There’s nothing wrong with a good gimmick — sometimes, you have to do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd.
Take the Microsoft Surface lineup, for example. Every Surface tablet, laptop, and PC created to date has had some kind of trick to it.
The Surface Pro is a tablet with a detachable keyboard. The screen on the Surface Book lifts straight off the laptop’s base to become a tablet in its own right.
Those kinds of features have helped the Surface line succeed.
Other times, though, sheer quality is the only feature you need. Apple has often been slow to update its laptop lines, but its focus on building machines that “just work” has helped its MacBook products remain the industry’s gold standard.
That’s where the Microsoft Surface Laptop comes in.
The Surface Laptop, starting at $A1,499, has no gimmicks, beyond a funky fabric-coated keyboard. It’s “just” a laptop; although it’s got a touchscreen, it doesn’t turn into a tablet or fold backwards or anything like that. So it’s a good thing that the Surface Laptop is good enough to stand on its own — even when put up against Apple’s core MacBook laptop.
After using it for the better part of a month, here’s the deal with the Surface Laptop — and the one thing you should look out for.
The Surface Laptop is kind of an oddity in the Surface line in that you can't separate its screen from its keyboard. By comparison, the Surface Pro -- that's the smaller one on the left here -- turns into a tablet when you detach its keyboard.
The Surface Laptop, however, is 'just' a laptop -- it closes into a clamshell and opens up so it can sit on your lap. Fortunately, it also happens to be a pretty great one.
It's thin and light, weighing around 2.75 pounds, depending how juiced-up a model you get. It sports a USB port, a mini-DisplayPort, and uses the same Surface Connect charger as every other Surface device out there. The charger sports a single USB port to power your gear, too.
If you're a Mac user scared of Windows 10, don't be: Windows 10 is actually pretty great. I was a faithful Mac user for many years, but Windows 10's multitasking features, touchscreen support, and Cortana digital assistant won me over.
The one quirk worth calling out is on the bottom half of the keyboard. As you may notice, it's covered in fabric. Which is ... different. It feels nice, and it's high quality -- but what it will look like after six months or a year of regular wear-and-tear is an open question.
For what it's worth, I've found the fabric to be kind of a crumb magnet when I eat lunch at my desk. Thankfully, the crumbs wipe right off. Other than that, the fabric hasn't gotten particularly dirty or scuffed yet.
Overall, though, the keyboard and mouse are a joy to use. They're super comfortable, very responsive, and on a par with what you'll find on an any Apple laptop.
And the Surface Laptop's touchscreen works as well as those on every other Surface product. You can also use the Surface Pen with it. Microsoft doesn't include a stylus with the Surface Laptop, but if you already have a Surface Pen, it will be fully compatible with the computer.
The Surface Laptop supports Windows Hello, a feature that allows you to log in using only your face. Microsoft first introduced the facial recognition feature to the Surface line in 2015, but Windows Hello feels way snappier on the Surface Laptop than on previous Surface devices.
Now, let's talk about the not-so-great part of the Surface Laptop -- Windows 10 S. The device is the test-bed for Microsoft's streamlined version of Windows, which is supposed to offer better battery life and higher performance...
...but it comes at the cost of allowing you to install apps only from the Windows Store. Among other things, that means you can't install Google's Chrome browser.
Microsoft's Edge browser is OK, but it's not nearly as mature as Chrome or Firefox -- or any other major browser, really. It's can be fine for a while, but overall, using Windows 10 S can become an exercise in frustration.
I also want to talk a little bit about Microsoft's battery life promises with the Surface Laptop. The company say that with Windows 10 S installed, you should get 13.5 hours of battery life while continuously watching videos. But I got around 6 hours on a single charge in normal use.
By 'normal use,' I mean having the Facebook, Slack, and Twitter apps open in Windows 10 S, as well as six or seven tabs in the Microsoft Edge browser. Other reviewers, like David Pierce at Wired, got around 10 hours in their own daily usages, so your mileage may vary.
When I upgraded the Surface Laptop to to the regular Windows 10, my average battery life didn't drop significantly. I'm getting around 5 hours per charge.
And that's the good news -- Microsoft has wisely made it easy to upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro, the fully capable version. Normally, that upgrade costs about $A69, but it's free for Surface Laptop owners through the rest of the year. The switch from one version to the other takes maybe ten minutes, tops, and you don't lose any data.
(Unfortunately, the upgrade only works one way. If you want to go back to Windows 10 S, you're out of luck.)
The Surface Laptop's A1,499 price is a good value. It's way cheaper than the Surface Book, Microsoft's ultra-premium laptop, pictured below, which starts at $A2,299. And while it's slightly more expensive than the Surface Pro, which starts at $A99, that device doesn't come with a keyboard. To get Microsoft's keyboard accessory for it, you have to pay at least $A159 extra.
Ultimately, though, I would rate the Surface Laptop as a more-than-worthy competitor to the MacBook. It's not as flashy or gimmicky as other Surface laptops. But you get a touchscreen, a slick design, and Windows 10. And at $A1,499, the price is right. Just do yourself a favour and get off of Windows 10 S right away.
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