These days, the path of least resistance in laptop design is straight-up knocking off the MacBook. We’ve certainly seen our share of egregious cases over the years. Microsoft, however, has defiantly forged its own path with industrial design across the board. Its products are largely interesting and innovative — something not every hardware manufacturer can say these days.
The company doesn’t always get it right. It swung for the fences with the Surface Duo, for example. While certainly innovative, the product came up short in enough categories that made it extremely hard to recommend. The Surface Laptop, on the other hand, while not the most groundbreaking product in the line, has pretty consistently been one of the best, marrying a Windows-ready touchscreen with a more standardized notebook design.
The last few models have been solid, and this year’s — perhaps predictably — doesn’t present a big change. The big upgrades after about a year and a half are new chips (your choice of AMD Ryzen or an Intel Core i5 or i7) and enhanced battery life that offers a beefy additional 8.5 hours. Essentially, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect — or hope for — from a regular system refresh.
The design language remains largely unchanged. The Surface Laptop is nothing if not unique on that front, with its tapered sides and felt-covered palm rests. The material has a nice feel to it — one that bests just straight-up metal on a cold day, though I’ve already noticed a bit of wear after some light use.
The keyboard remains on the soft side, with a surprising amount of give to it. Not the best keyboard I’ve seen on a laptop, but certainly not the worst (who can forget that rough run for Apple?), and like anything else, it takes a bit of getting used to.
You’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. Maybe it’s the fact that Microsoft’s Surface Laptops keep coming out when the weather is nice that I always feel inclined to take them outside. But jeez is that display reflective. Almost distractingly so. Plenty of laptop screens are glossy, of course, but Microsoft’s really leaned in here, to the point I wouldn’t recommend using it in any sort of sunshine — even at full brightness, the screen can’t counteract that reflection.
When you can see it, the display looks great. Microsoft sent along the smaller of the two. At 13.5-inches, the screen clocks in at 2256 x 1504 at 201 ppi (you get the same pixel density on the 15-inch version, as well). Ours was the new Ice Blue color. It’s subtle, though. Honestly, I read it more as a silver/gray. The speakers sound great, and the webcam is just fine, but it’s safe to say it’s probably time to upgrade to 1080p across the board as teleconferencing remains front of mind.
The 13.5-inch system starts at $1,000, which gets you 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, along with the AMD Ryzen 5 4680U process. As configured, our system runs $1,700, which doubles the RAM and storage and swaps the AMD in for an Intel Core i7. Another $600 will double the RAM and storage yet again (same processor). Geekbench scored the processor at a solid 1378 on single-core and 4876 on multi-core. Performance was solid throughout — though after spending a fair amount of time using Apple’s M1, it’s clear that Intel has its work cut out for it.
Microsoft is still hanging onto its magnetic proprietary charging port here. I know it still has its diehard fans, but I’d much prefer to see the company go with something more universal, like adding another USB-C port — though that impacts the system’s compatibility with a slew of different Surface accessories. Around the other side you get USB-A, USB-C and a headphone jack. It’s a nice mix, but more ports would certainly be a step up.
I was fairly disappointed with the various corners the company cut on the Surface Laptop Go last year. Of course, the entry-level 13.5-inch Laptop is $300 more than the 12-inch Laptop Go. But if you’re looking to do more than just the basics, this is probably is a wise investment.