Microsoft Surface Laptop Review
Microsoft Surface Laptop
- Excellent design
- Gorgeous screen
- Comfortable keyboard
- Very good battery life
- Nearly full sRGB coverage
- Limited ports
- Windows 10 S is still too limiting for most
- Very slow SSD
- Alcantara fabric requires care and maintenance
Microsoft Surface Laptop review – Performance made personal.
Surface Laptop complements your personal style with a choice of four rich tone-on-tone color combinations and a luxurious Alcantara material-covered keyboard. Yours is waiting.
While the Surface Laptop might not seem special on paper, I appreciate how all of Microsoft’s design choices came together as I used it. Its metallic case and Alcantara covering beg to be touched; the keyboard didn’t slow me down; and its battery life is impressive. It’s the sort of laptop that makes you wonder, “Why can’t everyone do this?”
Microsoft set out to make the most refined notebook it could with the Surface Laptop, and for the most part it succeeded. It’s sleek and powerful and has great battery life. It might seem like a step back for Microsoft, after trying to promote new twists on notebooks over the past few years. But it’s more of a realization: There’s still a huge demand for traditional laptops. And Microsoft just showed how it’s done.
When you look at the landscape of ultraportable laptops, there’s a race to be the thinnest on the block, but we’re starting to see diminishing returns as a result of that quest. The Surface Laptop stands out with a design that dares to be different, and it pays off. I love the Alcantara deck and colorful metal design, and that you don’t have to sacrifice a full-size USB port for the sake of thinness. I just wish Microsoft had included a USB Type-C port, with Thunderbolt 3 support.
As for Windows 10 S, I’d skip it and upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, because the former would force me to change the way I work. But if you’re willing to trade versatility for faster performance and better security, you can always give it a shot before you decide.
Overall, the Dell XPS 13 is still our top pick, because it offers more ports and starts at a lower price ($799) while offering a speedier SSD. Still, the Surface Laptop delivers, including typing comfort, performance, display quality and battery life. And if you really want a touch screen, you can get it for much less than the XPS 13 ($999 versus $1,256).
Despite its cool design and unique materials, the Surface Laptop also leaves us scratching our heads. There’s no shortage of cool-looking slim laptops for students or professionals hovering right around the $999-$1,299 mark (including), and the Surface Laptop really doesn’t do anything all that different, aside from its colored fabric covering and the Windows 10 S operating system. It even feels like it takes a step backwards in one way — keeping a single USB 3.0 port (and a mini-DisplayPort), instead of jumping on the trendy USB-C bandwagon as Apple, HP, Asus and others have done.
The Surface Pro remains a great middle ground between a laptop and an iPad, and its magnetic keyboard cover and built-in kickstand remain the best in breed. The massive Surface Studio($3,799.99 at Amazon.com) likewise bridges the gap between an all-in-one desktop and pro-level Cintiq drawing surface; and even the oddball Surface Book ($1,499.00 at BuyDig.com) is at the very least unique, pairing a high-powered Surface tablet with a solid keyboard dock stuffed with a graphics card and extra battery.
But when it comes to the Surface Laptop, this is a very nice-looking, well-equipped product that stands alongside the top performers in its category, but doesn’t necessarily surpass them. Personally, I found it very enjoyable to use, but like many midsize, midprice laptops in 2017, it’s a remix of familiar components at a familiar price, which means you should feel free to choose largely based on the look and feel you like best.
Microsoft advertises the Surface Laptop as “more than a traditional laptop”, but our experience has been the opposite. If features like USB Type-C, SD card readers, and NVMe are important, then current flagship Ultrabooks from Lenovo, HP, and Dell pack more than what Microsoft’s latest Surface device can offer. The Alcantara base is certainly different and makes for another unique marketing bullet point, but its inclusion feels superficial with no significant practical advantages for end users.
The biggest reason to own a Surface Laptop is its 13.5-inch display as everything else about the notebook is fairly underwhelming. If the 3:2 panel or Iris Graphics SKU are not must-haves for any reason, then the notebook becomes that much less compelling compared to the plethora of 13-inch and 14-inch alternatives now available. The long battery life, low fan noise, and wide color gamut of the Microsoft notebook can also be found on competitors like the XPS 13 9360 QHD or Notebook 9.
Microsoft is marketing its notebook to students and so we can appreciate that the quality of the device suffers from no apparent cut corners. With that said, its long laundry list of missing features severely limits the versatility of the Surface Laptop and makes it tough for us to recommend for both students and general users.
It would be easy to compare Microsoft’s Surface Laptop to Apple’s MacBook Air that is still praised by many today, but I think that’s unfair. The MacBook Air hasn’t been a class-leading laptop for years with its low-resolution display and aging design. Competition like Dell’s XPS 13 and HP’s Spectre x360 have shown that Apple has been left behind, and Microsoft is now releasing its Surface Laptop at a time when it’s apparent that Apple has given up on its MacBook Air.
The Surface Laptop isn’t perfect and the alcantara fabric will be a risky decision, but it does manage to achieve something very Apple-like: desire. I know there are laptops out there with more bells and whistles, but I still want to buy a Surface Laptop. Microsoft has managed to strike that fine balance of something that looks beautiful and luxurious, but that’s fully functional and effortless to use.
That’s what makes Microsoft’s insistence on Windows 10 S so confounding — it puts it at a weird disadvantage right out of the box. I understand that Microsoft needs to encourage developers to put their programs and apps into the Windows Store, and forcing 10 S is a way to do that, but when you’re spending $1,000 or more for a laptop, you don’t want it to be crippled right away.
Fortunately, upgrading to Windows 10 Pro is quick, easy, free (for now), and doesn’t have any particular downside, so it’s something I recommend you do. (And chances are, you’d probably do it even without my recommendation.) Provided you make that upgrade, the Surface Laptop might be the new default computer I recommend, essentially taking over exactly where the MacBook Air left off.
In isolation, the Surface Laptop is an attractive machine. It performs well, manages all-day battery life and is lightweight enough for any shoulder bag.
But there are drawbacks: the SSD is slower than those of all its rivals, it runs the limited Windows 10 S (although there’s a free upgrade to full-fat Windows 10 for now), and the likes of the Dell XPS 13 and 13-inch MacBook Pro offer comparable performance for similar money. There are perks, though: the Surface Laptop’s screen is better than any other Ultrabook, it has one of the best keyboards and touchpads you’ll find on a laptop today, and the speakers are very good.
On balance, I would still recommend the Dell XPS 13 at this price, the Lenovo IdeaPad 710S for under a grand, and the Acer Swift 3 for those on a budget. The Surface Laptop does have the advantage of coming with some hefty discounts if you’re a student, which are well worth looking at.