Tech review: Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 more capable and lasts longer

The biggest upgrade in the Surface Laptop 2 is under the hood, using Intel's latest eighth-generation processor, with double the number of processor cores in its latest chips.
The biggest upgrade in the Surface Laptop 2 is under the hood, using Intel's latest eighth-generation processor, with double the number of processor cores in its latest chips.PHOTO: MICROSOFT

The Surface Laptop is Microsoft's take on the Apple MacBook Air. Its design is just as clean as the latter's, with a reflective Windows logo as the only decoration on its lid.

The second iteration, simply dubbed the Surface Laptop 2, made its local debut last month. It has an identical design as 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 around 1.3kg.

With their platinum models, you won't be able to tell both apart. The only way to tell if someone has the Surface Laptop 2 is if it is in the new matte black colour option. However, this black version is currently unavailable for local consumers.

Unfortunately, the Surface Laptop 2 also 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.

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 you'll need a dongle to connect your latest USB-C smartphone to the Surface Laptop.

The biggest upgrade in the Surface Laptop 2 is under the hood. It now 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 the two in the Core i5-7200U chip used by the previous Surface Laptop.

  • TECH 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

But there is a catch, the four cores on the new chip runs 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'd think it does not have a cooling fan at all.

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 their facial features.

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

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 was excellent with the laptop lasting 10 mins shy of eight hours in our 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 to $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.