Microsoft Surface Laptop Review. 6.22.17
“A true Surface.” Reviewed by Brian Bolding
For many years, many who have used Microsoft’s “Surface” line of products have continually asked for Microsoft to release a ‘full on laptop’ rather than a 2-in-1 or something that has a detachable screen. Now they’ve done it. And the result is stunning. The new Microsoft Surface Laptop is a sight to behold. I can almost guarantee that there’s nothing else like it on the market, now or ever. In this review, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of this sleek and sexy device, how it compares to the new Surface Pro, and who should consider purchasing this new laptop.
To start off with, let’s get the tech specs out of the way. There are essentially two tiers of Surface Laptop models. These contain about 4 different configurations. The tiers are “Intel Core i5′ and ‘Intel Core i7’ processor models. The ‘Intel Core i5’ contains 2 models, which begin at the low end (Core i5, 128GB SSD, 4 GB ram, Intel HD Graphics, Platinum finish, for $999) and a $1,299 model (which is what I’m reviewing, and what I feel is the best value) which contains 256 GB, 8 GB ram and Intel HD Graphics, Available in Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold and Platinum.) The Intel Core i7 models also are comprised of two models.. the 256 GB SSD, 8 GB ram and Intel Iris Graphic model for $1599, which comes in Platinum only, as well as the top-spec’d model with 512 GB SSD, 16 GB ram with Intel Iris Graphics, for $2199. That model also only comes in Platinum. So, for me, the sweet spot, and the one I purchased, is the mid-tier Core i5 model in sexy Cobalt Blue.
So, the first thing you may have already heard about (and the most striking thing that makes this beautiful laptop stand out) is the ‘Alcantara’ fabric keyboard covering that you see when you open the thin and light laptop. My cobalt blue laptop keyboard definitely stands out, and the Alcantra covering feels great to me, it’s a nice change from the metallic clang of the MacBook Pros and Airs we have come to know and see 9 out of every 10 people use in cafes around the world. Many people have been dogging the fabric keyboard, complaining that.. ‘what would happen if I ate Cheetos and rubbed it into the keyboard?’ or ‘What will this look like in 5 years under normal use?’ Well, for starters, I think that’s a lame argument. Who keeps their laptops for 5 years these days, anyways? Also, who eats Cheetos and doesn’t wash their hands while using their shiny new laptop? Ok, maybe messy students, and that’s fine, but I doubt those kind of students or people would buy this laptop anyway. Microsoft also guarantees that the keyboard can be wiped clean with a moist cloth. When I was a college student, I never used my laptops with messy hands or without washing them first, and I was using a boring unsexy IBM Thinkpad, so I see this as a non-issue for most civilized people. (Haha.) All kidding aside, I feel the keyboard adds a touch of class, and offers up a nice premium experience for users.
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has used Alcantara – it was previously used to make the Signature Type Cover for the Surface Pro 4 last year. The fabric covering makes this laptop stand out, and for the MacBook Air market that it’s aiming for, I think that’s a wonderful feature. Think more ‘pool table covering’ fabric than a shag rug. Also, the Surface Laptop can be had for around the same price as the MacBook Air, but the Surface features new Kaby Lake processors and higher specs, whereas the Air is now completely outdated, and the MacBook Pro is not as touch-friendly as Apple would have you believe. The so-called ‘touch bar’ is no compromise for having a touch-friendly OS that lets you get actual work done. iPads are fine for movies and entertainment consumption, but not so much for actually being productive.
The Surface Laptop shines when you hold it in your hand, the Windows logo on the lid shines naturally and my cobalt blue model is just gorgeous. It’s light, has been manufactured beautifully, and seems very premium. The keyboard is amazing on this thing, too. The typing experience is kind of like what a Surface Pro type cover keyboard offers, but the keys are more spread out, offer more travel – without the flex and bending that the type covers suffer from. The keys are also backlit, feel buttery smooth to type on, and as a writer, that’s a feature that’s very important to me. There are three levels of key brightness on this laptop, and it’s a much easier experience than how the previous Surface devices have managed this in the past with various levels of brightness you must cycle through.
Another thing I noticed is the power button. It’s ON the keyboard! The Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book have the on/off switch on the tablet portion, on the outside, which led to ‘hot bag’ issues for some, since the external power button would often be pressed by accident in someone’s bag while toting it, making the laptop turn on and burn up while not being used. This new power button keyboard location is amazingly right on the money. I actually own a Surface Book and Pro 4 and also had this problem, so it’s nice to see it tackled here.
Another point of ‘frustration’ among other reviewers is the Windows 10 S variant of Windows 10 that this laptop ships with. Microsoft unveiled Windows 10 S recently and has touted it as a more secure, locked down version of Windows, mostly for students, educators and professionals who seek this type of security. Personally, I love Windows 10 S, but it’s not for everyone. Basically, Windows 10 S only allows you to download apps from the Windows Store. I have not run into any issues using the laptop this way, but others may. Microsoft is allowing users to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro through the end of this year, after that, it’ll cost you $50 to do so. Since I have a Surface Pro 4 I use for drawing mostly, and a Surface Book for work, I have not felt tempted to upgrade to Pro, at least not yet. Microsoft will also let you roll back to Windows 10 S, but it’s important to note that you must download a tool online that will wipe out your hard-drive and erase it to start over with 10 S. If you want to use Chrome, for instance, you can’t download it and use it, and since it’s not in the Store, you must upgrade to Pro to use that particular program. If you like to use outside apps, upgrade to Pro, that’s all there is to it. I’m perfectly happy with using 10 S since I’m a writer. I find the locked down OS perfectly suitable for my needs. Spotify just got announced for the Windows Store, and iTunes will follow before the end of the year, as well, with more to be announced.
