A new machine with familiar flaws

When Microsoft first released the Surface Book, it was a beautiful hybrid device that offered a versatile form factor perfect for creatives and professionals. However, the Surface Book lacked in areas such as performance and battery, where getting a traditional laptop was just a better option. Enter the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio, seemingly the new successor of Microsoft’s Surface Book lineup. This is Microsoft’s best iteration of what it wants a creator-oriented laptop to be, but is it worth the hefty price tag?

This is Android Authority’s Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio review.

About this Surface Laptop Studio review: I used the Surface Laptop Studio with a mid-tier configuration with the Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and the Nvidia GeForce 3050 Ti discrete GPU. This review unit was loaned from Microsoft Canada and tested for five weeks.

What you need to know about the Surface Laptop Studio

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Zarif Ali / Android Authority

Surface Laptop Studio (Intel Core i5/16GB RAM/256GB SSD): $1,599
Surface Laptop Studio (Intel Core i7/32GB RAM/2TB SSD): $3,099

The Surface Laptop Studio has two different processor configurations, with the choice of 16 or 32GB of RAM. The base model comes with an 11th gen Intel Core i5-11300H processor, Iris Xe Graphics, and 256GB of SSD storage, while the Core i7-11370H models get the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti laptop GPU and are configurable up to 2TB. The model we have for review is the mid-tier Core i7 variant with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. This version of the laptop will run you $2,099.

With its processor and graphical capabilities, this device sits at the top of Microsoft’s laptop lineup, ahead of the Surface Book 3, which uses Intel’s 10th gen i5 and i7 processors, and either the Iris Plus, Nvidia GTX 1650, or Nvidia GTX1660 Ti for graphics. This new Laptop Studio, in many ways, is now the successor to the Surface Book. Microsoft is marketing it for creatives and professionals who want the versatility of a tablet, but the performance of a dedicated laptop — something the Surface Book lineup has lacked with its detachable design.

See also: The best Microsoft Surface laptops and tablets

The Surface Laptop Studio gets two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone jack, and the Surface Connector for charging. Depending on which processor you choose, you’ll get a 60W or 95W power supply in the box, with the device supporting up to 127W of charging.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio has an aluminum and magnesium build with a metallic Platinum finish. The device’s main selling point, its articulating 14.4-inch 120Hz display, comes at a resolution of 2,400 by 1,600 pixels and is touch-enabled. The articulation is designed so that prosumers can position the display in extreme angles for graphic design, notetaking, and other creative tasks. The laptop also equips a backlit keyboard and a decent-sized trackpad. There are two Studio Mics and a quad Omnisonic speaker system with Dolby Atmos support. There is also a 1080p webcam with Windows Hello support.

In terms of portability, the Surface Laptop Studio comes with a unique design that adds a smaller base under the deck for heat dissipation making the device 18.94mm thick. The laptop weighs 1.74kg on the i5 models and 1.82kg on the i7 models. Microsoft currently has the device available in the United States and Canada in big-box retailers like Best Buy and its own Microsoft Stores, with future market availability expected down the line.

How is the design?

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Zarif Ali / Android Authority

The Surface Laptop Studio offers a familiar yet new design aesthetic for Microsoft. The metal body is textured and has a great feel in hand. The design is very reminiscent of the Surface Laptop 4, the Surface Book 3, and many aspects of Apple’s MacBook Pro. That said, more so than any other device, Microsoft designed the Laptop Studio to be a portable version of the Surface Studio, and the company mostly succeeds at emulating the experience. Microsoft created a stunning device that takes the best of the Surface Studio and the Surface Book designs and makes them into one polished machine.

Starting with the screen, the Laptop Studio keeps the signature 3:2 aspect ratio from the Surface Laptop 4 and Book 3, and it makes using this computer an absolute joy for productivity. Apps like Word and Excel feel more expansive, and in general, this taller display is perfect for multitasking on Windows. The bezels are slimmer compared to the Surface Laptop 4 but are now rounded— compared to devices like the Dell XPS series or the new MacBook Pro lineup. However, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio has noticeably larger bezels. Aesthetically, the biggest annoyance of the Surface Laptop Studio display would be the rounded corners; the radii on the corners are so aggressive that the top corners of apps get cut out quite often.

Read more: The best laptop deals

Of course, the main selling feature of the Laptop Studio is the display’s ability to articulate, and for the most part, Microsoft delivers on its functionality. Unlike the Surface Book series, the screen doesn’t detach from the base; the display pops out and has a hinge mechanism — similar to the Surface Pro kickstand — that positions the screen to certain angles. There are two different angles, Stage mode, and Studio mode. Stage mode lets you pop out the screen and place it in front of the trackpad, letting you hide the keyboard while consuming media. Studio mode lets the screen fold down on top of the base, and it’s angled to act as a digital canvas for note-taking or drawing with the Surface Pen.

