It’s tough to digest the fact that the folks who make an OS, sometimes take longer than necessary to come out with a machine that would fully utilize that potential of the software from a hardware point of view.
From your pocket, the Pixel did it and now Microsoft is doing somewhat similar with the Surface Laptop and its Windows 10S operating system. Will the two finally hold together the wedlock of delivering the best Windows performance on an ultra portable? We went hands-on with the carpeted Surface Laptop to find out.
Design and build: oh so soft
One of my favourite palm rests till date was from the carbon fiber treatment on the Dell XPS 15 (2017). That all changed when we reviewed the Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) a few months ago. The Alcantara finish on it made me swell with glee and had a better productivity impact without copious amounts of caffeine.
The Surface Laptop gets the same spanking treatment and from extended use, we can tell you that typing long articles becomes less cumbersome. Even the keyboard on the Surface Laptop is quite exquisite. The key travel is satisfying and the clickety clack feeling of typing on this laptop is an absolute delight.
The frosted glass finish on the trackpad is smooth and satisfying to touch, although it’s not as big as the MacBook trackpad so gestures are somewhat cumbersome to use. I really wish the trackpad was a bit larger, it would’ve made this laptop one the best work machines in the world.
Microsoft says the smooth Alcantara finish ages really well with the laptop and it won’t have any dangling threads on the edges even after months of regular use. The aluminium chassis merges well with the carpeted palm rest and the Surface Pro is holding up that legacy even now in our office.
It's not a two piece affair like the Surface Pro and Surface Book 2. So the screen is stuck to the keyboard base with a hinge and the whole thing weighs 1.25kgs.
Screen and ports: Stranger things
The Surface Laptop only comes with a 13.5in screen packing 2256 x 1504 resolution. The PixelSense display from Microsoft is also a touch screen, though you cannot bend the screen backwards or separate it from its keyboard. So Surface Dial and Surface Pen are somewhat pointless here.
Even so, the Gorilla Glass 3 screen has 100% sRGB colour gamut but all that number crunch is pointless if it doesn’t look good right?. Well we’re happy to report that this baby packs a fine display. The viewing angles are great and the colour accuracy is on point. Fair warning, the glass is crazy reflective, but the brightness holds up in outdoor usage as well. Netflix and YouTube videos look great but they’ll have black borders on top and bottom because this lappy is in 4:3 aspect ratio.
Squeezing down the body to 14.47mm thickness can leave little to no space for the ports and the Surface Laptop suffers the same get-yourself-an-adaptor fate like all ultra portables. Interestingly the SurfaceConnect adapter that charges the laptop also spares one extra USB Type A port to charge something else on the side (maybe your smartphone?). Other than that there’s a Mini Displayport, headphone jack and a full size USB 3.0 Type A port on the left side of the laptop. The addition of Displayport is very confusing for us, we’d rather have a USB Type-C here or another USB Type-A.
Performance: A generation gap
Like all Microsoft products, the Surface Laptop is a year late to the party in India so while we prayed for a spec bump from Intel’s 7th Gen processors to 8th Gen processors, Microsoft has stuck with the global batch of giving us the 7th Gen ones. Truth be told, it's not a bad processor but the whole world is enjoying the Surface Laptop 2 with speedier 8th Gen processors at this very second.
You get to choose between an i5 and i7 processor with upto 16GB of RAM while the storage option is spread between 128GB and 1TB. Plenty of customization for innards to choose from but Microsoft has dropped the m3 processor variant here in India because let's be honest, why would you want anything other than an i5 or i7? The MacBook didn’t do that well here with the M3 processor and if you’re looking to take down the king of ultraportables you have to learn from their mistakes, right Microsoft?
With Windows 10S, Microsoft is basically saying that: Hey, here’s a machine that we think brings out the best of a Windows OS and its fully optimised to run as efficiently as possible. The only catch is, you have to download all the software from the Windows store.
While that may sound a bit scary, it actually lets Microsoft take control over the optimisation bit but if you’re unable to find your choice of apps on the store then you can always upgrade it to Windows 10 Pro on the fly.
We got the Windows 10 variant but when had used the Windows 10S in the previous Surface products it was a bit of a problem for us. Back then we couldn’t download Adobe’s softwares to do our daily magazine work. Even if that’s not an issue with you, note that Google Chrome is not available on the Microsoft store as well. That’s a major bummer because Microsoft Edge is not on par for us to use it completely. I tried it for the course of this review but the fact that you can’t right-click on an image to open it on a new tab is really weird. Again, it’s not a deal breaker but when you’re working at maximum efficiency, software drawbacks should be the least of your worries.
Stick to Windows 10 in my opinion and this machine will reward you handsomely. The boot up times are as fast it can get with Windows Hello working its charm brilliantly. Entering your laptop is as quick as staring at it but only if you’re not wearing a cap. Windows Hello didn’t work very well when I was wearing a cap backwards.
Battery life: A writer’s best friend
We got a screentime of more than 6 hours from this sleek package. It can go higher as well depending upon your use. When we used the laptop for nothing but mashing out reviews and social media work on Chrome it went on for up to 10 hours.
We add a bit of Photoshop and InDesign work in between which cuts the battery life to around six to seven hours. That’s not bad given how it performs on the same level as its Dell and Asus competitions. The MacBook Pro 15in (2016 model) tops a better battery life but that’s also a bigger and heavier machine than this.
The power brick is quite small and portable so any charging woes can be taken care of even if you’re sitting at an airport.
So, why are we so pumped about a Windows machine that literally feels boring on paper? Well, that’s because we’re convinced that the Surface Laptop delivers a speedy performance and has an exceptionally good keyboard with the overall package to be a worthy ultra portable for anyone.
The Surface Laptop can very well take the mantle of the best Windows machine under a lakh and we won’t be surprised if you splurged a little more for that extra storage. The highest variant touches ₹2,33,999, but we don’t see the need for an ultraportable to be that expensive, let alone offer excessive grunt purely based on storage and processor.
For typist, journos, students or just about anybody - the Windows Surface Laptop is shaping up to be a prominent figure in the premium laptop race.