Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: versatile and dependable
Microsoft’s new laptop isn’t as flashy as other Surfaces, but it’s one of the best Windows clamshells available.
The Surface Laptop hasn’t changed much since its previous generation, but why would it? The Laptop 3 earned our recommendation and was priced competitively. This time, there are slightly better processors and a bigger battery. I trialled a 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 4 and, with stellar sound and a comfortable keyboard, I was impressed.
Attractive, but safe
Design-wise, this is probably the least inspiring Surface. It’s a plain old laptop without the detachable screen or 360-degree hinges of its kin. But I respect the Surface Laptop for that. Sometimes a simple laptop (a design perfected a while ago) is exactly what you need. It neatly threads being cheaper than many comparable hybrids, but lighter and more portable than many other laptops.
The display is a joy to look at. Glass goes right to the edge of the display, which looks premium and nods to the tablet origins of the Surface family. There is, however, a substantial bezel – the screen could be a whole inch larger if it stretched to the perimeter.
The webcam is the same as in the Surface Laptop 3, and is showing its age. My mum wasn't impressed with the quality of my image when I gave her a video call.
Typing is easy and comfortable, even for long periods. The keys have more travel than is standard for a device this thin. However, they’re still a bit shallow for my liking (I’m a tough judge of thin laptops) and caused some typos at first. There’s bounce in the keyboard, as if there's a pocket of air beneath the keys. It's disconcerting until you’re used to it, but harmless. After a period of adjustment, I’ve landed on the opinion it’s a great keyboard, especially for a small computer.
The device is balanced well, so didn’t tilt or rock when on my lap. However, as it’s light and made of sleek metal, the entire unit’s prone to sliding around.
The tray is textured with Alcantara (a suede-like fabric). It’s a nice touch, making the keyboard feel inviting and cosy. While it’s my favourite design feature of the device, I'm not sure how well it’ll hold up over time – personally, I was nervous about staining it. The more expensive models have a metal tray instead.
This computer really stood out at start-up. It booted so quickly that I was staring at my desktop background before I knew it. Windows Hello facial authentication was a revelation, making login passwords obsolete. However, it couldn’t recognise me through a mask, so I lost the convenience on public transport (and in the air).
The speakers have Dolby Atmos surround-sound technology. The audio is, hands down, the best I've heard from a laptop. In the mid-range, sounds are clear and distinct, including vocals contrasting nicely with guitars and synths.
Short on ports
One area where the Surface Laptop falls short is its ports. The range is OK, with a headphone jack, USB-A and USB-C port. But there’s only one of each, leaving you very restricted if you rely on inserting dongles for, say, a mouse and a game controller. Charging is through a proprietary port, although you can use USB-C if you have the right cord. It makes me wonder why Microsoft doesn’t switch the charging port for a second USB-C connector.
Good, with improved battery
The Surface Laptop coped fine with mid-range video games. For example, Sid Meier's Civilisation VI ran smoothly on default settings, although the bottom of the chassis heated up very quickly. However, if you’re wanting to play the latest AAA games, look elsewhere – the Laptop 4 has no dedicated GPU.
The laptop had no issue with multitasking, handling several applications at once including 10 Opera browser tabs, Spotify and Steam. In my experience, heat and fan noise were only a problem when games were involved.
When we tested the Laptop 3, its 6-hour battery life was a weakness. Conversely, the Laptop 4 comfortably lasted an 8-hour workday for me, and recharged quickly.
Plenty of options
The Laptop 4 is very customisable, which is always a plus. However, better components are pricey. While I used a 13.5-inch model with an Intel CPU, the versions with AMD processors are better value. The cheapest costs $1749 ($550 less than my trial machine) and comes with an AMD processor that’s just as good and the same RAM. All you lose is some SSD storage.
If, like me, you’re willing to sacrifice some portability for a bigger screen, there are 15-inch versions too. They have slightly better processors but are at least $500 dearer.
A strong competitor
The Surface Laptop 4 is a good, solid computer. While it doesn’t do anything crazy or shake up the market, it's one of the best Windows laptops you can buy. The configuration I used would perform well as a home laptop (streaming, browsing and light gaming) or a work laptop (multitasking, travelling). Given its modest specs, I’d suggest sticking with the lower end of the range. You probably don't need 32GB of RAM, and better computers are available for the cost of a high-spec Laptop 4, such as Apple's new MacBook Pro ($2549). Plus, the cheaper models have the Alcantara texture.
- Price: $2299 (from $1749 to $4599)
- Screen size: 13.5” (also 15”)
- CPU: Intel Core i5-1135G7 (also Core i7-1185G7, AMD Ryzen 5 4680U, Ryzen 7 4980U)
- RAM: 8GB (also 16GB, 32GB)
- SSD storage: 512GB (also 256GB, 1TB)
- Finish: Platinum (also black, ice blue, sandstone)