Sometimes, we just want a computer. The Microsoft’s and Apples of the world are constantly trying to reinvent consumer devices. There are all manner of tablets, hybrids, phablets and 2 in 1’s vying for your dollars, promising to be the way of the future. While many of these devices really are excellent, many of us want a regular portable computer that’s lightweight, has good battery life, is affordable and has some style. Enter the Microsoft Surface Laptop.
The Surface Laptop is highly configurable, with options including i5 or i7 processors, up to 16Gb of RAM and a 1Tb SSD. Be prepared to really pay for the higher end options, which can be particularly expensive.
The Surface Laptop is not yet listed in the Microsoft Singapore online store, though our model is listed elsewhere for $1299 USD, which is a decent price for this spec.
Design and Build Quality
The Surface Laptop features a beautiful minimalist aluminum clamshell design. It’s slightly thicker at the rear than at the front. Those familiar with the Macbook Air will find it is quite similar. It comes with a 13.5-inch, 2256×1504 touch enabled screen, a somewhat odd resolution, but a very appropriate pixel density for a laptop of this size. It weighs in at 1.25Kg for the i5 version, or 1.28Kg for the i7 one with a thickness of 14.47mm. Obviously this is no chunky laptop, and will be the sort of device that will be easy to move between home and the office, or around the campus without feeling like you have a brick in your bag.
As you can see in the pics below, Microsoft have coated the surface of the .. err Surface with a fabric known as Alcantara. It looks and feels like suede but its actually a polyester/polyurethane composite that’s being used increasingly across a range of industries thanks to its durability and stain resistance. It can be made flame retardant and has been used as the seat covers in Formula One cars. Only long term use will determine how this material stands up to day to day use. It feels quite nice but we’re a little concerned that after a year or 2 of sweaty palms, it may not look as pristine. At least you won’t have the cold aluminum feel when you turn it on! Microsoft are offering the Surface Laptop in a range of different colors including Platinum, Cobalt Blue, Burgundy and Graphite Gold.
Moving onto the Surface Laptop’s ports, on the right side of the Surface Laptop, the only thing you’ll find is the proprietary port for the charger and the optional Surface Dock. The connector is cleverly designed to route the cable towards the rear, making it quite discrete. Its also magnetized so it slots in and is held in easily. Its a much more elegant solution to some of the 90 degree angled ugly corded solutions out there.
Moving around to the left side, we have a single USB 3.0 Type-A port, a MiniDisplay port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. While its nice to have a Type-A USB port, we think they missed a trick by not including a Type-C port with ThunderBolt 3 functionality. They could have ditched the Mini Display port in that case. Sure, you can use a USB hub or the optional Surface Dock, but that means another device to carry around with you. We think a single Type-A and a single Type-C with Thunderbolt should be the minimum in a 2017 ultrabook.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard itself is very good. Most thin Ultrabooks have to compromise with the key travel, but some how Microsoft have managed to make the keyboard very satisfying to use. It’s backlit too which is always a welcome addition. We think the chiclet keyboards from Lenovo’s ThinkPad range are still the standard for laptop keyboards, but that means the Surface Laptop keyboard is still better than most. It feels particularly comfortable to rest your plans on due to the Alcantara fabric.
The large touchpad functions well, though it does seem to have a loud clicking mechanism which will be apparent if you’re sitting in a quiet library. Things like two fingered swipes are present and the accuracy is very good.
The Surface Laptop has a really nice specification display. The 13.5-inch features a 2,256-by-1,504-pixel resolution, which equates to 201 pixels per inch. This is a good level that means there are no real discernible pixels or jaggies when reading text or viewing lines. It’s a 3:2 display, so the screen is a little taller than some of the more widescreen oriented models on the market. This means you’ll have black bars when viewing video content, but otherwise the extra vertical resolution adds valuable screen real estate for multitasking and viewing multiple windows side by side.
The panel is quite bright, with good color reproduction and sharpness thanks to the PPI. Microsoft could have gone for the cheap option here and gone for a 1920×1080 panel that no one would have really complained about.
Microsoft calls the Surface Laptop’s screen a “PixelSense” display. It’s touch enabled is compatible with the Microsoft Surface Pen, which is sold separately. Touchscreen fans, and users of the Surface will feel right at home with the Surface Laptop.
