Surface Laptop: The Fine Print

Posted on May 2, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 78 Comments

Surface Laptop: The Fine Print

With Microsoft announcing perhaps its most exciting hardware device ever, there’s been a bit of scrambling. But now that we’re finally in a quiet space and can pay more attention to the details, here are some interesting tidbits about Surface Laptop.

Both good and bad.

Bad: That $999 price is for a base model with 4 GB of RAM. And it’s only available in one color, platinum. (I mentioned this previously in A Closer Look at Surface Laptop Configurations.)

Bad: There of the four advertised color choices—Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and Graphite Gold—are only-available in the $1299 configuration. If you want a Core i7-based system, you are stuck with platinum too. (I also mentioned this previously in A Closer Look at Surface Laptop Configurations.)

Good: From now until the end of 2017, any Windows 10 S user—including any Surface Laptop customer—can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free. Normally, this will cost $50, and this promotion should end any “bait and switch” complaints. For now.

Good: Surface Laptop delivers the best of Surface Book—a gorgeous 13.5-inch 3:2 PixelSense display, that perfect keyboard and touchpad, and so on—for much less than a Surface Book.

Bad: The expansion ports are straight out of 2015: One USB 3, one miniDisplayPort, and—ugh—Surface Connect. Guys, it’s 2017. It’s time to move to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, especially on a device you literally advertise as being good to go for the next four years.

Good. It’s compatible with Surface Pen and Surface Dial.

Bad. It does not include Surface Pen or Surface Dial.

Good: Video playback battery life is 14.5 hours. Since this is the battery life measurement I make, I can tell you that this is quite good: Surface Book with Performance Base was 11:30. This was, by far, the best battery life I’ve seen this year.

Bad: Mary Jo Foley demonstrated that the Surface Laptop, inexplicably, is not as lappable as the HP laptop she currently uses. It’s better than existing Surface devices, she says, but is a bit top heavy.

Good: The Surface Laptop is the first portable Surface device to utilize Intel Kaby Lake processors. Our national nightmare is finally over.

Bad: You can only get Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 on Core i7 models (at $1599 and up). But you can’t get a dGPU on any model.

Bad: 4 GB on the base model is not enough. It’s 2017.

Good: Each Surface Laptop comes with one free year of Office 365 Personal, which provides 1 TB of OneDrive storage.

Good: Surface Laptop is available for pre-order today in 20 countries, and not just the US and Canada, as usual.

 

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Comments (78)

78 responses to “Surface Laptop: The Fine Print”

  1. joechang

    If I were in the market for a laptop, the ports would be the biggest deal breaker for me.

  2. jjaegers

    I will never understand the storage allotments on devices like this... for a $999 to start machine it should start with 8GB and 256GB SSD... I guess you have to assume the real starting price of this device is $1299 and if you HAVE to get it cheaper you buy the crippled one with 128GB of storage and 4GB of ram... now with it running Store only apps that may be just fine... so maybe the low end option is realistic here.


    Oh and I applaud MS for Windows 10 S... they NEED to find a way to get users off the legacy win 32 apps they have been using forever... I think this is nice in that it shows users what that can look like and see how secure that can be but it doesn't force them into being limited to just store apps.  This becomes more and more important when they start pushing Mixed Reality and want developers to write UWP apps for it.  I would bet a majority if students will have NO problem using UWP only apps.. I would even say they should make that "store only apps" switch in the latest update be ON by default and have users turn it off if they want to install other apps.

  3. Darmok N Jalad

    Funny how the speculation on Windows Cloud (now called 10 S) was that it was a play to help with Windows on ARM devices and to compete against Chromebooks in education. MS responds by making the first official 10 S device a $1,000+ laptop. Now I don't have a problem with either the new device or the new version of Windows, but it stumps me to introduce them this way. If this is the true future of Windows, then Surface 5 pro should have also showed up, since it is actually the perfect device for 10 S, not a traditional ultrabook. So basically, Laptop is intended to compete with MacBook, yet it immediately surrenders some of the functionality that Surface tablet has been trying so hard to promote. Surface tablet gets full Windows. Seems backwards.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Darmok N Jalad: Did you miss that 10 S will be available on devices $189 and up? MS didn't haul out a stack of those, but this was a MS event, not a Lenovo, Dell, HP, ASUS event. They introduced 10 S independent of the hardware it runs on. Then they introduced Surface Laptop, which incidentally runs 10 S OOTB.


