Surface Laptop Review: Is it Any Good?
Microsoft’s Surface line has been known for its daring and innovative takes on traditional computing formats like the tablet, the all-in-one PC, and the laptop. The Surface team at Redmond have released some amazing products over the past several years. What was once known as the team who introduced $900 million disasters like the Surface RT, are now known for amazing hardware like the Surface Studio, Surface Book, and the Surface Pro which cumulatively form a billion dollar business. With the Surface Studio, Surface Book, and the Surface Pro, critics and fans agree that Microsoft brought something new to their respective markets. The Surface Studio, for example, is a beautiful computer with an incredible 27-inch display that really shows off the power of Windows 10’s inking capabilities. Both the Surface Book and the Surface Pro were innovative due to Microsoft’s work on its range of hinge designs. That being said, not everyone wants a fancy detachable or a tablet that can turn into a laptop. Some just want a good, regular, old-fashioned clamshell PC. And that’s what the latest Surface is all about.
Microsoft’s new Surface is a basic, albeit premium laptop. It does not have any fancy hinge, or a fancy pen, or any other bells and whistles. It is just a basic laptop that’s built for people who want portability but don’t want to compromise power. Microsoft arguably promises a lot with its new Surface, and that’s really crucial as there are more than a handful of other premium Windows laptops out there today. On paper, a lot of those alternatives are better than Microsoft’s new laptop. But what really matters is the real-life experience, and Microsoft has created what may just be the perfect Windows laptop in 2017.
Enter the Surface Laptop.
SURFACE LAPTOP HAS A GORGEOUS DISPLAY, BUT IT’S ALSO VERY REFLECTIVE
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop is a 13.5-inch laptop that comes with the latest and greatest Intel Core processors, and a beautiful design that packs all the power into a device that’s only 14.47mm thick. The device’s light design is very premium and looks beautiful no matter what color you get. Microsoft has added a lot of small touches here and there to enhance the design of the Surface Laptop, and it’s definitely one of the prettiest laptops you can get right now. Being a Surface, this device unsurprisingly has a PixelSense display and a resolution of 2256×1504 pixels. The resolution of the Surface Laptop’s display is slightly lower than some of the company’s other Surfaces, but that honestly is hard to notice in real-life. The Surface Laptop’s display looks absolutely beautiful from all the angles, all the colors are vibrant, and the blacks on the display are incredibly deep. If you use the Surface Laptop indoors, you are going to be completely fine with the display. But if you are using the device under sunlight, that’s where things get a little worrying. Surface Laptop’s display is really reflective. It is so reflective that I was having trouble taking pictures of the device itself with my sub-par DSLR camera. You will likely be able to ignore the reflections most of the time but it can get really annoying after a while — especially when you are working in places like Starbucks.
Now you’re probably wondering: can you draw on this thing? Well, kind of. The Surface Laptop’s display wobbles quite a lot, which means it’s really difficult to draw on the device’s display. You can still draw on the Surface Laptop if you hold the display from behind to stop it from wobbling but you still wouldn’t get a good experience. Even if you’re not drawing and just interacting with something on the Surface Laptop’s touch display, you will start to see the wobbling issue on the display. To me, that is not a major problem at all. I don’t draw on my laptops, so I don’t even need the touch display at all. But if you are looking to get a portable laptop with lots of power and the ability to draw nicely, you should probably opt for the Surface Book or the Surface Pro instead.
YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO MAKE THE ALCANTARA-COVERED KEYBOARD DIRTY EASILY
I’m typing this entire review on the Surface Laptop, and let me tell you: the keyboard here is fantastic. I was actually a bit skeptical about the keyboard especially since it was using the Alcantara fabric — but as it turns out, the Surface Laptop’s keyboard, combined with the Alcantara fabric, is really good. The key travel on the Surface Laptop’s keyboard is perfect for me and everything just feels right. In fact, when I moved to my MacBook Pro after using the Surface Laptop’s keyboard for a week, the MacBook Pro’s keyboard felt really cheap. In terms of the durability of the Alcantara fabric, it’s been doing perfectly fine for me in my 2 weeks of usage. I don’t have sweaty palms, and I also don’t like to drink anything near my laptop after I had to pay £350 for spilling coke over my MacBook Pro’s keyboard. I’ve been using the Surface Laptop daily for the past 2 weeks — tweeting, blogging, writing emails, and everything else — so far, the Alcantara fabric still feels and looks new. That necessarily doesn’t mean you will have a good experience with the Alcantara fabric like myself in the long term, especially if you have sweaty palms. Microsoft urges users to treat the Alcantara fabric like a luxury product, which effectively means you will have to take care of the fabric properly if you want it to look pretty in the long-term. Even if you spill something over the fabric and make it dirty, Microsoft says washing it off with a damp cloth will do the job. In our (limited) testing, this did the job pretty well.