Windows 10 S
The Surface Laptop comes preloaded with Windows 10S. The broad functionality of this version of Windows is the same as the regular version, with the key difference being that you cannot install 3rd party programs from anywhere other than the Windows Store. Luckily, you can convert to Windows 10 Pro for free until Dec 31st of this year. The idea is to protect casual users from malware as well as enabling easier administration of systems run by businesses or schools. This is a worthy goal, but the cynic in us can’t help but be skeptical that this is a way to lock users into the Microsoft ecosystem at the expense of competing software. The ability to convert to regular Windows for free is a welcome capability that offsets any concern. The switching process takes just a few minutes.
Unless the system is not yours, we recommend converting to regular Windows 10. With S, a user invested with the Google ecosystem with the Chrome browser will be out of luck. Until this kind of restrictive policy is changed, unfortunately Windows 10 S will be a non starter for even a basically technically savvy user.
The i5 7200U in the Surface Laptop isn’t the fastest solution we’ve ever tested, and is likely to fall quite a way behind with the imminent launch of quad core Coffee Lake solutions. Having said that, the 7200U is capable enough for your everyday needs and has some key video processing hardware such as VP9 and HEVC 10 support, meaning it will easily play HD and UHD content without stressing the CPU at all.
In Geekbench 4, we get a multi core score of 6471. Thus is nothing spectacular, but is on par with other 7200U equipped solutions, including the Lenovo X1 Carbon.
Graphics wise, the integrated Intel HD 620 GPU doesn’t really shine as you would expect, though it achieved a score of 3903 in 3DMark’s Sky Diver benchmark. Again this is about the same as other 7200U models. You will be able to play most modern games at low resolution and low detail, but it’s really not suited for much beyond your casual Facebook type games.
Then we get to battery life and this is an area where the Surface Laptop does very well. We use the PCMark 8 Home Conventional battery test which provides consistent test results for comparative purposes. The Surface Laptop comes with a very good 5hr 32m result. This is second only to the Lenovo X1 Carbon which gave us 6hr 13m. Bear in mind this is a test that continuously loops a series of demanding scenarios including video performance, gaming, photo manipulation, browsing and word processing. You will get better results in real world use.
While testing real world battery use is worthy, it is generally too variable to be a reliable comparative tool. Nevertheless, we do like to give it a go where possible. We watched a few episodes of The Defenders Netflix series, and wrote this review on a single charge. We got to just over 10 hours before we got a warning. This is a good result as 10 hours of mid level use is about the threshold for making it through a single work or study day comfortably on a full charge. We’re confident in saying the Surface Laptop will last you all day.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop really gives a fantastic impression from the first time you look at it. Despite many manufacturers attempts to reinvent the wheel or produce products that no one asked for, its comforting to know that the humble laptop is still going from strength to strength in the market. Constant improvements in technology are giving us powerful computers that we can carry around all day and perform any reasonable task you want to throw at them on a single charge.
The Surface laptop is a very good first attempt by Microsoft. Perhaps the most important performance metric; battery life, is very good. It has an excellent keyboard and touch enabled display along with powerful internal options, meaning it will do well as a students’ every day machine, up to a professional needing maximum grunt. Its design makes it the sort of laptop you’ll love to own. Students, travelers and business users alike will find compelling features.
Its not perfect though, even the highest rated ultra portables have a weakness or two and the Surface Laptop is no different. It seems Microsoft missed a trick by not including at least a single Type-C USB port, or Thunderbolt, along with ac WiFi. These things are likely to become more apparent as we move into the future.
At $1299 USD, you are getting a serious laptop for the money. This cost drastically increases as you move up in spec, and we question whether doing something like moving from a 512 Gb SD to a 1Tb one is worth the cost. You’ll have to check with your local Microsoft store though, depending on what’s available in your region.
As for Windows 10 S, you’re really better off changing over to Windows 10 Pro (free of charge for now). If the machine is not yours, or you are doing a basic set of tasks then Windows 10S will do its job well, and with the extra security peace of mind, but its restrictive nature may become apparent very quickly if you’re used to other common software platforms and ecosystems that aren’t supported.
In the end, the Surface Laptop is a solid product, with a lovely touch capable screen, excellent battery life, a quality keyboard and trackpad and a fantastic design. If a couple of the shortcomings are dealt with in future models, we think Microsoft may be the one to watch in the laptop market going forward.
Beautiful metal construction
Quality touch enabled display
Great quality keyboard
Great battery life
No USB Type-C or Thunderbolt.
No AC WiFi
Windows 10 S – Convert to regular Windows 10.