It's rare these days for companies like Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT) to pull off a complete surprise. Apple watchers have their prerelease snooping down to a science, so rumors are generally more right than wrong.
Microsoft, however, recently managed to catch everyone completely off guard with the Surface Book, the company's first-ever laptop. And based on initial impressions, it's a real game-changer.
The Surface Book is a 2-in-1 convertible laptop. It functions first and foremost as a standard 13.5-inch laptop with a real keyboard and trackpad (not a flex-y fabric keyboard, like we've seen with older Surface tablets).
The hinge isn't a standard laptop hinge, either. In fact, you've probaly never seen a laptop hinge like it. Microsoft's hinge isn't just stylish. It houses a high-tech "muscle wire" that mechanically and electrically holds the two parts of the laptop together until you choose to disengage them.
And indeed, the keyboard and display separate, so you can also use the display on its own as a tablet. Or spin the display around and reattach it to turn it into a convertible tablet. Why do that? The tablet on its own gives you about three hours of runtime. Connecting it to the keyboard in either configuration gives you 12 hours instead.
Finally, the Surface Book delivers on the original promise of Windows 8 -- a dual operating system that works on both mobile and desktop devices. You can switch seamlessly between desktop and mobile modes with the Surface Book in a way that you simply can't with Apple devices. The MacBook Pro and iPad Pro, for example, run on two completely different operating systems.
Microsoft packed its flagship laptop with impressive tech. The 13.5-inch display has a very high resolution display (3,000 by 2,000 pixels, which is a higher density than the equivalent MacBook Pro). The laptop's camera works with Windows 10's Windows Hello feature that logs you in using facial recognition. And the premium version of the Surface Book includes a discrete graphics processor, making this laptop suitable for gaming.
However, the enhanced graphics processing unit adds $400 to the Surface Book's $1,500 price, taking the version with the Nvidia GPU to $1,900. But no matter which version of the Surface Book you want to buy, be prepared to write a big check. Six different models scale all the way up to a speedy Intel i7 CPU, dedicated GPU and 1-terabyte solid-state drive for a heart-stopping $3,200.
On the other hand, the Surface Book doesn't hold back any important accessories. Microsoft has been criticized in the past for claiming that the Surface Pro tablets can replace your laptop, yet it charged extra for the optional keyboard. Similarly, Apple sells the iPad Pro's stylus separately. But the Surface Book includes both the keyboard and stylus.
The Surface Book is clearly an impressive laptop from a company that, in the last couple of years, appears to have found its groove again. It'll be interesting to see if Microsoft can finally get some traction in the mobile marketplace with its first-ever laptop serving as a sort of tablet Trojan horse.
You can preorder the Surface Book now, though the Microsoft Store currently lists its initial inventory as out of stock.
Photo courtesy Microsoft