Surface Laptop: A Year Later – First Impressions

5

A year later…still a beauty.

The Macbook Air has nothing on this device. From the premium and inviting packaging that mimics an Apple unboxing experience, to the smack in your face presentation of the device once the packaging cover is popped off, Microsoft appears to have a delivered on a laptop worthy of some praise.

Once unboxed and unwrapped, the Surface Laptop invites you to open it up and rest your hands on the keyboard deck. It is here where this device begins to be set itself apart. The soft Alcantara fabric is a welcome experience from the often too cold feel of aluminum or cheap plastic on other devices. The model I have has the Platinum color. It has classic appeal and invites use, but may not set itself apart in the local Starbucks as would the Graphite Gold, Cobalt Blue, or Burgundy. Regarding the Alcantra fabric that covers the keyboard deck, I was a little skeptical of such a move as its longevity might be called into question. Props to Microsoft for the bold decision making to take some of the best design elements of the Surface Pro and Surface book and form into a traditional clamshell device. To keep the keyboard deck looking great, I’ll just be careful when eating around the device and attempt to keep some wet wipes nearby to keep my fingers oil-free.

The keyboard and trackpad are excellent. What smoothness may be lacked by the Microsoft precision drivers in comparison to a trackpad found on a Mac, the keyboard more than makes up the difference. Outside of potentially having a slightly scalloped shape to them, nod to the Lenovo keyboards, the key travel and tactile feedback is spot on. After just recently test driving the 2017 Macbook Air, I don’t miss that keyboard in any way. Well, I take that back; In just one way–the proportional direction arrow keypad found in the lower right-hand corner of the keyboard.

Upon looking up, after powering on the device, you are drawn to amazement if your emotional response meter has not tilted toward that already when seeing the colors pop on the gorgeous 13.5 inch, 3:2 aspect ratio display. There is no rubber seal along the outer edge and no Microsoft branding to be seen; just a display packed with pixels inviting you to explore & navigate the OS. My primary tasks are productivity driven so the extra vertical screen real estate of a 3:2 aspect ratio is welcome and appreciated. My only complaint regarding the screen is that it is quite reflective and may be difficult to use in sunlight due to its glossy & reflective qualities.

The Windows 10S experience lasted all of 5 minutes. This was a failed experiment and one glance at the Windows Store will explain why. Living within the walled garden of apps available within the Windows Store is simply not sufficient for many. Luckily, the upgrade to Windows 10 Pro can be completed with just a few clicks and is otherwise a seamless experience.

The upgrade process to the latest version of Windows 10 was time consuming but otherwise without a hiccup. Windows has made strides in handling much of this process behind the scenes to allow the user to continue using the machine while the latest version downloads and for many components, installs. A lengthy restart process completes the process. The process in which Apple delivers MacOS updates is well, cleaner. Considering the many variants of hardware sophistication and quality that the Windows OS is a solution for doesn’t easily allow for the Mac level of optimization. I won’t lose hope that someday it can be matched to a MacOS-like process, and you would think that piloting greater optimizations on Surface hardware would the place to start. However, when reading the recent writings on the wall, Microsoft’s C-suite decisions, I am not confident they will invest the needed resources for the small percentage of users that would appreciate the focus & dedication this would require.

What about the last generation, not future proofed ports you might ask. Well, put simply, it has not been a problem thus far. While proprietary charging is not the best design choice, a magnetic and lighted connector is much appreciated. I have not had use for the one USB-A, and mini display port. I will use both of these in days to come as I will hook the device up to an external, Das Keyboard, and a 34″ Dell Ultra-wide monitor. I anticipate no issues and thus far prefer to use the device as intended–as a traditional clamshell laptop. Connecting a bluetooth enabled Logitech MX Master was painless, but the use of the smooth glass trackpad is often more convenient and with the headphone port on the left, correct, side of the device it won’t interfere with any mouse movements on the right-hand side of the device.

