Microsoft Surface Laptop SE review

Educational laptop for slow students

Microsoft Surface Laptop SE
(Image: © Mark Pickavance)

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In use

Using this system is a shock to anyone with more general computing experience, as Windows 11 SE practically lets you do nothing. The whole point of S Mode is to restrict the user to only using the Edge browser and applications that are installed using the administrative Microsoft Intune platform.

Under Windows 10 and Windows 11, S Mode could be disabled, but it appears that under Windows 11 SE the Microsoft Store is unavailable, removing that possibility.

Where things get more complicated is that, as with Windows 11, the OS can’t be used at all without a Microsoft account, forcing any educational establishment either to create one for each student or, at a minimum, for every Laptop SE.

Sharing an account is a bad idea. Since all the students’ files are copied to that account, including anything placed on the desktop.

It’s difficult to gauge the performance of the machine use that is based almost entirely on web-based applications, but given the computing platform inside the Laptop SE, we wouldn’t expect it to be much use for practical computer projects.

It’s also worth considering that having the machines arrive at the place of deployment doesn’t mean they’re ready to use out of the packaging. Windows 11 SE enjoys the same tsunami of updates as other Windows versions. And, considering the speed of this machine, that it can only connect by WiFi, and the numerous reboots required, it could be some considerable time before they’re ready to be used.

Microsoft Surface Laptop SE

(Image credit: Microsoft)



Here's how the Microsoft Surface Laptop SE scored in our suite of benchmark tests:

There are no benchmarks as this machine refuses to run any of the ones we have.

We’d love to tell you how painfully slow the Surface Laptop SE truly is, but the version of Windows it comes pre-installed declined that invitation. It won’t allow users to install apps, and it wouldn’t let us put any benchmarking tools on it.

Those with experience with Windows 10 S edition will be wondering why we didn’t use the various means to exit S Mode and reclaim the ability to install applications. But Windows 11 SE on this system comes with Microsoft Store de-installed and no access to the command line, frustrating those previously successful avenues.

It may be that there are ways to get this machine out of S Mode, but our lifespans are finite, and it just wasn’t worth battling it any longer than we initially did.

Even without benchmarks, we can say categorically that the performance of this machine is generally poor, as it's slow at just about everything.

Without tools to test this empirically, it’s difficult to judge, but the Laptop SE did manage to run a video for the 16 hours of quoted battery life. How long it might last given something more challenging than a low-resolution video is difficult to judge, but given the lack of substantial applications it is likely to encounter, the available battery should cope with a working day of use.

What we have here is a laptop boiled down to the point where it is borderline useable for browsing the internet or watching a video stream.

In short, this isn’t a machine that would inspire any child with the possibilities of computing, either as a career or just an interest.

Microsoft Surface Laptop SE

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Final verdict

For any child that has this appear on a trolley in front of them, we have sympathy. Because there is nothing about this device that provides the tiniest spark of enthusiasm, it’s all nailed down, and the performance is optimal for doing very little.

The Orwellian nightmare that is Windows 11 SE might play well with stressed educators, but it simultaneously sucks the life out of any exercise using this hardware and massively limits the software applications that can effectively be used.

The biggest problem here is that there is very little inside this machine that justifies it carrying the Surface moniker, other than it is sold by Microsoft.

Cheaper, more powerful and robust educational laptops can be found elsewhere, and these might have the option to leave S Mode at some point should they need to be repurposed.

There isn't anything here that couldn't be done better with a Chromebook.

Mark Pickavance

Mark is an expert on 3D printers, drones and phones. He also covers storage, including SSDs, NAS drives and portable hard drives. He started writing in 1986 and has contributed to MicroMart, PC Format, 3D World, among others.