What is the Microsoft Surface Laptop?
Microsoft’s recent hardware efforts prove two things. First, Windows devices can be built without compromise. Second, that Apple isn’t the only company that can meld hardware and software together in harmony.
The Surface Laptop contiunes these two trends and is Microsoft’s idea of the perfect Ultrabook. It’s gone in its own direction in terms of design, build and even software, and it has all the ingredients need to make a great laptop. But the Surface doesn’t manage to make itself a no-brainer, due to strong competition from Dell and Apple.
Related: Best Ultrabooks
Microsoft Surface Laptop – Design and build
Microsoft’s Ultrabook has a premium build that upon first impression, comes about as close to matching Apple’s MacBook designs as any other laptop has. The lid is made from machined metal that survived several days of being lugged around in a backpack and bumped up against train seats without a permanent mark on it.
The headline feature is the alcantara (faux suede) layer on the keyboard tray. It’s an interesting addition that helps keep all of the laptop’s screws out of sight. It also very slightly softens the wrist rest area. I’m not a big fan of my review unit’s grey colour, but I don’t have any issues with its longevity or even my ability to keep it clean.
The alcantara layer tapers off at its edges, which looks fine but opens up a wider gap when the laptop is shut, which in turn gives debris access to the screen, even when the laptop is tucked away in a bag.
Wired connectivity options are rather scant; you get just one USB 3.0 connector, a 3.5mm headset jack and a mini DisplayPort. There’s also Microsoft’s own proprietary SurfaceConnect port that receives power from proprietary charging cable. This can be turned into a multitude of extra ports if you fancy shelling out a huge £190 for the Surface Dock, which adds more display connectors, USB ports and gigabit Ethernet. If you’re just after an extra charging port, the Surface power brick comes equipped with its own USB port that’s for charging only.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a way to get full USB 3.1 or ThunderBolt 3 speeds from the laptop as the SurfaceConnect interface doesn’t appear to support it. If you have, or were planning on buying high-spec peripherals (such as graphics card docks, professional monitors or even high-speed storage), you should look at the Dell XPS 13 or even the MacBook Pro.
It’s a shame, because the SurfaceConnect adapter is the last proprietary charging port I’m aware of that has a magnetic connection, similar to the now-defunct Apple MagSafe. It’s easy to plug in and comes out if you accidentally pull on the cable too hard in any direction, preventing damage to both the connector and your laptop.
Internally, you get 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which has been reliable during my testing, as well as Bluetooth 4.0.
Microsoft Surface Laptop – Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard is surprisingly similar to Surface Pro TypeCovers, but with more travel and a bit more room to breathe. There are no big omissions, although not everybody will like the smaller left Shift key and the triple-width right Shift key. There’s a row of function buttons, with brightness, play/pause, volume control and keyboard backlight all represented. You can switch between these functions and the regular F keys using the Fn button on the bottom row, which has an indicator light to let you know which mode you’re in.
As you’d expect from a Microsoft device, the glass-topped touchpad is a pleasure to use. All Windows 10 gestures are supported, and the surface is super smooth to use. My only complaint is that the physical click is very loud, especially when compared to the near-silent MacBook Pro.
Microsoft Surface Laptop – Screen and audio
There are lots of good laptop screens on the market at the moment, but not many that come close to market leaders from the likes of Dell’s 4K XPS 15 and Apple’s MacBook Pro models. The Surface Laptop’s 13.5-inch panel isn’t pro-level by any means, but it is certainly a cut above those on almost all the other premium laptops I’ve reviewed recently.
With a maximum brightness of 400 nits (most laptops don’t go much above 300), this is a seriously bright screen. I almost never felt the need to turn it up that high; this extreme brightness is most useful under bright office lights or when working outside.
Colour coverage is good, with 95.8% of the sRGB colour gamut displayed by the panel. This means images on the web, and high-res video looks great, and while pro photographers will need an external screen to get the full Adobe RGB gamut for high-accuracy edits for print, the screen will suit most people just fine.
The speakers, meanwhile are excellent, particularly for speech-heavy content. The drivers are situated underneath the keyboard but they don’t sound muffled like you might expect. Instead, they’re loud and clear and do a decent job with music as well as cinematic content.