth round brush, and need very clean lines, you will definitely want to try Lazy Nezumi. Here's a video describing what it does:
I don't personally have an issue with pen lag although I'm not very sensitive to this particular issue.
Microsoft ships replacement feels for the pen. The nibs feel quite rubbery and soft, so damaging the screen seems pretty unlikely while drawing, unlike the harder default plastic tips that come with Wacom Cintiqs.
I've been told they pens are interchangeable with Vaio's Z Canvas. That pen has a much thicker grip and two buttons. I'm not sure that Vaio sells it separately though. And I'm not sure the buttons would even work properly on the Surface products.
Palm rejection seems relatively decent here. There's been a few cases where my palm triggered something on accident but this is a pretty app-specific issue. Personally I'd like the option to be able to toggle ouch off entirely but leave the pen option on. I'd love to bind this to the eraser button. I've found a few utilities to do this, though.
The magnet that attaches the Surface Book's pen to the screen is a nice touch, though I'd personally prefer a specific spot that it should live (a pen garage is ideal). I've seen some manufacturers make smaller versions of their pens that fit inside the unit, and sell larger ones for one you don't need to be so portable. Storing it outside the unit is less ideal. I still remove it from the device and keep it safe separately when I'm transporting the tablet. I think of it more like a place to put it while I'm working rather than a secure place for it to live when I put it in my bag. It also clips only to the left side of the tablet, and isn't exactly marked as such.
Photoshop and a few other apps out of the box require some configuring to really respond the way you'd expect them to. This video highlights how to do this:
I'd typically use tabletPCs in tent mode with an external keyboard (other than the Surface Pro). They tended to have weak hinges that wobbled a lot, which really interfered with drawing. On the Surface Book, Microsoft has designed a really robust hinge to support and offset the weight of the screen, and its also made it so bounce is limited here. They've also limited how far you can angle the notebook back. This is unfortunately the compromise here. On notebooks I typically like having the freedom of a lot of angles, but to offset the weight of the screen here they've created a hard stop here. What's nice is that that angle is pretty much the angle I usually draw at, so that means I will likely be using the Surface Book a lot in plain old notebook mode, without bringing an extra keyboard with me.
This computer works great as a standard notebook. The hinge does a great job at preventing the laptop from tipping over, even on a bed or similar soft surface. Unfortunately the hinge doesn't tilt back very far, compared to a typical notebook (the photo above is as wide as it opens). I assume this is the precise angle that the hinge can prevent tipping - any more and I'm sure the notebook position would be unstable. I did find actually drawing and painting in this position a little less ideal only because the screen is a lot farther away from my face than I'm used to. It's still a useful position because it requires the least setup and doesn't require you bring any additional hardware with you.
As a tent it works great as well. You lose the ability to access the power and volume buttons, which are on the top of the tablet typically, not to mention the included keyboard, but this is quite stable and the hinge stays in any position you can set the notebook to. The problem of course is you need to bring an external keyboard with you of some kind or an onscreen keypad. I find I only really need this position if I'm going to be working with the pen all day in one specific location.
As a 'creative canvas' - Microsoft's definition - it works ok. Its quite heavy to hold and the position is too flat in my opinion to use on a desk. You can of course prop it up with something in this position, but the issue again is that you have to have something else around to do this.
I've tried using the included stand with Microsoft's Wedge Keyboard, it works good as a stand, but if you actually are drawing on it, it doesn't hold its position. This is probably the config that I'd use the least but its a nice option on an animation table, for instance.
As a clipboard, it's fantastic. Its extremely light weight and I found drawing with it in my hands fantastic. Far more intuitive and interactive than even a Cintiq. Of course using this mode makes it hard to use a keyboard, since at least one hand is holding the tablet. I found resting it on the edge of the desk and propping it up with your body worked quite well for this situation.
There are issues though, in that there are no USB ports on the clipboard, the only port you get is the SurfaceConnect charging port and the headphone jack. This means you must you a wireless keyboard or mouse, or use Microsoft's Surface Dock to add ports onto the clipboard in this configuration.
Lastly, the battery life is not great (at longest 4 hours), but it is possible to charge the clipboard on its own. The position of where the SurfaceConnect port is in a little bit of an awkward position, but usable.
