Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 First Impressions

Posted on October 23, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 19 Comments

In the wake of Microsoft’s Surface PC launch event three weeks ago, Panos Panay, carrying a Surface Laptop 2, brushed by me, leaned in, and said, “we’re going to put one of these in your hands.” It was a nice and private moment, as he had plucked my first-generation Surface Laptop out of my hands earlier during the event and had used it to make a point about how people like me really value Surface products.

What he didn’t tell me, of course—and he had no way of knowing, hopefully—is that his PR team would forget that I existed and then make me beg for a review unit, repeatedly, before finally giving in. In doing so, they have put me and my readers at a two-week disadvantage. But now that I’ve aired this latest bit of dirty laundry, it’s time to move on. So here’s what’s happening, belatedly, with Surface Laptop 2.

First and most obviously, the design appears to be literally the same as that of the first-generation Surface Laptop. I’ve compared the two side-by-side from every angle, and I just don’t see any difference.

Well, except for the color, of course: Surface Laptop 2 can be had in black, a color that hasn’t been offered in the Surface lineup since the Surface Pro 2, back in 2013. As with that device, the color is basically a coating, or a paint, and is not integral to the material. But thanks to advances in anodizing—the Surface Laptop 2 is made of aluminum, not magnesium—the hope is that the color won’t easily scratch off. As you may recall, early black Surface PCs had major scratching issues.

Even the power supply is identical.

Based on my long experience with the original Surface Laptop, I’m not overly worried about this. I take Surface Laptop with me everywhere, and it’s constantly moving in and out of my travel bag. So far, so good, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye on the black finish to ensure there is no weirdness there.

Tied to the color, of course, is a new color for the Alcantara keyboard deck covering.

This is more of a dark gray than a black, which I like, and it provides a nice contrast with the keyboard and touchpad. Microsoft’s use of Alcantara is, of course, controversial in some circles. But I’ve not experienced any noticeable wear in the first Surface Laptop, and I like the way it looks and feels.

Beyond the new color choice, the other big change with Surface Laptop 2 is inside the box: Microsoft finally provides 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core CPUs in this lineup—the review unit has a garden-variety i5-8250U for the curious—and the results should be very positive: Dramatically better performance with no loss of battery life when compared to the first generation unit. I will, of course, test both.

They keyboard and touchpad are identical, as expected. This is great news: Surface Laptops typing and pointing experiences are among the best I’ve ever experienced.

On a less positive note, Microsoft has opted to go all “S year” on us with this device: It hasn’t changed the port allotment at all, which means we’re stuck with one full-sized USB 3 port, zero USB-C ports, and one legacy mini-DisplayPort.

I’m of two minds on this decision. On the one hand, I feel very strongly that Microsoft needs to lead in the PC market, and that these legacy ports indicate that it is unable to do so. On the other … it hasn’t really impacted me in real life (with the first Surface Laptop). As I’ve experienced, Microsoft’s inability to embrace modern technologies has not had any real-world impact.

Surface Connect port continues forward unchanged as well.

There’s one more minor controversy here, I guess: Surface Laptop 2 ships with Windows 10 Home, not Pro. This isn’t a first for Surface per se—Surface 2, 3, and Go all shipped with non-Pro OS versions, and even the first Surface Laptop shipped with Windows 10 S originally—but the concern here is misplaced. When sold to individuals, Surface Laptop should come with Windows 10 Home. If you buy one through Microsoft’s business store, you will get Pro. And you will pay more, too, for functionality that most individuals do not need.

I’ve only just received Surface Laptop 2 for review, so I’ll get the PC configured—it comes with Windows 10 version 1803, so that will need to be upgraded—and charged, and put in some real time with it. Again, based on my experiences with its predecessor, I expect this to be a positive experience. And that I may have a new and regular companion for my trips, both personal and professional.

More soon. And, again, sorry for the delay on this.

 

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Comments (20)

20 responses to “Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 First Impressions”

  1. echorelay

    Be careful on the manual upgrade to 1809 - I was faced with the old Intel Audio Driver warning on my new SL 2. After grabbing the lastest (non-Surface) Intel video/audio drivers from Intel directly, and then force installing them, I was able to proceed with the 1809 install without the warning. And funny enough, once the upgrade completed, we were back to the old drivers again.. been working fine ever since. Side note: I really like this laptop. Black looks so good and I desperately needed that quad core.

  2. RossNWirth

    But where is bitlocker in Windows (not Pro) it was there in Windows RT!!

  3. maxawesomegb

    How do review units work? Do you send it back to them, or do they send you a low spec unit in exchange for them getting to decide if the review is “worthy” or not?

  4. mahoekst

    At the MS store the guy showing me the device mentioned something about the keyboard being different. Are you sure it's still the same?

  5. skane2600

    I'm glad the CPU upgrade got mentioned even though it had to play second fiddle to the critical color feature.

  6. Tony Barrett

    I think MS have done a very 'cheap' refresh of the Surface Laptop. Basically zero changes on the outside (bar one extra colour), and just a CPU upgrade on the inside. While you could say 'if it ain't broke', there was a number of things MS could have done better here, so either they've just done the bare minimum they can get away with for 2018, or they are planning something else. Maybe sales were below expectations, who knows.

  7. PhilipVasta

    After having a Surface Pro 4 for the past three years, I just got a Surface Laptop 2. And I have to agree with what you've said for a while Paul. Even though it doesn't have the best specs, or highest resolution screen, or the ability to fold the display around... the overall package is just so nice to use. And that's exactly why people like Apple so much. The whole experience is what's important. Now if they could just apply that same principle to Windows 10...

  8. Silversee

    Paul wrote: "On a less positive note, Microsoft has opted to go all “S year” on us with this device: It hasn’t changed the port allotment at all, which means we’re stuck with one full-sized USB 3 port, zero USB-C ports, and one legacy mini-DisplayPort."


    Your list is incomplete Paul. The Surface Laptop also comes with the Surface Connect port, which provides for full desktop expansion capabilities just like USB Type C.


    • maxawesomegb

      In reply to Silversee:

      Can you use the Surface Connect port with an external GPU? Cause I wouldn’t say it’s “incomplete” if it’s missing a $40 adapter that lets you use a different type of charger.

      • silversee

        In reply to maxawesomegb:

        To use an external GPU with USB-C requires that the device supports Thunderbolt 3. This is not always the case. Just having a USB Type C connector is not enough. (Current Surface devices with USB C support only USB 3.0 data bandwidth, for example.)


        For the record, there are currently three data standards supported over USB C:


        1. USB 3.1 Gen 1 (AKA USB 3.0), 5Gbps

        2. USB 3.1 Gen 2, 10Gbps

        3. Thunderbolt 3, up to 40Gbps


        All of these implementations can *optionally* also support USB 3.1 side channels, such as DisplayPort video and USB Power Delivery.


        The fact that USB C implementations can vary so widely is one reason why this standard is so confusing, and why I push back against simplistic calls for USB C. Having this connector will only really be useful, IMO, when Surface supports Thunderbolt 3. Currently, no Surface device supports greater than USB 3.0 over Surface Connect or USB C. (Both ports do, however, support DisplayPort video and power delivery side channels.)

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to Silversee:

      I don't expect Surface Connect to disappear.

  9. zself

    Paul, thanks for this. I'm holding off of a decision until I see your review. Don't know the competition. My kid needs a computer for school and his photography hobby.

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