Sur­face Lap­top

THE SUR­FACE LAP­TOP IS THE AN­SWER TO MANY CRIT­ICS’ PRAYERS. BUT IT’S NOT QUITE THE MA­CHINE EV­ERY­ONE WANTED MI­CROSOFT TO MAKE

PC & Tech Authority - - CONTENTS - Ian Bet­teridgew

Ever since Mi­crosoft re­leased the first Sur­face Pro, crit­ics have nagged the com­pany to make a “proper” lap­top. It brought out the Sur­face Book, but that still wasn’t enough to keep the crit­ics happy. Now, five years into the Sur­face pro­gramme, we fi­nally have one, and it’s called the Sur­face Lap­top. And guess what? The crit­ics still won’t be happy.

That’s not to say the Sur­face Lap­top isn’t a lovely piece of hard­ware. It is, and you’ll pay a pretty penny for it (some­thing I’ll come back to later). But it’s a lap­top with a dif­fer­ence: it’s de­signed for and comes with Win­dows 10 S rather than Win­dows 10 Home or Pro­fes­sional. The S suf­fix means this is a lap­top that can only run ap­pli­ca­tions from the Win­dows Store. Want to in­stall Steam for some gam­ing ac­tion? Tough. Want to buy one of the mil­lions of Win32 ap­pli­ca­tions that don’t come in the Store? For­get it.

There is a way around this. Mi­crosoft is, for the rest of the year, giv­ing any­one who buys a Sur­face Lap­top the op­tion to up­grade to Win­dows 10 Pro for free.

THE ALCANTARA EF­FECT

Be­fore I get too deep into the co­nun­drum of Win­dows 10 S, let’s take a look at the hard­ware, be­cause there is plenty to love. The base model comes with a Kaby Lake Core i5 pro­ces­sor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a 13.5in “Pix­elSense” dis­play run­ning at 2,256 x 1,504 pix­els.

Mi­crosoft has al­ways put great dis­plays on its por­ta­ble de­vices, and the Sur­face Lap­top con­tin­ues this trend. With 95.6% sRGB colour gamut cov­er­age and an av­er­age Delta E of 1.41, it of­fers al­most per­fect colour ac­cu­racy. Colours looked vi­brant, with an abun­dance of de­tail.

Like the Sur­face Pro, the screen has a 3:2 as­pect ra­tio, which I pre­fer over widescreen dis­plays for the sim­ple rea­son that I spend my life on the web and the web is deep rather than wide. The screen is ten-point mul­ti­touch and sup­ports the Sur­face Pen, but note it doesn’t sup­port the tilt fea­ture of the lat­est ver­sion of the Pen (tilt mim­ics a graphite pen­cil to make shad­ing eas­ier).

It’s a gen­uinely good-look­ing de­sign, too. Where the Sur­face Book is chunky, the Sur­face Lap­top is svelte. It weighs a mere 1.25kg and has a matte alu­minium fin­ish. The keys and track­pad are sur­rounded by Alcantara fab­ric that adds soft­ness to the de­sign. It’s the kind of thing I’d worry about splash­ing tea on, al­though it is coated to be spill-re­sis­tant.

It’s ex­actly the kind of de­sign you would ex­pect the cre­ators of the Sur­face Pro and Sur­face Book to come up with if they were mak­ing a lap­top, for bet­ter or worse. The “worse” bit is in the ports: there’s no USB-C on the Sur­face Lap­top. In­stead, you get reg­u­lar USB, mini-Dis­play­Port and a 3.5mm head­phone jack, plus the Sur­face con­nec­tor for power and at­tach­ing Mi­crosoft’s dock­ing sta­tion.

UP­GRADE TO PRO

And now let me men­tion again: this is a ma­chine that runs Win­dows 10 S rather than Win­dows 10 Pro, which meant that ini­tially our bench­marks wouldn’t in­stall. Af­ter all, the chief lim­i­ta­tion – or sell­ing point, de­pend­ing on your point of view – is that only Win­dows Store apps will in­stall on 10 S.

You can see why Mi­crosoft has done this: Win­dows 10 S ef­fec­tively brings the se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity we’ve come to ex­pect from the world of man­aged ap­pli­ca­tions you get with iOS or (to a lesser de­gree) An­droid. Win­dows Store apps are sand­boxed and much less likely to have any mal­ware pay­load in them. Us­ing this path, Mi­crosoft also claims your sys­tem shouldn’t suf­fer from the kind of lin­ger­ing death of per­for­mance you get as your Reg­istry and other bits of Win­dows are clogged with dig­i­tal silt.

I’m a big fan of this ap­proach over­all, hav­ing seen the re­sults of ram­pant Win32 ap­pli­ca­tions far too of­ten. But it also means you’re en­tirely re­liant on the Win­dows Store – and that’s a big is­sue. The Store isn’t the great­est repos­i­tory of qual­ity ap­pli­ca­tions in the world. If you’re used to the ex­pan­sive range of choice you get with An­droid or iOS (or even macOS), the se­lec­tion is pretty skimpy. There’s an aw­ful lot of rub­bish apps. Safe apps, but rub­bish none­the­less.

