Microsoft Announces $249 Surface Laptop SE for Education

Posted on November 9, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface, Windows 11 with 63 Comments

Today, Microsoft announced Surface Laptop SE, a $249 laptop that’s designed specifically for the K-8 education market.

“Surface Laptop SE is our most affordable Surface PC ever at $249,” Microsoft vice president Paige Johnson explains. “It’s the first Surface specifically made for K-8 students, with an 11.6-inch screen, front-facing 720p HD camera, and stereo speakers. Surface Laptop SE offers the same high-quality typing experience as the rest of the product portfolio but offers new levels of repairability for IT admins.”

Before I get to the bad news, Surface Laptop SE—previously codenamed “Vivian”—is user-serviceable, and components like its display, battery, keyboard, and motherboard can be easily repaired onsite.

And from then on, it’s all pretty much down-market. The Surface Laptop SE is powered by an Intel Celeron N4020 or N4120 processor with Intel UHD Graphics 600, 4 or 8 GB of DDR4 RAM, and 64 or 128 GB of eMMC storage, and its 11.6-inch 16:9 TFT display offers an old-school 1366 x 768 resolution with just 135 PPI. So it’s also the only modern Surface PC without a 3:2 display.

Wi-Fi is previous generation 802.11ac, but it supports Bluetooth 5.0 and allegedly offers up to 16 hours of real-world battery life and sort-of fast charging to 80 percent in 90 minutes. Surface Laptop SE offers one USB-A port, one USB-C port, and a proprietary barrel-type power connector (so no Surface Connect) with a 40-watt power adapter.

So, yes, it’s about as crappy as any other education laptop because there’s no avoiding that.

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Comments (63)

63 responses to “Microsoft Announces $249 Surface Laptop SE for Education”

  1. feek

    Would be a pretty interesting device if it had the 3:2 screen

    • rm

      I think they used 16:9 so it is wide enough to accomodate the side-by-side grid snapping of 2 programs. Does not allow for programs to be sized as you want; only full screen or side-by-side grid snapping.

    • MikeCerm

      HP makes a cheap Chromebook x360 that has a 1366x912 display, which is roughly 3:2, but I would also have settled for 1280x800. On a small screen, those extra vertical pixels really help. 768p just kinda sucks.

    • yukon-cornelius

      This is literally the first time I've heard that 3:2 is a thing ... kids don't need a "ratio" to have Internet access, core Office apps, and a keyboard. :-)

    • digiguy

      The reason is very simple: cost. 16:9 dispays are quite a bit cheaper, especially at this price point. The Chromebook mentioned is $400, so not the same price point

  2. christianwilson

    I appreciate Microsoft trying to compete and make a compelling offer to K-12, but this only makes sense if a school district is willing to make a big pivot from Google Classroom to Microsoft 365.

    The specs are bad, but in line with Chromebooks I've seen schools buy for students. I am curious to see how Windows 11SE performs on this hardware compared to ChromeOS.

    • gavinwilliams

      Google classrooms runs on PC, it has to because people already have Windows laptops at home. So no, you don't need to transition to MS 365, which we also have at home - because Office - So this is fine for ppl who don't want to buy into a niche platform (Chromebook). And Google Classrooms is not that good, we find it really annoying at times. So the transition away is not going to be that hard of something else was on offer. And also, Google Classrooms and MS 365 are unrelated to each other AFAICT.

    • wright_is

      It depends on where you are. Google Classroom and Microsoft 365 have both been declared illegal for use in schools, here in Germany, because they don't conform to GDPR and especially the storing of information about minors.

      • christianwilson

        Interesting. I didn't realize they were illegal for minors. What are schools using in Germany? Local installs of Office or some other alternative?

        • wright_is

          Various solutions, some cloud, some local. Big Blue Button for video conferencing, for example, or hosted Jitsi. There are a few local companies offering 100% local cloud solutions for education.

          A couple of regions have decided to use Microsoft 365, even though it doesn't conform to the legal requirements.

          The biggest problem is that neither M365 nor GC can 100% guarantee that all of the data on pupils will only be stored in Europe and will never go to the USA and will never be handed over to US authorities without a valid EU warrant.

