office tourism My 20 year old son is a budding athlete who spends a lot of time in the gym and doesn’t mind lifting 100 kilograms in different directions. So I was a little surprised when I handed him Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio and he said it was uncomfortably heavy.
At 1.8kg, it’s certainly not among today’s lighter laptops. That matters, because the device’s main selling point is a slot on the back of its screen that lets it sit at an angle that covers the keyboard and puts its touch surface in a comfortable position to push with a stylus. The screen can also fold completely flat to allow the laptop to double as a tablet.
Below is a .GIF to show it’s all in action.
The hinges that make the above possible swing beautifully, and the laptop – which was announced in September – clicks into place nicely in every position… on the way down. It is less easy to put the screen back in the flip configuration after using it in tablet mode.
This exposes one of the worst features of the machine: a multitude of sharp edges that make it difficult to physically grip.
Most laptops use a tapered wedge shape with rounded edges where it counts: where you rest your wrists. Instead, the Surface Laptop Studio cuts out almost immediately, leaving the base to look like a sharp-edged rectangular block with a keyboard sitting on top. Microsoft did this to accommodate a magnetic contact on the side that holds and charges the Surface Pen it offers for pen input, and possibly to accommodate the vents on the machine. Microsoft didn’t provide me with a stylus, so I couldn’t test if it worked well.
But I used the machine for other tasks and didn’t enjoy the experience as its two sets of edges weren’t slightly rounded. Instead, they’re sharp enough that I found the top one cut into my wrists when typing. The handling of the machine is uncomfortable and a bit heavy. Combined with its weight, it’s just not natural to consider using it as a tablet.
It’s as if Microsoft at some point forgot that laptops — and this one in particular — are made to be handled. Between the weight and the sharp edges, it’s hard to recommend this machine to anyone for their practical content creation purpose. Especially if you don’t want your wrists cut.
Microsoft’s beauty shot of the Surface Laptop Studio… Note the hard edges
Windows 11 does not help. It’s nicely unobtrusive in desktop mode, but ditched Windows 10’s mild tablet mode. is counter-intuitive.
Battery life of a modest four and a quarter hours through my normal use was the final nail in the coffin.
The laptop offers other annoyances, which begin as soon as you turn it on. The camera isn’t very good at facilitating Microsoft’s preferred facial biometrics for logins. I found that I had to be within 30cm of the camera for it to work reliably for authentication – an inconvenience when I put the device aside and connected it to an external monitor.
The lack of a USB-A port is unfortunate, as it means the machine ignores users’ existing peripherals and will force many to purchase a USB-C dongle. My two such dongles – which have given years of loyal and uninterrupted service – have proven to be unreliable when using this device.
None of my previous Desktop Tourism adventures have produced the same jitter in the cheap and cheerful USB-C dongles I buy on Amazon.
Microsoft persists in offering its own fin-shaped power connector – an option that I found frustrating and easy to accidentally knock out on previous Surface devices. Luckily, both USB-C slots can accept power, so you won’t be tied to Microsoft power supplies. I realized that the Surface Charger’s magnetic coupling might one day save the laptop, but I also love the ubiquity of USB-C charging. Microsoft has probably struck the right balance by offering both – and may have shown USB-C to be more likely to lead to a laptop’s untimely demise.
The machine is pleasingly fast, as you’d expect from a 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11370H quad-core 10nm processor that can touch 3.3GHz, plus an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 and 32GB GPU. of RAM.
I ran my usual semi-tortuous test – downscaling a five-minute 4K video to 1080p using Handbrake – and the machine did the job in 4 minutes and 29 seconds. In an Ubuntu virtual machine running VMware Workstation Pro, still using Handbrake, the job took 12 minutes and eleven seconds.
Those times compare favorably to the Core i9-powered ASUS machine that kicked off the Desktop Tourism adventure and reflect the fact that this laptop performs just fine – if you don’t want to carry it around or draw it.
The 14.4-inch 2400×1600 display renders colors with pleasing accuracy. The camera turns on quickly and handles low light well. I liked the speakers and found the keyboard to be no obstacle. The large haptic touchpad does everything these devices need to do.
Overall, the Surface Laptop Studio was a joy to use as an everyday machine. But it was designed to provide convenient, nifty access to pen computing, not pleasingly fast productivity apps. Because it lacks the brief, it’s hard to recommend the machine. But if your budget stretches up to $1,400 and you want a sleek laptop that will build muscle and be unusually sharp, this machine will do the trick. ®