Surface Laptop

The Surface Laptop is far and away Microsoft’s least ambitious hardware.

After several years of building systems that compete with, but aren’t quite, laptops, Microsoft has built a plain old laptop: the Surface Laptop.

I think there’s a good chance that the Surface Laptop will become Microsoft’s best-selling piece of PC hardware. This is such a straightforward proposition: it’s a regular PC laptop. It has no trickery; no tear-off keyboard, no special hinge, no detachable GPU, none of the other things that have made the Surface Pro, Surface Book, and Surface Studio notable or unusual. It can’t be said any plainer: Surface Laptop is just a PC laptop.

This makes Microsoft’s latest offering an easier sell than the other Surface hardware. Potential buyers don’t need to learn and understand how a new kind of device will fit into their lives, because they already know how they use laptops. As such, I expect sales will be vigorous.

There’s a flip side to this, of course. Surface Laptop is also the least compelling, least interesting piece of hardware Microsoft has put out—to such an extent that I’m baffled by the process that went into its creation. Surface Laptop does not advance the state of PC hardware; it does not explore new form factors or designs; it does not serve as a showcase for Windows 10.

Surface Laptop is singularly unambitious. I’d call it conservative, but I think even that is too generous. Companies like HP, Dell, and Lenovo are doing more to make PC hardware better, to make Windows 10 better, and to embrace new technology than Microsoft is doing with Surface Laptop. Surface Laptop is a brand new machine, and yet in a number of ways, I feel it has already been left behind by the rest of the market.

SCREEN 2256×1504 13.5″ (201 PPI), 10-point capacitive PixelSense touchscreen
OS Windows 10 S (with free upgrade option to Pro)
CPU Intel 7th generation Core i5-7200U Intel 7th generation Core i7-7660U Intel 7th generation Core i5-7200U
GPU Intel HD Graphics 620 Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 Intel HD Graphics 620
SSD 128GB 512GB 256GB
NETWORKING 802.11ac/a/b/g/n with 2×2 MIMO antennas, Bluetooth 4.0
PORTS Mini-DisplayPort, headset, USB 3.0, Surface Connect
CAMERAS 720p video, infrared facial recognition
SIZE 12.13×8.79×0.57″ (308×223×14mm)
WEIGHT 2.76 lb (1.25 kg) 2.83 lb (1.28 kg) 2.76 lb (1.25 kg)
PRICE $999 $2,199 $1,299

Full Review of Microsoft Surface Laptop

A better MacBook Air

If we accept that Surface Laptop is not even remotely attempting to advance the state of the art, the system is a competent entrant into the laptop space. The hardware is attractive, blending design cues from previous Surface systems—the lid looks almost identical to that of the Surface Book, with its square edges, rounded corners, and shiny version of the Microsoft logo—with some elements to make it a better laptop. The base portion isn’t all parallel lines and flat faces. There are angles, tapers, and chamfers.

The system I was sent to review was in the standard platinum color. Every configuration is available in this color, but one system spec—i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage—is also available in Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and Graphite Gold. Later this year, a second spec (i7 processor, 16GB RAM, 512GB storage) will also be available in those colors. But right now, those systems are only available in platinum.

The Surface Laptop shows its Surface pedigree. The screen has a rather peculiar resolution—2256×1504 with a 13.5-inch diagonal—but it has Surface’s now familiar 3:2 aspect ratio, ten-finger touch, and pen support (if you buy the $99 Surface Pen). It’s bright and crisp and a pleasure to use. The screen also includes a 720p camera with Windows Hello facial recognition support. This has been well optimized in the Surface Laptop. The time taken to wake from sleep and turn on the camera has been streamlined so that there’s no delay between opening the lid and logging in with your face.

The keyboard is a close sibling, perhaps even identical, to the ones in the latest Type Covers, and it’s none the worse for this. Key travel is respectable, the key action is very crisp, and it’s easy and precise to type on. The touchpad also has the usual Surface characteristics: smooth glass surface, respectable size, and good precision and accurate detection of the Precision Touchpad gestures.

Colors aside, the one novelty of the Surface Laptop is the keyboard surround. Rather than bare metal or some kind of composite, Microsoft has covered it with Alcantara, a synthetic fabric. Microsoft has used Alcantara for keyboard surrounds before, as most of the new Surface Pro keyboards use it, for example. Alcantara is more commonly used in a range of automotive applications, such as to cover steering wheels. It’s designed to be hard-wearing and tolerant of the sweat and grime that are features of this kind of use.

There’s a chance that in three or four years I’ll be proven wrong, but today the fabric strikes me as an entirely inappropriate choice for lining a laptop’s interior. I’ve seen many disgusting-looking Alcantara Type Covers for Surface Pro 4, and after regular usage, they just get dirty and grimy and are impossible to clean. The Alcantara used in the Surface Laptop is supposed to be better—more resistant to dirt, easier to wipe down—but I simply don’t buy it. Microsoft is positioning these systems as being perfect for a college kid to use for the duration of their four-year degree. Four years of eating at your computer, hands covered in Dorito debris as you’re baked out of your mind (because hey, that’s what college is all about). Four years of spilled drinks. Four years of sweating because it’s summer and your AC is busted. Four years of browsing all of the Internet’s multimedia delights. I just can’t see these systems remaining clean and hygienic over those four years