Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 full review

Last year Microsoft introduced its first traditional own-brand clamshell laptop. Now it's back with a refreshed model for 2018 with 8th-gen Intel and a new colour. Here's our full and in-depth Surface Laptop 2 review.

Surface Laptop 2: Price & Where to buy

Microsoft has sensibly kept the price of the new Surface Laptop the same as its processor. You'll find out why we think it's a good move as you read the review.

So you can get it starting at £979/$999 if you're happy with the entry-level model. Buy it from Microsoft, Amazon and John Lewis.

You can opt for various different configurations going all the way up to £2,529/$2,699. So it's potentially an affordable device or one that will make a hefty hit on your bank balance.

This review is based on the second cheapest model. Check out the full range of options (processor, memory and storage) with prices below:

  • Core i5, 8/128GB - £979, $999
  • Core i5, 8/256GB - £1,249, $1,299
  • Core i7, 8/256GB - £1,529, $1,599
  • Core i7, 16/512GB - £2,079, $2,199
  • Core i7, 16GB/1TB - £2,529, $2,599

Which one you'll need depends on your personal needs of course. However, we don’t think the average users will need to go beyond the Core i5 with 256GB of storage. We'll explore this more later and look at what usage will require the high-spec.

What's worth pointing out is the Microsoft is still selling the original for a very temping price of £649/$799. Read our Surface Laptop review and a comparison of the two laptops.

Surface Laptop 2 price

Design & Build: Paint it black

This section shouldn't be too long as there's little to say about the design of the Surface Laptop 2. You'd be forgiven for thinking we've just used photos of the original but this is in fact the 2018 model.

It's exactly the same size and shape so you'd only know that we had the Surface Laptop 2 if Microsoft had given us the new black model. It looks pretty cool but we can't comment on things like scratches and fingerprint marks as we've only seen it during a briefing.

Surface Laptop 2 black

Not changing the design might make it hard to tell them apart but considering we loved the design of the original, we're not too fussed. It doesn't look dated and it still looks and feels like a premium laptop.

It measures in at 14.48mm and 1.25kg so it's perfectly portable. The aluminium casing is study and well-made and the Alcantara fabric around the keyboard adds a distinctive touch of luxury. What it looks like after months and months of use is another matter, though.

If you're worried then buying one of the darker models a better bet.

When it comes to the keyboard and trackpad, they're the same too. We liked them before and we still do now. The keys are nicely spaced and sit in a sunken section so lay flush with the palm rest. You get a nice smooth action when typing and there's a three-level backlight. Our only complaint is that the keyboard flexes too much towards the centre.

The trackpad is exactly what you want – a decent size, smooth and responsive. The integrated buttons still make a fairly loud click but it's not a big deal.

Surface Laptop 2 keyboard and trackpad

Specs & Features: A new generation

Like the design, much of the Surface Laptop 2 is the same under the hood, including things like the screen and port. Not everyone will have or know about the original so we're going to go through everything that's on offer here.

Common (Pixel)Sense

The display on the Surface Laptop 2 is the same, so you get a 13.5in PixelSense display with a resolution of 2256 x 1504. That means a pixel density of 201ppi and there's still an aspect ratio of 3:2 – that's squarer than the traditional 16:9.

That aspect ratio might seem odd but it works well for things like word documents and spreadsheets, if not watching video.

Having touch input (10-point) can be really useful and you can use the Surface Pen if you like with its 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity. However, it's an optional extra – as is the Surface Dial which can only be used off-screen here.

There's nothing wrong with the display, it's still crisp and colourful. What we would have liked is smaller bezels, creating a larger screen size within the same chassis.

Surface Laptop 2 screen

Still Kaby Lake

The major change in the Surface Laptop 2, apart from the black colour, is an upgrade in the engine room.

Microsoft has, as you would expect, fitted 8th-generation Intel processors compared to 7th-gen in the original. These are still using the Kaby Lake architecture but have R on the end for 'refresh'. The main difference is a jump from dual- to quad-core and there's a choice of two chips:

  • Core i5-8250U, 1.6GHz (3.4GHz Max Turbo)
  • Core i7-8650U, 1.9GHz (4.2GHz Max Turbo)

The amount of memory has also doubles so you get at least 8GB and the top two models have 16GB if you should need it. The last thing on the core list is storage and there are four capacities to choose from – 128-, 256-, 512GB or 1TB.

