Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review

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Microsoft surprised the world with the launch of its first-ever dedicated laptop in 2017, the Surface Laptop. We almost immediately asked, why launch a laptop that’s straight down the middle when you’ve become the tastemaker in touch-led mobile computing?

As it turns out, the Surface Laptop 2 is an even more distilled answer to that question than the first. While it doesn’t iterate on much, this sequel is frankly what the original model aspired to: a pure, powerful Windows 10 laptop experience.

Sure, the Surface Laptop 2 could hugely benefit from an updated port (or several more) given its somewhat unconventional 13.5-inch size on the diagonal. But, the lack of those features doesn’t necessarily sour the experience or even the utility of the device to the point of detracting. Rather, the internal improvements here are enough for Surface Laptop 2 to be worthy of your dollar amidst the best laptops of the year.

Surface Laptop 2

Spec Sheet

Here is the Surface Laptop 2 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-8250U (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.4GHz boost)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 8GB LPDDR3
Screen: 13.5-inch, 2,256 x 1,504 resolution PixelSense display (10-point multi-touch, 3:2 aspect ratio)
Storage: 256GB SSD
Ports: 1x USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect port, headphone/mic jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2 x 2 MIMO), Bluetooth 4.1 (Low Energy)
Camera: 720p HD webcam with infrared for Windows Hello
Weight: 2.76 pounds (1.25kg)
Size: 12.13 x 8.79 x 0.57 inches (308.1 x 223.27 x 14.48mm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

Microsoft is asking for $999 (£979, AU$1,499) for the starting model of Surface Laptop 2, which is available now.

That comes with everything you see to the right, but with just 128GB of of SSD space.

Of course, this can all be upgraded – save for the screen – to Intel Core i7 processors, up to 1TB of SSD space and as much as 16GB of memory.

To have the Surface Laptop 2 as configured in our review, with a 256GB SSD, that would cost you $1,299 (about £988, AU$1,817).

This pricing is in line with that of the first edition Surface Laptop with an Intel Core i5 processor inside, and also right there with leading competing laptops, like the Dell XPS 13.

If you want this level of power from Apple, it’ll be at least $1,799 (£1,749, AU$2,699) for the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

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Design and display

To be frank, so little has tangibly changed regarding the Surface Laptop design in its sequel short of a major new color option. Yes, there is now an all-black color variant for Surface Laptop 2 that looks absolutely gorgeous and feels fantastic.

Beyond that, this is essentially the same Surface Laptop as before, only much more powerful. It’s just as thin and light as before, 0.57 inches (14.48mm) and 2.76 pounds (1.25kg), respectively. This is a laptop that’s just as portable as it was, which should prove to be a boon for students and mobile professionals.

Even the display remains unchanged, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it was an impressive screen to begin with. In this version, blacks look just as deep and reds just as sharp and vibrant, with touch response being swift. People with tasks to do will appreciate the taller 3:2 aspect ratio as well, though it makes for a bit more of wasted space than usual watching 16:9 videos.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t include its $99 (£99, AU$139) Surface Pen stylus to take full advantage of the touch display.

Microsoft claims to have made the Surface Laptop 2 keyboard quieter than before, and we can confidently say that this has to be among the most silent keyboards we’ve ever tested. Our coworkers couldn’t even hear our typing in an otherwise quiet open-office environment. 

The fact that Microsoft has achieved this while maintaining impressive force under our fingers is worth lauding. That said, the spacing of the keys could be a little narrower for our liking.

As for the touchpad, there’s little to report here: it’s a fine tracking device that’s spacious, smooth and responsive. The inputs are made that much nicer by the Alcantara fabric that surrounds them – it’s simply something more pleasant to rest your hands on than aluminum.

However, perhaps Microsoft hasn’t iterated enough on the design. The second generation of this laptop is still without Thunderbolt 3 much less even USB-C 3.1. You’re still stuck with a single USB 3.0 – yes, not even the traditional USB port supports the latest USB 3.1 standard – and a Mini DisplayPort.

Given the amount of real estate this laptop has to work with regarding ports, there’s really no excuse for the Surface Laptop 2 to have as few as it does. Not to mention that its ports aren’t up to the latest standards. By comparison, the 13-inch MacBook Pro for 2018 has a whopping four Thunderbolt 3 ports, whereas the Dell XPS 13 has two of those as well as a microSD card reader and a third USB-C 3.1 port – and both are technically smaller laptops.

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