The PixelSense Display

I feel like the display is one of the key points with the Surface Book. Microsoft calls it a PixelSense display - named for its capacitive touch and stylus capabilities - and they have added some technology to really move this display forward. As with all of the Surface devices now, it supports touch, and pen input, and it has a 3:2 aspect ratio.

The aspect ratio is really one of the key features. When Microsoft moved to 3:2 with the Surface Pro 3, it instantly transformed that device and made it much better as both a tablet and a notebook. When the Clipboard is detached, the 3:2 13.5-inch display is every bit as good as the Surface Pro 4, only a bit larger. It works much better in portrait than 16:9 ever did. Clip it on the base, and you now have a notebook display with enough vertical pixels to cut down on the amount of scrolling you need to do. For many of us, the constant move to 16:9 on notebooks was a painful process to watch, and with the Surface Book, you jump right past 16:10 to an even taller aspect ratio. When you snap two apps to the side, you effectively have two 3:4 workspaces, making multitasking much better. There is more physical display available on the 13.5-inch Surface Book than a 14-inch 16:9 display. So even though it would be easy to compare the Surface Book to 13.3-inch Ultrabooks, it offers even more screen than the 14-inch models.

Microsoft has created their own touch and pen controller, which they are calling the G5 chipset. This is the same as the Surface Pro 4, and the goal is to reduce latency on both touch and pen. It actually leverages the GPU for some functions since the GPU has a lot more capabilities and power available.

Despite the larger display than the Surface Pro 4, it shares the exact same pixel density at 267 pixels per inch. This is done with a 3000x2000 resolution, and it is incredibly sharp. Text rendering on it is fantastic, and it would be pretty difficult to discern individual pixels at any sort of normal distance. This is what they look like though.

So with all of these similarities with the Surface Pro 4, it would be easy to assume that Microsoft is using the same Samsung IGZO panel, but that is actually not the case. Microsoft has opted to go with a display from Panasonic, and it’s not IGZO which was a bit surprising with the high DPI on tap. Instead, it is a traditional amorphous silicon panel, so it won’t offer the same power savings of IGZO. Instead, Microsoft wanted to focus on contrast on this display. At the launch event, Panos Panay claimed this notebook had 1700:1 contrast ratio, which, if true, would make it one of the highest contrasts on any notebook, if not the actual highest on any notebook for sale today, and this was done, in part, with the help of photo-alignment. Microsoft has also stated that each Surface Book will be individually calibrated for sRGB, which is important since you generally can’t calibrate a notebooks’s colors after the fact.

To test these claims, we use SpectraCal’s CalMAN 5 software suite with an X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter for brightness and contrast measurements, and an i1Pro spectrophotometer for testing color accuracy. Since I have two Surface Books, I’ve run the tests on both so we can check how the calibration is done on more than one device.

Brightness and Contrast

Display - Max Brightness

Display - Black Levels

Display - Contrast Ratio

Our first test gets right to the heart of the claim from Microsoft, and sure enough, the Panasonic panel is able to deliver over 1700:1 on contrast. The best part is that the panel has achieved this with amazing black levels, and watching movies on the Surface Book really brings out a lot more detail in dark scenes than most devices are capable of. The brightness is also very good. The Core i5 model that I have has 462 nits of brightness and almost 1800:1 contrast, edging out the Core i7 sample.


Core i5 GrayscaleCore i7 Grayscale

Display - Grayscale Accuracy

Display - White Point

Both models do ok in this test, but the Core i5 model, which was a pre-production sample, had some issues with grayscale, especially as the brightness went up. The Core i7 model, which is a retail sample, seems to be much better here, but with just a sample size of two, it’s difficult to say if this is just luck of the draw. Color temperatures are very close to where they should be as well, and both keep gamma in check which is nice to see.



Core i5 (left) Core i7 (right)

Display - Saturation Accuracy

Once again, the Core i7 model outperforms the Core i5 pre-production model here, and by quite a bit, although both are well under the limit where you would be able to detect an issue. Both devices can pretty much cover 100% of the sRGB color space.

Gretag Macbeth


Core i5 (left) Core i7 (right)

Display - GMB Accuracy

The most comprehensive test is the Gretag Macbeth, which tests not only the standard sweeps, but also many of the colors in-between, including skin tones. Both models do very well here, with pretty much none of the individual results scoring over 3.0.

