PC

Better performance, battery life with new chip

The Surface Laptop is Microsoft's take on the Apple MacBook Air.

Its design is as clean as the MacBook Air's, with a reflective Windows logo as the only embellishment on the lid.

The second iteration, simply dubbed the Surface Laptop 2, made its local debut last month.

Its design is identical to that of its predecessor, which was launched here last year. Both versions are handy to carry around, with a slim and sturdy unibody aluminium chassis that weighs about 1.3kg. You will not be able to tell the platinum models apart.

The Surface Laptop 2 also comes in a new matte black colour option. However, this black version is currently unavailable here.

Unfortunately, the Surface Laptop 2 has the same limited number of ports as the previous model. There is a single full-size USB Type-A port, a mini DisplayPort and Microsoft's proprietary Surface Connect port that, in addition to charging the notebook, can connect to the optional Surface Dock ($314) to expand the laptop's connectivity options. There is no microSD card slot, unlike the Surface Pro tablet.

  • SPECS 

    PRICE: $1,898

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-8250U (1.6GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel UHD Graphics 620

    RAM: 8GB DDR3

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

    CONNECTIVITY: 1 x USB 3.0, mini-DisplayPort, Surface Connect port, audio jack

    BATTERY: 45 watt-hour

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

There are no USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports, both of which are increasingly standard issue on premium laptops. This is disappointing as Microsoft's smaller and more affordable Surface Go tablet has embraced change with a USB-C port.

The Surface Dock, too, lacks any of the newer interfaces. This means a dongle is needed to connect the latest USB-C smartphone to the Surface Laptop.

The biggest upgrade in the Surface Laptop 2 is under the hood. It uses Intel's latest eighth-generation processor, which is a more significant upgrade than one might think - because Intel has doubled the number of processor cores in its latest chips.

The mid-tier Core i5-8250U processor in my review set has four cores, up from two in the Core i5-7200U chip used by the previous Surface Laptop.

But there is a catch - the four cores on the new chip run at a much lower base clock speed (1.8GHz) than the older model (2.5GHz). So the performance boost from the processor upgrade will vary, depending on whether the application can take advantage of the extra cores.

The other departure from the previous version is that it now comes preloaded with Windows 10 Home instead of the locked-down Windows 10 S variant that can only run apps from the curated Windows Store. It is a change for the better and, perhaps, a sign that Microsoft is listening to consumers.

For a typical laptop user, the best thing about the Surface Laptop 2 is how impressively quiet and cool it runs. I felt only a slight warmth on my lap while using it to edit documents and browse the Internet. It operates so quietly that you would think it does not have a cooling fan.

The rest of its features are unchanged from the previous model.

It has the same high-resolution 13.5-inch touch display that is optimised for productivity, thanks to a 3:2 aspect ratio that lets you view a lengthy document or Web page with less scrolling. An infrared camera above the display lets the laptop identify and log in users based on facial features.

The screen works with the optional Surface Pen ($148), though its usefulness is limited as the screen cannot be opened 180degree flat.

Its keyboard is covered by Alcantara fabric, a suede-like material found in luxury vehicles. It looks and feels nice, though I would take extra care not to spill coffee or tea on it. The keys offer good travel, but they feel mushy. The middle of the keyboard also flexes a bit too much during typing for my liking.

Battery life is excellent, with the laptop lasting 10 minutes shy of eight hours in the video-loop battery test, which has the screen brightness set to maximum. It improves on the battery uptime of the previous model by almost two hours.

However, it does appear slightly more expensive than the previous version. My Core i5 review set costs $1,898, compared with $1,788 previously. Both versions sport identical specifications except for the processor.

• Verdict: A processor upgrade keeps Microsoft's clamshell laptop snappy and improves its battery life. But Microsoft missed an opportunity by not introducing USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 ports.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'Better performance, battery life with new chip'. Print Edition | Subscribe