I've also found using an onscreen touch keyboard like Tablet Pro makes using it in clipboard or canvas mode much more viable. I was able to figure out a touch palette that works for me in Photoshop for 95% of what I do, and doesn't take up much screen space. It's slower than using a full keyboard but it does work. If people are interested I'm willing to share the settings for the pallette I created for Photoshop.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard is excellent to type on. The keys are a tad noisy but have a great travel to them. Many reviews have said this is one of the better keyboards on a notebook and I agree.
The backlighting works well. The keys turn off after a set period and I can't seem to find how to adjust this timing. Personally I'd like them on all the time.
The FN key works great as well, as it's a toggle, not a modifier key, meaning you don't hold down on it to switch the function key's ... function.
It's unfortunate there aren't keys for screen brightness. EDIT: Apparently there is a shortcut to change the screen brightness, it's just not labelled on the keyboard. It's FN+Delete and FN+ Backspace
Trackpad works ok. Been hearing that some people have issues, I don't really like using trackpads full stop though. The biggest thing I notice is that it does feature a right click, but doesn't have a visual representation of this zone, nor does it have anything to indicate where it is by feel. Initially the trackpad felt a little buggy but I think Microsoft has addressed this in firmware updates.
The battery life seems excellent so far. Microsoft has put two batteries in this unit, one in the screen, and one in the base, and thus there's plenty of juice to go around. Of course the type of things I demand from a device like this can vary widely, but it does seem possible to get 8-10 hours battery life from this device. Microsoft went with some pretty big batteries and low power components, and the results show here.
There currently is a pretty major bug with the Surface Book drawing power even while the laptop is asleep. Microsoft has committed to fixing this already however and should arrive early in the new year. There have been quite a few post-release fixes to improve this thing. On the one hand, its good they have fixed many of them quickly. On the other hand, I don't think it should have been released with these issues at all.
The clipboard/tablet only mode has pretty low battery life, something like 3 - 4 hours. Enough to get you through a life drawing session but you'll have to keep an eye on power consumption. Its possible to plug the power cord into the clipboard itself and run the tablet off of A/C.
I do notice that the magnet in the 'Surface Connect' port, which is used to power the notebook, is a little less strong than I'd like. Plugged into the clipboard or having the notebook on a bed/sofa, where you're shifting the position of the the computer frequently, unhooks its from power quite easily.
It takes 1:45 - 2 hrs to fully charge the battery. I believe the models with the nVidia GPU come with a larger 65W charger, so it will go a fair bit slower if you don't order one of these models.
It's also very convenient that the charger brick has a USB port built-in. Unfortunately this is only for power, it doesn't provide an additional data port (which it should, there is a dock that goes through the same cable that provides Video, ethernet, and USB ports).
I do wish it could have a foldable plug option like Apple's laptops do as well, for maximum portability.
The charger also has a really short length between the brick and the actual power plug, making the setup sometimes quite difficult and certainly less convenient.
For the most part the battery in the keyboard is used first, then the clipboard (screen). It doesn't fully down the battery to 0% in the base though, it starts sapping power from the screen at around 40%, for me.
The most I've been able to get is 14 hours of battery life, which is basically just keeping the screen on and occasionally refreshing a webpage. More usual under an actual workload is 7-8 hours. I definitely was able to get through a full work day on battery.
Overall performance is quite good. Microsoft has done a smart thing here by creating a tablet that is extremely thin and light, and offloading the nVidia GPU into the keyboard base. That way, if you need the extra horsepower, you can just dock it into its keyboard, but if you want a handheld drawing solution, it works great as that as well. While I think some of the specs are underpowered for its price point, bottom line is that the performance of this CPU and GPU are good enough to help you get real work done. This is definitely a balance between portability, battery life, weight, and CPU power, and I think Microsoft's leaned towards the former end of the spectrum than the latter. It does make some sense, because the marketability of an even larger tablet is completely untread territory, so focusing on a balance here makes it more widely appealing.
Initially I ran into daily crashes with the unit. However Microsoft has been releasing System Firmware patches every 2 weeks and it now seems rock solid.
Also, the fans do make noise under load. It doesn't personally bother me but when you push this thing it is definitely audible.
Programs That Work
Almost every program I use on a regular basis works well on the Surface Book, with the caveat that you're running it on a mobile device so it can't compete with desktop performance.
The full Adobe CC suite works well. Some apps (like Bridge) haven't been updated for UI scaling, but performance is good across the board. I'd recommend tweaking the Geforce settings for Photoshop for better pen response, but everything else seemed great out of the box.
Corel Painter 2016 works great. Set it up for RTS and Windows MultiTouch.
