Microsoft Surface Laptop review

The MacBook Air update that Apple never made

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Our Verdict

Microsoft continues its winning streak with the brilliant Surface Laptop, which combines a thin and light design with powerful components.

For

  • Gorgeous design
  • Great screen
  • Very good performance

Against

  • No USB-C
  • Lack of other ports
  • Last year specs

There is little doubt that the efforts put by Microsoft in hardware design has resulted in the entire PC industry producing better computers. Looking at the Surface Laptop, one could argue that Microsoft has now matched Apple, or even surpassed it in terms of design. 

While Microsoft's first attempt at a non-covertable clamshell notebook was released in the US and other parts of the world last year, it has now officially landed in the Middle East. Its appeal lies to fans of the Surface Pro who wanted a larger screen and included keyboard without alienating those who can’t afford the Surface Book.

Without the hybrid form factor, Microsoft has been able to remain focused on creating a laptop above all else, ditching all the frills it’s hardware has been known for since the original Surface Pro. It isn’t too expensive either, but it comes with the catch of leveraging a new operating system you may or may not be familiar with – Windows 10 S

For home users buying the Surface Laptop from retail outlets, out of the box, you’ll only get access to Windows Store applications. Business users on the other hand, get the Surface Laptop with Windows 10 Pro, which, an end-user can also upgrade to for free right now. Microsoft has claimed in the past that this offer is set to expire in March 2018, though the exact time and date isn’t quite clear.

That, and all else considered, let’s take a look at how the Surface Laptop stacks up to its main competitors. Could the Surface Laptop finally be the one to give Apple's MacBooks a run for their money?

Price, availability and value

A premium device commands a premium price tag, and the Surface Laptop starts at AED 4,199 and comes with an 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. Add AED 1,200 to that if you prefer 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, which is the model we received for review.

The next configuration up includes the more powerful Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD for AED 6,499. You can also pick up a Core i7 model with 16GB of RAM and 512GB storage for AED 8,600, or go all out with 1TB storage for AED 10,599.

Surely, 16GB of RAM will be tempting to some people who want to use the Surface Laptop for running demanding software or multitasking numerous applications at once. Those users will likely want to upgrade from Windows 10 S – which only allows apps to run if they've been downloaded from the Windows Store – to Windows 10 Pro.

The price of the Surface Laptop puts it in the same bracket as last year’s MacBook, as well as the HP Spectre x360 and Dell XPS 13, while offering slightly better specs and power for the base model than the MacBook, but less than the HP and Dell machines.

All three of these competitors are worthy adversaries, appearing high up in our list of the best laptops in 2017 – so the Surface Laptop definitely has its work cut out for it.

The Surface Laptop in traditional 'Platinum'

Design

The Surface Laptop is quite possibly the most attractive computing product Microsoft has ever created and shows that Windows laptops can be just as gorgeously designed as Apple products.

It features a full aluminum lid and body reminiscent of the Surface Book's, which give it a sturdy yet premium feel. While these keep the Surface Laptop feeling light, they also give you confidence that this expensive bit of kit isn’t going to break or dent easily at the merest of knocks.

 A cool design feature places the Surface Laptop’s speakers behind the keyboard, using the gaps between the keys as a sort of grille.

It means the body can remain slim, with no speakers to add to the overall size, and this compromise works very well, with sound from the Surface Laptop coming through loud and clear – though we noticed a bit of muffling when typing at the same time. This may be an issue if you enjoy listening to Spotify while working, but at least the included audio jack allows you to hook up the Surface Laptop to an external speaker.

Those strange strips of plastic on the base? They're Wi-Fi antennae

Speaking of ports, the Surface Laptop comes with a USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort and Microsoft's proprietary Surface Connect power and docking port, as found on other Surface devices.

It’s a shame to not find a USB-C port, as an increasing number of peripherals are coming out with this connection, and many of the Surface Laptop’s competitors include it. 

On the other hand, though, we’re also relieved that Microsoft hasn’t followed Apple’s USB-C or nothing approach.

The limited number of ports mean the Surface Laptop can maintain a thin profile – in fact it measures just 14.48mm thick, making it thinner than the Dell XPS 13’s 15mm, though slightly thicker than the MacBook at 13.1mm and the HP Spectre at 13.7mm.

So, while it’s not the thinnest laptop around the Surface Laptop is still pretty darn slim, and it weighs just 1.25kg, which is lighter than the Dell’s 1.29kg, though again it’s more weighty than the MacBook, which tips the scales at 1.08kg.

Still, it’s impressively light, and easy to hold in one hand. For carrying around, this is one of the most comfortable laptops you can buy.

A comparison with the Surface Book

Keyboard and Trackpad

Unlike the Surface Book, the Surface Laptop doesn’t feature an aluminum keyboard – instead Microsoft has opted for plastic keys. Before you start to worry that this could lead to the Surface Laptop feeling a bit cheap, it also features Alcantara fabric material, which is imported from Italy and laser-cut to fit the keyboard and which gives the Surface Laptop a very pleasant and premium feel.

The key travel on the Surface Laptop is satisfying, with 1.5mm of travel giving you a decent physical response when typing.

The trackpad also felt good, and the longer vertical size of the body (due to the 3:2 aspect ratio of the screen) gives you a comfortable place to rest your palms as you type on the keyboard.

Display

The screen is a bright and vibrant 13.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen display, which is reinforced with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for protection against scratches. The resolution is 2256 x 1504, which gives it a pixel density of 201ppi (pixels per inch).

Resolution fans out there (come on, there must be some) will notice the slightly unusual resolution here, which is due to the Surface Pro’s screen having a 3:2 aspect ratio – most laptop (and monitor) aspect ratios are 16:9 (with MacBooks being 16:10).

What this means in practice is that the Surface Laptop’s screen is taller, which gives you a bit more screen room when working – though it does mean that if you’re watching widescreen videos you’re going to get larger black bars running along the top and bottom of the screen.

The Surface Laptop's keyboard deck is awfully comfortable

The aspect ratio of the screen has implications for the size of the Surface Laptop as well, with the device having a wider body due to it. 

Overall, though, the Surface Laptop is a fantastic-looking device that will certainly turn heads when you take it out to use it, while still feeling comfortable to work on and carry around.