Mi­crosoft Sur­face Lap­top

£979 | $999 www.mi­crosoft.com Mi­crosoft’s most di­rect shot at the MacBook yet

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The one Sur­face prod­uct that fans have been clam­our­ing over for years, a straight up Sur­face Lap­top, is fi­nally here. But, in tak­ing de­sign cues from both the Sur­face Pro and Sur­face Book lines, Mi­crosoft has set lofty ex­pec­ta­tions for its first ded­i­cated lap­top de­vice.

Priced at £979 ($999), the Sur­face Lap­top clearly aims to chip at the MacBook and MacBook Air mod­els that dom­i­nate col­lege cam­puses prac­ti­cally world­wide. In fact, Mi­crosoft claims that its cheaper (and larger) Sur­face Lap­top can last far longer on a charge than Ap­ple’s 12-inch MacBook: 14.5 hours.

How­ever, every Sur­face Lap­top shipped will come with Win­dows 10 S in­stalled, Mi­crosoft’s new ver­sion of Win­dows 10 that only ac­cepts app in­stalls down­loaded from the Win­dows Store.

With the abil­ity to switch from Win­dows 10 S to the 100% open Win­dows 10 Pro for $49 (around £40) if you miss the chance in 2017 for free, should you need an app out­side of the Win­dows Store that badly (spoiler: you prob­a­bly will).

Re­gard­less, at that price, can Mi­crosoft gar­ner enough in­ter­est from col­lege stu­dents (or more likely their par­ents), who are of­ten al­ready strapped from the cost of go­ing into higher ed­u­ca­tion?

De­sign

Clearly, part of Mi­crosoft’s plan is to lure stu­dents and other users in with an in­cred­i­bly gor­geous, and po­ten­tially trend­set­ting, de­sign. The 13.5-inch Sur­face Lap­top may very well be Mi­crosoft’s most at­trac­tive com­put­ing prod­uct yet.

With four colours to choose from – Bur­gundy, Plat­inum, Cobalt Blue and Graphite Gold – there’s bound to be one that ap­peals to you.

A full alu­minium lid and base wrap the lap­top in much the same way it does a Sur­face Book, but ditches the alu­minium in the key­board deck for an Al­can­tara fab­ric that sur­rounds every plas­tic key and meets with the alu­minium base in a seem­ingly air­tight seal.

The fab­ric, ac­cord­ing to Mi­crosoft, is im­ported from Italy and laser cut to fit every Sur­face Lap­top. Now, while many of the de­sign el­e­ments are the same – the 13.5-inch (2,256 x 1,504) Pix­elSense touch dis­play, the smooth glass­coated Pre­ci­sion touch­pad, the chrome logo cen­tred on the alu­minium lid – we’re told that the Sur­face Lap­top shares very few parts with other Sur­face mod­els.

That much is ob­vi­ous in the na­ture of the felt used for this key­board deck com­pared with what Mi­crosoft uses in its Type Cov­ers. The ma­te­rial used here is smoother and more plush, and we’re told it’s spill re­sis­tant.

Plus, the ad­di­tional height af­forded by this tra­di­tional lap­top de­sign al­lowed Mi­crosoft to equip the key­board with 1.5mm of travel, and the dif­fer­ence in typ­ing

be­tween that and the Sur­face Pro 4 is night and day. Fi­nally, Mi­crosoft de­vised a speaker sys­tem be­neath the key­board that ra­di­ates sound through the spa­ces be­tween the keys and the key­board deck.

The re­sult isn’t much bet­ter au­dio than you’d find in a MacBook Air, per­haps a bit fuller, but at least it’s con­sis­tently in an un­in­ter­rupted po­si­tion. Nat­u­rally, the au­dio gets muf­fled when you are busy typ­ing, but since the sound ra­di­ates through­out the lap­top base, there isn’t a ma­jor loss in au­dio de­tail.