  4. Waethorn

    It's the "not-a-Macbook-Air".

  5. Otto Gunter

    The Surface Connect is there to be compatible with the Surface Dock. I expect a refresh down the full Surface line, Dock included, switching to USB-C at some point but now is not the time.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Otto Gunter: I agree that not having the Surface Connector would have ticked off some and provided dissent fodder for those looking for broken promises. Having a USB-C along with the USB 3 or instead of, or even instead of the DisplayPort might have been nice. Think about that last option. If you are adding an external monitor there is a good chance you might be thinking about a dock, and that would let you choose MS Surface dock or a USB C dock. A USB-C to HDMI dongle wouldn't be that onerous a requirement otherwise.


  6. Roger Ramjet

    This is exactly the right device at the right time. What some do not understand is they had to make those other devices like Book, Studio, ahead of this to establish cred, its sort of like those designer shows or car shows where you see designs displayed that would never be produced(not to that extent, but you get the direction). Because Apple had a strangehold on high end mindshare, they could not simply start with the "mass luxury" item. And it should be noted that although they talked as it this was an education thing, it is not. College students can buy it, but so can, obviously, any business person. I guess they just needed to shoe horn it into the education thing, partly to justify coming down from those ideal but impractical earlier designs.


    Second, I don't think a lot of the gripes of hardcore folks on these boards ("no USB C!" etc) will matter to the mass consumer people like myself). They will see a beautiful product from a top brand with all the software they need, adequate performance and long battery life and that is it. I predict they will buy in droves.


    Last: this hardware device isn't competing with Chromebooks folks. It is competing with Apple laptops (as specifically referenced by the presenter). Microsoft has left it to its partners to produce devices (starting <$200) that will compete with Chromebooks. But really they are taking their own cut at the education market, as anyone who watched the presentation can attest; matching Chrome in some areas, offering services Google cannot offer in others, and lagging Chrome in some areas. It should be enough to keep Microsoft competitive, but we will see if they can deliver on their lofty promises with well executed software and services, that is where you always have the real challenges.

  7. Jules Wombat

    So we are unlikely to now see Surface Book 2, another project dumped, just that Microsoft joins the laptop OEM crowd. Hardly 'most exciting hardware device ever'

  8. jimchamplin

    Why is it a thousand bucks AND carrying Windows 10 S? That makes ZERO SENSE.

  9. brettscoast

    I'm afraid 4GB of RAM doesn't cut it these days. 8GB RAM has to be the baseline at that price point. Expsnsion ports are just terrible there is no way around that.

    • bbold

      In reply to brettscoast:

      "Expansion ports are just terrible"?? Have you seen a MacBook Pro lately? Also, keep in mind this is the base line laptop, next comes SP4 then SB. Those come with many more ports. The great thing is that MS doesn't make you dongle dependant. I say this is a WIN for Microsoft.

  10. rameshthanikodi

    These are all legit points, but I think Microsoft is doing this on purpose. They really don't want to compete with the OEMs.

  11. PincasX

    It is an incredibly good looking device. The ports and BTO options are perplexing, especially for the prices they are asking.

  12. awright18

    Prediction, this like Windows RT before it is going to confuse consumers.  It's like here is this cool new device. Oh yeah it can't run any of the apps you care about. (just like Surface RT).  I think this is going to cost Microsoft a lot of money in customer complains, and returns because it doesn't run chrome, photoshop, iTunes out of the box.  It was a terrible decision to put Windows 10 S on this device.  I understand that perceived need for it on lower end devices, but that will still likely have issues.  I think they should have had a completely separate name for the OS.  Get rid of the windows 10 name, because that will confuse people as it did before with RT.   We will see, but I think this will be a disaster. 

