Surface Book Tip: Detach and Reconfigure the Screen

Posted on October 22, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 0

Surface Book Tip: Detach and Reconfigure the Screen

Microsoft bills Surface Book as “the ultimate laptop,” but it features a removable screen that can be configured as a portable clipboard or a creative canvas. But before you can use this versatile device in these other configurations, you need to know how you can detach, reconfigure, and then re-attach the screen.

It is, perhaps, Surface Book’s signature feature: You can remove the device’s screen and optionally reattach it backwards, providing a handy set of new usage scenarios. These include:

Portable clipboard. In this mode, Surface Book works like an overly-large tablet. You can interact with the device using multi-touch or with the bundled Surface Pen.

Presentation mode. Here, you remove the screen but then reattach it to the keyboard base, backwards. This can be used for small audience presentations, since the screen is forward of the rest of the device. Or, you might use the screen in this mode on a crowded airplane, since you can take advantage of the additional battery in the keyboard base but not have to worry about the person in front of you pushing their seat back.


Creative canvas. Here, you remove the screen and reattach it to the keyboard base, backwards, as with presentation mode. But you then also push the screen all the way down, creating an ideal angle for drawing, painting, and writing.


The key to each of these non-laptop uses is the Surface Book’s unique Surface Detach functionality. This is a button—available both as a hardware key on the Surface Book’s keyboard base and in software in the system tray in Windows 10—that controls the custom-designed muscle wire switches inside the bottom of the screen that lock—and unlock—the screen from the base.


What’s interesting about this procedure is that it’s entirely software-based: There is no manual hardware switch override, or whatever, that can detach these two pieces from each other. So whether you push the keyboard key or the on-screen button, the same thing happens: The Surface Detach software runs and unlocks the screen from the base, so you can pull it off.


When you press the Surface Detach key (or onscreen button), you will hear what appears to be some mechanical switch operating inside of the device. But what you’re really hearing is an audio file, kind of like the fake exhaust note in a Miata roadster, that emulates the sound, giving you a form of audible feedback that the operation succeeded. You’re also presented with an onscreen notification that is unique to Surface Book.


Then, you just pull off the screen. From there, you can use it as a standalone tablet—sorry, a portable clipboard—or reattach it to the keyboard base, either frontwards (as a laptop) or backwards (as a creative canvas or in presentation mode). The base has four guides—two towards the edges and two near the centrally-mounted Surface Connect connector—that, combined with strong magnets, ensure that you’re lined up correctly every time.


And of course there is another unique notification for when the screen is reconnected to the base.


Oddly enough, Surface Book doesn’t enter Tablet mode automatically when you remove the screen, nor does it even prompt you to do so. If you would like to change this behavior, navigate to Settings, System, Tablet Mode and change the option “When this device automatically switches tablet mode on or off” to either “Always ask before switching” or “Don’t ask me and always switch.”


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