Microsoft pretty much invented the 2-in-1 form factor in 2012 when it launched the original Surface RT, basically attaching a keyboard to a tablet and building a device that could provide the best of two worlds.
Many laughed, including Apple’s very own CEO Tim Cook, who called the keyboard + tablet a mix similar to a toaster and a refrigerator but eventually embraced the same concept with similar devices, in this case, the iPad Pro.
Every new Surface model and every new Surface generation represented continued innovation, and Microsoft proved with every hardware upgrade that it could do more than software. Surface is the living proof that Microsoft has become a premium hardware player who sees innovation as the main catalyst for building new devices.
The Surface Book, also referred to as “the ultimate laptop,” the Surface Studio all-in-one PC, the Surface Dial are all products that are based on a remarkable combination of premium design, state-of-the-art hardware, performance, and usability that you can’t actually find elsewhere.
Microsoft’s hardware push, however, can’t be all about inventing new product categories, because the Surface DNA can be brought to more “conventional” form factors as well. And the first product that embraces this approach is the Surface Laptop.
As compared to all the other models launched before, the Surface Laptop does not feature a removable keyboard. It does, however, come with a touchscreen, a thing that other rivals, like Apple’s MacBook, is still lacking and which the Cupertino giant doesn’t seem to be at all interested in. At least for the moment, because this is exactly what the company said when Microsoft launched the Surface RT, and here where we are now.
At first glance, it doesn’t look like Microsoft spent too much time working on innovations for the Surface Laptop, but the design of the laptop is an innovation itself.
I’ve heard many people saying that it looks like a lot like the MacBook Air, and from certain angles, it does, yes. But the feeling you get when touching it, the super-smooth opening of the lid, and the first time you see the fabric on the keyboard are experiences that Apple’s device can’t match right now.
Luxurious is the term that perfectly describes the design of the Surface Laptop, and Microsoft once again proves that its goal is to be a leader in the hardware biz.
Whenever I see the fabric keyboard I think of something that Panos Panay said at one point during the Surface Laptop unveiling. Do you know that cold feeling you get when touching a metal laptop on a chilly day? That’s not going to happen on a Surface Laptop because the keyboard is neatly wrapped in Alcantara, a fabric that we most often find in premium car models.
Alcantara is what makes the Surface Laptop stand out when looking at it with the lid open next to a MacBook, for example, or any other Windows laptop from HP, Dell, or Lenovo.
“What’s a MacBook?”
And while it looks and feels great, I can’t help but wonder how durable it is because the more you use the laptop, the bigger the chances to have the fabric wear down. While the Surface Laptop hasn’t been around for only a few months, this is the same fabric that Microsoft uses on the Signature Type Cover for the Surface Pro, and judging from how it withstands dirt and stains there, I can say just that: if you won’t take care of it, there’s a good chance it’ll end up looking disgusting.
The worst thing about having a worn out fabric on your keyboard is that there is no detachable display, and this means that you won’t be able to just buy a different keyboard and start clean per se. Instead, you might need to pay for servicing, and we all know this is going to be very pricey.
On the other hand, most stains can be removed quite easily with a damp cloth, though I wouldn’t recommend you do that too often. And of course, you should treat it with extra care because cleaning materials can end up damaging Alcantara.
It goes without saying that this isn’t your typical Windows laptop. It’s a one-of-a-kind device that Microsoft itself says “users should treat like a luxury product” And you know what? It really is a luxury product and you should really treat it accordingly.
And while in terms of design it’s pretty clear that the Surface Laptop deserves all the praises, let’s focus a little bit on hardware. We won’t go too much in detail because our goal here is to discuss mainly about the user experience, but there are a few things that have to be mentioned.
Microsoft Surface Laptop technical specifications
|Display||Screen: 13.5 in PixelSense Display
Resolution: 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI)
Aspect ratio 3:2
3.4 million pixels
Surface Pen enabled
Touch: 10-point multi-touch
Corning Gorilla Glass
|CPU||7th Gen Intel Core m3, i5 or i7|
|Memory||4GB, 8GB, or 16GB RAM|
|Storage||Solid state drive (SSD) options: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 615 (m3)
Intel HD Graphics 620 (i5)
Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 (i7)
|Others||Windows Hello face sign-in camera
720p HD camera (front-facing)
Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
3.5mm headphone jack
3.5mm Headset jack
|Wireless and security||Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n compatible
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Enterprise-grade protection with Windows Hello face sign-in
|Battery||Up to 14.5 hours video playback|
|Dimensions and colors||12.13” x 8.79” x .57”
(308.02 mm x 223.20 mm x 14.47 mm)
Color: Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold
First off, the display. The Surface Laptop comes with a 13.5-inch PixelSense display with 2256×1504 pixel resolution, 201 PPI, 3:2 aspect ratio, touch support, Gorilla Glass protection, and support for the Surface Pen.
Since it doesn’t come with a detachable keyboard, Microsoft developed a more traditional hinge, though it comes with a special design itself. Microsoft has become the master of hinges since the debut of the original Surface Book, and the company is expected to be inventing something truly of this world with the release of the purposed Surface Phone sometime soon.
“Microsoft’s own Retina.”
But what I noticed when using the Surface Laptop primarily with touch is that the display wobbles just a little bit if you press it harder. Of course, you’re not supposed to do that too often since the responsiveness is impressive, but I found myself holding the screen with my left hand while touching it with right one more than once.
As for chipsets, you can choose between Intel Core i5, i7, and more recently m3, while RAM options are 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB. For storage, you get 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB.
Graphics depend on the configuration you choose, and while the m3 is offered with Intel HD Graphics 615, the i5 version is upgraded to 620. The i7 features an Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 board.
