Microsoft's Surface Laptop: The Gizmodo Hands On

The Surface Laptop might not have turned many heads if it had been the first mobile computer from Microsoft. It's not as radical and influential as the Surface Pro or as crazy looking as the Surface Book. From afar the silver Surface Laptop looks like something as easily made by Apple or Asus as by Microsoft. It feels like that too, with the same heft as a powerful premium laptop like the 2016 MacBook Pro or the exceptional Asus ZenBook 3. Despite being a good looking hunk of hardware, the Surface Laptop is remarkable for how perfectly mundane it in light of recent Microsoft computer products.

All images: Carmen Hilbert/Gizmodo

It's also notable how aggressively Microsoft is labelling it a MacBook Air killer. Much of the $1499 Surface Laptop's announcement today was devoted to comparing the two, noting the better battery life and speedier processor of the Surface versus the now two-year-old MacBook Air. Which...yes Microsoft, I would expect a computer made in 2017 to be better in every way than a laptop last updated in 2015.

The Surface Laptop is a little thicker than a MacBook Pro.

The device generated a lot of excitement immediately, and following the event I had to fight for space to check it out. There were only eight laptops available for what felt like ten times as many journalists. People clamoured and pressed, but once you'd made it through the thick knot of human you were at the table faced with a laptop that feels immediately familiar.

The Surface Laptop is a lot bigger than a MacBook Pro.

Closed, the device looks very similar to a MacBook, though, with its 13.5-inch display in a 3:2 aspect ratio, it's necessarily larger than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 16:10 display.

But when you open it, you're faced with a Surface-like situation. The inside bottom half of the keyboard is covered in the same fabric as the cover for the Surface Pro 4, and the keys have the same flat square design as we've seen across every Surface-branded device.

This is unmistakably a Microsoft machine.

If you pre-order the Surface Laptop you're pre-ordering something much cheaper than the same spec'd device from Apple, but you'll still be paying for a brand name. That's something Microsoft has painstakingly developed in hardware with funky hybrids like the Surface Pro and Surface Book, and high-priced systems like the Surface Studio.

The $1499 Surface Laptop isn't any of that; it's just a nice looking laptop, which neatly slots into the big vacant space Apple has left open by refusing to update the MacBook Air. It's impossible to know if this is the true successor to the MacBook Air until it's available around June 15th. For now, all I know is Microsoft has designed a solid looking laptop with solid specs at a reasonable price, which incredibly, feels like what I've wanted all along.


    3 Main points that will kill this product.

    #1: No detachable Screen (This what made the surface....A Surface!)
    #2: Material as the keyboard surface. (This will get dirty over time with daily use)
    #3: Windows S (No one wants to be locked to using the microsoft store apps)

      #3 out of the box yes, but you don't have to be locked in. You can upgrade to the full version of Windows - possibly for free in the first year.

      I agree that #3 will be a deal breaker for some, but as mentioned you can upgrade for a fee.

      The thing that gets me - and im suprised its not mentioned anywhere in the article - are the specs. For the mentioned $1,499 version youre getting an i5 powered laptop with only 4gb of memory and a 128gb SSD along with an OS that wont support normal win32 applications.. unless you pay a little more of course.

        The price quoted is incorrect. That starting price is not $1499, but $999. $1499 was the starting price of surface pro 4. Infact, if you consider the partners' version of the windows 10 S notebooks that are yet to be unveiled the price comes down to as low as $189.

          AU Pricing...$1499 Entry level

          Think the 1499 starting price refers to AUD pricing. 999 is the starting price in US dollars. :)

        On a technicality- a software vendor can wrap a w32 app inside universal app and publish it to the store, which I imagine will happen with the likes of creative cloud and Microsoft's own desktop office apps

    You complained about Microsoft advertising it as better than the 2 year old MacBook Air yet half of your review compares the two.

    If your competition is a two year old device thats still on sale then when wouldn't you advertise yours as faster?

    a solid looking laptop with solid specs at a reasonable price, which incredibly, feels like what I've wanted all along

    But couldn't you already get that from Dell, or HP, or Lenovo, or many others (including the semi-recent Xiaomi Mi Notebook)... or even from Apple with the MacBook or MacBook Air?

