There are laptops. There are tablets. And, there has been a relentless pursuit to somehow blend the two into workable ergonomics. Some do it well, many don’t. That has been the trend for years now. In reality, the best-of-both-worlds never really ticked off the checklist – there were always compromises on the usability front. But we may now be finally making headway. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio is, in typical Surface fashion, starting out on a platform of conventionality, but surprises await when you look closer.
When the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio sits on a table, lid down, it looks very much akin to just any laptop. A closer look, and you’ll notice the stepped design near the base. You may even find an uncanny resemblance to the Apple MacBook Pro, which may not at all be a bad thing (the layout of the keyboard, the contours of the trackpad and the rounded corners are unmissable). It may take a while before you realise that beneath this fine exterior sits a hinge that can do all sorts of magic with the display positioning.
Price vs Performance
It is difficult to get away from the fact that all this uniqueness costs money. Prices for the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio series start around ₹1,65,999 in India, and you’ll have the base spec powered by the latest generation Intel Core i5 processor, along with 16GB RAM and 256GB storage. For a bit more money ( ₹2,15,999), there is the option to upgrade to an Intel Core i7 processor and 512GB storage.
That’s a lot of money, particularly for the entry-spec model, for what’ll essentially be a notch higher than mid-range performance. It may have been more prudent for Microsoft to offer two different Core i7 options, and not a Core i5 chip in the mix. Therefore, you are paying a premium for the form factor, design, and the Surface brand. For many, this may just be the ticket. If you’re not entirely convinced by the versatility, there are many laptops out there that offer more powerful Core i7 chip iterations (six-core or eight-core options) for outright performance.
While Microsoft has given the Surface Laptop Studio the flexibility of a dedicated graphics card as well, do not think of this as a full-fledged gaming laptop (though it can very much hold its own). This is something that creators (the video and photo editors, for instance) would find to their liking. It wasn’t difficult to notice the cooling mechanism at work, with the warm air being flushed out from the sides. That reduces the amount of heat ending up at the bottom, though it still is noticeable. All said and done, the Surface Laptop Studio gave all the indications that it is primed to be a multi-tasking rig.
Battery life isn’t as robust as we expected. When used for daily office tasks with a mix of generous browser load, multiple virtual desktops (Windows 11 has really improved on that front), video calls and many documents open, this doesn’t elicit even the slightest stutter, but at the same time, the battery lasts at the most 7 hours on a single charge (you’ll get about 45 minutes more if the dynamic refresh rate is turned off). That is when we were very careful with the display brightness. One of the reasons is the 58-watt-hour battery pack, which is smaller than a lot of its direct rivals and considerably smaller than the MacBook Pros.
Back to what the hinge can do. It will take a while before you get used to the exact angle to get this to work, but you can then get it to hold in various positions – bring it forward for apps or use cases that require the touchscreen more, dock it for the best angle while watching some movies or TV shows (while still able to access the touchpad, or the full tablet mode which can also be useful if you wish to fully use the stylus or connect this to an external display. There is no dabbling with detachable parts, which makes this a slicker implementation.
Be very careful while handling the display though – it should always only get a light touch as you change the positioning angles. You have to attempt to bend the top half of the screen until the magnets at the lower half release. Absolutely no complaints with regard to the build quality. The mix of magnesium and aluminum feel good to look at and hold, and there’s no betrayal of any flex at all. Each key press elicits a resounding audio cue, the ports are aplenty and there aren’t any compromises on the usability front.
New age displays and their aspect ratio preferences
The 14.4-inch display (2400×1600 resolution) ticks off the 120Hz refresh rate as well (common in smartphones these days, while laptops are still catching up). The screen size itself is unique – you’d be more familiar with 13.3-inch, 14-inch and 15.4-inch sizes in laptops. The reason is the 3:2 aspect ratio, a square-er ratio that more laptops seem to be bringing through. This has a really good display in terms of brightness, colour and the smoothness of visuals.
Understanding what dictates the weight and thickness
Despite attempting to balance the screen size for portability, the Surface Laptop Studio doesn’t do as well on the bulk. At upwards of 1.7kg depending on how well spec-ed out your variant is, this isn’t one of those ultra-light laptops that are a breeze to lug around; neither is it very thin, at 0.74-inches thickness. When put into perspective, these numbers are expected. The display hinge mechanisms aren’t at all lightweight, as some other convertibles tend to have (at least that’s how they feel; not great for confidence). Then, rarely are hybrid computing devices as powerful (this also has the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti graphics option).
However, it must be mentioned here that as it is, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio cannot really be used for casual Netflix binging, before turning in for the night – this ideally needs a table to be placed on, and not held up or propped like you’d perhaps do with an Apple iPad.
The stepped design at the bottom, which gives the impression (at least from side on angle) that the Surface Laptop Studio is sitting atop a deck, is to give the innards a more capable cooling mechanism. Though it appears to be a big deal, when you get down to using the laptop, it is not at all noticeable.
An appealing Surface computing device?
All said and done, the widest Surface computing device line-up as it is right now isn’t making the choice easy for anyone. There is some overlap, and consumers aren’t necessarily able to make the best separation between the strengths and weaknesses. We’ll try to simplify things.
There’s the Surface Pro X that ticks off ultimate portability, but the underlying ARM architecture still has some way to go. The Surface Laptop series is meant more for portability than outright performance. The Surface Pro 7 is what you should be getting if you are okay with a genuine tablet (when you need it) and a competent laptop-esque laptop.
Yet, it is the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio, which is the most versatile of the lot, the most appealing and if we are to talk specifically for a moment from this reviewer’s perspective, very likeable too. It is very easy to get used to the strengths and the (few) not so strong points of this convertible computing device. It delivers on the performance front, while looking good and not compromising on any aspect you interface with (build and display, for instance). To be honest, no Windows convertible has been this good.