Color Comparator

Looking at what all of this means, we can leverage these color comparators, which show the display’s intended color on the bottom, and the actual result on the top. This is a relative comparison, because any inaccuracies in your own display would skew the results.

Core i5 Color Comparator

Core i7 Color Comparator

Both models show very accurate colors, with little differentiation between the top and bottom parts of the images.

Microsoft has promised 100% sRGB coverage as well as individually calibrated panels, and it looks like they have done very well. The Core i7 model in particular, which is a retail sample, has no issues at all with the display accuracy. It’s interesting that they did not go with IGZO technology with the Surface Book like they did with the Surface Pro 4, but the Panasonic panel has amazing contrast, and the backlighting provides great brightness despite the amorphous silicon TFT. The black levels are very good on this display, and accuracy is certainly good enough for almost anyone’s needs. The high accuracy, combined with the high resolution, make the Surface Book one of the nicest displays around, and it’s a pleasure to use.

The days of high DPI being a real issue on Windows is slowly fading away, although there are still plenty of programs that do not play well. It really depends on what exact programs you have, but for most of my workflow high DPI is not a problem at all. Adobe has updated their apps to support higher resolution panels, for example. I’ve been using high DPI Windows PCs for several years now, and although there are still some apps that fall back to DPI virtualization, it’s not been an issue most of the time. If the Universal Windows App platform takes off, this will be well and truly solved, but that has not happened quite yet.

Compute with the Surface Book Battery Life and Charge Time


View All Comments

  • s.yu - Sunday, November 15, 2015 - link

    I can double that, though I personally never saw the need for one and it was a gift of my father to my mother. Reply
  • Manch - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    If you think 1.6lbs is too heavy you need to stop with the 40oz curls... Reply
  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Its not that I am unable to lift it...

    Its that trying to hold it in one hand casually while reading or surfing the web is simply not comfortable. Neither was the first gen iPad. It wasn't until the iPad Mini or iPad Air that Apple had a tablet that was light enough for this (There were of course other tablets before Apple that were fine)
  • s.yu - Sunday, November 15, 2015 - link

    You know people like to lie flat on their beds while holding a tablet to watch a movie? 1.6lbs could give you a black eye if it slips. And magnesium is slippery. Reply
  • Manch - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    IPAD PRO also 1.6lbs... Reply
  • solipsism - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    But how long do those 1.6lb "tablets" last on a single charge? Can you even charge the Surface Book's tablet section independent of the base? MS really let their customers down with their poor logic board design. Reply
  • samsp99 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    Yes, you can charge the tablet without the base. It uses the same connector to connect to the base as the base uses to the power brick or dock. You can even use the dock directly with the tablet section. Reply
  • Manch - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    yes you can charge it separately. Reply
  • nikon133 - Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - link

    I think that they are really trying to differentiate Surface Book from Surface Pro tablet. Since both run desktop software and are fully compatible, differentiation is harder than between MB and iPad. I think that they have done it as good as it is possible, within given parameters. Surface Pro is primarily a tablet that can replace laptop, but if you need machine with physical keyboard all or most of the time, it is not the best solution. At least this is my conclusion after using Pro 3 half a year now, give or take. It is great without keyboard - I'm finding kickstand a real game-changer for any sort of lazy media consumption, browsing... and those few times a year when I need a laptop to do some work (usually when I travel and am away from my home desktop and my work laptop), it can deliver. But if I'd need laptop all the time, it would not be right product for me. This is where Book comes in. It is primarily laptop that can replace tablet - short turn. Should be good convergence device that is real laptop but gives owner much lighter tablet experience once in a while, or for short bursts. It also offers middle-ground with closed screen turned outwards, which looks fine for those who need tablet mode on the desk or lap (or any other scenario that does not require holding device in hand), with benefit of larger screen, dGPU and battery life better than Surface Pro can provide.

    I'm finding this differentiation (in specialization) less intrusive than, say, MacBook... where Air is kept with low resolution screens and chunky screen borders to reduce Air's impact on MBP and, recently, MB segment as well. In all the honesty, I think this task is harder for Apple, since they keep traditional laptop format which even further reduces their options.
  • NetMage - Monday, November 16, 2015 - link

    You think 264ppi is low resolution?

    Also, there are sound ergonomic reasons for the thick bezels.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now