Other features include a USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack that’s placed in a position which really makes sense (especially as compared with the Surface Book), a mini DisplayPort, and the Surface Connect. You also get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus stereo microphones and omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium.
“Just get the i7 chip.”
This all sounds good on paper, but how’s everything in real life? This is actually one of the areas where the Surface Laptop more or less shows its limits.
It goes without saying that the Surface Laptop is not by any means supposed to be a gaming device, though the Intel Core i7 chip might make you think otherwise. I’ve tested the i5 configuration and it seemed very snappy and responsive nearly most of the time, except during those moments when running more demanding processes.
This is something that typically happens on devices with similar hardware configurations no matter the manufacturer, and regular users shouldn’t notice this slowdown too often. For power users, however, I recommend you go for the i7 version because it should be able to run more demanding tasks easier.
As far as the Average Joe is concerned, no complains here. I’ve used the Surface Laptop as my daily driver for nearly a month, and this involves the typical daily working schedule with apps like Microsoft Office, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, mailing, and apps that don’t typically require a monster system to run smoothly. Everything was absolutely flawlessly, and I barely found a problem with the laptop. Again, everything should run seamlessly as long as no resource-hungry processes are launched.
“Battery life could be better.”
If you ask me, the Surface Laptop is the perfect choice for the typical office worker. It looks great, it runs smoothly, and it’s extremely light at 1.25 kg for the i5 and m3 versions, which makes it the right companion if you’re at the desk or on the go to a meeting.
Battery life is one particular thing that deserves a little bit more time in this review. Microsoft says that you should get up to 14.5 hours of video playback per charge, obviously without running any other processes that require more battery power.
The best I could get was 7 hours per charge when using the laptop at the office without the keyboard backlighting on and without doing anything else than browsing, emailing, writing, and occasional chatting.
Judging from the feedback that early Surface Laptop buyers posted online, this is more or less the average, and I’d say this could be a problem for many people out there. Given that the typical work schedule has 8 hours, 9 hours if we also count the lunch break, the 7-hour autonomy of the Surface Laptop could be an issue. Of course, the office worker will always have the charger plugged in, but if you want to leave your charger at home, you’re in trouble.
On the other hand, the Surface Laptop charges fast, though it does not include the fast charging system that you find on phones. But hats off to Microsoft for the magnetic charger also used on the other Surface models that makes it a breeze to attach the connector.
The software side is also an experience that needs its own section in this review.
By default, the Surface Laptop comes with Windows 10 S, a dedicated Windows 10 SKU that will soon become S Mode, and which essentially restricts the operating system to apps in the Microsoft Store.
More like an evolved version of Windows RT, Windows 10 S was specifically aimed at the education sector, as it boasts security and performance because apps in the Microsoft Store are supposed to be better optimized and completely clean.
On paper, it sounds like an offer you can’t refuse, but in reality, Windows 10 S is a Windows 10 version that power users won’t be able to deal with. Not even the typical office worker that I’ve discussed about earlier can do it because the Microsoft Store still lacks too many apps that we use on a daily basis.
On the good side, Microsoft does allow the Surface Laptop to be upgraded to Windows 10 S completely free of charge, and since it’s all just a software limitation, all the components of Windows 10 Pro are already there. In other words, it takes less than a minute to activate Windows 10 Pro and lift the restriction, so you’ll be able to install Win32 software in no time.
“Just try Windows 10 S.”
My advice is to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro only if you determine whether Windows 10 S is good for you or not. Because in essence, Windows 10 S not only that boosts security and performance, but it also makes the Surface Laptop feel snappier and more responsive, and since it can only run apps from the Microsoft Store, you never have to worry about malware and things like that.
I’ve also noticed a small improvement in battery life when running Windows 10 S, but nothing too impressive, though with the right apps and optimizations, you might be able to break the 8-hour autonomy per charge.
Once you update to Windows 10 Pro, you basically convert the Surface Laptop to a fully-featured device that’s just as powerful as your desktop PC. Again, that depends on the hardware configuration you choose, because on the newly-introduced m3 chipset option, that’s not entirely accurate.
From my experience, I’d say Windows 10 S is a must-have on the Surface Laptop with an m3 chip, though I know many buyers might think of trying the full version of Windows 10 Pro anyway.
The Surface Laptop is a beautiful beast. It looks absolutely stunning thanks to the aluminum case, and Microsoft implemented some very nice touches that are exclusive to this model.
It’s available in four colors, namely Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold, and the color of the fabric on the keyboard always matches the exterior. This way, it creates a seamless design inside out that buyers are going to love.
That doesn’t mean the design is flawless though, but the things that Microsoft has to fix on the second generation shouldn’t be too much trouble for a company the size of the software giant. For example, I had a hard time opening the laptop with just one hand because of aluminum case and the hinge.
As for hardware, would I want something a bit more powerful? I would, yes, but the Surface Laptop itself wasn’t supposed to be a workhorse. That’s what the Surface Book 2 is for.
The Surface Laptop is the perfect choice for an office worker or a businessman who wants not only a productive device but also one that comes with the right looks. And with the recently-launched m3 configuration, Microsoft clearly wants to make the Surface Laptop available to more buyers.
If there’s something that I would like to see improved on the Surface Laptop, it’s the battery life. Personally, I can only feel comfortable without a charger around me if I can get at least 9 hours of battery life per charge, and for the moment, the Surface Laptop can’t deliver that.
Also, I’d like to have more connectivity options, and what I missed the most was an SD card slot. Sure, there is a USB port to connect a card reader, but if I’m not at the office, I really can’t carry all the accessories I might or I might not need with me.
In the end, the Surface Laptop is exactly what a laptop built by Microsoft is supposed to be. And Panos Panay, the man responsible for making this happen, says is the best.
“We built a laptop. And it’s beautiful.”