Microsoft’s new souped-up Surface Book laptop is way more ‘Pro’ than any of Apple’s newest MacBooks

Surface book with performance base review
The Surface Book with Performance Base is a small but powerful upgrade to the original Surface Book. Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

When I first tried the Surface Book, Microsoft’s first-ever full-fledged laptop, I thought it was just shy of perfect — fast, responsive, with a touchscreen display that actually lifts off the base to become a tablet.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when Microsoft announced the Surface Book with Performance Base, a new model that’s basically the same as the old model, but with some extra horsepower under the hood and a much longer-lasting battery.

Like the original Surface Book, it’s simply a great laptop beyond even the gimmicky detachable display: It’s fast and responsive, with a touchscreen, a Surface Pen stylus, a killer keyboard and the best non-Apple laptop mouse touchpad I’ve ever used.

After a week or so with the Surface Book with Performance Base, my big takeaway is simple.

If you’re one of those Apple fans who felt burned by the direction taken by the newest MacBook Pro models, this might just be the Surface Book for you.

More power

The model of Surface Book with Performance Base that Microsoft provided for review sports a 1TB hard drive, an Intel i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics card. It’s the top-of-the-line model, with a $A4,419.15 price tag. (The entry level for the Performance Base models is a full stack of Benjamins cheaper at $A3,229.15)

That extra power makes a difference even in everyday use. I like to have a lot of tabs open in Google Chrome, and the new Surface Book keeps up with aplomb. It even plays graphics-intensive games like “Gears of War 4” with no problem (though not at the highest graphical settings), which I couldn’t say about the original Surface Book.

Surface book performance base
There are two minor aesthetic changes to the Surface Book with Performance Base, both pictured here: A slight raise in the ridge where the keyboard meets the hinge, and a slightly different charger. It’s about as small as small changes get. Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

Plus, the extra battery life is very nice. Microsoft claims 16 hours of battery life while watching video with the Performance Base — I couldn’t test that; there are only so many seasons of “Game of Thrones” you can watch in a week. But I definitely got between 7 and 10 hours of heavy usage with it between charges.

This comes at the cost of a slight increase in weight, from 1.51 kilograms for the original model up to 1.64 kilograms with this one.

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Like the original Surface Book, pictured here, the new model’s screen detaches to become a standalone tablet. Melia Robinson/Business Insider

In short, it’s exactly like the original Surface Book, but better. Until the rumoured, full-fledged Surface Book 2 pops up next year, it’s the best version of what I consider the best laptop out there, Apple or otherwise.

Versus Apple

In a lot of ways, the Surface Book with Performance Base versus new-model MacBook Pros comes down to taste.

If you like Windows 10, which I do considerably, it’s kind of a no-brainer. If you’re attached to Apple and its MacOS, this may or may not sway you.

Macbook pro touch bar
Apple’s new-model MacBook Pros sport a touch-sensitive strip. Steve Kovach/Business Insider

But from a technology perspective, there are three very good reasons to consider a Surface Book versus Apple’s new MacBook Pro models, especially when you factor in the Performance Base:

  • Apple won’t release a touchscreen Mac, opting instead to release its new MacBook Pros with the Touch Bar — a touch-sensitive strip above the keyboard. Not only does the Surface Book have a touchscreen; the screen actually detaches to become a tablet that’s perfect for doodling or doing creative work.
  • Apple removed the SD memory card reader on the new MacBook Pros, leaving photographers and other audio/video professionals in the cold.
  • The Surface Book with Performance Base has more raw computing power than the MacBook Pro: Microsoft promises that it’s twice as powerful as the 13-inch MacBook Pro model. I don’t know about that, but at least on paper, it’s got more processing power.

So, bottom line, the best gets better. And if you’re an Apple fan looking for a change and you can afford something priced starting at $3,229.15, you should at least take a look at the Surface Book.