          • christianwilson

            Great, thanks for the clarification. There is a lot of nuance to these challenges sometimes so it is good to learn. I work in healthcare and have had to turn down appealing products because of how our data would be handled, where it would be stored, etc.

  3. jwpear

    Aligns pretty well with the crappy Chromebooks our school district uses. I think the iPad is better for the K-8 segment, but I don't think the cost comes anywhere close to this.

    • SvenJ

      $299(?) for the base iPad education price, isn't that far off. You would get much better performance. Could use any BT keyboard, and mouse, for that matter. The big difference would be the applications available, and for education, I don't think Apple is lacking there.

      • digiguy

        Schools don't work like that, they don't buy a tablet and then buy cheap keyboards covers etc. They buy a device with a keyboard....

      • jblank46

        Try handing out Bluetooth keyboards to a room full of fifth graders and let me know how that goes. Been there, done that. iPads are far too limiting as the kids work becomes more complex. You’d be surprised how many weird formatting and workflow issues kids run into trying to type a simple word doc on word for iOS.

        • dicuh

          Is the edu system and workflows still locked to MS Word? How they teach kids for ms word on chromebook?

          • jblank46

            Most teachers think about document editing as a final word doc submission. They teach kids common document editing paradigms based on their experience using word and docs. They at times have feature/workflow expectations based on their own experience using Windows and macOS, that iOS did not/does not allow these apps to deliver easily. You’d be surprised how many common basic features of docs and word are missing in their iOS apps, which are frustrating when you find these gaps.

            Google docs can work for the most part on iOS fine, as can ms word. But the problem comes in when teachers are trying to troubleshoot common document editing workflow issues because they are used to using ms word, but the kids are using something different. IT would love for everyone to be using the same common platforms, but the economics in k12 schools does not allow for that which is how chromebooks worked their way in. So now you have students using tools that teachers are not, and teachers have to become masters at both. At some point this will course correct.

      • wright_is

        Yes, but the price of the Surface SE includes the keyboard (and mouse equivalent touchpad). Those are all extras on the iPad and have to be lugged around separately, unless you have a case-keyboard, but, again much more expensive and that counts, when you are buying thousands of them for a school district.

        The problem is, you probably could do with both. The iPad would be better for consumption and video conferences, art etc. and the laptop better for creating long documents etc. And possibly easier to plug in a larger screen and proper keyboard and mouse and possibly a better experience, when working at home or at a proper desk.

        I have an iPad and it is great, I also have a desktop with a 43" display, that is even better for many tasks, but wouldn't be very useful running between classes during the day. They both achieve different goals.

        But, an iPad + keyboard + mouse is going to be at least double the price of the Surface, which makes the Surface a much more viable alternative (along with other crappy Chromebooks and Windows laptops at that price level) for a cash strapped school district.

    • hrlngrv

      | I think the iPad is better for the K-8 segment

      Your opinion is contrary to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which tried using iPads, but they turned out to be a colossal mistake.

  4. MikeCerm

    This thing is a mess. The N4020 and N4120 are already 2 years old. Their replacements, the N4500 and N5100 that each launched earlier this year, are like 40% faster. That's a really noticeable improvement when dealing with these low-end chips. I certainly wouldn't be caught dead buying something this outdated today. I know these things are cheap laptops, but with hardware that's outdated on day one, it's a tough sell.

  5. atimms

    Lets make this clear - this laptop runs Windows 11 SE. It is intended exclusively for the education market.

    Unless you wipe the Windows install and buy a license to 11 Home/Pro then it is useless to everyone else.

  6. whgb

    Also worth noting: No touchscreen (and therefore no Surface Pen or any other stylus). If there was a version with this, I'd be happy with it, given its benefits in education.

  7. gavinwilliams

    Finally MS - this is good, but why are you so sloooooow!

  8. hrlngrv

    For K-8 (for those outside the US, basically 5 to 14), who needs more than the Celeron processors listed?

    OTOH, is Windows 11 SE a lot lighter than other Windows 11 SKUs that there'll be no problems updating such laptops with only 64GB storage?

