PCs

Attractive and capable laptop

The Surface Laptop has a 13.5-inch display.
The Surface Laptop has a 13.5-inch display.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop has an aspect ratio that is ideal for office productivity, but it could do with more ports

The Microsoft Surface Laptop is a nod to those who see no need for the multi-use, 2-in-1 convertible that has enamoured PC makers in recent years.

Of course, Microsoft did its part to kick-start the 2-in-1 category with the Surface Pro a few years ago. But the software giant is now wooing traditionalists with the clamshell Surface Laptop. And perhaps, even dissatisfied MacBook users as the new laptop reminds me of Apple's notebooks with its clean lines and a reflective Windows logo on the lid as its sole decoration.

Like the Surface Pro, the Surface Laptop has a matte magnesium body. Its 13.5-inch display is larger than the 12.3-inch Pro, but the screen retains an identical 3:2 aspect ratio deemed ideal for office productivity.

At about 1.25kg, it is relatively light for its size. It has just three ports - a USB 3.0 port, a mini-DisplayPort and the Surface Connect, a proprietary interface for charging.

The Surface Connect can also be used with the Surface Dock, an external accessory that adds more connectors.

However, the dock and the laptop lack USB Type-C ports, which seems like an oversight considering these connectors are increasingly found in the latest computers.

In addition, the lack of an HDMI port makes using a dongle a necessity in many cases.

  • TECH SPECS 

    PRICE: $1,788

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-7200U (2.5GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 620

    RAM: 8GB

    SCREEN SIZE: 13.5 inches, 2,256 x 1,504 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: USB 3.0, mini-DisplayPort, Surface Connect port, audio jack

    BATTERY: 45 watt-hour

  • RATING 

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The keyboard is fixed and cannot be detached, unlike the Pro's optional Type Cover keyboard cover. But both keyboards are covered in Alcantara, a soft, suede-like material often used in the interiors of high-end luxury vehicles.

Unlike aluminium, Alcantara requires the occasional wipedown - grimy-looking photos of the keyboard have surfaced online.

However, Alcantara does feel more comfortable and not as cold or as hard as aluminium. Materials aside, this backlit keyboard offers decent key travel, though it flexes slightly in the middle.

The Surface Laptop has a touchscreen, which is a nice bonus over a standard ultrabook. More importantly, the display looks excellent, with its sharp resolution and rich colours. It will also support the Surface Pen (sold separately at $148), though the laptop's inability to contort into tablet form probably limits the pen's usefulness.

It runs Windows 10 S, a special flavour of the operating system that Microsoft says is designed for simplicity, speed and security.

Apparently, that means locking down the system - the Surface Laptop can run apps only from the Windows Store, not the usual desktop apps.

Because Firefox and Chrome browsers are not available in the Store, you are stuck with Microsoft Edge, with the default search engine locked to Bing.

Fortunately, the Surface Laptop comes with a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro via the Windows Store, which removes these restrictions.

It is a quick and painless upgrade that I would recommend. Perhaps Windows 10 S is safer for those careless enough to introduce malware on their computers, but it is far too restrictive, especially on a premium laptop.

As for speed, the Surface Laptop does not boot up any faster in The Straits Times' test on Windows 10 S compared with Windows 10 Pro.

In the video-loop battery test, the Surface Laptop managed just over six hours, which is decent, but falls short of the eight hours clocked by some ultrabooks.

• Verdict: Microsoft has built an attractive and capable laptop, but it could do with more ports. Its hardware is also slightly behind its rivals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2018, with the headline 'Attractive and capable laptop'. Print Edition | Subscribe