Substance Painter 1.3.0. seems to work quite well. UI doesn't scale though and therefore all on screen elements are tiny.
ZBrush 4R7 works great too, as long as you tweak the Geforce settings.
Mudbox 2016 works fantastic
Mari 3.0v1 has a laggy interface and Small interface elements (see above) will make it less than ideal to use on the Surface Book currently. Will experiment with this more but my initial impressions are that it might be too heavy of a program for the Surface Book to handle unless you're dealing with less complicated meshes.
Maya and C4D seemed to work as expected.
Houdini works but has small UI elements.
Other than some high end games I haven't run into anything that was unusable on the Surface Book.
Microsoft only ships a few accessories for the surface book, the most important one being the Surface Dock. The main reason I like the dock is that it routes every connection port through the charging port on the laptop. You can also plug this connector into just the clipboard. This allows you to hook up extra monitors and peripherals to the Surface through just one cable, which for your permanent office seems like a much nicer setup. I especially like setting it up in clipboard mode. This allows you to be playing video on a second monitor while holding the tablet in your hands, for instance.
The dock features 4 usb, headphone jack, Ethernet jack, and two monitors. It prevents you from being able to use the displayPort on the laptop itself (so dual monitors + the laptop itself is the limit). - Its quite heavy and is made up of a lot of parts - its not really meant to be portable.
The connector feels a lot more robust than the surface connect port on the 65W charger. The magnet is stronger, I think.
I noticed that the dock requires newer 'active' DVI or HDMI adapters, which I didn't have. They're inexpensive but it sucks not to be able to use ones I already had. The passive adapter works on the laptop itself, but not the Surface Dock. All sorts of visual glitches show up if you don't use the right adapter. I've read there's a possibility that Microsoft will fix this.
Other than that Microsoft has some alternative pen nibs, and spare pens to tell you. That's about it though! Everything else you need is in the box.
+ Largest Screen of and Tablet Based Computer right now? Thanks to 3:2 ratio.
+ Very bright screen, decent color (balanced to the sRGB spec, not Adobe RGB)+ Basically No Throttling on the CPU, up to date and fastest possible low voltage Intel CPU.
+ nVidia GPU option (I personally wouldn't consider the Surface Book models without the GPU)
+ Very large battery.
+ Excellent Keyboard.+ Much more usable in a range of conditions as it is more like a traditional notebook computer, but can take on tablet duties.
+ Tablet/Clipboard is extremely light, meaning hand held drawing is ideal. It weighs pretty much the same as an iPad Pro but has a larger screen.
- Best configurations get very expensive. Cheaper configs without a discrete GPU are not at all worth getting.
- Lack of built in kickstand on the tablet portion make the tablet itself less flexible. Some sort of accessory stand would be great.- Both CPU and GPU are more like high end ultrabook specs, not high end mobile workstation specs. A mobile workstation with a Cintiq is a more powerful combo if you can deal with the extra pieces. But those who don't need pen input are really better off with a desktop replacement type notebook - you'll get more for your money.
- Keyboard and trackpad are completely unusable separated from the tablet. Why not allow it to be wireless?
- Cannot be used as a tablet display hooked up to another computer, so once the computer is obsolete, so is the screen.
- Would have liked to see an Iris Pro in the clipboard for this price point, especially on i7 models.
- Microsoft needs to do more to make sure text is not super tiny. Give us an option to scale up interfaces somehow.
- Not the hugest fan of where the power and volume buttons are. Personally I'd like to have the power button especially be recessed.
- Has some software-related bugs that Microsoft needs to work out.
2.4ghz Dual Core i5 6300u/8GB Ram/Intel HD 520 + nVidia GPU/256GB Storage - $1899
2.6ghz Dual Core i7 6600u/16GB Ram/Intel HD 520 + nVidia GPU/512GB Storage - $2699
What about the alternatives on the market?
Surface Pro 4
+ Excellent built in kickstand on the tablet.
+ Intel Iris GPU on the Core i7 models is actually quite good (apparently) - faster than the Surface Book's or Vaio Z Canvas' integrated graphics.
+ Good value overall. If you don't need the larger screen and nVidia GPU from the surface book, the Surface Pro 4 is a great cheaper option.
- CPU is heavily throttled to fit a power and heat profile. This means even plugged in, if you're pushing the tablet, the computer will hold back the CPU and GPU so as to not overheat or draw too much power. More info here.
- Type covers are thin and portable but dont provide a fantastic typing or trackpad experience. They are definitely usable, just not as great as a real keyboard.
