Microsoft Surface Laptop full review
Microsoft is offering more hardware than ever before and now has a touchscreen clamshell laptop to tempt you with. The Surface Laptop is a more affordable and non-detachable version of the Surface Book so will appeal to more people.
Who should buy the Surface Laptop though? Microsoft launched it as its education conference and says it's perfect for students, but it’s certainly not a Chromebook or cheap laptop rival, despite a discount for those eligible.
It’s probably best thought of as Microsoft’s Windows version of the MacBook Air - a thin and light laptop with decent performance and battery life. Also see: Best Laptop Deals.
Surface Laptop: Price and Availability
Now the Surface Laptop has been replaced with a new 2018 model, the Surface Laptop 2, it's had another price drop rather than being discontinued.
You can now buy it starting from just £649/$799 which is a great price for a laptop that's only a year old and will still make a great device for many users. If you're ok with the basic entry-level model with its Core m3 processor.
Otherwise, jumping to a Core i5 with 8GB of RAM is still a very affordable £799/$999.
Surface Laptop: Design and Build
The Surface Book looked like a normal laptop, but the screen contained all the processing power and detached from the keyboard with a clever mechanism. The Surface Laptop opts for the traditional clamshell design with a fixed hinge. It’s what you might consider to be a ‘normal’ laptop, which for a lot of people will be a good thing.
Like the MacBook Air the device has a tapered design so is 14.5mm at the thicker end and is around 7mm by our measurement at the thinner end when shut. Microsoft has also made sure it’s lightweight at 1.25kg so it’s a great candidate for carrying around with you without it turning into a workout.
The Surface Laptop, like previous products in the range, is recognisable and we’re taken by the stylish design. The aluminium casing is similar to rivals like the Xiaomi Mi Notebook Air but the mirrored Windows logo on the lid provides its identity. Somehow, the Surface Laptop looks both professional and fashionable at the same time.
It feels well constructed and like it will last a long time. The stand-out feature in design has to be the Alcantara fabric cover which surrounds the keyboard. This looks and feels like the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover on a and feels, as Microsoft puts it, luxurious. Whether it can look as great in 6 months, a year or more with regular palm contact is a question, though.
Microsoft offers the Surface Laptop in four colours we took a look at the Platinum option, which is a nicer way of saying grey, but it also comes in more interesting Graphite Gold, Burgundy and Cobalt Blue. We particularly like the latter two and the way the aluminium matches the fabric colour.
This is the gold version:
And this is the blue one:
Effectively using the keyboard from the Surface Pro is no bad thing. In the chassis of the Surface Laptop it provides a smooth, bouncy and comfortable experience with nicely spaced out keys a 1.5mm of travel. The keys sit in a sunken section so lay level with the palm rest and there’s also a backlight with three levels of brightness.
Using the trackpad from the Surface Book is perfectly acceptable, too, as it’s large, responsive and a joy to use with Windows 10 gestures as well as basic two-finger scrolling. The push buttons makes a fairly loud click but it’s not the end of the world.
The screen reclines around 135 degrees which is pretty good. Even if you’d like it to go further the decent viewing angles of the display make up for it.
Surface Laptop: Specs and Performance
Stylish and lightweight design is a good start, but the Surface Laptop needs to provide some impressive hardware to warrant it’s price. Let’s take a look at what Microsoft has chosen and how the Surface Laptop performs.
Open up the Surface Laptop and you’re presented with a display that will be unusual for some. It’s a 13.5in PixelSense screen like the one in the Surface Book with an aspect ratio of 3:2 instead of the more traditional 16:9.
This might not be as well suited to video compared to a widescreen, but the experience is perfectly fine. What it does it work very well with a lot of software, particularly if you’re working on a word document or spreadsheet.
Microsoft calls it an edge-to-edge display but while the bezels are reasonably small, they are certainly visible and bigger than many rivals.
The PixelSense display uses a 2256x1504 resolution on the Surface Laptop creating a 201ppi pixel density. It’s nicely crisp and also features 10-point multi-touch and support for the Surface Pen - although this is not included.
