Since first launching, the Surface range of laptops and hardware have stood at the pinnacle of what is possible of Microsoft Windows. With Windows 11 now here, their latest entries in the lineup are both exciting to use, and stunning to look at, with none more so than the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio. If it were not for the price, and a few minor issues, this would easily be the laptop to buy in 2021.
The powder-silver looking device carries over many of the design touches seen in past Surface offerings. The elegant Windows logo on the back blends seamlessly with the overall design, and the screen is show stopping from the minute you turn the device on. Offering a 14.4-inch touch display, 2400 x 1600, 120Hz refresh rate in a 3:2 aspect ratio, this is a screen built to consume and create media with. From the latest and greatest movies, to jumping into Adobe Creative, it is one of the best screens we have ever used on a laptop.
The laptop is powered by a Quad-core Intel 11th Gen Intel Core H35 i7-11370H CPU and offers a dedicated Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti with 4GB GDDR6 RAM. All that power combined with the 1TB SSD and 32 GB RAM, and you have yourself a formidable laptop that is built to create. It does feature the latest in connectivity, offering Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.1, and offers a 2MP front-facing camera with 1080p FHD video for all your Zoom and conference calling needs.
It is not a small laptop, coming in at 12.7 x 9.0 x 0.7 inches (322.6 x 228.6 x 17.8 mm), and weighs 4lbs (1.8 kg). It also features the ability to be used with a stylus, two USB-C with USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4, one 3.5 mm headphone jack, and one Surface Connect port. It also features a 58Wh battery, and the usual Surface power adapter to keep things running and powered up.
With the specs out of the way, let’s jump into what makes this laptop so exciting. First and foremost is the screen and how it folds. While past Surface devices have employed unique hinge concepts to make their two-in-ones deliver on all the features, Microsoft opted for a different approach this time around. Similar to how their Surface Pro tablets work, the screen folds down from the hinge when you want to use a tablet or easel “tent” style mode.
“No matter what mode you choose to use the Surface Laptop Studio in, it feels great, making it a great foldable base station for all your creative work.”
It sounds far more complex by description, but when using the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio, it all feels second nature. From watching a movie to switching things up to use it as a drawing tablet, this new system was easy to use, and even more magical to witness, no matter how many times we transformed the laptop during this review.
Due to the design of the laptop, it feels more like a hybrid all-in-one than a pure laptop experience. The base of the unit is very flat, making it solid for when you want to do any artistic endeavours. No matter what mode you choose to use the Surface Laptop Studio in, it feels great, making it a great foldable base station for all your creative work. But with this solid construction comes some noticeable heft. The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio weighs 4lbs, making it more in line with some of the gaming laptops we have tested compared to the thin and light options we normally see from the Surface range.
The keyboard, like on most Surface devices, is phenomenal. It offers enough travel at 1.3mm to feel satisfying and the backlight gives just enough illumination to type even when in a dimly lit room. It feels very similar to what was available in the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio, and I wonder if this is a very good thing. The touchpad, on the other hand, is good but could divide some people, since it now works like the latest MacBook and has a haptic system that can be adjusted to simulate the feeling of clicking.
While it feels good, it is a very different feeling to an actual click found on other laptops. Beyond that, it is smooth, big, and very accurate, and palm rejection is excellent. If you are on the fence, this is, without a doubt, one of the best trackpads currently on offer in the world of Windows laptops.
“The sound on offer is fantastic, especially for a laptop.”
The Surface Laptop Studio is also thicker than most of the other Surface Laptops, with a raised bottom deck that gives more room for airflow compared to the Surface Pro. This is due to the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio offering a much more powerful (and hot) processor at its core. It also features a discrete GPU that makes this a much more capable machine compared to other offerings built to be as slim as possible. The extras also made it very comfortable to type on, giving a great angle to write the next great novel, or just dive into some video editing.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio also features four speakers that vent from the sides of the base, and another two under the keyboard, so the sound on offer is fantastic, especially for a laptop. I would not say this would deliver studio quality or room-filling sound, but it is more than enough for media consumption, gaming, or the daily Zoom calls we are all still finding ourselves doing.
As the name suggests, the Microsft Surface Laptop Studio is built with creation and drawing in mind, especially with its ‘tent’ mode. It is even built ready for the new Surface Slim Pen 2 with a little area to charge the pen under the front of the base. Sadly, you will need to buy it separately, and it will set you back an additional $129.99 USD, on top of the price of this laptop. Thankfully, the pen is great to use, and if you do want to use the Surface Laptop Studio for creating, you will be rewarded with a fantastic experience that feels second nature to all the other features on the laptop.
The power available with the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio makes most productivity and creative tasks easy. It breezed through most of our design and creative workloads, including Photoshop, Premiere, and the rest of the Adobe Suite. While it will not compete against the latest and greatest desktop, the Quad-core Intel 11th Gen Intel Core H35, and the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti are more than enough to tackle even the most demanding video project or any design tasks you can throw at it.
“While it is a great option for creative and productivity tasks, the Surface Laptop Studio is not built for gaming.”
While it is a great option for creative and productivity tasks, the Microsft Surface Laptop Studio is not built for gaming. While it has a truly stunning screen, and has the potential to deliver some great visuals, there is just not enough graphics performance to really push games to their full potential, especially on the 2400 x 1600, 120Hz display. From Red Dead Redemption 2 to Shadow of the Tomb Raider it could not run anything I would consider acceptable frame rates at a native resolution.
Jumping into Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we found we hit an average of around 26 FPS at native resolution with everything turned on. We managed a much better 35 average when we moved things down to 1920 x 1440, although I would have expected better for a machine with this horsepower. Red Dead Redemption 2 fared a bit better, hitting an average of around 45 FPS at native resolution, and closer to 50 when we paired things down to 1920 x 1440. While nothing to write home about, if you are in dire need of some western-style action, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio can deliver in a pinch.
Thankfully, games like Fortnite, and League of Legends were much more playable, with the laptop managing well over 70FPS in the former and over 90FPS in the latter. This is a laptop built for creators that manages to handle some games, but if you want a primary gaming machine, I would look elsewhere. Thankfully, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio delivers a fantastic Civilization VI experience, so all is not lost.
“The Surface Laptop Studio never got hot enough to throttle, and at its hottest it was only ever warm to the touch.”
Even under these workloads, this is a laptop that is well-designed to keep things cool. Even when running productivity applications, Chrome with plenty of tabs, and rendering a video, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio never got hot enough to throttle, and at its hottest it was only ever warm to the touch. Considering the workloads we put on this laptop though, I am impressed with Microsoft’s engineers, they have hit the mark on cooling.
One thing I was disappointed by was the Laptop Studio’s 58 watt-hour battery. With it being 2021, and the push for longer battery life is on everyone’s mind, this device could not push much past five hours of battery use. This is well below the competition, and even when keeping the brightness low, and limiting app usage, it could only push another 30 minutes or so. Don’t get me started on gaming, or any major productivity, let’s just say you better be close to a plug, or you may be in for a bit of a surprise.
Despite all that, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio manages to impress. It is a stunning machine that takes some of the best concepts from past Surface iterations and delivers something wholly unique and exciting. For any creative-minded person looking for a laptop, Microsoft seems to have tailor-made this device for you, making it painless to switch from typing, to drawing and back again, without doing origami with your hardware.
For the creative professionals out there looking for the next great laptop, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio delivers in all the right ways. A truly stunning display, plenty of power, and one of the best build qualities we have seen in a while. Provided you can look past the starting $2,099.99 USD price tag, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is one to look forward to. It is the creative workstation of the future in your hands today, and it will change your creative life.