Microsoft Surface Laptop review

by / No Comments / 4 View / December 22, 2017

The Surface Laptop couldn’t have come at a worse time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a lackluster product. Quite the opposite really. Instead, nowadays, it’s an affordable alternative to the Surface Book 2for those users who don’t plan on taking advantage of the detachable display.

In other words, the Surface Laptop is a more traditional notebook compared to some of the other devices in Microsoft’s Surface device portfolio. It isn’t too expensive either, but it comes with the catch of leveraging a new operating system you may not be familiar with – namely Windows 10 S. This is basically what Windows RT was to Windows 8, but done better.

That’s right, out of the box you’ll only get access to Windows Store applications, unless you upgrade your Surface Laptop to the Home or Pro versions of Windows 10. You can do this for free right now, but you don’t have much longer to do so. Microsoft has claimed in the past that this offer is set to expire in 2018, though the exact time and date isn’t quite clear.

Otherwise, the Surface Laptop has been well-received, and it’s not hard to see why either. Unlike a lot of other Windows devices out there (we’re looking at you, Surface Pro), the Surface Laptop is worth buying at the most affordable level. You don’t have to pay extra to get an i5 processor, though you will have to hand over a reasonable sum of cash for more memory and storage.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Surface Laptop stacks up to its main competitors. Provided the empire Apple has concocted over the years, could the Surface Laptop finally be the one to give its MacBooks a run for their money?

A premium device commands a premium price tag, and the Surface Laptop now costs $799 in the US, down from its usual $999 value. In the UK and Australia, however, it’s retained the same starting price since launch at £979 and AU$1,499, respectively.

In all three territories, the entry-level Surface Laptop comes armed with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage.

The next configuration up includes the more powerful Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD for $1,599 (£1,549, AU$2,449). Finally, you can pick up a Microsoft Surface Laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB storage for $2,199 (£2,149, AU$3,299).

Is this upgrade worth the price hike? While the doubling of storage space gives it more flexibility, there are cheaper ways of getting more space to save your files to – including cloud services such as Google Drive.

However, 16GB of RAM will be tempting to some people who want to use the Surface Laptop for running demanding software or multitasking numerous applications at once. Those users will likely want to upgrade from Windows 10 S – which only allows apps to run if they’ve been downloaded from the Windows Store – to Windows 10 Pro, which will cost an additional $49 (around £40, AU$65) after December 31 2017 (before then the upgrade is free).

For most people, however, the cheapest Surface Laptop configuration should be absolutely fine – especially if you’re using Windows Store apps, which have been vetted and tested by Microsoft.

One of the ideas behind Windows 10 S and its restriction to Windows Store apps is that those apps are less resource-hungry than traditional Windows applications, which means they’ll run well on lower-power machines, and should drain the battery slower too.

The price of the Surface Laptop puts it in the same bracket as last year’s MacBook, as well as the HP Spectre x360 and Dell XPS 13, while offering slightly better specs and power for the base model than the MacBook, but less than the HP and Dell machines.

All three of these competitors are worthy adversaries, appearing high up in our list of the best laptops in 2017 – so the Surface Laptop definitely has its work cut out for it.

Design

In our hands-on review of the Surface Laptop we suggested that this 13.5-inch machine is quite possibly the most attractive computing product Microsoft has ever created – and now that we’ve spent more time with it, we stand by that statement.

In short, the Surface Laptop is an incredibly attractive machine which shows that Windows laptops can be just as gorgeously designed as Apple products.

It features a full aluminum lid and body reminiscent of the Surface Book’s, which give it a sturdy yet premium feel. While these keep the Surface Laptop feeling light (more on that in a bit), they also give you confidence that this expensive bit of kit isn’t going to break or dent easily at the merest of knocks.

Unlike the Surface Book, the Surface Laptop doesn’t feature an aluminum keyboard – instead Microsoft has opted for plastic keys. Before you start to worry that this could lead to the Surface Laptop feeling a bit cheap, it also features Alcantara fabric material, which is imported from Italy and laser-cut to fit the keyboard and which gives the Surface Laptop a very pleasant feel, especially when typing.

The key travel of the Surface Laptop’s keyboard also feels satisfying, with 1.5mm of travel giving you a decent physical response when typing. A cool design feature places the Surface Laptop’s speakers behind the keyboard, using the gaps between the keys as a sort of grille.

It means the body can remain slim, with no speakers to add to the overall size, and this compromise works very well, with sound from the Surface Laptop coming through loud and clear – though we noticed a bit of muffling when typing at the same time. This may be an issue if you enjoy listening to Spotify while working, but at least the included audio jack allows you to hook up the Surface Laptop to an external speaker.

Speaking of ports, the Surface Laptop comes with a USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect power and docking port, as found on other Surface devices.

 The newer, faster USB-C connection is conspicuous by its absence. When we spoke to Microsoft about this, they told us that it intends for connectivity expansion to be handled via its Surface Connect port and Surface Dock.

Nevertheless, it’s a shame to see there’s no USB-C port, as an increasing number of peripherals are coming out with this connection, and many of the Surface Laptop’s competitors include it.

On the other hand, though, we’re also relieved that Microsoft hasn’t followed Apple’s USB-C or nothing approach.

The limited number of ports mean the Surface Laptop can maintain a thin profile – in fact it measures just 14.48mm thick, making it thinner than the Dell XPS 13’s 15mm, though slightly thicker than the MacBook at 13.1mm and the HP Spectre at 13.7mm.

So, while it’s not the thinnest laptop around the Surface Laptop is still pretty darn slim, and it weighs just 1.25kg, which is lighter than the Dell’s 1.29kg, though again it’s more weighty than the MacBook, which tips the scales at 1.08kg.

Still, it’s impressively light, and easy to hold in one hand. For carrying around, this is one of the most comfortable laptops you can buy.

The thinness of the design does have a drawback, however, as the Surface Laptop is incredibly hard to fix, and impossible to upgrade. This was discovered by the iFixit website, which took apart a Surface Laptop and found that many things are either glued in, or soldered to the motherboard, which makes removing and replacing parts extremely difficult. This may not be a worry for some, but if you damage your Surface Laptop, or something goes wrong out of warranty, then it may prove to be quite expensive.

The screen is a bright and vibrant 13.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen display, which is reinforced with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection against scratches. The resolution is 2256 x 1504, which gives it a pixel density of 201ppi (pixels per inch).

Resolution fans out there (come on, there must be some) will notice the slightly unusual resolution here, which is due to the Surface Pro’s screen having a 3:2 aspect ratio – most laptop (and monitor) aspect ratios are 16:9 (with MacBooks being 16:10).

What this means in practice is that the Surface Laptop’s screen is taller, which gives you a bit more screen room when working – though it does mean that if you’re watching widescreen videos you’re going to get larger black bars running along the top and bottom of the screen.

The aspect ratio of the screen has implications for the size of the Surface Laptop as well, with the device having a wider body due to it.

Overall, though, the Surface Laptop is a fantastic-looking device that will certainly turn heads when you take it out to use it, while still feeling comfortable to work on and carry around.

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