What's the deal with Windows 10 S? And how good is Microsoft's first traditional laptop? Our review will answer your questions.
As Microsoft’s first genuine rival to Apple's MacBooks, the Surface Laptop has a lot riding on it. Not only is the company’s second notebook looking to take on Apple's recently-refreshed laptops, it’s also tasked with launching the new version of the company’s operating system, Windows 10 S.
With so much on the line, will the Surface Laptop be able to deliver the goods, or is Microsoft’s first proper ultraportable notebook going to be DOA?
Microsoft has re-asserted its design chops in recent years, and the company’s first-party Surface devices are reliably gorgeous and well-built. Unsurprisingly, the Surface Laptop is no exception to this – in fact, it’s among the best-looking Windows laptops we’ve ever seen.
Appropriately enough, it looks like a cross between the Surface Pro and Surface Book, with a clamshell design and a keyboard that’s eerily reminiscent of the Surface Pro’s TypeCover keyboard. It sports an elegant matte magnesium finish, with a gently tapered chassis. At 3mm, the lid is slightly thicker than you might expect, but that’s understandable considering the display is touchscreen.
It also sits neatly in between the Book and the Pro in terms of its dimensions, with a weight of 1.2kg and a thickness of just 14.5mm. Admittedly, that’s more than 300g heavier than the 12in MacBook, but it does buy you a touchscreen – something that the MacBook doesn’t benefit from.
Another minor (but noteworthy) point is that the Surface Laptop has a beautiful hinge action, opening smoothly and effortlessly. This may seem like a trivial point, but you would be surprised how many notebooks get this wrong, requiring a little bit of effort to actually prise apart.
The Surface Laptop offers a greater degree of portability than the Surface Book, whilst still retaining a clamshell form-factor. However, it’s worth remembering the Surface Pro’s TypeCover is an absolutely excellent keyboard, so opting for the Surface Pro over the Surface Laptop really isn’t much of a compromise on that front.
It is totally gorgeous though. If you’re looking for something that’s going to make the Apple crowd eat their words about the MacBook’s superior design values, this might finally be the machine to do it: the Surface Laptop is an absolute beauty to behold.
Keyboard and trackpad
The Surface Laptop’s keyboard is functionally identical to the new TypeCover released alongside the latest Surface Pro – it’s even got the same water-resistant, soft-touch Alcantara coating. This is excellent news, as the new TypeCover follows one of last year’s best keyboards.
The TypeCover that Microsoft included with the Surface Pro 4 was one of the best laptop keyboards we’ve ever seen and happily, Microsoft has changed very little since the last generation - the new keyboard is all but identical to the old TypeCover, save for a tiny increase in travel distance and a minor change to the key-switch design, both of which are welcome changes.
As a result, the Surface Laptop’s keyboard and trackpad are outstanding, with crisp, satisfying feedback and smooth response. It’s the best we’ve ever on a Windows laptop, and only narrowly beaten by the MacBook Pro.
The Surface Laptop features the same PixelSense touchscreen technology Microsoft uses in all its first-party devices. Oddly, however, the 13.5in screen uses a slightly unusual resolution. Rather than picking a standard resolution such as QHD, the Surface Laptop’s screen has a resolution of 2256 x 1504 pixels.
It’s also got an unusual 3:2 aspect ratio, which means that video content in the common 16:9 format will be banded by black bars at the top and bottom. On the other hand, the extra depth allows you to see more of the page when web browsing and using a business application such as Word.
Aside from that, it’s a truly excellent display – the brightness isn’t as blazing as it could be and lighter colours have a slight tendency to be washed out, but colour accuracy is superb, the contrast ratio is excellent and images are crisp and packed with detail. It’s certainly going to do justice to any movies you’d care to throw at it, and it’s more than capable of handling photo editing tasks.
Next: performance, features and conclusions