Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review

Perhaps you work as a software developer during the day and play video games at night. Or perhaps you game and code at the same time at night and sleep during the day. In either instance, you might have previously preferred a Razer or an Alienware laptop, but there’s a new kid on the block: the 14-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio (starts at $1,599; $2,699 as tested). With a haptic touchpad and a 120Hz screen that slides forward so you can lay it totally flat on top of the keyboard, it significantly advances the state of the art in mobile computing for creative pros. It isn’t very powerful or inexpensive, but it is nonetheless amazing.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio, which is packed with unique features, heralds a new kind of laptop for creative professionals who prefer pen input. One major criticism: the performance isn’t quite class-leading.
PROS
  • Pull-forward touch screen is a one-of-a-kind feature
  • Very good keyboard
  • A revolutionary haptic touchpad
  • Support for a digital stylus, with a magnetic holder and a 120Hz screen refresh rate
  • Long-lasting battery
CONS
  • Even with the updated Core i7 and RTX 3050 Ti, the performance is disappointing. There are just two USB ports
  • Pricey

MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP STUDIO SPECS

Laptop ClassConvertible 2-in-1
ProcessorIntel Core i7-11370H
Processor Speed3.3 GHz
RAM (as Tested)32 GB
Boot Drive TypeSSD
Boot Drive Capacity (as Tested)1 TB
Screen Size14.4 inches
Native Display Resolution2400 by 1600
Touch ScreenYes
Panel TechnologyIPS
Variable Refresh SupportNone
Screen Refresh Rate120 Hz
Graphics ProcessorNvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti Laptop GPU
Graphics Memory4 GB
Wireless NetworkingBluetooth, 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6)
Dimensions (HWD)0.75 by 12.72 by 8.98 inches
Weight4 lbs
Operating SystemWindows 11
Tested Battery Life (Hours:Minutes)14:01

Surface Laptop with the Most Advanced Technology

The Surface Laptop Studio was designed to be a successor to Microsoft’s Surface Book 3, an innovative gadget for creative professionals that will be sold for the time being. The Laptop Studio, like the Book 3, includes a convertible touchscreen. The Laptop Studio is a non-detachable laptop, unlike the Book 3, which is a tablet that can detach from its integrated keyboard base. Yes, Microsoft already sells a touchscreen non-detachable (a.k.a. clamshell) laptop called the Surface Laptop. The Studio version’s screen can be pushed forward to create an easel, or pushed even further forward to lay flat on your desk as a digital canvas on which to scribble your masterpiece or spill your ideas.

The Acer ConceptD 3 Ezel and a few other devices have tried with the concept previously. However, Microsoft’s version is by far the most polished. The Laptop Studio is as streamlined a Surface as there has ever been, whereas the ConceptD 3 Ezel is a tad overweight and hefty looking. It has a typical magnesium gray chassis with a reflective Microsoft logo on the display lid, and it weighs 4 pounds and measures 0.75 by 12.72 by 8.98 inches (HWD). The Acer, on the other hand, has a 0.9-inch thickness that is unfit for such an innovative form factor.

The Surface Laptop Studio, like the ConceptD 3 Ezel, has a 14-inch screen, which is becoming a new sweet spot for laptops, whether they’re ultra-thin business machines like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon or powerful gaming rigs like the Razer Blade 14. The latter—an excellent laptop in its own right—is perhaps the Surface Laptop Studio‘s main rival in its quest to win the hearts and wallets of its target market: people who consider themselves coders, gamers, and digital artists (as well as participants in many other 21st-century creative fields) all at the same time.

If that’s the case, Razer wants to win you over as well, and both businesses pay big bucks for product placement in shows you’re likely to watch, from Microsoft Surfaces in Marvel’s WandaVision to the Razer logo plastered on virtually every electronic gadget in Apple TV’s Mythic Quest. Yes, Razer is perhaps (unarguably?) cooler than Microsoft in terms of brand, but both the Blade 14 and Surface Laptop Studio are significant expenditures, so coolness isn’t the only factor to consider.

