The Microsoft Surface Book

Microsoft is known for creating the most widely used operating system throughout the world. When Microsoft started to develop a line of tablet computers, however,  (namely the Surface RT and Surface 2) they failed to increase their dismal market share. Fast forward to October 6, 2015, when Microsoft Vice President Panos Panay performed his riveting “one more thing” reveal: the Surface Book. The Surface Book seems to hit the market right where Microsoft needed it to, a premium laptop (commonly compared to the Apple MacBook) that is also a tablet. The Microsoft Surface line of products, and Surface Book in particular, presents an opportunity for people—like legal professionals who hand-write a lot of notes—to use one device for everything.

I was an early adopter of the Surface Book, picking one up on launch day. Knowing this was a gamble, as any first generation device usually is, the benefits that the Surface Book claimed over other products justified my decision. Fortunately, these features paid off, and seem well-tailored to the law profession in particular.

The Features

The biggest advantage, in my book, is the convertible aspect of this product. Most tablet devices use flimsy detachable keyboards, making them a “tablet first, laptop second” device. However, the Surface Book reverses this, by incorporating a standard keyboard base into the tablet portion (which is essentially a Surface Pro 4). What makes this so unique is that the base adds functionality beyond the keyboard itself. The Surface Pro 4 contains all the hard-working internals within the tablet of the device, leaving the keyboard as a thin typing platform. In contrast, the Surface Book uses a more standard keyboard design, which houses additional internals to increase things like battery life and graphics processing power. There are many reviews that get into these details, but the important aspects for legal professionals is that this base increases the battery life to 12+ hours and gives the device a real “laptop” feel, allowing it to easily sit on your lap or desk without the need for the kickstand that the Surface Pro devices require. The Surface Book tablet is connected to the base through a magnet and lock mechanism, and can be detached with the push of a button.
The win in the Surface Book for legal professionals is the size of the tablet portion. Microsoft designed the tablet to be equivalent to an A4 piece of paper, one of the most widely used paper sizes in the world. What makes this so fantastic is that the Surface Book can completely replace your legal pad.

One of the most annoying things with bringing a laptop to a meeting is that people tend to become the court reporter, writing absolutely everything down. When you use just paper instead, you are forced to make notes for yourself, or only write down what is important. This helps us to engage in meetings, instead of being stuck behind a screen. The Surface Book is a pure winner here. When I sit down at a meeting, the first thing I do is either reverse the tablet on the keyboard (canvas mode), or just detach the tablet and use it without the base at all (clipboard mode). The only real advantage to canvas mode for me is extended battery life, since keeping the tablet attached to the base allows use of the base battery. On the other hand, clipboard mode is extremely light, arguably weighing less than a legal pad in a leather folio. In either mode, I’m now engaged in the meeting, jotting down my notes just like I used to with a pad of paper. The gold mine is when you use OneNote to take these notes.

OneNote is included with the Surface Book at no extra cost, and is compatible with the desktop version of OneNote if you use Microsoft Office. In OneNote, you can create custom sized gridlines to make your writing platform appear exactly as your favorite legal pad. But that’s not the best part. First, OneNote will automatically back up your notes to the location you specify. This is important when we think about security, or if you just dislike OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage system). A custom sync location allows you to maintain the ethical responsibility of securing your notes in a manner that you deem appropriate and safe. Secondly, OneNote has infinite scrolling. This means that you can scroll side to side, up or down, zoom in or out, and your notes are all on one “page,” no more flipping from page to page, front to back. Third, and my favorite, is that OneNote uses OCR on your handwriting to understand what you are writing. This allows you to both search your handwritten notes with keywords and even convert your handwriting to typed text. I was impressed with how well OneNote recognized my atrocious handwriting with no training at all. The more you use handwriting, the more the system learns the distinctive patterns of your handwriting style.

This leads us to the Surface Pen, which is the stylus that allows you to write on the Surface. The Pen provides 1,024 points of sensitivity. This allows customization of how thin or bold your writing is based on personal style. It also results in an incredibly accurate visual representation of your writing or drawing. And the eraser does exactly what an eraser should do, making it very natural to transition from pen and paper to the Surface Pen. A highlight of the Pen is the replaceable tips. Microsoft has designed different tips that mimic the friction of commonly used pens and pencils, letting you customize the feel of your writing; the default tip mimics a #2 pencil. The Pen is attached via very strong magnets to the left hand side of the Surface Book tablet, although I’ve found it will also handily attach to the keyboard base. I usually carry my Surface Book in a bag with a compartment for a laptop, and have had no issues with the Pen falling off.

Final Thoughts

The Surface Book comes in a variety of configurations. You can get a dedicated GPU, which is really only beneficial if you are doing CAD work, complicated graphic design, or video editing. You can also choose between an i5 and i7 Intel processor, 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and various hard drive sizes. I won’t cover those differences here, but feel free to ask questions in the comments below and I will share my thoughts with you. The keyboard and touchpad are very well designed. The keys have a nice short and easy travel, with a polished finish. The trackpad is made with glass, making for a smooth feel, and features a number of gestures most people are used to (for scrolling and zooming).

I couldn’t be happier with my Surface Book. Yes, there are still some who complain about issues, but Microsoft has been quick to both provide fixes to these problems and just flat-out replace your device if you want. I do not regret my purchase, and use my Surface Book every day, in fact, I am writing this article on it. Microsoft is revolutionizing how we work with our devices in the workplace, and the Surface Book is the perfect product to help you transition from pure paper to the electronic world without sacrificing the way in which you perform your daily tasks.

Image Courtesy of Microsoft.

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