Microsoft Surface Book First Impressions

I got my new Microsoft Surface Book last night and have decidedly mixed impressions of it. The hardware seems top notch, while the operating system and software are much worse than expected. If only Microsoft were a company that primarily made operating systems and software, I’m sure this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. Oh, wait…

So the first thing I noticed is how heavy the thing is, at least in its shipping box. It turns out that the Surface Book itself is not very heavy (on the order of 3 pounds, so heavy for a tablet, but not bad for a thin laptop), but the power supply brick, while small, must be lined with lead, because it is heavy! The pen is also surprisingly substantial, and feels much more solid than the plastic pen of my Surface Pro that I’m writing on now. Even the box the unit came in weighs as much as the Surface Book, it seems.

So the Surface Book is a very well crafted piece of hardware, with its nifty hinge and detachable tablet, it is very clever and very solid. I was very impressed to get an Apple-like experience in taking it out of the box and setting it up. Then I had to find the power button. It is hidden at the top left of the screen, rather than on the keyboard like most laptops. I realize that the tablet (really the computer) is separate from the unit, but I think it would have helped to have an additional power button on the keyboard section. (Now we’re talking like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Enterprise which had the dockable saucer section and engineering section – the Surface Book has a dockable tablet and keyboard section.)

Once I found the power button and did the simple setup for the OS, I set a PIN, since that’s what Microsoft seems to prefer rather than a password. I don’t know if I think it is a good idea, but since it is my personal machine, OK, I’ll do it. That’s when things went south. I also renamed the machine and rebooted. Well, it froze when I tried to log in. Doing a hard power off got control of the machine again, and it seemed to work OK. But logging in is really slow compared to my several year old Surface Pro. The new machine should be superior in every way, but Windows 10 on my old machine seems snappier.

Then I undocked the tablet portion and tried to use the pen. Windows knew the pen was there and where it was pointing, but completely ignored any input from the pen, including taps, presses, right clicks (there’s a button the pen for that), etc. I imagine there’s some sort of dumb setting in Windows that says “Use the pen for art only, ignore attempts to manage Windows with it” but I haven’t found it yet. Now, pen control of Windows is something that Microsoft has been doing very well for 10 years, starting with the original Tablet PCs, which I used and loved. For this simple thing not to work correctly out of the box is truly stunning.

So now the machine is sitting at home and downloading updates and firmware fixes that will hopefully address these issues. I look forward to setting it up to be a useful machine over the weekend. I am disappointed with the poor experience the software provided out of the box. Microsoft is still behind Apple in that respect.

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