Microsoft Surface Laptop: sleek and fast machine does the job
Tech tools: Slots neatly between the Surface Pro and Surface Book, but the Windows 10 S software won’t let you download Chrome, only Microsoft-approved applications
When it comes to buying laptops, my preference has been for Macs. That’s not just out of necessity, but a personal choice. Having said that, though, I’m not opposed to Windows machines. The Surface Book is an impressive piece of kit, and while the Surface Pro needed a few generations to get it right, the current Pro is a genuinely great device.
So where does the Surface Laptop fit into the picture? Somewhere in between the two. It comes with a touch screen, but it has a more traditional laptop look and feel. There’s no 360-degree hinge, no detachable keyboard. And yet. You don’t feel the loss of those features. If the Surface Book is a “diluted” device, the Surface Laptop knows exactly what it is and where it fits in the world.
Lookswise, the Surface Laptop is up there with the best of them. It feels a little like Microsoft took some cues from Apple and the Macbook Air, but put its own stamp on it. The laptop is sleek, with an aluminium casing. On the inside, the case is covered in Alcantara, a material that feels like suede but is actually a mix of polyester and polyurethane. How durable it is remains to be seen. While Alcantara is being used in Formula One race cars as a material for seat covers, and in consumer electronics such as Sennheiser headphones, it will be interesting to see how it stands up to a couple of years of lunch at your desk, with all the crumbs, grease and coffee spills that entails.
Aside from that, its design has been kept as simple as possible. There’s a single USB port, a mini display port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Microsoft has skipped the USB C bandwagon, sticking with the USB ports we’re all used to. On one hand, it makes it a much more usable device right now; on the other, it sacrifices future-proofing.
Microsoft has also gone for something a little different on the software front. The Surface Laptop is the first machine that has Windows 10 S. A stripped-down version of Windows 10, it’s faster to boot, easier on the battery life and intended to be more secure than other versions of the software. It’s aimed at the education market in particular and lower-end machines in general. Windows 10 S essentially restricts what you can download to approved applications from the Windows Store.
That may sound familiar, but before you have screaming flashbacks to Windows RT, this isn’t the same. Yes, it’s restricted to the Microsoft-approved applications – that means no downloading Chrome, for example – but that’s not a permanent thing. Should you decide you’ve made a horrible mistake, it’s possible to roll it over to regular Windows Pro. It’s a fairly straightforward process and takes only a few minutes, but the change is effectively permanent. Be very sure before you make that leap.
Because it has a solid-state drive, the Surface laptop starts up quickly. Team that with Windows 10 S and you’ll be able to get into your machine in seconds. Even after rolling over to Windows 10 Pro the device was quick enough to boot up.
The 13.5in display is bright and detailed, and the front-facing camera – 720p – will cover most of your video-calling needs.
Windows 10 S is limited to the applications you can find in the Windows Store. If it’s not there, you can’t install it. That rules out some common software, such as Google’s Chrome browser. You can change it, and switch over to Windows 10 Pro – free of charge for now. It’s intended to be a permanent change, though.
The decision to skip USB C for now will keep existing users happy, but it could hinder the device in the coming years.
The laptop comes in several configurations, from 128Gb to 512Gb storage sizes and 4Gb to 16Gb of RAM, depending on how deep your pockets are. On the inside, you can opt for a 7th-gen Core i5 or i7.
It also works with Microsoft’s Surface Pen, so you can draw and annotate on the screen. How much of that you’ll do with an upright screen rather than an angled tablet is another matter.
It may be a little pricey compared with other Windows devices, but the Surface Laptop is a sleek number that could be just the Windows device you’ve been waiting for.