    • jwpear

      In reply to awright18:

      Yeah, it's pretty interesting that it costs you $50 to upgrade to the Pro version on such an expensive device.  Typical folks aren't going to understand why they're paying so much and getting a limited version of Windows.

  13. PhilMustang

    Hello,

    In the specs I am not sure it is fanless or not (I feel there is a kind of 'flat' fan), do you know if the Surface Laptop is fanless ?

  14. Belralph

    With regard to the ports. I though I remember Paul saying something about Microsoft promising the business world they would support peripherals for at least 2 generation of product? Maybe Microsoft gave the laptop the same existing ports as the rest of the Surface line to somewhat stagger the transition of the surface connector to USB C.

    It does seem counter intuitive to have "premium" device with no USB C but not so strange for a "business" device. The business version of the Spectre X360 is all USB 3 and no one seems to care.

  15. RobbeB32

    I'm wondering whether the 4GB is there because they assume Win10S used less RAM?

  16. mjyocca

    Also if you want i7 16 gb ram and 512 gb storage you have to wait until August, not June. I bet it has something to do with their discussion on how they were the first one to include the storage on the chip itself?

  17. edboyhan

    I haven't looked at the pinouts on the Surface connector, but I wonder if there aren't some unused pinouts that could enable a future Surface Dock accessory that supports USB-C and thunderbolt. Maybe necessitating a different driver? I'm curious because of MS's keeping the Surface connector when the world is moving to USB-C and thunderbolt. MS has committed to maintain accessory compatibility going forward from the Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Dock -- so that mandates staying with the Surface connector, but maybe there's some way to craft a new Surface Dock+??? That would satisfy compatibility, yet allow for USB-C/Thunderbolt.

  18. jwpear

    I have an idea for a premium laptop.  Imagine a premium laptop where you can easily remove the bottom and replace/upgrade the RAM and storage!  They could charge a premium for this revolutionary design.  Who will be the first to do this, Apple or Microsoft?

  19. Ugur

    Initially i was pretty pumped up for this device, since one can upgrade it to win 10 pro (and even for free until end of the year), so it coming with win 10 s preinstalled was no showstopper to me.

    And yeah, the price with such a sleek designed device in that form factor sounds good-great at first glance.

    But yeah, it would have been better if they'd make one of the two usb A ports usb C (not both! (at least for the next few years), heck, best get rid of their proprietary charging thing and make that usb c, ideally one with full power and latest thunderbolt support. and yeah, it would have been nice if the 999 price version already had 8 GB Ram.

    Then, to me personally, i'd also like it if the screen could be folded all the way to the back since (as the screen is not detachable, which is ok since this is a different type of device than surface pros), it makes more sense when using touch and/or pen longer in one session to fold the thing around.

    I also hadn't realised at first that it does not come with the pen so one has to buy it separately.

    All no deal breakers to me, but yeah, overall, if i'd buy it, looking at the configurations and what all i'd buy additionally, that'd be the dock to have more connectivity, the pen, the higher ram version, well, then it is already in price range where i'd then again rather pay even more to have a larger screen, even more connectivity options included, a highest end cpu and dedicated gpu.

    So yeah.. =)

    Overall i think it still seems like a solid device for 999, but yeah, looking at the fine print, still some details to refine for the next version.

    I hope they asap offer a surface laptop pro, too which comes with more ram in base version, win 10 pro preinstalled, 15 and 17 inch screen models, hence then larger battery room, room for highest end cpu and gpu (nvidia 1050 minimum, ideally 1060 or more by then) and screen that can be folded all the way back and all nice connectivity with minimum 1-2 usb a ports, 1-2 usb-c (with one of them full power full bandwidth latest thunderbolt standard), hdmi and sd card reader.

    In general, yeah, they should get rid of the proprietary charging connector, place for one more more use port then.


    MS is very close to offering a great, if not the best option in every form factor, but yeah, still some details to get fully there.