That leaves the side of the Sur­face Lap­top’s base to house Mi­crosoft’s pro­pri­etary power and dock­ing port found on other Sur­face de­vices, as well as a USB 3.0 and Mini DisplayPort, not to men­tion an au­dio jack. If you’re al­ready ask­ing, “where’s the USB-C port?” we’ve al­ready been there.

Mi­crosoft tells us that it in­tends for its own port to han­dle con­cerns of con­nec­tiv­ity ex­pan­sion via the Sur­face Con­nect port and its Sur­face Dock, while re­frain­ing from alien­at­ing cus­tomers who have yet to com­pletely up­date to USB-C.

That doesn’t ex­plain why the Sur­face Lap­top is equipped with USB 3.0, not USB 3.1, since you’re miss­ing out on some ma­jor data trans­fer speed im­prove­ments there.

Per­for­mance and bat­tery

Mi­crosoft can pack the Sur­face Lap­top with the lat­est In­tel Core i5 or Core i7 Kaby Lake pro­ces­sors, up to 512GB of PCIe solid-state stor­age and as much as 16GB of RAM.

That’s a pow­er­ful lap­top on pa­per, likely stronger than ei­ther the MacBook Air or the 12-inch MacBook, while ris­ing above even the lat­est 13-inch MacBook Pro, which uses Sky­lake pro­ces­sors. (The £979/$999 Sur­face Lap­top model comes pack­ing a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM with the In­tel Core i5.)

“The Sur­face Lap­top’s in­cred­i­ble, po­ten­tially trend-set­ting de­sign can­not go un­no­ticed”

As for how Mi­crosoft fits that kind of power in a lap­top just 14.48mm thin, a brand new, pro­pri­etary vapour cham­ber cool­ing sys­tem helps. The sys­tem changes the phys­i­cal state of the heat as it’s taken in through the cen­tre of a fan vent in the rear of the lap­top base and spits it out of the sides of that same vent.

While we ob­vi­ously weren’t able to stress-test the Sur­face Lap­top, we were able to test out how it feels to use. For starters, at just 1.25kg, this thing is su­per light, which is im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing it’s a 13.5-inch, Go­rilla Glass 3 touch­screen you’re look­ing at.

Mi­crosoft chalks this up to, in part, the thinnest LCD touch mod­ule ever used in a lap­top de­sign. This, in turn, helps the lid to lift with just one finger. How­ever, per­haps the hinge de­sign needs re­fine­ment. While you can open the dis­play with just a finger, that slight­ness in the hinge is felt when the screen bounces with every tap of the touch­screen. It’s the very rea­son we ques­tion the in­clu­sion of touch­screens in tra­di­tional lap­tops to be­gin with. Mi­crosoft hasn’t found a bet­ter so­lu­tion here.

That said, typ­ing on the key­board is the best time we’ve had do­ing such on a Sur­face prod­uct yet, and the porta­bil­ity of the whole thing is right up there with Ap­ple’s best.

As for bat­tery life, Mi­crosoft is, again, claim­ing 14.5 hours on a sin­gle charge. Mi­crosoft later clar­i­fied for us that this num­ber was achieved via lo­cal video playback with all ra­dios but Wi-Fi dis­abled.

That test­ing en­vi­ron­ment sounds very sim­i­lar to how we test for bat­tery life, so you should see bat­tery life re­sults close to this. If so, then the Sur­face Lap­top will be very tough to beat.

Sum­mary

The Sur­face Lap­top’s in­cred­i­ble, po­ten­tially trend­set­ting de­sign can­not go un­no­ticed. This is a lap­top that ap­pears to out­class the MacBook Air and 12-inch MacBook – and pos­si­bly even the 13-inch MacBook Pro – for hun­dreds less. Save for a ques­tion­able plat­form ver­sus pric­ing de­ci­sion, the Sur­face Lap­top has all the mak­ings of yet another win­ning piece of hard­ware from Mi­crosoft.

In­cred­i­ble de­sign in­side and out is ham­pered by a ques­tion­able plat­form choice for the price.

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