Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio review

Follow-up to Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio – my first impressions article.

Microsoft gave me this product to try. The following remarks are based on my own experiences and are my own opinions.

I’ve been using Surface devices for almost 10years – purchasing my first, the Surface RT in October 2012. I followed this with several generations of the Surface Pro, which is in its 8th generation and is still my go-to Windows tablet, come laptop. I have also tested the Surface laptop but unfortunately, I have not spent a great deal of time with the Surface Book. But to make the connection for those not familiar with this model – the successor for many (not necessarily in the words of Microsoft) to the Surface Book – is the Surface Laptop Studio.

Over the past 5 months I was extremely fortunate to road test the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio – a reimagined Surface Book 3 and what some refer to as the Advanced Surface Laptop. It is without a doubt an impressive device and it was tough sending it back to Microsoft.

In short

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is a premium laptop that is ready to handle a tough day’s work, and still back it up for a night in gaming or showing off your creative digital flare. As with most things, it will come down to how much you are prepared to part with to enjoy everything this device has to offer.

ProsCons
+ Unique pull-forward touch screen
+ Excellent keyboard
+ Precision haptic touchpad
+ Bright, vibrant screen
+ Good battery life
– Limited number of ports
– High sticker price


Design

Unboxing Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop Studio, you are immediately drawn to the magnesium and aluminum finish, with its round corners and clean lines – it screams Apple MacBook Pro. Not that I have a problem with that – not at all. I have long envied the MacBook line wishing that there was a Windows equivalent; clearly, I wasn’t alone here – Thanks Surface team :-).

Lifting the lid on the Surface Laptop Studio you think you have a classic clamshell laptop but in true Surface fashion – there is always something new to discover. It comes with a unique pull-forward touch screen -providing two distinct positions one, which Microsoft calls “stage mode” and two a near-flat experience as a tablet. You can of course move it forward or back to suit your preferred angle too.

I found the stage mode to be interesting but didn’t really fit with my work profile. It’s also a tad awkward – as you need to push the top of the screen away to disengage the magnets holding the bottom of the screen in place. As for the tablet mode, this was a powerful addition – allowing me to easily switch to a mode that was more conducive to drawing. I’m no artist, by any stretch, but working remotely and constantly attending online meetings – you need a digital canvas to sometimes draw out an idea or sketch a design. This was a welcome addition to my work toolbox, and I am already missing it.

For many the Surface Laptop Studio is seen as the successor to the Surface Book line. The Surface Book also included a tablet experience – both in a fully detached tablet mode and by reversing the screen and attaching to the keyboard base to create a full-powered tablet. With the Surface Laptop Studio Microsoft has moved away from a detachable screen to this es with a unique pull-forward touch screen. I imagine there will be those out there that still like this design approach but for me Microsoft got it right here – without the compromises. Giving you a powerful standard laptop that is equally performant as a tablet.

Display

Turning on the device for the first time you don’t immediately appreciate the feature richness of the screen – remember that you are seeing downscaled images and basic dialogue boxes as part of the out-of-the-box experience (aka OOBE); my device shipped with Windows 10, but I am led to believe this is better under Windows 11 OOBE. However, post OOBE, once you see that background image for the first time you are immediately taken by the richness of that 14.4-inch touch display, with 2400 x 1600 pixels and a 120Hz refresh rate.

Starting with the refresh rate, you rarely see this above 60Hz in laptops except for some gaming laptops and premium phones but, once you have experienced you seriously don’t want to go back. While I don’t work with image and video content regularly, nor gaming for that matter, the 120Hz screen refresh rate provided much smoother scrolling with the cursor, better touch interactions, and reduced latency with the pen input.

The screen bezel is nice and thin, something that all manufacturers are continuing to reduce with each product release but, one surprise addition was all the screen corners were round – not square. While this adds no real benefit to the use of the product, it certainly softens the aesthetic of the display.

Finally, the Surface Laptop Studio comes with the signature Surface 3:2 aspect ratio, which is perfect for my daily mix of working with documents, browsing websites, and managing an online meeting. Overall – a fantastic display.

Keyboard and touchpad

The keyboard on the Surface Laptop Studio follows on from good pedigree in the Surface range – they all have good spacing and a comfortable feel when typing for lengthy periods. A must for me is backlit keys, which is strangely off by default but was easy enough to enable.

Jumping to the touchpad – if I hadn’t have read it on the Microsoft product description, I would have seriously thought I was using a physical touchpad. The haptic system is top-notch and extremely accurate. Scrolling and multi-finger gestures are smooth to the touch and clicking is easy no matter where you engage across the touch canvas. Easily it’s the best touchpad I’ve used on Windows.

I used the Surface laptop Studio with Windows 10 and then upgraded to Windows 11 – For me personally, the experience improved under Windows 11 slightly – I am not sure if there is a variation in driver version or it’s the OS or my imagination but, it certainly was better.

Ports and interfaces

The Surface Laptop Studio ships with two USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, a headphone jack, and the Surface connector. As with many out there it was great to see the inclusion of Thunderbolt 4, which was fortunate as the first thing I did was to plug in my dock so that I can present additional ports – HDMI, USB-A, etc. This was an area that I was a little disappointed and I am sure creators too would have expected an onboard SD card slot. Of course, it was solved with a dock but at this price point you do expect more onboard options.