My col­leagues sug­gest that you im­me­di­ately take ad­van­tage of that

Win­dows 10 Pro up­grade o er, but I’d say it’s worth stick­ing it out and try­ing Win­dows 10 S be­cause, if you can live with it, it o ers many ad­van­tages. Un­less you want to in­stall Pho­to­shop. Or Steam. Or most games. Or… or… or…

Luck­ily, switch­ing to Win­dows 10 Pro is sim­plic­ity it­self: if you down­load a piece of soft­ware from out­side the Store you’ll be asked if you re­ally, re­ally want to down­load it. Then fol­low the “See how” link and, along with a list of the di er­ences be­tween S and Pro, you’ll see a free up­grade but­ton. Hit it, you’ll get a re­minder to back up your files, and then – af­ter a cou­ple of minute and a re­boot – you’ll be liv­ing the life of a Pro.

Note that this switch is ir­re­versible, which is why it’s worth try­ing out Win­dows 10 S first. Who knows, you may grow to like its walled-gar­den ap­proach. Per­haps it will tempt you not to in­stall antivirus soft­ware (see our fea­ture on p28), al­though it’s wrong to think you’re im­mune from viruses be­cause the Store is your only way of in­stalling ex­tras. It’s just re­moved one ob­vi­ous means of at­tack. Be­sides, the real killer is that you can’t use Chrome, Fire­fox or Sa­fari as your browser, and are in­stead stuck with Edge or one of its re­badged vari­ants.

MEDIUM-FAST

So how fast is the Sur­face Lap­top? Even with­out the bench­marks in­stalled, the an­swer to that was a clear “fast enough”, and that’s ex­actly what you should ex­pect from a ma­chine run­ning In­tel’s lat­est Kaby Lake pro­ces­sors. We were sent the In­tel Core i5-7200U model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of stor­age and, while this isn’t the kind of lap­top you’re go­ing to ren­der a Hol­ly­wood epic on, what you are get­ting is per­fectly good per­for­mance.

Its over­all scores was al­most iden­ti­cal to our A-Listed ul­tra­portable, the Dell XPS 13; if you’re af­ter some­thing with real work­sta­tion lev­els of power then choose the larger Dell XPS 15 (see p50), which has enough room in its chas­sis for the quad-core In­tel Core i7-7700HQ.

For a travel com­pan­ion such as the Book, though, bat­tery life is more im­por­tant. Mi­crosoft claims up to 14.5 hours of life, but a bet­ter guide to real-world use is our con­tin­u­ous video­play­back test, where the Lap­top lasted for 10hrs 42mins. That’s an out­stand­ing fig­ure for a Win­dows lap­top. For less stress­ful use, it’s in the “all day and then some” cat­e­gory.

SORRY, HOW MUCH?

The first re­ac­tion of al­most ev­ery­one when the Sur­face Lap­top was an­nounced was that it was a tilt at Ap­ple’s long-stand­ing dom­i­nance in the world of ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly the MacBook Air. At the low­est end, that’s true: the In­tel Core i5-based, 128GB ver­sion of the Sur­face Lap­top will cost you $999, which is $500 less the base MacBook Air, and you’re get­ting a far bet­ter ma­chine for your money sim­ply thanks to the res­o­lu­tion of the dis­play.

The next model up, which dou­bles both me­mory and stor­age, costs $1,299 – which is $600 less that the base­line non-Touch Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro. The high­est-end con­fig­u­ra­tion of Sur­face Lap­top costs $2,199, which is a $800 less than the top-spec and al­most iden­ti­cally-equipped 13-inch MacBook Pro. How­ever, the MacBook Pro has the Touch Bar and USB-C ports – yet the Sur­face Lap­top at the top end gives you an i7 CPU where the MacBook Pro is an i5 .

The other thing to note: if you’re a teacher or stu­dent then you can claim 10% o the price.

CLOSED CASE

The lap­top mar­ket is very crowded, and it takes some­thing spe­cial to stand out. Ev­ery man­u­fac­turer, in­clud­ing Dell and HP, is mak­ing an ex­cel­lent, well-de­signed 13in lap­tops that will take you through three or four years of school or uni, the mar­ket Mi­crosoft is pur­port­edly tar­get­ing with the Sur­face Lap­top.

What Mi­crosoft has done is kill o the MacBook Air as the de facto stu­dent ma­chine. Other than a pure un­abashed love of macOS, I can’t think of a rea­son to buy an Air over the low­est-specced Sur­face Lap­top. The Air era is oª­cially over.

Once you go above $2,000 you have many choices from both Win­dows PC mak­ers and Ap­ple. Does the Sur­face Lap­top stand out from that crowd? In some ways, yes: it’s a lovely piece of de­sign and it’s very prac­ti­cal, but it also stands out as a qual­ity ma­chine. Win­dows 10 S con­fuses things, but if you re­ally can’t live with it, you do have the op­tion of Win­dows 10 Pro for free.

Over­all, the Sur­face Lap­top is an in­ter­est­ing en­try into a crowded mar­ket. I think the de­sign gives it the edge over its Win­dows-based com­pe­ti­tion, al­though some of that will al­ways be per­sonal pref­er­ence. It beats the MacBook Air and faces lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion from the lowand mid-range MacBook Pro in terms of price and spec. It’s not a flag­ship, ground-break­ing de­sign in the way the Sur­face Pro was, but it’s a good piece of hard­ware and will make a lot of peo­ple – in­clud­ing stu­dents – very happy.

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