    • bkkcanuck

      I once saw a youtube video where the person demonstrated Windows 10 with hacks to disable telemetry and all the other tracking done in Windows -- with the caveat that there were a few issues (not many) because it was not designed to be deactivated -- and the performance was much more snappy - easily twice the performance. There is no reason why a machine made for the educational market which is designed for lite environments -- could not be much better than it is. (IMHO)

  9. ejuly

    The issue with this device is simple - it will not run all windows programs without upgraded RAM. High schools will expect it to push out Adobe Creative Suites and the like. The wifi and Bluetooth are not the issues, but the lack of a headphone might be. While many kids have a Bluetooth headset - many do not, and Bluetooth headsets are almost nonexistent in primary and secondary North American and EU schools.

    • StevenLayton

      If the schools IT dept or tech advisors expect these devices to run native versions of Adobe CC, then they should be replaced (not the devices) as they clearly have no idea. These devices are designed for a specific set of tasks, and you'd hope that the decision makers and purchasers know what they're buying.

  10. thejoefin

    I see this as a total fail for the Surface brand. It should be "Microsoft Edu" branded, not Surface. If Windows 11 was actually great on low power devices then this would be a different story

    • F4IL

      The problem is they can't compete against google with chromeOS in this segment of the market so, they can try using surface as a brand to convey high-quality (whatever that means). I agree that it tarnishes the brand further but unless they fork chromiumOS or create their own, what choice do they have other than giving up?

    • yukon-cornelius

      Google is Google on all their devices. Apple is Apple on all their devices. Surface is Surface on all Microsoft-manufactured laptop & tablet devices.

    • remc86007

      I disagree. These may have low end specs, but they look like nice devices. I wouldn't be embarrassed to take one of these into court or jail with me as a backup computer. I think it's a good way for Microsoft to get kids into the Surface ecosystem so that they want a "real" Surface in highschool and college. They look a heck of a lot nicer than the $250 Chromebooks.

    • james.h.robinson

      Does the "Microsoft EDU" brand already exist? If not, is it worth it to create a new brand for one product?

  11. crunchyfrog

    With a 6W TDP, I would imagine it would get pretty decent battery life. I wonder if it supports TPM 2.0...

    • VancouverNinja

      It is running Windows 11 so I would think it does support TPM 2.0 .

    • MikeCerm

      You'd think so, but not really. The idle power draw is really no better than Intel's "big core" laptop CPUs, so for web browsing and basic tasks (all you can do with a laptop like this), it's going to be maybe 8 hours or so. Not amazing.

      • digiguy

        Battery is exactly the same as the Surface pro 8, same tests, same results. Probably in part thanks to the low res screen.

  12. Pierre Masse

    Crappy computers for a crappy education system.

  13. remc86007

    I'm guessing they won't sell this to businesses because they can demand way higher prices there, but I imagine there are quite a few business scenarios where a $250, durable, and repairable Windows machine would make a lot of sense. It would really piss off the OEMs, but I think this could be one approach to fighting iPad as the default mobile data entry device.

  14. thalter

    I don't really see this making much of a dent in the dominance of Chromebooks in education. Chromebooks still cost less, are more secure, and are easier to manage.

    • lvthunder

      How could you possibly know this? It's a brand new product and OS.

    • atimms

      Nope. This IS Microsoft's answer to Chromebooks. Similar pricing, similar management. Almost a copy of their playbook. Rather than Google Workspace it's Microsoft InTune.

      I reckon it's too late to join but you never know. Depends on Microsoft's commitment - they've a poor history (Windows RT, Windows S, Windows with S mode).

    • nikcomp

      Yes, because the dominance is with the whole google suite, device manager etc. all being wrapped together. Problem MS has is every solution created lives on an island. 1 island is endpoint for education (aka Intune), another is azure, another is whatever classroom software is used. Much like many MS solutions they will be sold as a "feature set" but not a cohesive solution. Hence why they won't impact "any" chrome deployment. Surface "SE" will be for schools who are "anti" google and have their enterprise agreements iron cladded. Those schools just hate google and now have a "solution" they have died for. Ultimately SE is just Windows S. Yet another rebrand but now based on a "proper" browser "Edge". Scary thing is when you look at the spec sheet there is "no" implied support for any apps other than "web". Meaning what we saw in the pre-stage video is webapps and Minecraft which could very well be running on game pass for all we know. 

