The  Microsoft Surface Book came out last fall and made a big splash, but I finally spent a few weeks with one recently, using it as my everyday machine. In the last six months, I've noticed I've been using apps less and less and reverted back to the browser as my primary (and often only) portal for getting real work done. I avoid the Evernote app and use Evernote.com. I login to the new Skype site for video chats and skip the Skype app. Heck, I might even slowly move away from apps on my phone.

Why the big change? For me at least, there are too many apps around, too many notifications, too many updates to perform, and too much trouble. The Web has always been my go-to for work, since I use Google Docs for writing, Gmail for email, and a few other dot-coms. I drift occasionally over to Microsoft Office online if I need to do a more robust doc. More than anything, I need a reliable laptop with a good keyboard. The Surface Book, at least recently, has been that machine.

The Surface Book is a laplet, which means it works as a laptop for typing and, when you disconnect the screen, as a tablet. The laplet weighs a hefty 3.3 pounds, but the tablet by itself weighs 1.6 pounds which is not too bad for lugging along to a meeting. You can write notes with the included pen, and I never had any problems with stray markets or ghost scribbles.  As a big fan of the iPad Pro, I barely noticed any difference between the two tablets when it came to writing out ideas during meetings.

Honestly, the 13-inch and 3,000 x 2,000-pixel screen is a real stunner. Note-taking worked perfectly, and so did an entire season of Jessica Jones on Netflix.

Back to my app dilemma. I have not minced words when it comes to use Windows 10 as a tablet. There are not that many apps, but I've found that the core apps included with every Windows 10 tablet do suffice. I used OneNote, the Office apps, Netflix, and a few others but mostly stuck to the Google Chrome browser when I used the detachable keyboard for real work. The screen even flips around backwards so you can show a sales demo or watch a movie with the keyboard facing away from you, reminding you that you should not be working. To remove the screen, you press a button and pull. It's a handy workflow scenario to switch between work and play.

Many laplets have a detachable keyboard, but they vary wildly in quality. Some feel a bit more like a cover-keyboard for a tablet and won't work for long typing sessions. A few are chintzy, and at least one model I've tested that will go unnamed had a weight distribution problem. (That's one way of saying the laplet would tip over if you put the screen at a certain angle.) The Surface Book has a "real" keyboard that reminded me of the Google Chromebook Pixel 2015, the new Apple MacBook, and the Dell Chromebook 13. My advice: Try the Surface Book to see if you like the keyboard, and (in general) buy laptops with good keyboards as a starting point.

The Surface Book is also fast. The one I tested has an Intel Core i5 running at 2.4GHz and 8GB of RAM. I never had any trouble testing Adobe Photoshop CC on the Surface Book, although it won't work for high-end graphics works or 4K video-editing, and won't support the latest virtual reality goggles. You can try to play a game like Doom on it for an evening of FPS fun at the hotel, but it will lag like crazy.

Microsoft has had some bugs with the Surface Book, mostly related to battery life, but I had the latest firmware and didn't have any issues. Mostly, I typed incredibly fast, checked email, used the laplet all day for work, and even got a few comments from people who liked the design when I worked at a coffee shop. (The Surface Book has a weird accordion-like hinge that is a bit eye-catching.)

At $1,500, the Surface Book is not an impulse purchase. That Dell Chromebook 13 I like so much is only $429, but you won't be running Photoshop on it anytime soon and it does not double as a Netflix movie-watching tablet in the hotel or the plane. The Surface Book is flexible in more ways than one.

Published on: May 16, 2016
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