Articulating screen aside, this laptop is built like a tank. Below the MacBook-esque deck, you’ll see a platform that raises the base slightly up. This allows for better heat dissipation and gives the new Surface Slim Pen a charging area under the trackpad. This design choice lets the laptop run cool and quiet while under heavy load. This platform definitely makes the laptop feel thicker than competing devices, but the Laptop Studio is surprisingly portable. It comes in at 18.94mm and weighs 1.82kg; I had no issues hauling it around during classes.

Microsoft has created a stunning device that combines the quirkiness of the Surface Studio and the sleekness of the Surface Book into one polished laptop.

Ergonomically speaking, the raised platform didn’t affect any comfortability concerns regarding typing or otherwise using the laptop. The ridge between the laptop deck and the platform made holding the computer in tablet mode much more manageable, but it’s still a 14.2-inch screen that weighs 1.82kg, so it’s no iPad.

The Surface Laptop Studio is one beautiful device; comparing this device to the Surface Book series, it’s clear that the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio has a superior design. It’s much more elegant and less janky to go from laptop mode to tablet mode, and for creatives, this form factor can be more convenient if your workflow revolves around drawing or sketching.

How is the screen?

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Zarif Ali / Android Authority

If you’re looking for a laptop that offers one of the most interesting displays on the market, look no further than the Surface Laptop Studio. The device equips a 14.4-inch 1440p panel (2,400 x 1,600) that also supports touch and 120Hz. Other specifications include a 1500:1 contrast ratio, Dolby Vision support, and of course, Surface Pen support. This screen, like other Surface devices, is sharp, color-accurate, and decently bright.

The new 120Hz refresh rate offers a fluid experience that pairs nicely with Windows 11 as a whole, but it’s most prominent on games that take advantage of it. Games running on a higher refresh rate feel much more responsive and more enjoyable to play. In most day-to-day usage, however, you likely won’t even notice the higher refresh rate unless you’re actively comparing it to other 60Hz devices, but it’s still a nice update to an already great screen.

If you’re looking for a laptop with a display built for digital artistry, look no further than the Surface Laptop Studio.

With the articulating screen, Microsoft is directly aiming this computer for creatives who sketch or draw with the Surface Pen; in Studio mode, the screen is flat against the base of the laptop, and it’s at the most optimal angle for using a stylus. Studio mode is incredibly useful for pen usage, but at the same time, it’s limited to only two orientations, where the variability of the hinge would have been better suited. I would love to see a future version offer more areas of movement like the Surface Pro series to better aid creatives on the go.

Nevertheless, this display is one of the best displays you’re going to find on the Windows side, and Microsoft oriented the rest of the device to highlight it.

How powerful is the Surface Laptop Studio?

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Zarif Ali / Android Authority

The Surface Laptop Studio is a flagship laptop that seemingly offers mid-range performance, even with its unique design. The Surface Laptop Studio is configurable with the 11th gen Intel Core i5-11300H or Core i7-11370H, with up to 32GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage. The Core i7 variants get the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti discrete GPU.

Compared to similarly priced productivity laptops like the Dell XPS series or the new M1 Pro/Max MacBooks, these specifications are a bit underwhelming; the quad-core CPU isn’t on par with competitors within this price range. On Geekbench, this laptop scored 1,493 on single-core performance and 5,560 on multi-core. These scores, while decent, aren’t the best for a $2,100 device, but in real-world usage, the Surface Laptop Studio is still very much a capable device.

The Surface Laptop Studio has decent power, but it’s offering a low price-to-performance ratio compared to its competition.

I tested No Man’s Sky, and the laptop handled the game just fine at 49-60fps on high settings, but by no means is this going to replace a dedicated gaming laptop. The discrete GPU, while powerful, is still just a mid-range component that can realistically handle casual titles. It’s worth noting that the discrete GPU is only available for the i7 variants, while the i5 models utilize the integrated Iris Xe graphics. Thankfully Microsoft finally included Thunderbolt 4 support, so theoretically, you can hook up an eGPU to this device to get more graphical power, but where this laptop shines is in creative work.

