Tech Review: Microsoft’s Surface Laptop dominates its price range with superior battery life

At first it may seem odd Microsoft present such a standard-looking laptop following their run with the Surface Pro and Surface RT series, a wearily received but now beloved family of tablets that really reinvented the company’s image to the casual tech consumer. Their goal of creating new product categories is nowhere to be found with the Surface Laptop which isn’t really all that different to a regular laptop, though does sport a sleek, stylish design that falls in-line with top competitors and even nudges them out. Simply put, this is one of the best laptops released in 2017, with refined details that make the user experience that much more seamless, proving that Microsoft can still work with something so unremarkable and still come out on top.

The Surface Laptop measures 308x223x14.47mm weighs in at 1.25kg – heavier than a 12-inch MacBook but slightly lighter than a 13-inch MacBook Pro – which is a good weight for something that’s most ideal for students and professionals on the go (needless to say, it’s perfect for the travelling journalist). The specs are nicely balanced, as are the components inside with an efficient Intel Core i5 CPU (i7 with the more expensive models), 128GB of SDD storage, and 4GB of RAM (AU$1,499 model) or 256GB SDD and 8GB RAM (AU$1,999 model). Note that the unit this review is based on is the latter.

With a 13.5″ PixelSense display with 10-point multitouch and a 2256×1504 resolution, the screen is attractive to look at and helps make sure all text looks sharp with bright, accurate colours and discernible textures. You can of course use a Surface Pen with it to make the experience even smoother, although it’s largely unnecessary given the precision trackpad is so easy to use.

The Microsoft Surface connector is used as the power supply, the port for which is rather lonely on the right side of the body. An additional, sold-separately dock (which is rather pricey) can also be used with this port bumping connectivity up with multiple video and USB ports. Otherwise there’s only the one USB 3.0 port, which is surprisingly stingy, especially seeing as there’s no Type-C
port. A headphone jack, and Mini DisplayPort round it out as far as connectivity goes. That’s not an awful lot of function or versatility right there, but the minimalism is in-line with the overall design.

The keyboard – not detachable this time around – is most notable for the carpet-like Alcantara material that covers it and is the most unique design feature for the device. It looks elegant, especially when contrasted with the keyboard’s backlight, and certainly helps the Surface Laptop stand out on the market. The keys themselves are ideal and perfectly lend to touch-typing while the wrist rests on the soft Alcantara, them too lining up nicely with the rest of the body which is defined by a simple matte silver finish (there’s also cobalt blue, champagne, and satin burgundy) covering a beautiful lightweight aluminium. The keyboard also includes the power on/off button (next to the delete key).

As for performance, the key here is Windows 10 S, which this device runs out of the box. This is essentially a pared back and refined alternative to the much more versatile Windows 10 Pro but with a limitation to running only apps available from the Windows Store. The main reason for this is security, but there’s also the added benefit of increased battery life; besides, the Windows Store has come a very, very long way since it was first introduced and is now teeming with almost everything one would need. Those itching to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro can do so for free until the end of this year.

Battery life is a real big selling point for the Laptop Surface, which is to expected since it’s marketed towards the student community. Microsoft claim this device boasts an attractive 14.5 hours of video playback, and that’s not far from the actual mark. Average use will have you using this thing all day without the need for a re-charge, and even when pushed to a fair amount of power you’ll probably get around 13 hours out of this laptop. Of course, if you’re upgrading that the Windows 10 Pro then it’d be reasonable to expect a shorter battery life, but even then that’s head and shoulders above a lot of similarly priced laptops out there.

The device makes good use of its 720p HD front-facing camera to continue the push for Windows Hello face recognition sign-in, but if you aren’t overly concerned with trimming your start-up down a few seconds then I’d suggest turning this thing off. While issues are unlikely, it can be the source of much frustration if, for whatever reason, Windows Hello locks you out, even when you still have the password-option of signing in. Plus, there are always reports circulating that having the facial recognition software turned on will up your battery drain in sleep mode.

For media consumers the Surface Laptop is incredibly sufficient and although a 3:2 aspect ratio is much more suitable for the written word rather than video, the device more than makes up for any lulls with its superior – and surprising – sound performance. The laptop’s dual speakers are located underneath the keyboard, but despite the odd placement the output is cleaner, crispier and louder than one would expect, plus there’s very little distortion at higher volumes. The bass is till relatively weak, but that’s to be expected.

Strong in all the right places, Microsoft have struck a very sweet spot with the Surface Laptop, aiming for students and hitting dead centre with performance buoyed by superior battery life, refined intuitive design, and exceptional value. Connectivity may be an issue for some, and most will want to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro as soon as possible, given they can live with the inevitably shorter battery life, but with all things considered this is just about the best value laptop you’ll find in 2017.

Score: 9.1 out of 10
Highlights: Super attractive design; intuitive keyboard and trackpad; superior battery life; sufficient even at the lowest price.
Lowlights: Lack of connectivity; limited if sticking to Windows 10 S
Manufacturer: Microsoft
Price: From AU$1,499
Available: Now