1/1

Instead, if you’re contemplating the Laptop Studio as one of a few buzzworthy 14-inch PCs due out this year, it all boils down to priorities. Do you prioritize performance over all else, or are you lured to the Surface Laptop Studio‘s revolutionary pull-forward design, which Microsoft pulls off remarkably well? Spoiler alert: you can’t have it all, so let’s take a closer look at the Laptop Studio’s features and performance to see how it compares.

Convert to Stage or Canvas with Ease

One of the most common criticisms of the Surface Book 3 is that its tablet capability is inferior to that of its laptop counterpart. The Nvidia GPU and one of the two batteries are placed in the keyboard base on the 15-inch version of the Book 3, which means that you must shut any apps that use the GPU before detaching it, and you should expect much less battery life.

Of course, because the Surface Laptop Studio‘s screen isn’t detachable, this isn’t an issue. You’ll never have to worry about apps quitting or your battery life dwindling (which is excellent, clocking in at 14 hours in our testing). Simply grip the upper right or left corner of the screen and gently twist your wrist to bring it forward. The magnetic central hinge detaches from the screen, which is comprised of woven fabric with embedded power and data connections. Following that, the display lid folds along the middle hinge. Pull the screen toward you, slowly closing the bottom hinge, until the screen’s bottom edge aligns with the gap between the keyboard and the touchpad. Another row of magnets holds it in place here.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review

You have a rock-solid surface on which to write or draw with a pen in this setup, which Microsoft calls “stage mode.” When the Laptop Studio’s screen is in standard laptop mode, it is significantly more stable, as there are two points of support rather than just one. As a result, there’s no screen bouncing, which is a problem with practically every other convertible and clamshell laptop when you tap, write, or draw on it.

While tapping on the touch screen is more enjoyable when the Laptop Studio is set up as a stage rather than a laptop, the stage orientation is most effective for presenting content rather than creating it. Without the keyboard in the way, you may enjoy watching films or playing games (with a console controller) more.

You’ll want to turn the Laptop Studio into a canvas for more serious writing or sketching sessions: Grab the screen’s corner and gently press down to release the magnetic bond and return the display to its fully flat position, where it will magnetically lock again. The Laptop Studio is essentially a digital version of a pad of paper, with the only difference being that it’s too heavy to keep in your hand compared to a detached tablet like the Surface Book 3 or even smaller convertible 2-in-1s like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.

Smoothing Out With 120Hz

Of course, traditional laptops like the Blade 14—which doesn’t even have a touch screen—can’t accomplish any of this. The fact that Microsoft can pull off the pull-forward screen so well is astonishing for two reasons. For starters, the concept has been explored previously, but it pales in comparison to the Lenovo Yoga-style convertible 2-in-1s that currently dominate the market. Second, Microsoft has included a few capabilities in the Laptop Studio’s touchscreen interface that nearly no other comparable product offers.

The first is a 120Hz refresh rate on the screen. Screen refresh rates beyond 60Hz are uncommon outside of the gaming laptop and flagship phone sectors. However, they’re necessary for making what you see on the screen appear more realistic. Gaming laptops require them to give esports players an advantage, while flagship portable devices such as the Apple iPhone 13 use them to make scrolling and other on-screen movements appear smoother. (A 165Hz screen is available for the Blade 14).

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review

Of course, the Surface Laptop Studio benefits from the conventional advantages of a high-refresh-rate screen above a standard 60Hz laptop refresh rate, but Microsoft has another, more unique reason for doing so: Whether you’re using your fingertip or a digital stylus, it allows for more realistic writing and sketching experiences. The pixels can keep up with your motion better with a greater refresh rate. If writing on a 60Hz screen feels like, well, writing on a screen, then writing on a 120Hz screen seems a lot closer to (but still a long way from) writing on actual pulp mill paper.