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Zarif Ali / Android Authority

The Surface Laptop Studio is great for two things: productivity and creativity applications. This laptop ran through Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom without a sweat. Very rarely did the fans ever come on; even when they did, it was barely audible. Once again, though, this is the Core i7 version, not the cheaper variant with integrated graphics. However, when paired with the articulating display and a Surface Pen, the Laptop Studio is one of the most versatile creative tools on the market. On day-to-day usage, I was able to have several Chrome tabs and tab groups open, with other applications like Notion, Word, and Slack running in the background, and the laptop didn’t hiccup one bit.

Overall, the Core i7 model’s performance is passable for most workflows but is more appealing for individual creativity-focused tasks. Yet when it comes to things like gaming or running multiple power-hungry applications at once, there are better options out there. As a result, the biggest caveat of this laptop’s performance is its price. With Apple and Dell having superior performance output, the Surface Laptop Studio’s performance isn’t on par when you need raw power to finish intensive tasks. The Core i5 variants with the Iris Xe Graphics, at their starting price, are especially hard to justify when more competitive laptops exist.

Is the battery life good?

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Zarif Ali / Android Authority

With regard to battery life, the Surface Laptop Studio can comfortably get through everyday tasks, but it’s nothing extraordinary. I was able to get through seven hours of typical use on a single charge, and that’s with 120Hz enabled. This was mostly just browsing Chrome, Notion, and Slack so it’s definitely a light workload for this type of machine, but if you have adaptive brightness turned on and you’re actively on any video conferencing application like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the battery dips to a not-so-impressive five and a half hours.

If you’re gaming or doing any CPU or GPU-intensive tasks, you can expect to turn on the battery saver fairly quickly; I ran Geekbench on battery power to check the discrepancy between performance, and both single-core and multi-core scores dramatically dipped. On 50% power, I got 664 on single-core performance and 2,801 on multi-core. It’s safe to say this device is meant to handle workloads with a sustained power rather than on battery power alone.

See also: Chromebook vs laptop — which one should you get?

One of the biggest obstacles the laptop faces is its lack of refresh rate variability; you can either be at 60Hz all the time or 120Hz all the time, the laptop can’t vary the refresh rate like the iPad Pro or the new MacBook Pro’s. For most users, if they set the refresh rate to be 120Hz, it’s unlikely they would manually open settings to change it to 60Hz to conserve battery. That said, Windows 11 is expected to have a dynamic refresh rate in the near future, and I’d expect this will comfortably increase the longevity of the battery from day to day usage.

The laptop charges very quickly with the included 95W power supply, and I expect it to be much faster if you buy the 127W power supply ($124.99). With the 95W charger, I was able to get from 10% to 100% in about 35-50 minutes. This power supply is relatively compact and easy to stash for when you need to travel, and it has an optional USB port for charging other devices as well.

The laptop charges via Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connector, which is the Windows equivalent to MagSafe. The Surface Connector is reversible and its magnetic safety gives you peace of mind when you’re carrying around an expensive computer. You can alternatively also charge with either Thunderbolt 4 port if you don’t have your charger with you.

Anything else?

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Zarif Ali / Android Authority

  • Windows 11: The laptop comes with Windows 11 out of the box, and it runs very smoothly with minor OS glitches from time to time. These glitches are most likely caused by early Windows 11 related bugs, but overall the software has been consistently reliable. Being a Surface device, the device is preloaded with the Surface app, which may include promotions related to the device, depending on the region.
  • Keyboard and trackpad: The keyboard on the laptop is typical of what you’d expect from Microsoft; the keys are tactile, backlit, and have the perfect amount of travel. Microsoft introduced a new Precision Haptic touchpad that is very much like Apple’s MacBook, and its the best trackpad you’re going to find on the Windows side; it’s responsive, very fast, and accurate.
  • Speakers: Microsoft equipped the Surface Laptop Studio with four Omnisonic speakers, and compared to the speakers on the Surface Laptop 4, the extra space within the laptop’s chassis allows for a richer sound that has more definition and base.
  • Ports: For the first time, Microsoft finally added Thunderbolt to its Surface devices, and this enables faster data speeds, the ability to connect external displays, and eGPU support. Even with all this versatility, there aren’t any other ports aside from the headphone jack and the Surface Connector. The lack of a microSD card slot and full-sized USB-A means you’re going to have to carry a dongle if your accessories don’t use USB-C.
  • Surface Slim Pen 2: The Surface Laptop Studio works with Microsoft’s new Surface Slim Pen 2 ($129), which now includes haptics to create a more tactile experience. Our review unit didn’t come with the stylus to test it, however, when paired with the new 120Hz display, you can expect a much more natural experience with regard to latency.
  • Microphone and webcam quality: The laptop has two Studio Mics and a 2MP 1080p webcam, which together offers a decent video conferencing setup, but isn’t groundbreaking, especially since the Surface Pro X has a 4K webcam.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio specs