It’s worth noting that the Surface Laptop is not compatible with the Surface Dial in terms of on-screen use.
Processor, memory and storage
As you would expect, the Surface Pro is powered by 7th-generation Intel Kaby Lake processors. You’ll need to choose between a Core i5-7200U and a more powerful Core i7-7660U.
Both are dual-core chips with a 2.5GHz base frequency so the main differences are that the i7 has a higher Turbo speed of 4- vs 3.1GHz and has Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics against HD 620. Microsoft highlights the latter saying you can play more PC games with it.
There are also four capacities of memory and three SDD sizes to choose from but you can’t choose any combination you want. For example, the Core i5 can’t come with 16GB of RAM.
Although we’d prefer more choice it’s understandable that Microsoft easily offer more combinations. Storage is the main issue we feel as you need to factor in the amount taken up by Windows 10 - our 256GB model has 187GB available.
Here are the Surface Laptop models you can choose from:
- Core m3, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD
- Core i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD
- Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD
- Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
- Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
- Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD
- Core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD
Benchmarks and battery life
The performance on offer with the Surface Laptop is impressive, even without buying the Core i7 model. As you can see in the benchmark results below, the Core i5 model can almost keep up with the new Surface Pro with an i7 inside - almost £1,000 more expensive.
In short, the average user won’t need to stump up the extra for a Core i7 model unless they are doing intensive tasks or desperately need the 512GB of storage. Don’t expect to do any AAA PC gaming here but you can play games on the Surface Laptop. Check out the best gaming laptops.
One of the biggest claims Microsoft has made about the Surface Laptop is an astonishingly large battery life - a whopping 14.5 hours of video playback tested using the Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM.
As usual, the smallprint points out that figures will vary depending on a number of different things. In our standard test, looping a video at a brightness of 120cd/m2 (60 percent in this case), the Surface Laptop lasted a staggering 16 hours.
That's the best result we've ever seen.
Ports and other features
The thin and tapered design of the Surface Laptop might make it look nice and keep the weight down but it has a drawback when it comes to the connectivity on offer.
We’re not talking about wireless as the Surface Laptop has 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 LE, we mean physically.
Microsoft has chosen to go with a single USB 3.0 port, mini DisplayPort and a 3.5mm headphone jack. This means no SD card slot or USB-C, either. Instead, Microsoft has chosen its magnetic Surface Connect port for charging claiming that the Type-C standard isn’t mature enough yet.
As you’d expect, you get features like a 720p Windows Hello webcam which can be used to automatically log in using facial recognition. There’s also dual microphones and Omnisonic stereo speakers with Dolby Audio Premium.
Surface Laptop: Software
A downside to the Surface Laptop is that it comes with Windows 10 S. A slightly odd new edition of the operating system and is almost the same apart from a few restrictions. Essentially Microsoft thinks you'll be safer this way.
You can’t join a domain but far more annoying is that you can only install apps from the Windows Store. That means you can’t even download an alternative browser to Edge like Chrome or Firefox.
The smallprint notes that “Some accessories and apps compatible with Windows 10 may not work, and performance may vary,” and “Certain default settings, features, and apps cannot be changed.”
Luckily, Microsoft offers users a free (one-way) upgrade to Windows 10 Pro so this potentially huge blunder is negated. One year of Office 365 Personal is included with the Surface Laptop whether you upgrade to Pro or not.
Microsoft Surface Laptop: Specs
- Windows 10 S with option to switch to Windows 10 Pro for free until Dec 31, 2017
- Includes 1 year of Office 365 Personal
- 13.5 in PixelSense Display, 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI), aspect ratio 3:2, 3.4 million pixels
- Surface Pen enabled
- 10-point multi-touch
- Corning Gorilla Glass
- 7th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
- 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB RAM
- 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD
- Intel HD 620 (i5)/Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 (i7
- ) 720p HD camera (front-facing)
- Stereo microphones
- Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- USB 3.0
- mini DisplayPort
- Surface Connect
- Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- Up to 14.5 hours video playback
- 308.02 mm x 223.20 mm x 14.47 mm
- 1.25 kg
- Ambient light sensor
- 1-year limited hardware warranty