Light and thin body. Promised 14.5 hours battery life. Uses same charger/dock, Surface Pen, and Surface Dial as Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. Comfortable keyboard and palm rest.
No USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports. Locked to Windows Store apps and Edge web browser. Windows 10 Pro is a paid upgrade after promotional period.
- Bottom Line
Microsoft's Surface Laptop with Windows 10 S is aimed at students looking for a sleek alternative to the aging Apple MacBook Air.
For many years, we thought the ultimate everyday laptop would be an Apple MacBook Air with a Retina screen. Apple stopped updating the Air in 2015, and the 12-inch MacBook isn't a perfect replacement. It's therefore a surprise that Microsoft gave us exactly the hardware we wanted with its Surface Laptop ($999). It's a thin and light laptop, with a high-resolution screen, ample storage, 14.5 hours of promised battery life, and it can run a full version of Windows 10.
Oh, the Design
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book have sleek designs, but both 2-in-1 devices are less than ideal if you want to actually use the PC on your lap. This laptop takes the Surface aesthetic and applies it to the full-fledged clamshell laptop. It is made of aluminum, but with Alcantara fabric covering the palm rest and in the spaces in between the keys. It feels luxurious, fitting since it's the same material that swaddles drivers in Audi and Lexus sports sedans. It's available in four colors: Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold, and Platinum, and all four colors cover the laptop from the top lid, to the palm rest, to the bottom panel. Measuring 0.57 by 12.1 by 8.8 inches and weighing a scant 2.76 pounds, this laptop is ready to accompany students around campus or at home.
The laptop's hinge opens and closes like the cover on an expensive record player, exposing the 13.5-inch PixelSense screen. The touch display has a higher-than-full-HD resolution (2,256 by 1,504) and an aspect ratio of 3:2. It's capable of displaying a 1080p HD movie at native resolution, or let you work on artwork at high levels of detail. Like the other Surface devices, it's covered in Gorilla Glass 3, protected against scratches and the occasional hard knock. Screen brightness and text smoothing are excellent, so you'll be able to use the system all day with less chance of eye strain.
Plenty of Interaction
It works with the Surface Pen, Surface Dial, and standard Bluetooth devices like mice and keyboards. We had some fun marking up web images and videos using the Surface Pen. When not using the Pen, the one-piece touchpad supported multi-touch gestures, or we could simply touch the responsive screen with up to 10 fingertips. The backlit chiclet-style keyboard felt even more comfortable and responsive than the one on the Surface Book, so it seems that Microsoft has addressed reports of the latter's somewhat mushy keys.
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Connectivity is good, though not excellent. On the left, you'll find a headset jack, a mini DisplayPort, and a USB 3.0 port. On the right, there's a single SurfaceConnect jack so you can use the included AC adapter or the Microsoft Surface Dock ($199). Notably absent is USB-C, with or without Thunderbolt 3 support. We think that's kind of short sighted, since USB-C is the future of wired connectivity. Thankfully, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are present for wireless connections.
Windows 10 S
The laptop will come with Windows 10 S preloaded. This iteration of the operating system is compatible with any app on the Windows Store, and can be administered by schools, but you can also use it at home. It's locked down and secure, so you can't run third-party Windows programs unless you convert the laptop over to Windows 10 Pro, but that's by design so school kids can't install malware inadvertently. It also locks you into using the Edge browser. Windows 10 Pro costs $49 after the introductory period (which ends December 31st, 2017), so you'll have to account for that if you use downloadable or in-house apps.
The base model comes with 4GB of RAM, a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor, and 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). These specs can be upgraded individually up to 16GB RAM, Core i7 processor, and a 512GB SSD, and fully loaded it costs $2,199. The system comes with a one-year warranty.
Of course, we'll have to reserve our final judgment until we can get the Surface Laptop in our lab for testing, particularly those 14.5-hour battery life claims, but everything looks promising so far. Look for that review in the coming weeks, and certainly before the back-to-school buying season.
Joel Santo Domingo is the Lead Analyst for the Desktops team at PC Magazine Labs. He joined PC Magazine in 2000, after 7 years of IT work for companies large and small. His background includes managing mobile, desktop and network infrastructure on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Joel is proof that you can escape the retail grind: he wore a yellow polo shirt early in his tech career. Along the way Joel earned a BA in English Literature and an MBA in Information Technology… More »
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