Surface Laptop: A Contrary View

Posted on May 4, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 118 Comments

After gushing over Surface Laptop for a few days, I figured I should play devil’s advocate and present a contrary view. Here’s where Microsoft got it wrong.

For starters, the laptop form factor is a bit confusing in this age of ever-slimmer devices. It’s further confusing when you consider that the entire Surface business is built, in a way, on Microsoft’s Apple envy. But they still stuck with a thicker and heavier type of device. Interesting.

(On a related note, you may recall that when Microsoft first announced its Surface Book—“the ultimate laptop”—back in late 2015, I complained that customers weren’t asking for a laptop. What they were asking for was an Ultrabook, a device that is thinner, lighter, and more portable than a laptop.)

Looking more closely the hardware, there are other oddities.

Most obvious is the lack of even a single USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port. I understand why Microsoft might want to maximize its investments in Surface Connect and other hardware, for sure. But for a company to publicly pronounce this device fit for four years of duty while ignoring modern technology is hypocritical.

Worse, if you’re going to adopt a larger laptop form factor, how about adding a few more ports? There’s plenty of room there for USB-C, at the very least. Other PC makers—like HP, especially—do a great job of handling the transition from the old to the new. Microsoft seems to be more concerned with Apple-like minimalist aesthetics.

And while I feel like I’ve already explained Microsoft’s rationale for choosing a normal laptop form factor, I think we can all agree that a 360-degree hinge would have made a lot more sense. Such a device would work normally like a laptop, with no compromises, but would be more versatile.

In fact, if you compare HP’s stunningly innovative Spectre x360 to the Surface Laptop, you’ll see some interesting miscues on Microsoft’s part. HP’s device—which offers a 13-inch screen—can transform into a tablet, be used like a tent, offers both pen and touch support, and is thinner and lighter—and offers smaller bezels—than the bulkier and less versatile Surface Laptop.

For a device being marketed to students, the Surface Laptop is curiously inadequate for the tasks. Yes, it works with Surface Pen. But the screen doesn’t lay flat, doesn’t even go back that far. So you can’t actually write on it, let alone take notes. Any other 2-in-1s, including Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are better tools for this usage.

Speaking of which, Surface Laptop is also incompatible with the software students would really use, including Google Chrome, Apple iTunes, Adobe Creative Suite, and so on. Yes, you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free, but that is a temporary offer. Eventually, this nicety will add $50 to the price, and it will be a manual process the user needs to undergo. (Granted, it’s simple enough.)

I really like the design of the Surface Laptop, but it’s interesting how quickly and easily it all falls apart in the face of reality. I still want one in a sort of visceral way. But I’m not sure anymore what the point of this device is, beyond what I already wrote: To prove that Windows 10 S can in fact run on a premium device. But that’s a marketing benefit, not an end user benefit. Right?

I still want one. 🙂

 

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