  20. jim.mcintosh

    So Panos does another new device that's obsolete before it's even available. To release a machine in 2017 with NO USB 3.1 Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 and a proprietary power connector is obsolete. Period.


    It's supposed to last a student for 4 (ok maybe 5) years. This machine is not for that student or a retiree that no longer gets a new one every other year.


  21. Lewk

    I prefer that power connector. The amount of times I've tripped on my Surface Pro 3 one, and the cable comes straight out and I don't take my Surface Pro running across the ground is a huge win. I can only see a USB-C connection for power making my goofy tripping technique destroy my New Surface device. Much like I've done to my USB-C phones when I trip on those cables.

    • jwpear

      In reply to Lewk:

      Agree completely!  I love the magnetic connectors on the Surface devices and older MacBook Pros.  Aside from helping out in the situations you describe, they're just so darn easy to attach compared to a more traditional port.  Hate to see the move away from them.  We're losing ground. 

      I'm quite happy to pay a little extra for a magnetic port and USB-C as we've essentially done for years now.

    • dstrauss

      In reply to Lewk: Why is this always the sole defense for magnetic power attachments - and outside of MacBooks (now deceased) and the Surface line, who else EVER had magnetic power supplies...?
  22. melinau

    I'm looking to replace my SP4 with something with more grunt (not to mention a CPU\Chip set that works properly!). I run with two monitors, and use an external Keyboard & mouse, so some kind of docking system is also needed. In short, I was hoping for something that moved the Surface "story" on a bit. In that context, despite looking good, this is a fail.

    It fails to meet my needs even before you factor-in the price. In UK the 16GBi7 version is priced at £2,150 ($2778) . There's Premium, then Aspirational, then just plain stupidly expensive!

    Apple can charge a premium for last-generation technology because people buy "Apple", but everyone else; including and especially MS, is selling products which have to meet a range of criteria: usability, performance, perceived quality, longevity and price being important for me.

  23. TraderGary

    I have no problem with ports as I have a Surface Dock. The deal breaker for me is a lack of power and a discrete GPU for photo and video editing. I'll be patiently waiting to see what MS does with Surface Book 2.

  24. MacLiam

    I can't find a reference confirming a backlit keyboard, but the f1 and f2 keys in the best photo I can find look similar to the "dim" and "bright" keys on the SB keyboard. I'm hoping that means the keys are internally lit.

  25. wshwe

    Paul left out 1 important detail about the colors. The colors are only available in the US, not in other countries!

  26. davidblouin

    They really should have made a 600 bucks or less version for the education market.

  27. curtisspendlove

    Folks, Microsoft is placing it in direct competition with:


    https://www.apple.com/macbook/


    And up against the Apple lineup, I'd say it wins. If you can tolerate Windows (some can't).


    OEMs will fill in the mid- to -lower-end.

    • PincasX

      In reply to curtisspendlove:

      I think the only thing comparable between the two is the color schemes.


      Surface Laptop is far closer to the 13 inch MacBook Pro in components and pricing.


      As far as "winning" goes I think the differences are a little more than OS. Surface has a touch screen and a slightly newer generation of processor but lacks the USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 and Bluetooth 4.2. So, any perspective customer would have to weigh those differences as well. Personally, I wouldn't buy a new laptop that didn't support USB-C and Tunderbolt. Not to say I would by a MBP for those, I just wouldn't buy a Surface Laptop. Unfortunate as they appear to be really attractive devices.

  28. wunderbar

    These are all fair points. I think the bad far outweighs the good though. the RAM and port situation is, in my opinion, completely inexcusable on a 2017 laptop. Doesn't matter how pretty this is, There are too many deal breakers for this to be something anyone should consider.

    • FullyLoaded

      In reply to wunderbar:

      The lack of extra ports is disappointing but not really surprising. As for the RAM, nobody knows yet what Windows 10 S will need to run well. The expectation is that it runs a lot more efficiently than vanilla Win10 so 4GB may be plenty.

