Microsoft Surface Laptop Second Impressions

Posted on November 15, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Microsoft Surface with 32 Comments

Microsoft Surface Laptop Second Impressions

Back in June, I had my first several days of hands-on experience with Microsoft’s elegant Surface Laptop. Today, I’m finally ready to continue that relationship.

Yes, I’m more than a bit behind on this one. Sorry about that. But now that I have a new Surface Laptop—in a gorgeous and professional-looking graphite gold color—in for a long-term review, I’ll do right by it.

You know the basics: Microsoft announced Surface Laptop back in May and it began shipping the device to the first customers in June. The hardware design itself is not particularly controversial, but the inclusion of Windows 10 S on this device certainly is. So let’s start with the hardware.

Which is undeniably beautiful.

Surface Laptop is available in four color choices: Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and Graphite Gold. Unlike other portable Surface devices, which are made from magnesium, Surface Laptop is made from anodized aluminum, which is what allows for these color choices. That’s the first differentiator.

The second is the Alcantara material that is applied to the surface of the keyboard deck. The long-term durability of this material remains an open question, and there are many debates online about whether Alcantara is even a luxury material or not. But I find this material to be attractive and nice to the touch, and as was the case with the Burgundy version I tested over the summer, the color matching between the Alcantara material, the keyboard keys, and the Surface Laptop body is excellent, with just the right amount of contrast.

Many have derided Microsoft for even making a laptop, which makes sense on a few levels. Microsoft has always pushed its ability to define new market categories, and laptops have literally been around for decades. But the central differentiator here is literally beauty. The combination of the unusual colors and the Alcantara covering isn’t just unique, it’s attractive. And it really helps set Surface Laptop apart from the competition. It is, I think, why most people would choose to buy this device over something else.

Surface Laptop occupies a new place in the Surface lineup between the larger and bulkier (and, now, far more powerful) Surface Book and the smaller, tablet-based Surface Pro. I previously noted that the Surface Pro is arguably the better device, in that it is better established, offers more choice, and is more versatile. But Surface Laptop is a more familiar and well-understood form factor. And that design. It’s hard to look away.

Like the MacBook Air and most PC-based Ultrabooks, the Surface Laptop is thin and light. But it is minimalist even by Apple standards with just a single full-sized USB 3.0 port, plus miniDisplayPort for video-out and Surface Connect for power. And a headphone jack, which is in a good location, unlike, say, on Surface Book.

The lack of expansion is going to be a non-starter for many, and I’ve certainly levied my share of criticism at the general expansion stinginess of most Surface devices. But looking at how I really use PCs when traveling or around the house, the truth is, this kind of limitation is rarely an issue. Would I like to see one more USB port? Obviously. But I rarely need to use two at once, and I do travel with a USB dock that includes an Ethernet port for those exceptional circumstances.

Put simply, this is a beautiful laptop. Just gorgeous.

Windows 10 S, alas, is a different story.

As I wrote shortly after the Surface Laptop announcement, this device is arguably the most important hardware product that Microsoft has ever released. And the reason is—wait for it—Windows 10 S. In this system, I see the future of Windows as a platform. A simpler, safer, and more consistently reliable Windows.

That is the future. Today, Windows 10 is frustrating to use. And I’ve probably written enough about that. Suffice to say that I’ll give it a shot for as long as I can. And then I’ll surely do what I advise actual Surface Laptop owners to do and just upgrade to Windows 10 Pro while it’s free.

Surface Laptop starts at $999, but that version is a bit stripped down with Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of solid-state storage. The review model, with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, is the sweet spot, at $1299. It’s the one I would buy with my own money.

Looking ahead, I will put Surface Laptop through the paces and see how well it matches up to Surface Pro and, if possible, the new Surface Book 2, which will be available soon. And then I’ll report back with a full review.


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