    I really don't know why Microsoft has built this. Their premise for the Surface line has always been to build different devices that show off Windows capabilities and push OEMs to innovate. This does none of that.

      I think they want a slice of the mainstream laptop market with this, maybe they should have omitted the Surface branding...

        I thought the Surface Book was that?

          Surface book is very expensive from memory, about $1000 more than this?

          Not sure why they haven't put full Windows 10 on this though, seems like a huge mistake to me!

    ...Our Photoshop processing test, which batch renders over twenty RAW files, took just over 1 minute on the new MacBook Pro, compared to 1 minute 21 seconds on the 2016 MacBook. My 2014 MacBook Air, again lagged behind, and took 1 minute 23 seconds. In every way, this is a faster laptop then its primary Apple competitors.

    ... Surface Laptop's announcement today was devoted to comparing the two, noting the better battery life and speedier processor of the Surface versus the now two-year-old MacBook Air. Which...yes Microsoft, I would expect a computer made in 2017 to be better in every way than a laptop last updated in 2015.

    Gizmodo considers a 2016-2014 comparison fine for an Apple product review, but it's not acceptable for a Microsoft product to compare 2017-2015.

    I actually have no strong feelings one way or the other about Microsoft's new laptop, but I just find it so odd the way that consistently in Gizmodo reviews Microsoft's products are given backhanded and derisive complements when the same product or feature from Apple receives gushing praise. Having a personal preference is fine, we all have them, but such obvious contradictions really make for a jarring read, it's hard to take the rest of the review seriously.

      Maybe cause different authors can have different opinions and styles of writing?

      Not really an "obvious contradiction" unless you're a fanboy keeping score, and the older article you linked was written by someone else.

        You can disagree with my premise if you want, that's up to you.

        But my argument is not invalid simply because I noticed something that you did not.

        Apple's marketing strategy of comparing their products against their previous products, rather than market contemporaries was unique when they first started doing it years ago. I always thought it was odd that the nicest things they could say about their devices was that they were slightly better than last year's attempt. And I was equally curious why no-one thought to mention it.

        Then when it worked so well, I wondered why Microsoft, Samsung and Sony didn't follow what was obviously a highly effective marketing tool.

        Then I saw Samsung start doing it, now Microsoft does it too. But when other companies started doing it I noticed that journalists seemed to comment on it when other companies compared their current lines to previous devices and I figured everyone had decided that this sort of marketing was no longer in vogue.

        But then it became apparent that it seemed that Apple continued to enjoy the ability to market this way, and the newly found scepticism was reserved for non-Apple products.

        So yes, I pay attention to what I read and this is what I've concluded. Feel free to disagree if you'd like, but I'll provide just a few more examples:

        From the Gizmodo iPhone 7 review
        ... The iPhone 7's 1960mAh battery is 15 per cent larger than the 6s's 1715mAh... The camera on the iPhone 7 is an improvement from the iPhone 6s — that much is obvious. It's more capable in daylight and low light, with a faster f/1.8 lens and optical image stabilisation and brighter more capable quad-LED flash... If you use your phone outdoors, like everyone does, you'll appreciate the 25 per cent brighter maximum luminance...

        And the Gizmodo Apple iPad Pro review:
        ... That display looks positively gorgeous: Its 2732x2048 pixels adds up to 5.9 million pixels, which is more pixels than the 15-inch MacBook Pro... Under the hood, the iPad Pro is running a new A9x processor, which is apparently 1.8 times faster than its predecessor the A8X...

    Fabric? I have to wipe stuff off my MacBooks keyboard surround all the time (coffee, bits of cereal, milk etc) and my wife uses hers in the kitchen all the time. How will fabric go? Certainly a weird choice.

    I usually ebay my MacBooks off after 2-3 years and get better than 50% of their initial purchase price back. One of the reasons they get good money is that you just need to give them a wipe down and they come back to looking like new again.

    With a fabric work surface, these will look very secondhand after a few years of work. Lower resale values increase the real world cost of ownership.

    Most of the other specs make this a good machine and Microsoft seems to do good hardware these days, but the choice to use fabric is just baffling.

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