Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop starts shipping tomorrow, and for those interested but still unsure of the device, the wide world of Microsoft reporters have been taking the new tech toy for a spin over the last few days.
For all of the epic movie trailer-like videos and big-time hype behind the device, which was announced last month at an event in New York, the biggest take away is that the Surface Laptop is a very solid laptop. And that’s a good thing. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or imagine what a laptop should be like in the future. It just works well.
Before we dive deep into the top laptop takes, here are the basics: There are several models with prices starting at $999 and hitting $2,199 at the high end. The laptop has a 13.5-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Microsoft has continuously pumped up Surface Laptop’s battery life, which the company says can handle 14.5 hours of video playback on a single charge. It has only a single USB 3.0 port and does not have a USB C port.
The device runs Microsoft’s new stripped down Windows 10 S operating system, which only supports Windows Store apps. That could rankle some potential buyers so Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro until the end of the year.
Perhaps the most attention-grabbing feature for the non-techie is the “luxurious” alcantara fabric that frames the keyboard. Alcantara is similar to suede, and it can be found in everything from luxury cars and yachts to race cars and even a SpaceX spacecraft.
Most reviewers either loved the new device or at least didn’t hate it. Let’s start the reviews with veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet. Foley sees a possible love-hate relationship for users with the alcantara fabric because of the constant fear of spilling something on it. She never got close to the 14-hour battery life Microsoft claims, but the device still ran for an impressive seven hours without a charge.
She concluded by saying she wouldn’t trade in her HP Spectre ultrabook for a Surface Laptop and went into some discussion about why Microsoft decided to build the machine.
I believe the reason Microsoft made its own laptop, even though its PC partners make plenty of them already, was to show OEMs and customers that a premium computing device could run Windows 10 S. I’m not sure that Microsoft needed to make its own laptop to prove this, but the Surface Laptop is a nice addition to Microsoft’s line-up for productivity workers who want a well-crafted device that’s a cut above many of the Windows laptops on the market.
The Verge got a couple different sets of eyes on the new device, and the impressions were pretty positive. Tom Warren writes that he has always wanted Microsoft to build a laptop. He lauded it as “nearly” the perfect Windows laptop, but he is a little weary of the alcantara fabric. He isn’t a fan of the barebones Windows 10 S operating system and immediately upgraded to Windows 10 Pro.
The Surface Laptop isn’t perfect and the alcantara fabric will be a risky decision, but it does manage to achieve something very Apple-like: desire. I know there are laptops out there with more bells and whistles, but I still want to buy a Surface Laptop. Microsoft has managed to strike that fine balance of something that looks beautiful and luxurious, but that’s fully functional and effortless.
The other Verge reviewer, Dieter Bohn, lamented Microsoft’s past efforts to revolutionize the computer and complimented the company for making the easy play of just building a solid laptop.
To tell the truth, I don’t know that there’s some sort of incredible technical achievement here. It’s thin but not that thin, powerful but not wildly so. Microsoft just chose to do the obvious and correct thing with this laptop over and over, even if that thing is a little boring. Then it slapped a piece of carpet on top to spice it up. I expected Microsoft to do a good job on this hardware, and it did.
But the other expectation I had for the Surface Laptop is that I’d be unable to actually get the apps I need from the Windows Store, and I was right. If you buy this laptop, you’re going to end up taking the upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.
There are thinner Windows laptops. There are cheaper Windows laptops. There are more powerful Windows laptops. But all those laptops ask you to make more uncomfortable compromises than the Surface Laptop.
David Pierce of Wired shares a similar sentiment to Bohn. While Apple is trying to build the laptop of the future, the Surface Laptop is a device designed and built for today.
If you asked 1,000 people what they want in a laptop today and put it all in a $1,000 package, you’d get something like the Surface Laptop. After a week with a burgundy review model, I can say it looks and feels fantastic, especially the fabric covering the keyboard and trackpad. It’s a terrific laptop, once you upgrade the hopelessly crippled version of Windows that comes installed. (More on that later.) The future of laptops looks messy, expensive, and bedeviled by dongles, but the Surface Laptop spares you the transition pain. Microsoft built a right here, right now laptop, and a damn good one at that.