For as long as I can remember, I have been a diehard slave to the Apple machine. I chose my Myspace top eight on a MacBook, posted cringey Tumblr photos that I took in Apple’s Photobooth, and completed my entire senior education on one of those glossy, white Macbooks that I still believe are the pinnacle of technological beauty.
Unless I’m gaming (and use my purpose-built PC), I have always sworn by the Macbook and thought I always would. But that was until I got my hands on Microsoft’s new Surface 4 laptop, which might have just changed the game for me.
The Surface 4 is available in 13.5-inch and 15-inch models, with your choice of an AMD Ryzen 7 4980U or Intel Core i7 processor. Personally, I tried the 13.5-inch AMD model in Matte Black.
13.5-inch Microsoft Surface 4 with AMD Processor
WHAT IS IT?
Microsoft's latest lightweight Surface laptop
Starts at $1,599
Great battery life, sharp and precise touch-screen, quiet - even during prolonged use.
Very basic quality webcam only has one USB port..
Microsoft Surface 4 Review
I’m going to be honest here, I went in with pretty low expectations with this one. I’m an Apple simp and I’ve tried touch-screen laptops before and have never been impressed with the results. But hoo boy, this one blew me out of the water.
From the get-go, this laptop is impressive. Within literal minutes of unboxing, I was set up, logged in and browsing the web, which sadly isn’t an experience I’ve been able to mirror when setting up new MacBooks in the past.
Despite years of facial recognition technology on my iPhone, I was pleasantly surprised with how accurate the Windows Hello Face technology actually is. While the new Macs are only just getting TouchID technology, the Surface is quite literally logging me on before I’ve had a chance to even touch the keyboard.
I’m not quite sure why I was so surprised by the effectiveness of this, but having the security of a password-locked device that never actually feels like it has a password is a luxury I will come to miss when I return this bad boy.
The only downfall in my initial experience was the “lift with one finger” design. This was a major selling point that was pushed during the Microsoft briefing, and is reiterated on the website, but it’s really not all that impressive.
Can I open the screen with one finger? Yes. But is it any lighter or easier to do than on any new-ish laptops? Absolutely not. To be quite honest, it’s actually more difficult to open with a coffee in one hand than my 2015 Macbook Air.
Perhaps I’m just being pedantic about a seemingly insignificant detail on an otherwise great laptop. But considering how much they pushed this aspect of the design, I expected more.
Speaking of design, this is a really aesthetically pleasing device, which is exciting to see because design is never something I’ve really associated with Microsoft.
The Surface 4 looks and feels sleek, slim and sophisticated, with minimalistic branding and a stunning monochromatic look. Small details like the reflectiveness of the Microsoft logo on the otherwise branding-free device make it feel luxurious and expensive, despite its relatively affordable price tag.
However, it was a little disappointing to see that the Sandstone metal and the Alcantara finishes are only available on the smaller 13.5-inch model. Sure, this is a minor detail that means next-to-nothing once you’re actually using the device, but I would’ve preferred to see the four different colourways available in both sizes.
When it comes to actually using the device, my main concern is whether or not I can spend a whole day working on it. I don’t actually care about the absolute best and brightest specs (which is why I opted to review the cheapest model available – it’s important the smaller price points still deliver), I just care that it works well, works fast and is enjoyable to use.
The Keyboard Of Your Dreams
As a journalist, I spend 8+ hours per day typing, so the keyboard is of particular importance to me. Nothing bothers me more than when I need to type something on a friend’s computer that’s marginally different to my own and I can barely write a sentence without accidentally bumping the wrong keys or just feeling plain awkward. But not with the Surface 4.
This is a point that I’ve seen reiterated in other reviews but I simply can’t stress it enough: this keyboard is comfortable. Like… REALLY comfortable.
I think it’s an amalgamation of the slightly sunken design, the nicely spaced keys and the actual location of the keyboard on the laptop, but it’s just really comfortable and efficient for typing. If I can type tens of thousands of words per week without getting sore wrists or bashing my head on the desk after I type Wlon Misk for the 48th time in a story about a Tesla, I’ll call it a win.
On a similar note, the trackpad is smooth as hell. Unless you’re playing hours of World of Warcraft (which I don’t recommend doing on a computer of this calibre), you don’t need a mouse.
And then we’ve got the touch-screen, which I have both good and bad things to say about.
Overall, as somebody who hated touch-screen laptops with a burning passion, I wasn’t excited about this feature at all because I personally don’t find the touch capability to ever hit the spot you really need. But that’s not a problem I encountered at all with this device. It’s super accurate.
I’m a little disappointed that the Surface Pen isn’t included with the laptop, because it truly would be the perfect companion to this device. But considering you still have to buy the Apple Pencil as a separate add-on to your iPad purchases, I’m not surprised Microsoft isn’t throwing it in as a freebie.
However, I do need to note that there were a few times during my trial of this laptop that the touch screen didn’t work. To this day, I’m still unsure if I accidentally changed a setting without realising, but there were two separate occasions in which it appeared the touch-screen capability was just completely disabled.
It wouldn’t be a fair review if I didn’t flag this, but it is worth noting that there’s a possibility this is simply user error on my part.
On the unfortunate topic of things I didn’t like about this laptop, there are two major bones I have to pick with the Surface 4.
Give Me More Ports, I’m Begging You
For starters, we need to talk about the fact that there’s only two USB ports. For a laptop that will likely be adopted mostly by students or working professionals, I was sorely disappointed to see that the Surface 4 only has one USB-A and one USB-C port apiece.
Sure, I can buy an adapter, but as a general rule, I expect more.
But the real issue for me, and the thing that would turn me off investing in a Surface 4 for myself is the webcam.
In the age of COVID-19, virtual meetings are non-negotiable for an overwhelming majority of the population, so why didn’t Microsoft deliver on this? While it may be understandable on the cheaper variants (like the one I used) I would expect more in the top-of-the-range Surface 4 models.
Technically speaking, it’s a 720p webcam, which is on-par with the latest MacBook. But if we’re talking about real-life results, the camera quality just isn’t there. I’m not entirely sure what the reason for this is, but whether it’s a Zoom meeting or just a webcam photoshoot at my desk, the camera doesn’t even compare to my old 2015 Macbook Air.
I expected at least 1080p and Microsoft simply didn’t deliver.
Microsoft Surface 4 Battery Life
When it comes to battery life, the Surface 4 promises the world (19 hours, to be precise) but unfortunately doesn’t quite deliver.
In actual reality I got closer to 12 hours of battery life using it during a regular work day.
Although this is significantly less than promised, you will easily get through a workday, or even most long-haul flights — ahh remember travel?
That being said, if you were to run video on this for a long period of time, you might find the battery life to drop further.
In addition to a solid battery life, this laptop also stays surprisingly cool during long work days or Netflix binges, which is a huge win, especially if you’re a gremlin who works with your laptop resting on your legs in a fetal position in bed most days.
Overall, this is a primo laptop for working or studying, particularly for journalists. In fact, I will probably be investing in one personally when my trusty Macbook Air eventually kicks the bucket.
Buy this laptop if you want a seamless typing experience, solid battery life and an overall stylish design. It’s also probably a great option if you’re in the market for a laptop for your technologically illiterate relatives. Even my mother, who doesn’t know how to take a screenshot on her iPhone, could use this happily. It’s truly that user-friendly.
However, you might want to re-think your potential purchase if you’re regularly video live streaming or having daily Zoom meetings that require you to look like more than a handful of pixels.