- Small-ish screen.
- Using it more like a traditional laptop is still a little awkward. Works best on a desk specifically. The unit is heavier than the clipboard on the Surface Book with a smaller screen size - so as a tablet I'd say the Surface Book is better in hand, other than the clipboard's meager battery life.
- Has some software-related bugs that Microsoft needs to work out. These are pretty much the same bugs that exist on the Surface Book and Microsoft has been very good at fixing these.
Custom Config: 2.4Ghz Dual Core i5 (2.4GHz Core i5-6300U, Intel HD 520/16GB Ram/256GB storage - $1499
2.2Ghz Dual Core i7 6650U/16GB Ram/Iris Pro 540 Graphics/256GB Storage - $1799
Vaio Z Canvas
+ Has a Quad Core i7, so CPU is much faster. Fastest CPU I've ever seen on a tablet form factor, with the exception of the Axiotron Modbook Pro X, which isn't commercially available and is exorbitantly priced.
+ Has a built in kickstand that is designed for drawing on. Its really well designed, so long as you're using it on a table.
+ Keyboard is usable separated from the unit itself.
+ Has better color accuracy (balanced to the Adobe RGB spectrum) than the Surface Book, although screen is significantly less bright.
+ Has unobtrusive programmable buttons that don't make the device bigger. (unlike the cintiq companion's)
- Screen is cramped - about the same size as the Surface Pro.
- Best configurations get very expensive.
- Really ought to have had a proper discrete GPU. I think this is a major component holding back the performance of this unit.
- Kickstand and keyboard design make it very awkward to use as a traditional laptop.
2.2ghz Quad Core i7/16GB Ram/Iris Pro 5200 Graphics/ 512GB Storage - $2599
Cintiq Companion 2
+ Has an excellent Wacom Pressure sensitive pen.
+ Can be used as tablet display on another computer.
+ Can be configured with a more beefy CPU (still dual core though). I haven't seen reports to see if the fans and power supply can handle it though, or if it just throttles it down like the Surface Pro does.
- Color accuracy/Screen is not great. People complaining about the 'screen protector' built into the device lowering the clarity of the screen?
- Included stand is terrible. Hard to remove and to set up, and its in no way integrated to the unit itself. Wacom needs to learn from Microsoft here, just build a stand into the unit.
- No real accessory for keyboard and screen protection in one unit. You're expected to bring a separate keyboard and use a sleeve to protect the screen. Again, definitely not an elegant solution here. All of the competitors have a proposed keyboard solution that integrates well with the tablet.
- Touch on wacom so far seems to not be very good. I haven't tried it in these models yet but so far I'm unconvinced. To be honest though, Touch is far less important than the pen on a desktop (in my opinion).
- Large unit
- large bezels made even worse with hardware buttons flanking it. Wacom seems to love their bezels, I assume it has something to do with their digitizers requiring it. I'm not the fan of custom buttons though, as there are never enough of them and the muscle memory is hard to commit to. A keyboard is standard between computers, so I'd rather just use a keyboard.
- Not great battery life.
3.1ghz Dual Core i7 5557u/16GB Ram/Iris 6100 Graphics/512GB Storage - $2299
Lenovo P40 Tablet
+ Has a 2GB nVidia Quadro M500M Graphics Card
+ 14 inch screen?
+ Wacom display!
+ Has lot of potential? Worth waiting and seeing what it can offer if 3D graphics are important to you.- Not out yet.
- Hinge design seems a little awkward. Provides only tent or traditional laptop modes.
- Most specifics aren't clear yet (CPU, ram configs, price). Has lots of potential though.
+ iPad Pro has a much lower price than most other serious drawing computers on the market right now, with the exception of the Android-based solutions like the Samsung Note line.
+ The Pencil's overall drawing feel is fantastic. Apple and the developers have done a good thing here. Low lag, good pressure sensitivity, and even decent tilt support make a really well rounded pen.
+ Has lots of potential as it is an Apple device. Interface design as a tablet will be most cohesive since it belongs to a touch optimized app ecosystem (iOS).
+ The few apps available so far show lots of promise.
- Should wait and see on how robust iPad Pro specific apps will be. More demanding creative applications like 3D sculpting and texturing, and 2D animation in particular are not being addressed at all. Most people would never pay $20 for an iPad app. Will customers pay $300 for Photoshop on an iPad Pro? If not, its hard to see developers pushing apps as far as desktop apps.
