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Impressive new Microsoft Surface Book ‘ultimate laptop’

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Unlike the Surface Pro 4 (left) the Surface Book has a hinge to keep the screen upright even on your lap

Unlike any of Microsoft Surface Pro tablets, including the new Surface Pro 4, the new Surface Book is a laptop that actually can be used on your lap because it has a real hinge rather than a kickstand.

I have a Surface Pro 3 with its optional Type Cover keyboard and while it works OK on a desk or table, it flops around if I try to use it on my lap or in bed (as I often do with my MacBook Air). For many laptop users, including those who have to work while sitting on a table less chair or bench while waiting for planes), that hinge is important because it’s the only easy way to keep the screen upright. I also appreciate a real hinge when I’m covering an event from an auditorium where, in most cases, there are no tables to prop up your laptop.

I wasn’t in New York to try out the device but, based on what they said, there seems to be no compromises in the device’s full-sized backlit keyboard even though it’s removable from the screen. It also folds back, similar to Lenovo Yoga Windows laptops, so you can also use it as a tablet without having to take the screen off.

At 3.45 pounds with the keyboard, it’s only only six ounces heavier than a 13-inch MacBook Air (2.96 pound) and 2 ounces lighter than a (3.48 pound) 13-inch MacBook Pro. The starting price is $1,499 for a system with 128GB storage and 8GB of RAM. Microsoft said it was twice as fast as a MacBook Pro but that remains to be verified.

The Surface Book’s dimensions are 12.30” x 9.14” x 0.51 – 0.90, which makes it slightly thicker than the MacBook Pro. But unlike any Apple laptop, you can remove the keyboard to make it much thinner and lighter.

Microsoft claims 12 hours of battery life which is the same as Apple’s claim for the MacBook Air and two hours better than the MacBook Pro. Battery life depends on lots of factors and it’s too early to know if Microsoft can deliver on its promise but reviews of the MacBook models have shown that Apple’s claims are mostly true, though not if you use energy hogging apps.

Nothing is going to kill off Apple’s two excellent laptops but the Surface Book does compete nicely with both the 13-inch MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Because I don’t yet have any hands-on experience, I’m not in a position to declare a winner in the inevitable Microsoft/Apple laptop war, but based on specs, pictures and videos, Microsoft has a product that will tempt me to part with my MacBook Air.  I bought the Air not because I’m in love with Macs or OS X, but because I like its size, weight and form factor and — mostly — the great battery life. If the Surface Book lives up to its hype, it will provide all that plus a removable keyboard and a touch-screen which is a feature that Apple is sorely missing from its line of laptops.