The screen on this gem is beautiful, it’s a 13.5 inch PixelSense Display, featuring 201 PPI resolution, 10 point multi-touch and 3:2 aspect ratio that Surface products have come to embrace. The display features a gorgeous 3.4 million pixels and has a 2256 x 1504 resolution. In a word: beautiful! The screen is touch friendly like other Surface devices, and you can even use the Surface Pen on it and the Dial, although I think those use cases should be very limited, since you can’t lean back the screen far enough to really do much writing or dialing. The laptop is 12.13 inches and my i5 weighs only 2.76 pounds. The i7 weights 2.83 pounds. The lightness of the laptop and the brightness and crispness of the screen are two other great selling points.
Microsoft is also offering a free one year subscription to Office 365 Personal or Home with the new Surface Laptop, that’s a near $100 value that I think would greatly benefit students and educators. I can’t tell you how aggravating it was for me back in college to buy a laptop, only to have to then buy Microsoft Office, which at the time was $200. The free 1 TB of OneDrive storage is also a nice addition, plus a fast SSD drive and 720p webcam that gets the job done nicely.
Battery life is also something very much in the plus category for this laptop. Microsoft suggests you can get 14.5 hours “of video playback.” However, in real-life mixed-use, I am getting around 7 to 8 hours of daily use; this is while keeping the screen at ‘suggested’ brightness and turning off the backlit keyboard when not needed. The laptop also features Bluetooth 4.0, omnisonic speakers (housed underneath the keyboard) that fills the room with sound. (These are the best sounding speakers on any Surface device I have ever used.)
Connections are another sore point for some reviewers, and personally, I don’t think this will be a major disappointment for most users. The laptop features one USB 3.0 port, a Mini-Display port, headphone jack, and the proprietary Surface charging port on the right side. The Surface Laptop does not come with a Micro-SD card readers like other Surface devices. Some have complained that the laptop needs USB-C ports, as well. As an educator and student, nobody I knows actually uses USB-C to any great degree (unless they have an Apple MacBook or a phone that uses it) so I don’t see how this can negatively impact a Student or Educator user. Power users may need to opt for the Surface Pro or Surface Book, but keep in mind that while those models offer more ports, they also do not include USB Type C. Word on the street is that Microsoft will include a USB C port in it’s next version of these devices. I think, for now, the ports offered are ample for my needs. Keep in mind that the power cord also has a USB 3.0 port, so that’s one more USB port that you can use to also charge a phone or plug in whatever other device you may have. It was also just announced that Microsoft will release a ‘USB C dongle’ that can be plugged into the proprietary Surface charging port for those seeking a USB C connection.
There are also some sexy peripherals you can buy along with these new colorful beauties. Probably the most important peripheral is the brand new redesigned Microsoft “Arc Touch” Surface Mouse. The new styles of these are styled in the colors of the laptop colors: Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Platinum and Titanium. I pre-ordered the Cobalt Blue one from Best Buy as it’s currently sold out on the Microsoft Store website (a pro tip for you all who are interested.) The new Arc Mouse has been completely redesigned. It no longer folds and feels like you are crushing something alive (haha).. now it completely folds flat and doesn’t make that weird crunchy noise, and the touch area of the mouse is just like using the Surface Laptop or Surface Pro trackpad, it’s simply amazing to use. I got to try one out at the Microsoft Store at Mission Viejo Mall in California and it was a pleasure to use. You can also mix and match these accessories with any other Surface device, as well. There is also a new Surface Pen which provides twice the sensitivity as the previous model but also does away with the pen clip. Microsoft jacked up the price of the pen from $59 to $99, as well, and the new Arc Mouse is $99.
Overall, I think the Surface Laptop is the perfect choice for students, educators, and writers or bloggers. I don’t think pro users should use this device, or artists, as they may want some features that aren’t included on this lower end device. While low end, it’s still an amazing laptop to use, and I happily use it each day to blog and write, and it suits my needs perfectly. Windows 10 S has not limited me too much. While the Windows Store could definitely use some more popular apps, I think that what it offers now is adequate. As reported, you can easily switch to Windows 10 Pro through the end of this year, and as an education customer, you can always upgrade for free, even beyond this year. Those that are disabled that use assistive technology can also upgrade for free anytime they wish.) In a sense, this is one Surface laptop that provides quite a unique ‘surface’ to type on, there’s no other laptop quite like it. I think the Surface Laptop is a much needed, stylish, powerful and lovely addition to the Microsoft Surface premium line-up of devices. If you have any qualms about using the laptop, I suggest visiting a Microsoft Store so you can try out all the Surface devices before making a final decision.
My Score (1 out of 10): 9 (Awesome!)