ALCANTARA MAKES ME MISS THE FRESH FEELING OF OPENING UP AN ALUMINUM LAPTOP EVERY MORNING
That being said, I still have a love and hate relationship with the Surface Laptop’s Alcantara-covered keyboard. The Alcantara keyboard looks nice, but I would be just fine with the good old aluminum. The Alcantara keyboard allows the Surface Laptop to stand out in the crowd of laptops that exists in today’s market, but that’s about it. The Alcantara fabric is also quite warm, and I’m personally not a big fan of that as I really miss the fresh feeling of opening up an aluminum laptop every morning — but that’s totally up to your personal preference. I believe the normal aluminum body would feel just as nice, if not better. And you also wouldn’t need to treat it as a luxury product and be worried about making it dirty.
THE TRACKPAD IS PERFECT FOR WINDOWS LAPTOP OWNERS, BUT NOT SO MUCH FOR MACBOOK OWNERS
Let’s talk about the trackpad, which is another crucial part of laptops nowadays. I actually have been using a MacBook Pro for more than half a year. It’s an amazing laptop with a solid build quality that literally just works for the most part. But one thing that really intrigued me on the new MacBook devices was the addition of the Force Touch Trackpad — it takes a little bit of time to get used to, but once you are comfortable with it, using the trackpad is a pleasure. On the Surface Laptop, Microsoft has packed a Precision trackpad and if you are coming from a Windows laptop, you will love the trackpad on the Surface Laptop. It’s fast, it’s really responsive, and it’s perfectly sized, too. But if you are coming from a MacBook, you may need a lot of time to get used to the Surface Laptop’s Precision trackpad due to the lack of Apple’s Taptic Engine. As I’ve mentioned before, the Surface Laptop’s trackpad won’t disappoint you at all if you are coming from another Windows laptop as Microsoft has done a terrific job with the trackpad. Scrolling on Microsoft Edge is very smooth, and the overall responsiveness of the trackpad is flawless.
4GB RAM FOR $999 IS ASKING TOO MUCH
Power is also an important aspect of ultraportable laptops like the Surface Laptop, especially with regard to thinness. For the Surface Laptop, performance isn’t a problem at all. Thanks to the 7th gen Intel Core i5 (or i7) processor, the Surface Laptop can run all the basic Windows apps and programs just fine. I’ve been using the model with an Intel Core i5 and 8GB of RAM, and everything from Google Chrome to Adobe Photoshop works perfectly fine on the Surface Laptop. But the version I’m running costs $1299 which is $300 more than the entry-level variant. For that $300, you get extra storage, but more importantly: 8GB of RAM. The entry-level variant of the Surface Laptop that costs $999 only comes with 4GB of RAM. To be frank, that isn’t enough in 2017 if you use a lot of apps on your device at the same time. If you are thinking of doing a lot of work on your Surface Laptop, I would recommend you to at least get the Core i5/8GB RAM variant of the device rather than going for the entry-level model. It will give you more storage, and the extra RAM will also help significantly.
CHARGING UP THE SURFACE LAPTOP IS A REALLY QUICK PROCESS
The battery life on the Surface Laptop also has been outstanding. Microsoft claims you will get 14.5 hours of battery life on the device — and that technically isn’t inaccurate as the company only tested the battery life with local video playback which doesn’t reflect the way real humans use their computers. In terms of real-life usage though, the Surface Laptop’s battery doesn’t disappoint to any extent. If you are running Windows 10 S, the device will be able to last up to around 9-10 hours with medium usage. The device will, however, eat through the battery a bit quicker if you set the Power Mode to “Best Performance” rather than using the recommended mode. When it comes to charging, the Surface Laptop is also very quick — in our testing, it took around 3 hours to go from 0% to 100% which is stupendously fast for a laptop. With the Surface Laptop, Microsoft has also improved the Sleep Mode significantly. The device no longer eats through the battery rapidly when it’s sleeping which has been a major issue for Surface devices in the past. According to my tests, the Surface Laptop only eats around 1-2% of the battery life you put it on sleep for 3-4 hours which is quite decent.
