I tried Microsoft's $US1,499 new MacBook Pro rival, and it was awesome

Microsoft surface book 2Matt Weinberger/Business InsiderThe Microsoft Surface Book 2 is a laptop with a detachable screen.

Microsoft just unveiled the Surface Book 2, a premium laptop that will go head-to-head with Apple’s MacBook Pro this holiday shopping season.

The Surface Book 2 comes with some big claims: Microsoft says it gets 17 hours battery life (at least, if you’re watching streaming video in the Microsoft Edge browser), and that it’s twice as powerful as the most recent model MacBook Pro.

I got to go hands-on with the Surface Book 2 at a preview event in San Francisco last week. And while it’s hard to assess the reality of those lofty claims in just a few minutes, I can say that the Surface Book 2 is an impressive machine.

Here’s the short version: The Surface Book 2 is evolution rather than revolution, bringing a few key tweaks to the original model, first released in 2015. That’s actually excellent news, considering that I thought the original Surface Book was just shy of perfect when I reviewed it last year.

Now, here’s the more detailed look at why it’s such a nice device:

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Meet the Microsoft Surface Book 2, the company's most powerful laptop to date, in a premium shell. Microsoft says it gets 17 hours of battery life.

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The Surface Book 2 laptop comes in two different screen sizes: A 13.5-inch model, which starts at $US1,499 ($1,911), and a 15-inch model, starting at $US2,499 ($3,185).

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On the left is the 15-inch version of the Microsoft Surface Book 2; the 13.5-inch model is on the right.

This new model also sports its predecessors' most eye-catching feature: The screen actually detaches to become a standalone tablet!

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This is where you start to see some of the improvements over the first model. Even on the 15-inch model, the tablet portion is light enough to be held with one hand, thanks to a new fanless design across all models. Microsoft says the tablet will now get about 5 hours of battery life on its own.

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If that battery life is insufficient, or you need the extra processing power stowed away in the keyboard portion, you can clip it back on to the Surface Book 2 backwards...

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...and use it as a thicker, heavier, but beefier tablet.

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Also note: The Surface Book 2 sports a USB-C port, visible below the pen in this photo, marking a first for any Microsoft Surface device. That port can be used for charging in a pinch -- Microsoft says it will be slow -- but it's really designed for projectors, monitors, and other accessories.

This is where another subtle improvement comes in. Microsoft says that it's redesigned the Surface Book's signature hinge, such that it's faster to release the tablet portion, while also increasing its reliability and strength. Neat.

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The keyboard and trackpad also got slightly renovated. I already thought the Surface Book keyboard and trackpad were the next best thing to the gold standard that is Apple's MacBooks, and now it's even more comfortable to type and mouse around.

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Microsoft says the Surface Book 2 is twice as powerful as the MacBook Pro. I can't verify that claim yet -- but I did watch as it played Windows games like 'Cuphead' and 'Gears Of War 4,' seemingly without breaking a sweat.

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In short, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 takes a good thing and makes it better, in pretty much every measurable way.

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It doesn't reinvent the original Surface Book (pictured here). But given how much I dug the first version, I'm excited to really put Surface Book 2 through its paces when it launches on November 16th.

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Read my take on the original Surface Book here.

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