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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review: Design Classic Or Extravagant Luxury? – Forbes

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio continues to evolve the laptop form factor, taking on board the lessons of the long-running Surface Book range by adding its own unique twist to the screen. Thanks to Microsoft UK, I’ve spent some time with the Surface Laptop Studio to get a better idea of what it is capable of and who it is for.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
The key feature is, of course, the rotating screen that allows the laptop to be used as a traditional laptop, a presentation mode where the lifted screen covers the keys but not the mousepad, and a tablet mode with the screen covering the whole lower base. None of these modes are new in the world of Windows-powered laptops. Arguably neither are they new to the Surface family… as well as acting as a regular laptop, the Surface Book could flip its screen over and work both as a tablet with hidden keys, or as a presentation-styled screen… and it had the added bonus of allowing the screen to fully detach and work as a larger and lighter Windows tablet.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Although I used the first Surface Book for a long period, it was rare that I used it as either a tablet or in the presentation mode. Rare but not ignored as the latter did find a personal use; flying economy with tiny tray-tables meant a regular laptop is always awkward, and the presentation design of the Book and the Laptop Studio fit the space much better. And the few times when I did use the tablet, I had to leave behind the extra battery power and GPU in the base.
The Surface Book showed Microsoft had the design chops to do something more than a regular laptop, and that it could provide a “One more thing” style moment in the demo where the screen was detached from the keyboard. That detachment leads to the biggest issue with the Surface Book… you had to leave the extra batter and graphical power behind when you changed modes to the tablet, reducing the effectiveness of the top half.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
The Surface Laptop Studio does address that. By keeping the screen attached to the base at all times you will always have all of your battery and processing power to hand, although if you want to go for a tablet mode, then you still have all the weight. This isn’t a Surface that has its eye on being a tablet – for that, you have the Surface Pro range. Instead, the Laptop Studio follows the cues of its (much) larger desk-bound sibling in the Surface Studio by offering a laptop which can quickly move to an easel like experience for drawing, a comfortable viewing experience, and a traditional working mode.
And it’s worth noting that the design of the Surface Laptop Studio stands out. It’s flat and angular in a way that feels purposeful; the stepped design offers a clear identity while making this relatively heavy laptop easy to lift up; and the screen is easy to both open in a regular way with just enough bite on the rotating hinge so you have to choose to move into the presentation or tablet mode… and when you close to do so there’s no strain.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
There are several gotchas on the Surface Laptop Studio that would make me hesitant to personally use it as a daily driver laptop. First of all, there’s no pitch to the keyboard at all. The flat base of the Laptop Studio continues through to the inside design. I like to have my keys at an angle. Laptops with a wedge or taper accommodate that, as do the various laptop stands you can buy for your desk, but in the case of the Laptop Studio, you’re going to be typing flat.
I’m also disappointed that the rotating screen has only two positions where it is stable. While the traditional hinge allows the laptop mode to set the screen at any angle, the lack of any friction hinges means you have just the one display mode where everything feels stable. Contrast that to the kickstand on the Surface Pro hardware which offers an infinite number of angles, this feels like a missed opportunity.
It could be that through testing a single position was decided upon that proved popular to the most users, but I was looking for a shallower angle. While you can improvise this by resting the screen halfway across the trackpad, everything feels wobbly and insecure.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Obviously, with no detachment, the tablet mode means carting the full weight of the Laptop Studio around, but the intricate hinge mechanism does not offer a “lie-flat” screen when it is fully tableted. This is, surprisingly, quite good. The creative market gets a nice bit of pitch when the Studio is on a desk (the, ahem, sort of pitch I like in a keyboard), and when you stand up to use it as a tablet feels much more like a folio with the increased attention on one side – and with rotation on this works for right-handed or left-handed users equally well.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
There’s also a distinct lack of ports. A headphone jack and Microsoft’s own Surface Connect port can be found on the right-hand side of the machine, and two Thunderbolt/USB-C ports on the left. For a premium laptop designed for power users, this feels underwhelming at best. I also, inexplicably, missed having volume and power keys on the edges of the device. That’s something you rarely see on laptops, but it is on the Surface Pro line and my muscle memory was expecting it, especially in presentation mode.
Performance-wise the Surface Laptop Studio feels underpowered. While there’s more than enough performance available for all of your day to day tasks, Intel’s Tiger Lake chipset doesn’t outpace the equivalents from either Apple or AMD. With the Alder Lake chips coming along in the near future, I’d hope for an update to the Surface Laptop Studio that focuses on delivering as much performance out of one model in the range.
The Surface Laptop Studio is also an expensive piece of kit, with the entry-level model priced at $1599 (16GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, and the Intel Core i5 with Iris XE graphics), up to the business-focused $3799 version (32 GB of RAM, 2 TB of storage, and the Intel Core i7 with an RTX A2000 GPU backing it up). Being a Surface device you do have a touchscreen and support for the Surface Pen stylus, and being a Surface device you need to buy the pen as an optional extra for $129.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
All of this screams flagship and high-end, but the Laptop Studio to me is not at the top of the portfolio. It’s certainly the laptop that has the strongest GPU option from the Surface portfolio, the rotating screen is a strong indication that pen input and artistry is the focus here; and it has the design chops to catch the eye in the marketplace.
If the Surface Laptop range acts as the spine for the Surface team, on one side you have the pro-super and business-focused Surface Pro family, and on another side – perhaps the more artistic side – you have the Surface Laptop Studio. It’s out there, doing its own thing, offering a different angle on what it means to be a laptop.
It’s not as radically different as it wants to be, but neither is it as niche as it appears to be. If you’re looking for something that’s a step away from the normal boring laptop loop, this has to be a laptop that will make your shortlist. Just be aware that you are going to be paying a premium over more conventional laptops with similar specs.
Disclaimer: Microsoft UK provided a Surface Laptop Studio for review purposes.
Now read how Microsoft is improving Windows 11’s advantage over macOS…

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