YOU WON’T SEE A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PERFORMANCE OF WINDOWS 10 PRO AND 10 S RIGHT OFF THE BAT
Now the Surface Laptop comes with Windows 10 S, a new version of Windows 10 that can only install apps from within the Windows Store. Redmond is offering a free upgrade to the full-fledged version of Windows, Windows 10 Pro, until later this year. The 4-minute long upgrade process is really smooth and it doesn’t touch any of your applications or files. If you are like me and rely heavily on classic desktop apps like Google Chrome or Visual Studio Code, you are probably going to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro really quickly. Microsoft claims that Windows 10 S offers better performance and improved power efficiency than Windows 10 Pro over time — and that’s not completely accurate. In my personal testing, I didn’t see a major decline in the performance of the device after upgrading to Windows 10 Pro. All the apps were running just as smoothly as they were running on Windows 10 Pro, but the startup times did get a little slower on Windows 10 Pro. And that’s about it. Of course, we’ll still have to wait and see if the performance of Windows 10 S continues to hold up after 5-6 months — but you won’t see a huge difference between the performance of Windows 10 Pro and 10 S right off the bat.
In terms of the battery life on Windows 10 Pro, the Surface Laptop can last around 8-9 hours with light to medium usage. On Windows 10 Pro, the device also eats through the battery a bit quicker when it’s in sleep mode but that’s completely expected as Microsoft likely made some optimizations related to the sleep mode in Windows 10 S. Moreover, when you opt for the best performance in the Power Mode, the battery life declines rapidly which is why you should probably keep the device on the recommended Power Mode if you ever upgrade it to Windows 10 Pro.
THE SPEAKER ON THE SURFACE LAPTOP SOUNDS ABSOLUTELY MIRACULOUS
With the Surface Laptop, Microsoft has packed a lot of small touches here and there to enhance the experience for users. The Surface Laptop doesn’t have any speaker grills — instead, Microsoft has integrated a speaker underneath the Alcantara-covered keyboard itself. Obviously, I was a bit doubtful about the sound quality that will get pushed out of the speaker — but once again, I was proven wrong. The speakers on the Surface Laptop has to be one of the best speakers I’ve ever listened to on a laptop. Despite the fact that it’s coming through a fabric, the speaker on the Surface Laptop sounds absolutely miraculous. It’s loud, it’s clear, and that’s all you really need on a laptop speaker.
THERE’S ONLY A SINGLE TYPE-A PORT AND NO TYPE-C PORT
But a fairly major issue on the Surface Laptop is the lack of ports. Microsoft has only included a single USB Type-A port on this thing, along with the usual Surface Connector, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and a MiniDisplay port. And that’s… not enough. The single Type-A port on the Surface Laptop means that you won’t be able to plug anything else in when you’re using a dongle for your wireless mouse such as the Logitech MX Master. Then there’s the lack of Type-C — there isn’t a single Type-C port and if you already have a lot of devices with Type-C, this will likely be a huge issue for you. Microsoft says it will release a dongle that comes with Type-C ports — but that’s nowhere to be seen as of yet. I personally don’t have a lot of Type-C devices, which means I can do just fine with the usual Type-A ports. But Microsoft says the Surface Laptop will last for at least 4 years and the lack of any Type-C port makes that hard to believe. Plus, there also isn’t any microSD card slot, which means if you happen to transfer a lot of files from your camera to your PC, you will have to use some sort of dongle to use that microSD card. The Surface Pro, Surface RT, Surface 3 and Surface Book have all supported expandable memory, so the lack of any sort of expansion on the Surface Laptop is disappointing.
In the 2 weeks of usage, the Surface Laptop has impressed me in many ways. The speaker’s sound quality is amazing, the camera also works really great and it’ll be perfect for Skype calls. Alcantara held up better than I expected, the battery life is long-lasting, and the device runs smoothly for the most part, too. The lack of ports, the wobbly and reflective display are disappointing for sure, but the device still holds up really well. I mean, unless you draw on your device and use the touch screen quite a lot, you won’t notice the wobbly display. But things like the reflective display and the lack of ports can get a bit annoying after a while. The Alcantara fabric on the Surface Laptop sets it apart from the rest of the market — but that’s really about it. It doesn’t necessarily offer a better experience and it only looks slightly nicer than the usual aluminum laptops.
MICROSOFT HAS POSSIBLY CREATED WHAT MAY JUST BE THE BEST WINDOWS LAPTOP OF THE YEAR
At the end of the day, this is the first generation of the Surface Laptop a lot of us have been waiting for. Microsoft has done a fantastic job with the hardware in many ways, and there’s no doubt in that. The Surface Laptop is arguably Microsoft’s best laptop to date. In fact, Microsoft has possibly created what may just be the best Windows laptop of the year. Redmond didn’t try to make a laptop that can do cool things (we have the Surface Book line for that) and focused on the core elements of an actual laptop instead. Microsoft just made a normal laptop for its new Surface, and they have (almost) nailed it. The company had to take the risk of getting criticized for not innovating or trying something new with the new Surface Laptop — but I personally believe the risk was completely worth it.