Microsoft's Surface Book is a stylish design; so stylish that for a while I couldn't bring myself to decorate it with stickers. But when Toast brought out their leather cover in (close to) my signature green, I couldn't resist. I loaded my Core i7 Surface Book up with the leather skin just before heading off on a long business trip to see how it would stand up to travel.
The secret of Toast's wood and leather skins is some seriously strong 3M adhesive. The kits also come with a cleaning wipe to get off any grease or residue from any stickers you've had on your laptop case. I supplemented that with a lens cleaning wipe because some sticker glue really sticks around and then I was ready to glue.
The leather skin is trickier to apply than the wooden veneer I tried on my previous Surface Book, because it's thicker and not as stiff. The skin I tested also lacks the cutout for the Microsoft logo on the top of the lid (that is available as an option, but it costs another $5). I found sticking it onto the top of base of the Surface Book was still simple enough; you peel off some of the backing to reveal the adhesive - making sure not to get your fingers stuck to it, align as precisely as possible to one edge and two corners and then pull the rest of the backing paper away, letting the rest of the leather slice slip neatly into place and start bonding. There were no bubbles or wrinkles to smooth out and it went on straight; it might be a smidge too far over on one side, but not enough to notice.
One of the long feet on the bottom of my Surface Book had started coming out of its groove, so I'd stuck it back down with decorative duct tape. The leather base stuck just as well to that as to the metal. But thick as the leather is, it fits so well that I can still see the line of it through the leather, so make sure to remove any stickers from your machine before applying.
Applying the hinge cover and touchpad surround is much trickier and harder to get precisely right. Toast advises lining the touchpad surround up to the touchpad itself rather than to the front edge. That's tough to do, especially as the smaller piece of leather is floppier - and because of the cutout, it would stretch if you tried to take it off and reposition it. I was slightly further off; maybe half a millimetre too far left and up, and slightly more up on the right than the left. It still looks striking and not at all uneven, but it does come right up to the edge of the bottom row of keys, so you can feel the edge of it when you hit the space bar or the Windows key with your thumb.
The leather around the touchpad lifts my wrists up just a tiny bit more when I'm typing and I'm still deciding if I like that or not. On the positive side, It's very comfortable. Because of the balance of the Surface Book, if you're on the short side you often find you're holding the laptop onto your knees by the pressure of your wrists on the palm rest and the leather definitely has a better grip.
On the negative side, the leather is too thick for the strength of the magnets that hold the Surface Book closed; although it closes all the way and stays shut while you're carrying it around, the screen pops slightly open if you're not actually holding it shut.
It was when I got to the hinge cover that I ran into more of a problem.
The hinge cover needs to be stuck to the top lid first, while the Surface Book is closed and sitting on a flat surface like a table, and then you flip the laptop over and lift to roll the hinge on the table and press the rest of the leather strip into place. The glue is only on the edges of the hinge cover so it bends out of the way when the lid is open, then stretches back around the hinge when it's closed. The instructions say to leave a 'tiny gap' on the top of the hinge - that avoids it jamming but it's hard to keep that tiny gap even, so while I perfectly covered the hinge on one end, there's a tiny sliver of the hinge exposed closer to the other end.
It's worth the effort because not only does the hinge cover make the Surface Book look much more complete than when it's exposed - like a leather-bound folio - it's also much more comfortable to grip than the metal Surface Book hinge, which is very hard in the hand if you're carrying it around for a while.
Annoyingly, the hinge cover started peeling off the front of the hinge after about a week, and having started to peel, did so more and more, so pressing it back down wasn't a long term solution. Toast does have a warning about this on the web site; a Core i7 Surface Book like mine may just run too hot for a hinge cover (mine is a first generation model and my Windows Insider machine) but they also sent me a replacement hinge cover so I could try applying it more precisely.
The first hinge cover pulled off easily, and the layer of glue that remained on the hinge was also easy to peel away; I pulled up an edge with my thumbnail and then was able to just rub it off a bit at a time, leaving the hinge clean and not at all sticky. (That's reassuring if I decide that I don't like the way the palm rest affects the magnets and want to take it off; this was easier and cleaner to remove than a sticker.)
This time, I got the hinge cover much better aligned, by not leaving any gap at all. I also stuck it down in two goes; I stuck it to the front of the hinge first and left the Surface Book turned off and upside down for 24 hours to let the adhesive really set. Then I stuck down the thinner piece on the bottom of the hinge and propped the front edge of the Surface Book up slightly so all the weight was on the bottom section of the hinge with the leather and left it to set for 48 hours. I was on a road trip for the next two days and didn't use my laptop at all. I also turned off the feature in Windows 10 that synchronises your timeline between devices, because I'd been seeing my fan turn on and CPU usage go up to 100% almost every time I plugged my Surface Book in and the culprit was always the Connected Services Platform.
That helped with the heat level which helped the hinge stay in place for a while, but a couple of weeks later, I noticed that the hinge cover was again coming unglued slightly, this time on the bottom.
It's a shame, because the hinge cover really completes the look. It looks so good that if it comes off completely in the end I may get some of the precision cut wooden strips that Toast does to cover the hinge and match their wooden veneer skins. In fact, I'd love to see those strips as an option for the leather skin too.
The adhesive works really well for the flat surfaces. After travelling around with me for more than two months on multiple plane rides, to many meetings and conference rooms, with Windows 10 Insider skip ahead ring running the fan on the CPU far more often than I think it should do, there's no sign of lifting or peeling on the top, bottom or around the trackpad.
Toast skins aren't cheap; $99 for the top cover, $60 for the bottom cover, $30 for the trackpad surround and $20 for the hinge cover. (Separate options do mean you can choose toning or contrasting colours from the ten on offer.) But the quality of the leather is excellent; it's hardwearing and ages well. After all that time on the road, I can see a few dents and scuffs - but it still looks absolutely wonderful. On a Surface Type Cover, I always find a slightly discoloured patch where my left wrist rests on the surface after a few months. Even with my bad habit of eating lunch at my PC, I can't spot anything similar on the Toast leather.
This is a premium product and as a PC user, it's so nice to have the same sort of stylish skin options that used to be reserved for Macs - Toast has skins for a whole range of PC and Mac laptops.