    • will

      In reply to wunderbar:

      While not a deal breaker for me, the ports are an issue. I agree that the whole surface line should move to USB-C/Thunderbolt. But maybe Microsoft will release a new Dock that has USB-C/Thunderbolt as options?

  29. RobertJasiek

    I applaud Microsoft for the fair $50 upgrade price from Windows 10 S to Pro. This is perfectly reasonable. It is very kind to offer free upgrade in 2017.

    Although notebooks are not for me, the Surface Laptop worries me with respect to expectation for Surface Pro 5: there should be at least one USB A and two USB C / Thunderbolt 3 ports, a matte display option enabling outdoor use in the indirect sunlight and reasonably priced battery exchange service (if not a replaceable battery) for 5+ years.

  30. John Dunagan

    Can't wait for the manufacturer responses to this device - it should get good.

  31. will

    Well I guess now we will wait to see what Microsoft does with the Pro and Book lines. They are getting long on the tooth and if they are going to position the Book as the Pro version of the Surface Laptop it needs a revision soon.

    1)New Intel chips

    2)Improved battery life

    3)Improved design (Mainly the SB for weight/keyboard/ports)

    • bbold

      In reply to will:

      Some tech writers (Paul, too, I believe) have reported that updated Surface Books and Surface Pros are making their rounds around MS and should be updated this Fall in time for Christmas. Microsoft wanted to announce Surface laptop now for Back to School sales. I think that's a smart move.

  32. rmlounsbury

    What the ever living hell for the ports? With the entire marketplace shifting to USB-C it makes no sense to not go to USB-C ports on both sides for everything. I'm interested in this device as I'll be in the market for a new laptop here by the end of the year and the lack of modern ports pretty much removes this from my consideration.

  33. Jaxidian

    I think the biggest problems are:

    1. Port selection is terrible!
    2. Gimme some blue i7


    I'm not worried about much of the rest. But those two things are very disappointing, with the former potentially a deal-breaker.

  34. harmjr

    To me the entry point of this device should cost only $500.00 at best.

  35. chaad_losan

    2014 called, it wants its ports back.


    • jjaegers

      In reply to chaad_losan: I hear you... but to this day the only thing I use that has USB-C is my phone... and it connects to my computer with a normal USB to USB-C cable.  I think they did this to keep the current Surface dock compatible with all the surface devices... which I am OK with...


  36. david.thunderbird

    bugger off MS it is way too much for so little and way to late

  37. Bats

    Wait...so every Surface Laptop will automatically come with Windows 10 S? LOL...very slick Microsoft. Why can't it just come with Windows 10 Pro automatically? It's like a $50 tax, to be able to download and install Google Chrome! $1000 for a regular laptop, branded Microsoft, is priced ok (IMO), but to cripple it's functionality to upgrade to the full-fledged Microsoft ad-based OS solution, is very very peculiar. Apple doesn't even do that.


    I know there is a temporary incentive, where that $50 is waived, but this is kind of sneaky.

    • siko

      In reply to Bats:

      I think many more frustrated laptop/pc users will be gratefully relieved that there is actually more power in the device at the end of the day, it doesn't get hot out of the bag, responds fast and is not prone to maybe some malware here or there.... Think about why iOS and Android are so successful to different degrees. Problems still as it is tech in movement, but not many problems PC users have faced in the last decade... MS is since Windows 8/RT developing a better windows... and with this announcement we may believe they're close to delivering....

    • Roger Ramjet

      In reply to Bats:

      Google can avoid the "tax" by putting Chrome in Windows Store. I don't think the $50 is that meaningful to Microsoft as the fee for an OS, the fee is more likely an incentive to get the curated App model going with Windows- something neither Google nor Apple are shy about implementing on platforms they control - and/or just as a basic way to differentiate the OS versions, which makes sense, otherwise, what is the point.

  38. dcdevito

    It's designed to compete with a device (Chromebook Pixel) that never sold. By sheer definition this thing has already failed. The education market buys cheap plastic Chromebooks because they're simple, easy to administer, and oh yeah because they're CHEAP and PLASTIC.