In terms of location, the two USB-C ports are located on the left-hand side, while the headphone and the Surface connector are on the right-hand side (see images below).

Connectivity

Connecting my Surface Laptop Studio to my home network was a breeze, and the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax compatible) card roamed without issue between my two access points, with only one of them supporting Wi-Fi 6. It also ships with Bluetooth Wireless 5.1 technology and once again it never missed a beat. I paired with two different headsets and a speaker and experienced no issues with Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

Audio

When it comes to laptop audio you lower the bar – the form factor leaves little room for anything substantial and in most cases it’s unnecessary too. That said, the quad-speaker arrangement of the Surface Laptop Studio produced excellent audio quality. Clarity was great for online meetings and was surprisingly loud as I increased the volume to playback music in-between those calls. I would not normally use the laptop microphone for calls or meetings but, I did give it ago at least once or twice and once again it didn’t miss a beat – at least no one complained anyway.

Camera

I worked from home for 6+ years before the pandemic and using your camera in a meeting was nothing more than a novelty and it quickly lost its appeal. But, in 2020 that all changed when suddenly everyone needed to work from home and the camera became a way to bridge the void of not being able to see people in person. Like many, I too turned my camera on more and having tried several cameras in recent years the 1080p camera, which is built into the top bezel of the display is particularly good, even in varied light when i moved throughout my home.

The same camera is also equipped with IR for facial authentication with Windows Hello (and Hello for Business). Wearing glasses, I have found many of these cameras to be hit and miss for me and often need recalibrating from time to time to detect me. This was not the case with the Surface Laptop Studio, in fact it worked to well in some instances as it would unlock with just a glance at the camera as i was getting up from my seat, requiring me to re-lock before walking away. I prefer a more purposeful Windows Hello authentication like you get with the fingerprint approach. This is a personal preference, and I will not be scoring this negatively but would also like to see this considered in future releases.

Performance

First up – I was not able to perform any benchmarking so, my thoughts and opinions here were based on real-world use over the 5 months I used the device. I used this as my primary work device, and this entailed using the following apps every day:

  • Microsoft Office desktop Apps
  • Microsoft Teams desktop app
  • Edge Browser
  • Google Chrome Browser
  • Vivaldi Browser (yes, I like browsers…)
  • VS Code
  • Visual Studio
  • OneDrive Sync

What I can say is that I had fantastic performance across the board. Even when pushing it with Visual Studio or video playback – there was no meaningful change in heat and the fans were dormant for the most part but even when engaged, the noise was not significant at all.

Configuration

Microsoft have created five configurations of the Surface Laptop Studio starting at USD $1,599.99 for an Intel i5, 16GB RAM and 256GB SDD going up to USD $3,099.99 for an Intel i7, 32GB RAM and 2TB SDD. The following table shows the five configurations available today:

Configuration /
Tech Spec
Intel Core i5
16GB RAM
256GB SSD
Intel Core i5
16GB RAM
512GB SSD
Intel Core i7
16GB RAM
512GB SSD
Intel Core i7
32GB RAM
1TB SSD
Intel Core i5
16GB RAM
256GB SSD
Price (USD)$1,599.99$1,799.99$2,099.99$2,699.99$3,099.99
Memory16GB LPDDR4x RAM16GB LPDDR4x RAM16GB LPDDR4x RAM32GB LPDDR4x RAM32GB LPDDR4x RAM
ProcessorQuad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i5-11300H ProcessorQuad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i5-11300H ProcessorQuad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i7-11370H 
Processor
Quad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i7-11370H 
Processor
Quad-core 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i7-11370H 
Processor
GraphicsIntel Iris Xe GraphicsIntel Iris Xe GraphicsNVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti laptop GPU with 4GB GDDR6 GPU memory NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti laptop GPU with 4GB GDDR6 GPU memory NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti laptop GPU with 4GB GDDR6 GPU memory 
Storage256GB Removable solid-state drive (SSD)512GB Removable solid-state drive (SSD)512GB Removable solid-state drive (SSD)1TB Removable solid-state drive (SSD)2TB Removable solid-state drive (SSD)

The model that I received was an Intel i7, 16GB RAM and 512GB SDD. As I already covered in the Performance review, I did not run into any specific performance issues myself but, if I were dropping my own coin here, I would opt for 32GB RAM. That said, with cloud storage in the abundance I really don’t need 1TB SDD these days but without a 512GB RAM option with 32GB RAM, my hand would be forced here.

Final remarks

When Microsoft first launched Surface – they wanted to create inspiring and innovative devices that would hopefully spark similar initiatives within the industry. I feel they have continued to do that here with the Surface Laptop Studio with its stylish pull-forward screen, sleek exterior, and the precision haptic touchpad. I can’t wait to see and hopefully try what comes next!

Finally, this was not a review of Windows 11, but I would certainly recommend installing or upgrading to Windows 11 if your device arrives with Windows 10.

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