Microsoft Surface Book as a Roon remote

@Danny wrote about his interest in the big iPad Pro (12.9" model) as a Roon remote: big screen, shows lots of albums, supports portrait mode, etc. Interesting but I couldn’t justify buying one, very expensive given the limited functionality of an iPad (fantastic but limited). But for reasons unrelated to Roon (Photoshop in the field) I decided to get a Microsoft Surface Book. It’s a laptop but the display part is detachable, contains the full computer and a battery. It is a premium device at a premium price, but it was easier to justify because it a full-function computer.

It is very cool as a Roon tablet. The detached display portion is almost exactly the same dimensions as the iPad pro (width, height, thickness, weight). The display contains a battery good for three hours according to Microsoft; I have never run out of battery in a Roon session because it goes to sleep while I listen. A big battery for normal use is in the keyboard portion.

The display is great, shows a lot of data as @Danny said, and it supports portrait mode which I find very comfortable and easy to read for many of the displays in Roon (e.g. an album). Portrait mode is also great for reading documents, Word and Acrobat and newspapers and magazines.

Heavier than a regular tablet, but it has its appeal. Plus, if you want to do a lot of typing, for metadata grooming, say, you just snap it back in and have a full-size keyboard (not the floppy keyboard of the Surface or iPads).

Windows 10 also has face recognition, no more passwords or pins or fingerprints, it says “Hello, Anders” and turns itself on. Since Windows is a fully multi-user OS (unlike iOS), this will be great once Roon makes real use of multiple profiles and libraries: my wife picks up the tablet, it recognizes her and Roon shows her music library, without any choosing or prompting. Oooh, so cool.

One quirk: the machine has Intel’s integrated GPU which is fine for Roon. But the higher-end models also contain a dedicated GPU, for high-performance gaming (which I never use). This means that apps that use the GPU, like Roon, will try to be intelligent and use the best GPU it can find, so when in laptop mode it chooses the power-GPU in the keyboard, and if you want to detach, it has to shift to the integrated GPU in the tablet part, and to allow that switchover it asks you to shut down Roon first. Annoying. (Same is true for Photoshop.) But you can turn off this behavior, just tell it to use the integrated GPU for Roon all the time and not bother with the power-GPU, then you can detach and re-attach at any time.

The device also has pen drawing (as does the iPad Pro), I think this has potential for Roon, I’ll write about that separately.

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Thanks for the review. Have you noticed any fan noise? My Surface Pro is quite noisy.


Can happen, but it depends on usage. When used as a Roon remote, it has been quiet.

(Full disclosure: I work for Microsoft. In a very different area, my relationship with the Surface is purely as a customer.)