  15. jgraebner

    Weird that this doesn't have a 3:2 screen or Surface Connect. Did Microsoft just put their brand on someone else's OEM design?

  16. kennyb

    I would love a user-servicable laptop. Just being able to replace the battery, like we did in the olden days, would be huge.

  17. polloloco51

    1366x768, is completely unacceptable for 2021!

    It was pretty terrible back in 2011!

    I can't believe, they still use this resolution in the age of 4K HDR displays!


    • dftf

      On a small-screen, a low-resolution makes more-sense for the average user, given Windows is still flaky when it comes to DPI-scaling.

      Many users won't even know that you can go into the "Compatibility" tab for an app and change the scaling-method, so it's simply easier to ship a lower-resolution screen so everything is "just bigger".

      What strikes me as odd though is that laptop-screens don't ship with resolutions like 2732x1536 or 3200x1800. Then users who prefer high-resolutions could use those; and others could change the resolution to exactly half: 1366x768 and 1600x900 respectively, both of which would offer a pixel-perfect image.

    • hrlngrv

      Terrible, sure, but what would you really expect on laptops priced at US$250?

    • lvthunder

      What do you expect for $249? I bet a 4k screen would eat 75% of that price if not more.

    • gpitman

      I worked in Education for many years, the resolution is just fine, higher is not required for where these would be used. Classroom use, search, word, some online games. Higher resolution is needed in the CTS side.

    • yukon-cornelius

      I can't believe you would hand a 4K screen to a 5-year-old.?

      • polloloco51

        I think you misread .....

        "they still use this resolution in the age of 4K HDR displays!"


        Still implement this resolution, when better, higher resolutions exist.

        1920 x 1080 should be the absolute, bare minimum for any laptop produced in this decade. The cost savings surely can't be that significant, from 1366 to 1920.

        • wright_is

          Except 1080p on that size display would probably be scaled up to at least 125%, if not 150%. The 768p can run at 100%, so you have no win and using a higher resolution display means more power to light it up, more power for the extra video RAM to cope with the higher resolution and more processing power wasted on upscaling the display.

          That means a shorter battery life and the machine running slower than its already weak performance with the 768p screen. The screen is probably the sweet spot for an educational laptop at this price point with that processor.

          • MikeCerm

            The win is that text and pictures look way sharper and you can't see the individual pixels. It's not so much about fitting more stuff on the screen, it's about increased fidelity. If you have to read text on the screen, 1080p scaled to 150% looks a whole lot better than 768p, even on an 11" screen. If Apple can put a "retina" display on their cheapest iPad, I'd expect better from Microsoft than the same crappy 768p display that you see on sub-$200 Chromebooks. Samsung's Chromebook 4 is selling for $136 on Amazon right now, with the same specs as Surface SE.

            • wright_is

              If you have the spare processor cycles and battery life, yes, sure. But we are talking about a bargain basement system built down to a price. Going up to 1080p would probably also mean a better processor and a bigger battery, all pushing up the price over the acceptable level.

              • polloloco51

                1080p, has been a resolution that's been out for well over 10 years.

                I would think, any modern hardware can easily handle this resolution, without breaking a sweat. Even the lowest tier processors.

                Windows 11 should be able to scale UI better?

                If phones can ship out with 2K resolutions, have perfect scaling and all day battery.

                Why not laptops too?

                • wright_is

                  Intel Celeron, that's why not. :-D

                  Seriously though, a 1080p screen will be more expensive and it is more power hungry, all those extra hungry pixels to feed (and calculate). That means a higher price and either a bigger battery or a shorter battery life. The design is probably already very tight on its energy budget to last a single school day.

                  Going 1080p would probably push the price up over $300, which would probably put it out of contention. For a school district with 10,000 pupils, that is half a million dollars extra, just for a few extra pixels... The accountants say that a 768p screen will do just fine.

  18. sscywong

    Sounds like some cheap OEM white label machine