Microsoft haven’t taken such a big leap from the Surface Laptop to its sequel, but they haven’t really had to. Released in 2017, the Surface Laptop was a strong entry for the company, and also a surprising move given that they’ve become such a dominant force in the realm of tablets and 2-in-1 devices. It was a straight forward and elegant clamshell laptop that got over well with users thanks to its attractive, sleek design and smooth user experience, giving front-runner Apple some healthy competition and effectively stealing the show for that year.
If there was an issue with the Surface Laptop, it was that the device shipped with the stubborn Microsoft 10 S, which sacrificed flexibility for beefed up security, disallowing users to use any programs that weren’t available in the Windows Store. Those who wanted to break out of that rigid little box could easily upgrade to the full version of Microsoft 10, but the very fact you had to even do that indicated that the Surface Laptop may have been rushed to release towards the end of development. As such, although it was – and still is – a very worthwhile laptop, the Surface Laptop wasn’t nearly as refined as it could have been.
Enter the Surface Laptop 2, which ships with Windows 10 Home, promises 85% more power than its predecessor, and benefits greatly from some welcome tweaks underneath the hood. The design hasn’t changed all that much, with the main aesthetic choices merely reflecting a range of colour-change options (the matte black finish being the most eye-catching), but there has been some bumps up in power that truly showcase the operating system.
Aside from the lightweight aluminium finish and 3:2 aspect ratio touchscreen display, the most welcome carry-over from a design perspective is the tone-on-tone Alcantara fabric which lays beautifully underneath the backlit keyboard. It’s supremely comfortable to rest your palms on, while the keyboard itself is as seamless – and quiet – a typing experience as you can have. Although there have been reports of marks easily showing on the fabric – especially on either side of the glass-covered trackpad – after over a month using this as my main laptop I am yet to see any degradation on the matte-black model.
The Windows Hello IR 5MP camera is still included front-centre for a quick hands-free log in and I found this to be much faster than on the Surface Laptop, where I had some issues every now and then. It works perfectly with the colour-accurate 13.5 inch display.
Unfortunately, the one design area in which change would have been most welcome hasn’t seen any improvements; that would be the ports. You’ll find much of the same here, with a port for the Surface Connector on the right panel, while the left features only one USB-A port, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Mini DisplayPort. It’s quite confusing that some of Microsoft’s other new devices make use of the more modern USB-C, but for this a proprietary charger, that’s still bigger than most users on the go would like, is preferred. On the plus side, at least you know that you’re using the correct wattage all the time.
The Surface’s boosts in performance more than make up for any shortcomings. Microsoft have now left behind the original’s dual-core 7th Gen Intel chips and moved up to the much more power efficient quad-core 8th Gen versions, complemented nicely by either a Core i5-8250U processor (on the more affordable models) or the Core i7-8650U (for the more expensive models). A Core i5 is more than enough for those who won’t need to push this device beyond reasonable levels, especially with the sufficient 8GB of RAM and 256GB hard drive. Those going for the top model can expect a nice bump to 16GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive.
For almost all everyday uses, the Surface Laptop 2 is a reliable, fast and strong worker that gets through the day quietly – the cooling fans are so silent it’s easy to forget they even exist. Hardcore gamers might not be as impressed though, given that switching to quad-core has limited the graphics to an integrated Intel UHD 620 chip. Since there’s no port to support a Thunderbolt 3 connection, users cannot add any external GPU option so more intensive, modern games may have to run on lower settings. It’s clear that gaming isn’t what this laptop has been built for though, and unless you’ve got the cash for splash on the top model then there’s no use trying to push this to be something it doesn’t want to be.
Users should be satisfied with the battery life, which consistently delivers on around 10 hours in reasonable working mode, a downgrade from the promise 14.5 hours which is assuming very light use. This allows for a little leeway too, as the definition of “working mode” here is enough to be using the device consistently throughout the day with no concern. Travelling with it for weeks, with many days spent away from a power source, was no problem for me and doing work consistently during a 9 hour flight (Sydney to Thailand) was a breeze.
Thanks to the smart design choices and material used, the laptop is incredibly sturdy for travel and can withstand being treated less than ideally on the road. Couple that with it’s performance and there’s no doubt that this is what Microsoft intended all along, catapulting them to true MacBook rivals and presenting one of the best clamshells on the market. Of course, there’s room for improvement and there’s little doubt that the company will keep iterating until they find that unbeatable balance between design and performance, but for now, this one does just fine.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS OUT OF FIVE
Highlights: Still attractive as hell; performance boosts are evident; Microsoft 10 Home runs smoothly; battery life is reliable; quiet and super portable.
Lowlights: Limited port options; can show cracks with more intensive programs; limited graphics card for gamers.
Price: From AU$1,499.00
Review conducted on a 256GB model provided by Microsoft.