Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Surface Laptop Studio

The Surface Laptop Studio follows directly in the footsteps of the Surface Book line of premium convertible laptops, and just in time for Windows 11. That does mean that the Surface Book 3 was the final version of Microsoft's unique laptop with a removable tablet display, but in so many ways the Surface Laptop Studio feels like the perfect fusion of the Surface Laptop and the Surface Book. 

Pretty much every single complaint we've had with the Surface Book has been addressed here. The U-series chips have been replaced with Intel Tiger Lake H35 processors, the touchpad is bigger and uses a new haptic sensor and the gigantic bezels are a thing of the past. 

However, if you were a huge fan of that removable display, that is gone, but it's worth it. It's just as flexible and versatile, but so much more comfortable to use. So while we're a bit sad at the loss of the Surface Book, the Surface Laptop Studio is everything we've wanted from a redesign of Microsoft's most premium laptop brand. 

Surface Laptop Studio in easel mode

(Image credit: Future)

Price and availability

The Surface Laptop Studio is available for preorder today, starting at $1,599 (around  £1,200, AU$2,200) and will be on store shelves October 5 – at least in the US. The Microsoft UK store says that the Surface Laptop Studio is coming sometime next year, and it's not even listed in Australia yet.

That intro price will get you an 11th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. You can bump up every component in the device for a price, and the top-end spec has an eye-watering price of $3,099 (about £2,270, AU$4,260).

That will get you an Intel Core i7-11370H, 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, along with dedicated Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti graphics, but it's still a hard price to swallow.  

We're not sure what these configurations will actually cost, but we'll update this article as soon as information becomes available. 

Surface Laptop Studio Thunderbolt 4 ports

(Image credit: Future)


It's pretty obvious that the Surface Laptop Studio takes a lot of inspiration from, well, the Surface Studio. The entire design of the laptop revolves around its easel-like display, which is exactly what has made the Surface Studio such an iconic PC for artists.  

The Surface Laptop Studio takes that design and translates it over into a PC form factor, and while it's definitely not the first laptop to do this, it's one of the best one's we've used so far. 

The closest comparison that comes to mind is the Acer ConceptD Ezel, which has a very similar design, but where that laptop has a hinge that stands out on the back of the display, the Surface Laptop Studio takes a lot of cues from the Surface Pro line of tablets, and the easel mechanism and hinge looks a lot like those device's stands. That means that when the laptop is closed, the lid of the laptop is totally smooth. 

Couple that with the gorgeous gray colorway, and you have a laptop that is just as gorgeous as any laptop in Microsoft's Surface lineup, but with unique functionality that will be extremely useful for artists on the go, especially if they're working on bigger projects that will require the extra horsepower the Surface Laptop Studio brings to the table. 

But it's more than just a fancy hinge. The keyboard is just as comfortable to type on as ever, with deep travel and nearly perfect spacing. Microsoft has also improved on the trackpad over the Surface Book 3, and not only is it bigger, but it uses a haptic engine, similar to something you'd find on the MacBook Pro

That means you can press down anywhere on the trackpad and have it register as a click with the same amount of feedback and accuracy. And, you can even go into the settings and tweak how much haptic feedback the trackpad gives off when you click, depending on your own preference. What makes it even better than the trackpad on a MacBook Pro – at least in our extremely brief time with it – is that the classic Windows tap to click functionality is still there, meaning you get the best of both worlds. 

Just like the Surface Laptop 4, there are speakers located under the keyboard, which isn't ideal, but is still better than having them mounted on the bottom of the device. The Surface Laptop Studio has four speakers in total, with two tweeters under the keyboard, then two woofers on the bottom of the laptop, to the left and the right. In our time with the device, we were in a loud room, so we didn't put these to the test. But when we get the laptop in for a full review, we'll see what they can do. 

Speaking of things on the bottom of the laptop, there's ventilation all around the sides, and located underneath this sort of ridge around the edge. Microsoft tells us that this is some of the best ventilation in its laptops to date, which it'll need. This is the most powerful processor Microsoft has put in anything but the Surface Studio, after all. 

In one of the biggest breaths of fresh air that the Surface Laptop Studio brings, however, it finally supports Thunderbolt 4. The laptop has two Thunderbolt 4 ports on the left side of the laptop. On the right there's the Surface Connect port and a headphone jack. It's super cool that Microsoft opted to include Thunderbolt support after years of refusing to, but it also means that all the legacy ports that were on the Surface Book 3 are gone. 

As for the display, it's absolutely gorgeous, as always. The 14-inch PixelSense display has a resolution of 2,400 x 1,600, which is a perfect fit for the hardware on offer. But unlike a lot of other laptops in its class, it has a 120Hz refresh rate, which makes navigating through Windows 11 feel incredibly smooth and responsive. 

Fast refresh rates like this are typically associated with gaming, but it's going to be great for artists, as it should cut down on the delay between drawing something on the display and having it appear on screen – not that there really was much of delay in the first place. 

If that wasn't enough, Microsoft also drastically narrowed the bezels, making it look like a laptop from this decade for the first time. The bezels on the sides of the laptop are more in-line with current laptops, but they're still not going to match the thinnest out there, which is a good thing. The Surface Laptop Studio does have a tablet mode, so having non-existent bezels would be a nightmare from a usability perspective. 

The top bezel is quite a bit thicker than the ones on the sides, but for good reason. The laptop has a 1080p webcam, which can be used for Windows Hello facial login, as well as a light sensor that will adjust color temperature to match ambient lighting. Luckily you can turn that feature off if you don't like it. 

Surface Laptop Studio keyboard

(Image credit: Future)


Because we didn't get the Surface Laptop Studio in our lab for testing, we can't really speak definitively about its performance yet, but things are looking good. 

One of the biggest problems the Surface Book always had was that it always used low-power Intel U-series processors, rather than the higher-power H-series chips you'll find on most of the best laptops for creatives. This always put the Surface Book at sort of a disadvantage, because artists that really needed that extra horsepower had to go elsewhere. 

Now, Microsoft still hasn't gone as far in this direction as we'd like. Instead, the Redmond company is using Intel Tiger Lake H35 processors, which are meant for thin and light gaming laptops and workstations – which the Surface Laptop Studio technically is. However, when you look at this against something like the Dell XPS 15, you're simply going to get better performance when it comes to heavy-duty creative tasks like video and photo editing. 

It's something we'll have to see more in-depth when we do a full review, but it's definitely something to be aware of, especially with the Surface Laptop Studio's high asking price. 

Surface Laptop Studio tablet mode

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

The Surface Laptop Studio is definitely an ultra-premium device and carries the price tag to match. However, it does take everything we loved about the Surface Book and removed all of our bugbears, making it one of the laptops we have our eyes on most as we head into the Windows 11 launch. 

We'll definitely have to push it to its limits when we get it in for a full review though, because Microsoft's hesitance to include the most powerful mobile hardware in its laptops continues, even if we get a bit more horsepower than we usually get. 

Still, artists may overlook the somewhat low-power components on offer just to get their hands on the gorgeous display and the easel hinge – and we wouldn't blame them for a second. 


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