Our Surface laptop review shows MSFT could convince some Apple MacBook users to switch
By Brad Moon, InvestorPlace Contributor
Last weekend Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) held an event in Toronto for tech media. The occasion was showing off the latest Microsoft Surface products just before their official release.
Source: Brad Moon
I took the opportunity to spend some serious hands-on time with the Microsoft Surface laptop, MSFT’s biggest shot yet at breaking Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) grip on the premium, professional laptop market.
Is the Microsoft Surface good enough to take on the aging but still popular MacBook Air, or Apple’s luxury laptop, the ultra-slim MacBook? Here’s my Microsoft Surface laptop review, based on the several hours of time I got with the new computers.
Microsoft Surface Covers Wide Ground
MSFT has been increasingly moving into the space previously covered by its PC hardware partners with the Microsoft Surface line. The Surface Pro is an expensive convertible tablet and the Surface Book is an expensive hybrid device.
The Surface laptop, which officially ships June 15, is the company’s first traditional, clamshell laptop. It’s affordable. And it’s pretty good.
The 13.5-inch PixelSense display is bright, sharp and big enough to be useful for productivity without making the laptop unwieldy. In fact, at just 2.76 pounds and just over half an inch thick, it’s very sleek. That’s lighter than Apple’s 13.3-inch MacBook Air, for comparison.
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Microsoft is aiming to win over fans of the MacBook Air and Apple’s premium MacBook as well. At $999, the Surface Laptop has the same starting price as the MacBook Air, while offering a far superior display.
Compared to the more luxurious MacBook, the new Microsoft laptop comes with a $300 price discount, a faster CPU, a larger display and while it’s not as thin or light, it ups the “luxury” factor with a unique application of Alcantara fabric on its backlit keyboard.
After using the Surface Laptop, I can tell you I prefer its keyboard to the version Apple uses on the MacBook. With a nicely finished aluminum case, the Surface Laptop looks sharp and when you pick it up, it feels solid — no flexing.
The Surface Laptop also beats Apple on battery life (14.5 hours of video playback compared to 12 hours for Apple’s laptops) and while the MacBook has a single USB-C port to be shared for power and peripherals, the new Microsoft laptop offers USB 3.0 and mini DisplayPort. And Microsoft offers touch and stylus support — something Apple has never offered in a Mac.
A Few Concerns With Microsoft Surface
So far it’s all been good, but as a potential buyer, I would have a few concerns about Microsoft Surface.
The first is the 4GB of RAM Microsoft includes in the base model. Technically, that’s sufficient to run Windows, but try to run multiple applications and it can quickly bog down. Apple offers 8GB as the starting configuration for its laptops, but up the Windows laptop to 8GB (which you should do, because it is soldered and can’t be upgraded later) and that price jumps to $1299.
Having Windows 10 S pre-installed is also a little risky. While it can be upgraded to the full Windows 10 version, the Surface laptop is limited to running apps from the Windows Store. For many users, that won’t be an issue, but there is the potential for some confusion here.
Finally, there’s the choice to cover the keyboard deck with alcantara fabric. It looks great and does a great job of making the new Microsoft laptop stand out from all the MacBook Air and MacBook clones out there. It feels good, too. When typing, the fabric adds some cushioning for your palms and feels warm.
But no matter how well fabric wears, it breaks down faster than metal — you could end up with threadbare spots. And although MSFT says it wipes clean, I can picture the Surface laptop getting a little grungy if it gets food, ink, paint or other substances hard-working creative professionals spill ground into that alcantara fabric.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Review: Specs
- 13.5-inch PixelSense display @ 2256 x 1504 resolution, with Surface Pen and multi-touch support
- 7th generation Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) Core i5 CPU (Core i7 upgrade option)
- Intel HD 620 or Iris Plus Graphics 640 (Core i7)
- 4GB RAM (8GB and 16GB options available)
- 128GB SSD (256GB and 512GB options available)
- Dolby Audio
- USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Battery rated for 14.5-hours of video playback
- Weighs 2.7 lbs
- Runs Windows 10 S (Windows 10 upgrade available)
- Alcantara fabric keyboard, aluminum case
- Available in Platinum, Cobalt Blue, Burgundy and Graphite Gold
- MSRP $999
Bottom Line on Microsoft Surface
With its Microsoft Surface line, MSFT has transformed itself into a leader in PC design. The Surface Pro virtually created the professional tablet category, forcing Apple to play catch-up with the iPad Pro. The Surface Studio was the warning shot that Microsoft intends to come after Apple’s creative professional demographic.
The Surface laptop is where the company can really do some damage to Apple, hitting its popular laptop lineup. The new Microsoft Surface isn’t trying to be a MacBook Pro — the Surface Book is there to take on power users — but the mainstream and mobile creative users who snap up MacBooks and MacBook Airs now have a real decision to make.
The Surface laptop isn’t perfect. But with its combination of premium design, relatively high end components, long battery life, support for existing USB accessories and affordable base price, it’s going to make many students and style-appreciating professional users think twice about automatically heading to the Apple Store.