- Pencil doesn't come with tablet, and is currently quite hard to find. It also has the worst battery life of any competing product. The charging solution, while fast, is awkward at best. It's important to note that you may have to charge it as often as every day. When I tried it out an Apple store in the mid afternoon, both Apple Pencils ran out of juice in front of the user. Only a minor annoyance, but far cry from Wacom's solution which doesn't require a battery of any kind. Also, because it doesn't come with the tablet I worry about developer support, and also, it has no good place to attach to the unit. It doesn't even have a clip.
- Keyboard attachments are awkward and clunky. They feel like an afterthought.
- Very large for an iOS device, interface feels overscaled and clunky. It's too large for a 'sketchpad' but not powerful enough to be extremely productive like Microsoft's Surface tablets.
I think Microsoft is doing amazing things with the Surface Line. They are going full speed ahead with figuring out a way to make a pen and touch tablet productive. For creative people, I think they are incredibly interesting computers, and as they update them to be more capable I think they're going to increasingly replace traditional notebooks for consumer users in general, and especially creative people.
That being said I think they could do a lot better with the pen. They have improved the drawing experience with this generation but Wacom and Apple have done better. This is the fourth generation of their tablets, they should have this stuff flawless by now. Hopefully Apple entering the picture will put a fire under them.
The raw performance of the computer has come a long way. But I still think it can go further. Vaio's done a great thing with putting a serious CPU in their tablet, and I think Microsoft should think about doing the same, especially if they're going to charge 3 grand for the top end model. I think personally my ideal would be 15" macbook pro type form factor and performance that you could draw on the screen. No one has really gone after the desktop replacement here, so there's still plenty of room for this concept to grow. That being said I think what Microsoft has done here is to try to appeal to a broader audience than just creatives, so there's a little bit of a 'it's good enough' type vibe for most of the components here. The fact of the matter is, most tabletPCs have always had underpowered specs and to see anything creeping up into the higher end is a good trend. I think I've seen less than 5 models with a discrete graphics card in over 10 years, so even a lighter discrete GPU like the one in the Surface Book is a big deal. Intel has also been working hard to make their integrated GPUs viable.
Its also really hard to recommend fully with all the bugs and growing pains they seem to be having. The last surface model I used regularly was the Surface Pro 2, and that model was very well sorted out and felt very bug free - the most Apple like I've ever seen a windows based device. I'm surprised to see Microsoft take a step back here. Early adopters are not getting rewarded. They've come a long way in a short time though and I fully expect these issues to go away completely.
I don't think the criticism that the Surface products are diluted is correct. Microsoft is trying to make touch and pen input a viable method of interacting with Windows the same way Apple is trying to make iOS a serious productivity platform. It will require a lot of work from both companies to get it right, and they'll probably meet somewhere in the middle, but as I see it, currently, iOS may have tons of apps, but Windows has a lot more programs that can do real work. I don't have to adjust my way of working or learn new programs and UIs, I can just the tools I'm already familiar with on a Surface. I would be equally excited about a Macbook or Macbook Pro that could utilise the Apple Pencil, but Apple seems far off from that possibility currently. Right now, I think the Surface Pro or Book will do a better job of making a productive tablet than the iPad Pro does of being a notebook replacement.
The Surface Book's form factor is certainly interesting. While it resembles a notebook, it can become a handheld tablet, or a tent, all of which are equally viable use cases. I don't think I've seen another convertible computer like this that was this flexible before. For instance, it works just as great on a sofa as it does on my lap, or on a table. I can also see flipping it around and using it as a video player on an airplane. It has a lot of use cases covered here. I've seen many people asking for Microsoft to push this further, for instance, putting the kickstand on the clipboard and developing a "Surface Pro XL," and marketing the keyboard base with the GPU separately like Microsoft sells the touch and type covers. Microsoft certainly has a lot to play with going forward, and its nice to see them forging ahead. But what I do think it's doing really well right now is combining things and seeing where they go. The Surface Book is truly a good handheld drawing tablet that can become a full-on notebook computer.
I really like that all these computing companies are starting to realise how much much they can innovate for people who create things. With Apple putting a keyboard and pen on an iPad, Samsung working with Wacom on a whole line of Android products, and Microsoft building their first notebook that happens to have a pen included, we're starting to see tech experimenting with how they can innovate in the creative space. For now though, I think the Surface Book is the best I've seen anyone try.
Recommended additional reading:
Penny Arcade's Review