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Display14.4-inch 120Hz
2400×1600 resolution (201 ppi)
3:2 aspect ratio
1500:1 contrast ratio
10-point multi-touch
Dolby Vision
Processor11th Gen Intel Core i5-3100H
11th Gen Intel Core i7-3370H
GPUIntel Iris Xe Graphics
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
RAM16/32GB LPDDR4
Storage256/512GB
1/2TB
Removable SSD
WirelessWi-Fi 6 compatible
Bluetooth 5.1
Ports2 x Thunderbolt USB 4.0
1 x 3.5mm headphone jack
1 x Surface Connect Port
KeyboardBacklit
QWERTY
TouchpadMicrosoft Precision Haptic
Webcam2MP
1080p
AudioQuad Omnisonic speakers
Dual far-field Studio mics
Battery and power58wH
Charges via USB-C or Surface Connect
Up to 127W
Weight and dimensions323.28 x 228.32 x 18.94mm
Core i5 model: 1.74kg
Core i7 model: 1.82kg

Value and competition

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

Microsoft’s latest Surface Laptop combines premium internals with a unique design to give creators a powerful platform that’s built to travel.

For a computer as unique as the Surface Laptop Studio, it’s hard to find an equivalent competitor. The closest competition the Surface Laptop Studio has is from the Dell’s XPS lineup and the MacBook Pro 14-inch. On one hand, you’re going to get superior performance gains for an equivalent price if you spec an XPS 15 laptop ($1,149). An XPS 15 with an 11th gen Core i7-11800H processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of PCIe NVMe SSD, and discrete Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 graphics will run you $200 cheaper than the equivalent Surface Laptop Studio. The XPS’s CPU is eight cores compared to the four cores found in the Surface. Conversely, the Surface Laptop Studio offers things like a touchscreen with a higher resolution and refresh rate that the XPS 15 doesn’t offer at this price point.

See also: The best laptops you can buy

In the same realm of being a “creator laptop,” the base MacBook Pro 14-inch ($1,999) has Apple’s M1 Pro chip, which has an eight-core CPU and a 14 core GPU. This base model also has 512GB of SSD storage and 16GB of unified memory. The MacBook’s display is also at a higher resolution of 3,024 x 1,964 and offers a variable refresh rate, and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. All of this, while being $100 cheaper than the i7/16GB/512GB Surface Laptop Studio.

Specs aside, the Surface Laptop Studio is trying to do something different, and ultimately bring a creator-focused computer that’s specifically aimed at someone who needs a portable device for sketching. The Surface Pro 8 ($1,099) and the iPad Pro 12.9-inch ($1,099) are the closest devices in terms of functionality that can compare with the Laptop Studio. Those devices excel at touch-first tasks, but when it comes to laptop-based tasks like video-editing, the iPad Pro lacks software support and needs several expensive accessories to boot. Meanwhile, the Surface Pro 8 can’t compete with the full trackpad and keyboard experience of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio.

Surface Laptop Studio review: The verdict

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Zarif Ali / Android Authority

It’s easy to dismiss the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio as nothing more than a gimmick in a pretty chassis, but the device is much more than just specifications. This is Microsoft’s new flagship laptop that is aimed at a very niche sector of an already saturated market. The Surface Laptop Studio isn’t made for the everyday person, but more so for someone that has a focus on creativity-based tasks. If you’re a digital artist and you want the best of a laptop and a drawing canvas, this is a laptop designed for you.

Much like the Surface Book, the Surface Laptop Studio is a niche device for creatives willing to overlook its flaws for its unique features.

For most other people, however, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio’s design isn’t going to be enough to justify purchasing this laptop over the countless others that offer better performance, battery life, and portability. For $2,100, Microsoft only refined a design that already existed before, and while it truly made a beautiful laptop, you’re better off sticking to something more traditional.

Overall, it’s safe to say Microsoft’s aim for the Surface Laptop Studio was to create a device that fixed the faults of the Surface Book design while adding design quirks from the Surface Studio, and for the most part, it was successful. The issue lies in fundamental flaws of the existing Surface Book’s design, that for some reason, are still prevalent in this computer: performance and battery life. Until Microsoft either lowers the price or addresses these issues, it’s hard to recommend the Surface Laptop Studio to anyone other than a very select group of people willing to overlook the caveats to enjoy its unique features.

Above article first published by . We curated and re-published.

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