Microsoft Surface Laptop – when only a laptop will do (review)

Microsoft has expanded its Surface Pro and Book line-up to include an ultra-light laptop – the Surface Laptop.

Where does it fit in the expanding Surface family?

It has a larger 13.5”, 2556 x 1504 screen than the 12.3”, 2736 x 1824 Surface Pro (2017) and is the same size as the 13.5”, 3000 x 2000, Surface Book. It, like the new Surface Pro 2017, uses Intel 7th generation Core i5 or i7 processors.

Why a Surface laptop?

Some feel more comfortable with a traditional clam shell style laptop – something that can sit on your lap – instead of a tablet with a kickstand and detachable keyboard.

While the Surface Pro created the hybrid 2-in-1 category this laptop, and the Surface Book will help redefine the laptop category with its 3:2 screen ratio.

What’s under the hood?

Screen 13.5” PixelSense Touch/Pen Display, 2556 x 1504, 201 ppi, 3.4m pixels, 3:2 screen ratio; 10 touch points; Gorilla Glass 3; 100% sRGB calibrated
Processor Intel Core i5-7200U, 2.5/3.1GHz or i7-7600U 2.5/4GHz
Graphics Intel HD 620 (i5) or Intel Iris Plus 640 (i7)
RAM/Storage LPDDR3-1866, 4/128GB (i5 only), 8/256GB (both), 16/512GB (i7 only) – no SD slot.

1TB OneDrive cloud storage

Camera Windows Hello, 720p front camera
Audio Stereo microphones
Omnisonic Dolby Audio Premium
3.5mm combo jack
Ports Full sized USB-A 3.0, mini-DisplayPort (4K), Surface Connect (will also be compatible with recently “speculated” USB-C charging dongle)
Comms Wi-Fi AC, Dual band, 2 x 2 MU-MIMO
Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions

Weight

308.1 x 223.27 x 14.48 mm
1.25kg (i5) and 1.28kg (i7)
Battery Rated for 14.5 hours video playback at 50% screen brightness
Construction Aircraft aluminium and Alcantara fabric (in some markets and configurations also Graphite Gold, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue)
Price: i5/4/128GB $1499
i5/8/256GB $1999
i7/8/256GB $2499
i7/16/512GB $3299All prices include 1-year Office 365 personal subscription (purchased prior to 15/10/17) and free Windows 10 Pro upgrade (to 31/12/17).
Student, Academic and volume pricing available
Options Surface Pen https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/surface/accessories/surface-pen   (4096 pressure levels) $TBA but around $150
Surface Dock https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-au/accessories/surface-dock (add two monitors, 4 USB-3.0 ports, etc) $299.95
Surface Dial https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/surface/accessories/surface-dial  (for on-screen use) $149.95
A variety of mini-DisplayPort adapters

First impressions

The nice white box with blue highlights has the laptop and a 15V/2.58A (38.7W) Surface “ribbon” charger with a 5V/1A USB charge port.

Setup is typical of the Windows 10 – it will ask you about security and privacy and it will work without any enabled.

It follows Surface design cues, it is very light, and the screen section of the unit is very thin and able to be lifted with one finger – very “aluminium/grey” with grey Alcantara fabric on the keyboard. There are other colours as well.

How does it perform?

Windows Store does not have the usual test software and as an upgrade to Windows Pro was out of the question all I can say is that there was plenty of power from the i5/8GB/256GB review unit.

Wi-Fi AC was excellent. In theory, it can reach 867Mbps but in practice, this was about 350-450Mbps at 20 metres from the router.

Boot times were impressive – from cold boot to Windows Hello login in under eight seconds and warm boot in under two seconds. Windows Hello added a less than a second.

Keyboard/trackpad

The Alcantara-covered keyboard has a 1.5mm throw and that is good for touch typists. There is a little key bounce like the Pro detachable keyboard. Using the standard touch-type test, I achieved 95% (of my normal) with no appreciable difference in error rate.

The Alcantara fabric is a hard-wearing material used in premium automotive use as a durable, longer lasting alternative to leather. It should wear very well, it repels moisture and should stand the test of time.

The oversized trackpad supports 5-finger touch e.g. pinch, zoom, etc., – it is responsive and great as it will move the cursor from top right to bottom left in one swipe obviating the need for a separate mouse.

Screen

The 13.5” is the same size as the Surface Book and bigger than the 12.3” Pro 2017.

The 3:2 ratio is great for work things like documents and spreadsheets. Native 16:9 content (movies) can be “zoomed” to fill the screen eliminating the top and bottom bars.

It works well with the Microsoft Pen (I have an older 1024 pressure level version) for drawing – less so for note taking as you can’t use it as a tablet.

Audio

The Realtek High Definition Audio provides 2.0 sound from dual up-firing speakers located below the keyboard. It gives reasonable separation and provides Dolby Audio decoding. It is loud and clear enough for personal listening or a movie in a hotel room.

Bluetooth and analogue feeds to test equipment showed a clean 20Hz-20kHz signal.

Windows Hello

If you are not familiar with Hello it is all about using your face to log in. The unit as a special IR camera alongside the web camera that does facial recognition and checks the image is from a human rather than a photo.

While it is not mandatory to use it – give it a go and you will find it is as fast as typing in a password or pin. I had 100% success with this.

Battery

A 1080p video loop at 50% did indeed deliver 14.5 hours. On a 4K video at full brightness, it achieved nine hours. For mixed office use, you can count on 9-12 hours.

The 45.2W battery recharged in just over an hour.

Why Windows 10 S

The Surface Laptop comes with Windows 10 S (W10S) installed.

W10S is leaner, faster to boot, has better battery life, and should be less prone to virus/malware introduced if apps were allowed from outside the Store.

The only downside is that it can only install apps from Windows Store or special corporate or education stores set up inside that. It is like Apple products only being able to load apps from its app store.

Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro until the end of this year and after that for $79. The Pro version allows it to join a domain – important in enterprise use. After a week of use, I managed to find all the apps I really needed.

Who is it for?

W10S is designed to be locked down in education and enterprise environments. But it is also just about all a typical end user will want – Office 365, Outlook, and plenty of apps in the Store https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/store/apps/windows?icid=TopNavSoftwareWindowsApps including Netflix, Stan, Spotify and many more.

Hardware wise it will suit ordinary (chose the i5) to power (i7) users. It is a very functional, light, thin notebook that will please Surface users who are prepared to pay for a premium product. To many, it is the answer to Surface Pro “lapability” issues.

Pros

  • Light and thin
  • Great build quality and attention to detail
  • Amazing 100% sRB screen (only slightly bettered by the Surface Book)
  • Great performance from i5 or i7 but get 8GB RAM
  • Windows Hello is fast and convenient (makes up for no fingerprint reader)
  • 5-hour battery life (on video test) and 12 hours of general office use
  • Full-size USB-A 3.0 and an optional dock for dual monitor and other expansion
  • Mini-DisplayPort – inexpensive dongle to HDMI
  • Upgrade from W10S to Windows Pro free until 31/12/17
  • TPM chip for enterprise security/management

Cons

  • No USB-C but a charge/data dongle coming soon
  • No microSD card but then it supports USB-3.0 and external SSD drives
  • No Pen supplied – that is a cost issue yet this device and Windows Ink is made for it!

Conclusion

I like it. I would likely take the free upgrade from W10S to Pro as I am a power user but I can see where it makes sense in education and other environments. Perfect for students!

Love the colours

Competitors

Dell XPS 13, HP x360 Spectre

Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
Reader Rating0 Votes
When only a clam shell will do
Windows 10 S is not for everyone
4.4