The 2017 Surface Laptop after one year on the market is still an eye-catching device that should be on your list of potential laptops to buy if you are in the market for a new device this summer.

About the Author:

Shawn Moshier is a Product Manager & Business Analyst at Morgan Stanley. When away from the office he enjoys personal technology, reading, writing, and spending time with his family & friends.

Comments (5)

5 responses to “Surface Laptop: A Year Later – First Impressions”

  1. Paul Thurrott

    Great write-up. And a nice contrast to a hit job I saw on another blog that claimed that the Alcantara cover was terrible. That's not been my experience, though I've only been using my own Surface Laptop for several months, and not a full year.


    Also, your comments about Windows 10 S are, of course, correct.

  2. simont

    Which model of the Surface Laptop are you using?

  3. jwpear

    We're at the six month mark with my wife's Surface Laptop. I got her the i5, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB storage model in burgundy. In fact, I got her both the Surface Laptop and the Dell XPS 13. She choose to keep the Surface Laptop. She liked the larger, brighter 3:2 screen of the Surface Laptop and said it looked less business like. Six months in, she's still happy with her choice.


    The 3:2 screen is absolutely nice.  Every time I use hers, I notice just how bright and spacious it is.  I appreciate the brightness as much as the space.  It seems many laptop OEM's are lowering the peak brightness to squeeze a bit more battery life out (or maybe they can save a few cents per unit).  Regardless, I hate the dim displays and I'm glad to see Microsoft has not followed the industry on this one.  I think the extra brightness helps somewhat with glare.


    I generally agree with everything you wrote. Granted, I don't use the our Surface Laptop as much as my wife, but there are a few things that I think could improve.


    While the keyboard is nice, I do feel the keys wobble a bit more than they should. It makes it feel somewhat cheap. The feel is similar to Surface Pro keyboard, which is not my favorite. I live with it there because of the high portability and ability to detach. I understand the compromise somewhat on the detachable Surface Pro keyboard, but feel like they can do a little better on the Surface Laptop. I agree this keyboard is head and shoulders above the latest MacBook keyboards.


    The cover on ours has held up well so far. I'm still a little skeptical how it will be in years 3-5. Five years is my target life for the machine. I've seen some guys at the office with Surface Pro keyboards that are filthy. We have a mix of standard and Alcantara covered keyboards there. All get dirty with body oils. There seems to be a point where they just become hard to clean if not routinely maintained. Nice thing about the Surface Pro keyboards is they can easily be replaced. Of course, you just can't do that with the covering of the Surface Laptop. I try to clean my wife's Surface Laptop about once a month to keep the body oil from accumulating. I do the same with my Surface Pro keyboard and Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard. I use compressed air and Pledge for Electronics. So far, all of ours are holding up nicely and staying clean.


    The upgrade to the 1803 version of Windows 10 was agonizingly slow. I have no idea why this was the case and haven't seen it take so long on other machines. At least it was successful.


    The one area my wife has been disappointed is battery life. When we talked over the Surface vs the XPS, she heard 12 hours of battery life and expected actual day to day use to be that long. I knew that number was a marketing number, but was hoping for 7-8 hours. She averages about six hours on a charge. That's double her old Dell XPS 12, but still not as long as she'd hoped for. She does use Chrome and I've cautioned her that it will shorten the time she'll be able to run on battery.


    I like the Surface Laptop well enough to consider it for my next laptop, but as a developer, I'd like to see the 8th gen i7. I'm on the fence about which way to go. I have three machines at home--2016 Dell Inspiron laptop, 2014 Surface Pro 3, and a 2012-ear desktop I built. I'd like to consolidate down to one device at some point. I like the Surface devices. I like having my Surface Pro 3 for casual "tablet" use and have found my work-issued SP4 with i7 works great as a "desktop" machine. The Surface Pro is just not idea as a lap device. I lean toward the Surface book because it would give me all three use options, but based on our experience, the Surface Laptop is very much an option if Microsoft refreshes the processor.


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