Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 Is Nearly Perfect

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 Is Nearly Perfect
Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo
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The Surface Laptop 3 was a special machine due to Microsoft’s decision to put an AMD processor in it for the first time. But the company has outdone itself with the smart improvements it’s made to the Surface Laptop 4, which has a more compelling price and better battery life, all while keeping key features and design elements the same. (If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?) The Surface Laptop 4 is a near-perfect laptop, and a serious contender when it comes to choosing your next machine.

Compared to the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 we reviewed in 2019, not much has changed on the outside. The new version has the same aluminium chassis with a black finish that has a tendency to show fingerprints, and it also has the same number and type of ports — one USB-A, one USB-C, one 3.5mm headphone jack, and one Surface Connect port that you use as your main charging port, although you can charge via USB-C as well if you don’t need to charge your laptop in a hurry. Even the weight and dimensions are the same at 1 kg and 0.58 inches thick, and I’m happy to report the keyboard hasn’t changed either.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

WHAT IS IT?

Microsoft's latest Surface Laptop configured with an AMD processor.

PRICE

Starts at $1,599, $2,199 as reviewed)

LIKE

Design, dimensions, keyboard, performance, thermals

NO LIKE

Price is still slightly high for the specs; wish there was an AMD 5000-series mobile processor version instead

I love a laptop with perfectly-spaced keys. Typing on the newest Surface Laptop feels like I developed instant muscle memory. The size of the keys, the placement, even the weight of the keys beneath my fingers as I press them down feels like dancing. They are super quiet, too. Sure, it’s a no-frills membrane keyboard, but it doesn’t feel too mushy. We weren’t thrilled with the feel of the keys the last time we reviewed a Surface Laptop for that reason, but they feel fine to me this time around…and I’m used to typing with mechanical Cherry Reds all day long.

The touchpad is perfectly positioned and the perfect size, too, out of the way of my wrists when I type. It’s more comfortable for me to rest my wrists on the laptop itself, and if the touchpad is too large they rest right on it, causing many accidental presses.

But all the changes to this generation of Surface Laptops are on the inside, starting with a new processor: an AMD Ryzen 7 4980U. The 8-core/16-thread CPU can reach clock speeds of up to 4.4GHz, which a significant improvement over the 4-core/8-thread Ryzen 5 3580U in the Surface Laptop 3 we reviewed previously for the same price, and it wasn’t even the best AMD Surface Laptop 3 model. When you look at price compared to specs, you’re getting more for your money with this AMD Surface Laptop 4, which includes 16GB of memory and a 512GB SSD. The SSD is removable if 512GB isn’t enough space, but this isn’t a gaming laptop; 512GB should definitely be enough space for the average user.

There are plenty of other laptops with faster components for the same price, or even slightly lower, like the MSI Stealth 15M, which is only 0.1 kg heavier and 0.04 inches thicker. But when it comes to the tasks this newest Surface Laptop was was made for, there’s not much to complain about.

In our benchmarking tests, 3D-rendering a car in Blender took just under five minutes with the CPU, and a little over nine with the GPU. (The discrepancy is not surprising since the graphics are integrated with the processor.) Transcoding a 4K video to 1080p at 30 frames per second in Handbrake took almost nine minutes as well.

Even though we don’t normally run PCMark10 to benchmark productivity tasks it can be helpful for looking at a wide range of activities, from opening and saving Word and Excel files to web-browsing. Loading a word-processing document took an average of 2.3 seconds; saving a PNG photo file took 15.1 seconds; and other photo-editing tasks like colour adjusting took a mere 3.3 seconds, although this could vary somewhat depending on the program you use.

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

The Surface Laptop 4 can handle some games, too, as long as you have the graphics turned down low enough and you’re not trying to play anything too graphically demanding. You can get up to 74 fps in Overwatch as long as the graphics settings are at medium. The 3:2 aspect ratio, though a little unusual, isn’t that bad for playing games, either. The graphics might be a little small on the 13.5-inch version, especially if you have the in-game ratio set to 16:9 with a resolution of 1920 x 1200, but the 15-inch display makes everything look lovely.

Microsoft has improved battery life on its latest Surface laptop by nearly five hours. When we looked at the Surface Laptop 3, it had a middling battery life of about 7.5 hours. Good enough, but not up there with the likes of Apple’s M1 MacBook Air and other popular laptops for work. Battery life varies depending on how you’re using your laptop, but it’s quickly becoming the standard of work productivity laptops to have batteries hold a charge for longer than an 8-hour work day.

And the Surface Laptop 4 comes in at a little over 12 hours in our battery rundown test. Microsoft advertises up to a 19-hour battery life with the model reviewed here, but 12 is not bad at all. That’s two hours more than the Intel-powered MSI Prestige 14 Evo, and two hours less than the aforementioned MacBook Air. It even kicks the pants off the Razer Book 13, which only lasts 8.5 hours on a charge. With that longer battery life, the Surface Laptop 4 is a better overall laptop for work and school, and cloud gaming, too, assuming you have a good wifi connection.

Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo Photo: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

While Microsoft has improved on major key elements of its latest Surface Laptop — processor, battery life, and price — it would have been nice to see another port or two, maybe another USB-A or a SD card. Anyone doing video or photography work on the Surface Laptop 4 will need a USB dock if they are loading photos or video from an SD card directly onto a device. The laptop is equipped with Bluetooth, and there are plenty of compatible styluses, but if you’re the kind of person that likes or needs to connect several peripherals to your laptop at once, you will likely need a USB dock.

And even though the Surface Laptop 4 is extremely good, the one thing that would make it absolutely perfect is if it came with an AMD 5000-series mobile processor instead of a 4000-series. The latest AMD processors have a new architecture, which gives them a good performance boost over the previous generation.

It’s not clear why Microsoft decided to go with the older gen, but it could be as simple as the Surface Laptop 4 design processes started way before AMD made its 5000-series mobile processors available to laptop partners. (AMD has U-variants of its latest mobile CPUs and APUs, which are for productivity laptops like the Surface Laptop 4.)

Still, with improvements in battery life, processing power, and price, the latest generation of Surface Laptops is worthy of a high spot on your list of laptops to get for your college-bound child or for yourself to replace that ageing machine. The Surface Laptop 4 is an easy laptop to recommend to almost anyone.

READ ME

  • Stellar battery life
  • Stays super cool
  • More configurations compared to last generation with either an AMD or Intel processor
  • No 1TB SSD option for AMD models
  • I wish it came with the newest AMD processor, since the Intel versions come with the newest 11th-gen mobile CPUs