    The only competition for this device is the Surface Pro. MSFT is shooting themselves in the foot once again.


    (For the record I'm not at all referring to Windows 10S, which I like the idea of, and I know there will be many low end devices schools will be able to choose from in the near future, I'm only referring to the laptop MSFT unveiled itself)

    • dstrauss

      In reply to dcdevito: NO - this is not a Chromebook competitor - this is aimed straight at the MacBook Air crowd that has BEGGED for a retina MacBook Air for four years, yet can be upped to MacBook Pro 13 specs as well. I like the Surface Dock because it has been a great device for my SP4, BUT, they should have ditched mini-DP for USB-C; it can support video and data and would help future proof the device.


    • Chris_Kez

      In reply to dcdevito:

      And like the Pixel, it doesn't really matter if the device sells (though arguably this will do better), as long as a range of W10S devices do okay.

  39. dhallman

    "most exciting hardware device ever"


    really?


    detectible screen - no.

    Pen - no.

    Surface Pro keyboard aesthetic - yes, done before.

    Full Windows 10? - no (not really - but yes with conditions).

    Power base? - no.


    Like others I really like this product. But in reality this product retreats in many ways that made Surface interesting.


    Put another way - everyone is ripping off the Surface Pro. The Surface Laptop rips off everyone else while paying homage to its past.


    Oh, and Surface Laptop "It’s better than existing Surface devices" for being "lappable" (is that word?). I am typing this on a Pro 4, on my lap. No issue as the kick stand is behind the screen and fully maneuverable. What an easy fix.



  40. Waethorn

    How do you use Surface Dial on a laptop screen?

  41. dhallman

    The price is killing me - but my wife would love one (not grey). Time to get the old items on kijiji.... Anyone need a Surface 3? iPhone6? lol...


    Wait - preorder in 20 countries and not in Canada?? WTF, get Nadella, Gates and Trump in my office... Man!

  42. jgraebner

    I admit that I'm puzzled by this device overall, particularly Paul's suggestion that this is "perhaps its [Microsoft's] most exciting hardware device ever". I know that Paul and others (particularly writers) have been pushing for a Surface in the traditional laptop form factor and, thus, I can see being happy that they finally have made one, but I have a hard time seeing this as being overly exciting. The previous Surface devices (even going all the way back to the giant Surface table) have been category-defining, aspirational devices. I don't really see where this is anything other than a laptop with some really nice aesthetics.


    I guess it is a bit aspirational as the first Windows S device, but is it likely that anyone is actually going to use Windows S on this thing? This is too expensive for classroom use or even for most corporate settings where restricting application installation is potentially desirable. With the upgrade to Pro being free for the first year, I'm sure essentially all buyers will immediately upgrade. If Microsoft doesn't switch to making Pro standard after the first year, I'd bet that everyone just starts factoring the upgrade into the price, just like they do for the keyboard on the Surface Pro.


    Overall, this looks like a nice laptop (even with some odd limitations, like the ports), but I'm having a hard time seeing why many people would choose it over a comparably priced Lenovo, HP, or Dell, other than a preference for the look of the device.

  43. BigM72

    Paul, on pre-order, I can see the device on the US Microsoft Store but not the UK one. What's the list of 20 countries?

  44. lhavenst

    I don't mind it is missing USB C, Although it would be nice to have. It needs one or two more USB ports though. What it has is livable but not ideal.

    • bbold

      In reply to lhavenst:

      So, what you are saying is.. it's more ideal than a 2017 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, with 4 nearly useless USB C ports. No student I work with has USB C devices, they all have older cheaper USB devices. I agree - 1 more USB port wouldn't have hurt, but remember it also has an SD Card reader, something also absent from Apple's new line of notebooks.

  45. Billzeal

    Overall I like it. Hopefully in the future MS can get passed this can't get this with that or that with this. All Colors & Processors should be interchangeable with each other.

  46. JHONTIGER

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