Microsoft Surface Laptop review: ultra-portable or ultra-pointless?

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Microsoft Surface Laptop review: ultra-portable or ultra-pointless?
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Specs and performance

Microsoft is charging unabashedly premium prices for the Surface Laptop, and as such you’d expect premium performance. It should be very handy indeed – in theory. It’s packing Intel’s seventh-generation (Kaby Lake) processors – with both Core i5 and Core i7 variants available – and a fairly generous allocation of RAM, which should provide plenty of horsepower.

Sure enough, the Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM managed a highly creditable score of 49 in our benchmark tests, which is up there with some of the fastest Core i5 notebooks we've tested, and even creeping into Core i7 territory. The Surface Laptop should be more than powerful enough to see you through all but the most demanding multi-tasking or rendering operations.

Battery life is always a crucial concern for ultrabooks, and the Surface Laptop acquits itself capably here, racking up a score of 10 hours 42 minutes in our battery benchmarks. This is on par with other business-grade notebooks like the HP Elitebook X360 and the Toshiba Portege X20W, so we have no complaints at all.

It also uses Microsoft’s Surface Connect charging standard, ensuring that it’s compatible with the power adapters of virtually all of the company’s previous devices.

Windows 10 S

Now we come to the part that’s made the Surface Laptop such a controversial machine – Windows 10 S. According to Microsoft, Windows 10 S is designed for security and performance, but the headline feature is that it only permits the installation of Windows Store apps.

For many, this is likely to be a worrying prospect – and with good reason. The Windows Store, it must be said, does not exactly have a shining pedigree, and has come under frequent criticism for the selection and quality of available apps.

However, the fact that Windows 10 S only runs Windows Store apps may not be the deal-breaker it initially appears to be. Microsoft is making a concerted effort to improve its storefront, announcing a number of new features at its Build 2017 event to make it easier for developers to get their apps onto it. In theory, this means that we should start to see an improvement in the Windows Store in the future.

Aside from this though, there’s also the fact that the vast majority of apps also have web-based versions that can be run in Microsoft’s Edge browser. Workflow tools, document suites and even enterprise software like CRM and ERP packages can all be run as web apps, meaning that many business users won’t even need to install any apps aside from the default software included with Windows 10 S.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that 10 S is still a variant of Windows 10 Pro – which means that you’ll still have access to a sizable chunk of Microsoft’s enterprise features. This includes access to Windows 10’s mobile device management features, Bitlocker encryption, Windows Update for Business and Windows Store for Business, as well as Azure AD domain join and enterprise state roaming with Azure AD.

On the other hand, there are some things – like running Adobe Photoshop – that Windows 10 S just won’t do. Thankfully, Microsoft is, until 31 December 2017, giving anyone who buys a Surface Laptop the option to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free. Which begs the question: what, exactly, is the point?

Of course, Windows 10 S is absolutely fine for running web apps, but then so can significantly cheaper Chromebooks.

Ports and features

Unfortunately, ports are an area in which the Surface Laptop seriously falls down. Like the Surface Pro, it’s only got one full-size USB 3.0 port and one Mini DisplayPort – but USB-C is nowhere to be found.

It’s a frustrating omission; not only is USB-C an excellent enabler of flexible and agile working models, it’s also critical for future-proofing your device, as more and more manufacturers move to using USB-C as their primary form of connection.

It’s a real shame, and the Surface Laptop definitely suffers for not having USB-C, particularly in comparison with other, cheaper ultrabooks which do feature it. Of course, Microsoft will be offering a dock with USB-C support, which connects via the Surface Laptop’s power adaptor – but that’s an additional cost on top of an already rather pricey device.

Elsewhere, there’s other features commonly found in Microsoft’s premium devices. It includes support for Windows Hello’s facial recognition, the Surface Pen and even the Surface Dial - although you can’t use it on the screen in the same way as with the Surface Studio.

Pricing

With its pricing, Microsoft seems to be aiming squarely at Apple. The Surface Laptop’s entry-level model offers a latest-generation Core i5 chip, 4GB of RAM and 128GB solid state drive for $1,499 – the same as the entry-level MacBook Air with its slower processor.

The next Surface Laptop up includes the same processor with 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM for $1,999, which is $100 and $200 cheaper than roughly equivalent 12in MacBook and 13in MacBook Pro laptops, respectively.

The top-of-the-range Surface Laptop offers a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD for $3,299 – the same price as an equivalent MacBook Pro, although the latter has a better screen and USB Type-C ports.

Conclusions

Microsoft has made some slightly baffling decisions with the Surface Laptop. Debuting Windows 10 S – an operating system that would be most at home on a low-budget Chromebook rival – on what is otherwise a top-notch ultrabook is an odd choice, as is spurning the incredible versatility of the USB-C standard.

Get past these hiccups, however, and you’ll find that the Surface Laptop is a truly excellent device. It’s not blowing you away with any new, fancy features, but what it is doing is delivering one of the most solid, well put-together notebook experiences you can get, with an absolutely superb keyboard, gorgeous design values and speedy performance.

And while you certainly couldn’t say the Surface Laptop is a bargain, it is quite competitively priced compared to Apple and big-brand Windows laptops.

This article originally appeared at IT Pro.

http://www.itpro.co.uk/laptops/28847/microsoft-surface-laptop-review-ultra-portable-or-ultra-pointless
4 5
Verdict
As a first stab at a proper lightweight notebook, the Surface Laptop is a capable and accomplished offering. It's held back slightly by the omission of USB-C port and the decision to ship it with Windows 10 S, but it's otherwise an absolutely superb device.
Overall
Specs
From $1499 AUD
13.5in screen with 2256 x 1504-pixel resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio; 7th Generation Intel Core i5 or i7; Intel HD 620 graphics (i5) or Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 (i7); 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB RAM; 128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD; USB 3.0, headset jack, Mini DisplayPort; Windows 10 S (upgrade Windows 10 Pro for free until Dec 31, 2017); 1,283g.
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