Surface Laptop Review: Where is the Evolution?

I have been a fan of the Surface line of products since the first Surface RT tablet was released in 2012. Microsoft predicated the Surface line on being versatile, and combining the usability of a tablet with the functionality of a laptop. Microsoft followed up the Surface form factor with the Surface Book, which took the 2-in-1 approach from the opposite direction – notebook first, then optional tablet. The third form factor in the Surface family was the Surface Studio. Microsoft didn’t make nearly as many waves with this product, because it was a niche product – very few individuals were asking for an all-in-one that could fold down nearly flat onto their desktop for a drawing easel.

Most recently, Microsoft has extended the Surface family to the Surface Laptop – the first true clamshell laptop that Microsoft has ever produced.

The Surface Laptop stands in a confusing place. It is both one of the best laptops ever made, and one of the worst Surfaces ever made.

Design

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The Surface Laptop does fit into the Surface family as you’d expect. In a way, it looks like someone took all of the computer parts out of the Surface Pro and stuck them into the keyboard. In comparison to the 2017 MacBook Pro, I would argue it actually boasts a more modern design. Specifically, the way the keyboard deck wedges outwards from a base with a smaller footprint makes for a more interesting shape than the curvy rectangular prism that many laptops take on these days. The top half of the laptop is amazingly thin – in fact, Microsoft pointed out that it is the thinnest touch panel on a laptop.

The bottom half is covered with a smooth fabric surface that feels very soft to the touch. It is an acquired taste. In a different color, I imagine it would look better, but the grey makes me think of my family’s 1993 Toyota Previa.

 

Display

The screen on the Surface Laptop is par for the (really good) Surface course. It is bright, clear, and high resolution. The 3×2 aspect ratio is appreciated for a little extra viewing space.

 

Keyboard and Trackpad

The Surface Laptop keyboard is more similar to the Surface Pro keyboard than it is the Surface Book. Many reviewers have pointed that out. But I do not like the Surface Pro keyboard. While keys have a decent amount of travel and the fabric is comfortable to rest your hands on, It is too flimsy and unstable to be comfortable. Meanwhile, the Surface Laptop has an amazing keyboard, with the only similarity to the Surface Book being stability and spread out keys. The fabric deck is a lot more comfortable to rest your wrists on for long periods of time. In fact, it is notably more comfortable than the MacBook Pro 2017, the Dell XPS 15, the HP Spectre x360, and several other laptops to use the Surface Laptop’s keyboard for long periods of time.

The trackpad, in my eyes, is one of the best that I have ever used. It has a satisfying click, and while it does not feel as glossy or as smooth as the Surface Book keyboard, it is still very responsive and tactile.

 

Performance / Price

One of the biggest frustrations that many consumers had once the Surface Laptop was announced was the entry level specifications. The lowest end version of the Surface Laptop, which is the model I have, comes equipped with a 7th generation Intel Core i5, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of internal, non-upgradable storage. While I am not surprised that the storage is only 128GB an non-upgradeable, many were particularly concerned at only having 4 GB of RAM. After my review of the HP Spectre 15-inch (which can be found here) I was convinced that 4 GB was nowhere near enough. But then I spent over a month with the Surface Laptop, and put it through its paces. While I never did anything too demanding to it, I never noticed any issues with not having enough RAM. I believe that just like Google does better with software than other Android manufacturers, Microsoft can effectively do more with less relative to companies like HP.

That being said, if you plan on using the Surface Laptop for more than just browsing and Office, or you plan to keep it for several years, I highly recommend you get an 8 GB model.

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Bottom Line

If you paid attention to my introduction, you may have noticed I made the really confusing statement of “It is both one of the best laptops ever made, and one of the worst Surfaces ever made”, and haven’t revisited it since. The fact is, the Surface Laptop is an absolutely fantastic device if you want a touch screen clamshell laptop, with a great keyboard, trackpad, and design. But up until Microsoft announced the Surface Laptop, every new product they announced was intended to innovate the space. First came the original Surface followed up by the Surface Pro, which were tablets that could accomplish the productivity of a laptop. Then came the Surface Book, a laptop with the usability and portability of a tablet. Then came the Surface Studio, which was an All-In-One designed for artists. Now, we have the Surface Laptop. Which is simply, a laptop. There is nothing in particular distinguishing it from any of the other great laptops out there.

Like my review of the MacBook Pro 2017 (which can be found here), I am particularly frustrated with Microsoft for announcing the Surface Laptop only a few months before Intel released their 8th generation processors, which I believe are a leap in terms of performance. The Surface Laptop would be a much better device with a quad core eighth generation processor.

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