Choosing the right model can be tricky, especially when it comes to the processor and memory. If you can't work out whether you should plump for a Core i7 then ask yourself if you're going to use the Surface Laptop 2 for demanding things like video editing, CAD software, or higher end gaming.

If the answer is yes then splashing out could save you time and frustration. Doubling up to 16GB of RAM will also help with things like 3D modelling but 8GB will be enough for the likes of Adobe Photoshop.

Surface Laptop 2 specs

As we said earlier, the Core i5 model will do just fine for most consumers looking to browse the web, run office software and do some casual gaming – especially now it's quad-core. You just need to pick how much storage is enough. It's a shame Microsoft charges £270/$300 to go from 128- to 256GB but it might be worth it in the long run, remembering that Windows 10 takes up some of the storage.

When it comes to the benchmarks, Microsoft claims the Surface Laptop 2 is a whopping 85 percent faster than its predecessor. That's not what we've found but there's a decent jump in Geekbench 4 and 3DMark at least.

In PCMark 10 the score is decent (we've included some rivals to compare as well as the Surface Pro 6) but our score in PCMark 8 is oddly low, showing almost no improvement.

Trade-off

We were blown away with the battery life on offer with the original Surface Laptop. It lasted a whopping 16 hours, which was more than Microsoft's claim of 14.5 and the best we'd seen from any laptop.

This time, the battery life claim is exactly the same despite a change in hardware. In our identical test – looping a 720p video at 120cdm2 (50 percent brightness) – the Surface Laptop 2 lasted a more modest 12 hours and 41 minutes.

A drop is obviously not what we want to see but this is still a decent result and we'll take it considering the boost in computing performance.

Surface Laptop 2 ports

Status quo

There's more to the Surface Laptop 2 that's the same as last year. You get the same 720p webcam, stereo microphones and 'Omnisonic' speakers with Dolby Audio Premium.

The laptop also offers the same array of ports, of which there are not many beyond the proprietary Surface Connect port used for charging. There's still no USB-C or SD card slot which is a shame. Instead, you get a headphone jack, MiniDisplay Port and a lone USB 3.0 port.

Take me home

A criticism of the original Surface Laptop was that it came with Windows 10 S, which namely meant only being able to install applications from the official store.

That's not exactly what Windows users want or expect, and although an upgrade to Pro was available for free, it wasn't an ideal situation.

For the Surface Laptop 2, the firm has gone for Windows 10 Home which is a much better solution. Getting the operating system we all expect on a Microsoft own-brand laptop is the way it should be. There's no bloatware and you can make use of things like Windows Hello to log in and Cortana if you like.

Surface Laptop 2 Windows 10 Home

Verdict

Microsoft might not have given the Surface Laptop an overhaul for this new model, but not much needed changing.

The main upgrades at the new Intel processors and getting at least 8GB of RAM, both of which combine for a nice boost in performance. The black colour is the other major change and it does look pretty stunning.

We'd like more ports and the battery life has taken a dip but the specs boost makes this worth it. If you stick to one of the cheaper models – which should be fine for most consumers – then this is still one of the best laptops around.

The slight spanner in the works is that you can now get the original for just £649/$799 which is very tempting if you're trying to save money and don't need the newer specs.

Specs

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2: Specs

  • Windows 10 Home
  • Microsoft Office 365 30-day trial
  • 13.5in PixelSense Display, 2256 x 1504 (201ppi), aspect ratio 3:2, 3.4 million pixels
  • Surface Pen enabled
  • Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction
  • 10-point multi-touch
  • Corning Gorilla Glass
  • 8th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • 8GB or 16GB RAM
  • 128/256/512GB/1TB SSD
  • 720p HD camera (front-facing)
  • Stereo microphones
  • Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • USB 3.0
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • Surface Connect port
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Up to 14.5 hours video playback
  • 308.02 x 223.20 x 14.47mm
  • 1.25kg
  • 12 months in-store support and technical assistance