Microsoft has been killing it lately, but many of their great recent hardware announcements have been geared towards the prosumer. That’s why we were so excited to test the Surface Laptop, which is designed with students in mind. But after spending nearly a week with it, we can testify to the fact that more than just students are going to want this laptop.
The Core i5 Surface Laptop comes in a choice of four colors — platinum, graphite gold, cobalt blue and burgundy. In particular, the burgundy and blue color options are especially unique. These two colors pop and are sure to make heads turn. But beyond the fun color options, the Surface Laptop’s aluminum build is super sleek, super sturdy (look Ma, no flex!) and certainly tough enough to withstand the rigors of a classroom environment. The Alcantara-covered keyboard is not only unique in style and very attractive, but it feels nice when you have your wrists and hands wresting on it. And don’t worry about the material getting dirty — Microsoft says that it can easily be cleaned with a cloth.
It’s not just the fun colors and lightweight (2.76 lb) aluminum build that make the Surface Laptop geared towards students. It’s the first device to run Windows 10 S. 10 S is similar to Windows 10 Pro, except that it will only install and run verified and trusted Windows Store apps. That’s good for security, making it unnecessary to use additional malware and antivirus software outside of what Microsoft supplies with Windows Defender and Windows Firewall.
While Windows 10 S is positioned as an ideal laptop for students, it’s really suited for anyone who wants a more streamlined, secure experience. Even a year into owning the laptop, Windows should still run smoothly with minimal effort. The concept is similar to what Apple has done with iOS and their App Store. The extra layer of security makes the Surface Laptop a good choice for elderly parents, particularly if they’re not tech savvy, so that you don’t have to worry about maintenance and security issues for their PC.
All that said, while the Windows Store app catalog is getting better and better, it’s still missing a lot of popular apps. But, things are improving — at present, you can find the likes of Office 365, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Sling TV, Facebook, and Instagram on the Windows Store. There is also a big focus on educational apps, while other major apps like iTunes and Spotify are coming soon.
When a user tries to install an app isn’t available in the Windows Store, Windows 10 S will often suggest a similar app or a similar set of apps that are available in the Windows Store. For example, if you try and install VLC’s executable file, Windows will suggest for you to download the VLC app from the Windows Store. We tried installing Spotify and didn’t receive any suggestions for similar apps, but Microsoft says that they are proactively building out a database of suggestions.
Should you decide that Windows 10 S is too limiting for you, it’s easy to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro at any time. It actually took us only about five minutes to upgrade to Windows 10 S. Once you switch from 10 S to Pro, all your settings and files remain the same. For a limited time (through December 31st, 2017) that switch to Windows 10 Pro is free, but eventually it will cost users $49. However, for educational institutions it will always be free.
But enough about Windows 10 S, lets talk about the actual performance of the Surface Laptop. In general, day-to-day performance has been super snappy and the system is a pleasure to use. The laptop can heat up a bit at the back, but not uncomfortably so. The system also does a great job of powering instantly on from sleep. Windows Hello works pretty well, too. As a matter of fact, as soon as the lid starts to open up, the Surface Laptop camera powers on so that by the time the lid has already been opened, you’re signed into Windows thanks to facial recognition.
The Surface Laptop we have been testing runs on a 2.70 GHz Core i5 7200U processor and 8GB of RAM. The system earned a PCMark 10 score of 2836, with an Essentials score of 6199, a Productivity score of 478,3 and a Digital Content Creation score of 2089. With Geekbench 4, the system earned a Multi-core score of 7210.
As we’d expect from a Surface product, the 13.5″ PixelSense display is top notch. The display’s bezel is super thin, and overall the PixelSense display is fantastic, capable of getting very bright with vibrant colors. In our opinion, it offers an optimal 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI) resolution for its display size. The display is also compatible with the Surface pen. The laptop’s speakers are quite impressive too for a laptop of its size. That said, its audio isn’t very balanced, but still above average and can get pretty loud.
As for the keyboard, it’s great to use, with large keys that are well spaced. The material surrounding the keyboard doesn’t just look pretty, but it feels great when you rest your wrists on it. The trackpad is large with a solid amount of traction and pretty good sensitivity levels. As for the Surface Laptop’s battery, it’s been good enough to last through a day of classes when running on a lower brightness setting, but we haven’t quite seen the 14.5 hour battery life claim come to fruition yet. We will update this review when we have a more solid impression of the Surface Laptop’s battery life.