The new Surface Slim Pen 2 is an optional extra for the Surface Laptop Studio‘s second element for success. This $129 digital stylus should have come standard with the laptop, as the two are a wonderful match. The Slim Pen 2 offers tactile feedback when used with the Laptop Studio, making it feel even more like writing on paper. When you apply more pressure to the screen, the Slim Pen 2’s tiny haptic motor vibrates, simulating the friction that occurs when you dig a sharp mechanical pencil into a sketching pad. Unless you’re a creative artist with fine stylus control skills, it’s impossible to detect unless you bump up the sensitivity in the Windows 11 Settings app, and it’s probably more gimmicky than useful. It will be difficult for me to go back to using a non-haptic stylus now that I’ve experienced it.

The Slim Pen 2 and Surface Laptop Studio are basically made for one other. The pen can be attached to a notch beneath the laptop’s front edge, where strong magnets keep it in place and charge it.

Webcam for Windows Hello has been improved.

The Surface Laptop Studio’s unique screen features make it not just a perfect digital canvas, but also a joy to look at. The HDR display has a diagonal measurement of 14.4 inches, a 3:2 aspect ratio, and a resolution of 2,400 by 1,600 pixels (between full HD and 4K). It has thinner bezels than the Surface Laptop 4 and the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro, giving it a more contemporary appearance. The sides of the screen are rounded rather than squared, which softens the appearance but also means that full-screen apps will lose a few pixels in the corners.

The Laptop Studio’s display displayed the whole sRGB color gamut and 86 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut in our tests, putting it on par with the Blade 14 and a significant improvement over the Surface Book 3. The illumination on the Laptop Studio is also bright enough for almost any indoor viewing condition. Its maximum brightness was 485 nits, a few nits more than the Book 3’s and much higher than the Blade 14’s 357 nits.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review

A Windows Hello webcam is hidden in the thin top bezel, a familiar Surface feature that allows you to log in to your Windows account using face recognition rather than inputting your password. With the Surface Laptop Studio‘s camera, Microsoft has considerably improved the low-light performance of Windows Hello, and the shooter also records shockingly crisp video and still photographs thanks to an enhanced image signal processor and a 1080p sensor. However, when it comes to consistently logging me in, the Laptop Studio’s camera still falls short of Face ID on my iPhone, which is 100 percent accurate when I’m not wearing a face mask.

The keyboard and touchpad on the Surface Laptop Studio are also the nicest I’ve ever experienced on a Surface device. The touchpad, which uses haptic motors instead of a physical hinge, provides a consistent clicking feel whether your fingertips are in the corner or the center of the pad. Other Windows laptop manufacturers have dabbled in haptics, such as Lenovo’s Yoga 9i and ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, but only the Surface Laptop Studio delivers the experience we’ve come to anticipate from the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air’s haptic trackpads.

Expect to Plug in a Limited Number of Peripherals

The Laptop Studio’s port selection is underwhelming for a laptop that starts at $1,600 and is intended at creative professionals. Only two oval-shaped USB-C ports, a headphone jack, and the Surface Connect connector, which is where the AC adapter is plugged in, are available. In comparison, the Blade 14 has a solid set of I/O connections, including two USB Type-A ports, two USB Type-C connectors, and an HDMI output. Professionals want port options, even if it’s just to connect a USB-A gaming mouse, yet the Laptop Studio falls short.

As a consolation prize, both USB ports on the Surface Laptop Studio support Thunderbolt 4, which the Blade 14 and Surface Book 3 do not. You’ll also discover a power-delivery port on the Laptop Studio’s elegant black AC adapter if you need to charge a USB-A device. The connector can only be used to charge the laptop and cannot be used to transfer data. The upgraded version requires a 95-watt power supply to run the Core i7 and RTX graphics, whereas the Core i5 base system only requires a 60-watt adapter. Both have USB connectors for charging. Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.1 are available for wireless connectivity.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review

The Surface Laptop Studio’s audio quality is superb, with quad speakers and two microphones. The one aspect I found lacking is the bass, which comes from a dedicated woofer, but that’s something we don’t expect from a 14-inch laptop.

Configuration Options for Surface Studio

From the increased capabilities compared to other 14-inch laptops to the usability enhancements over the Surface Book 3, it’s evident that Microsoft has a design victory on its hands with the Surface Laptop Studio. What about performance, though?

As previously stated, it’s a bit of a letdown. An Intel Core i7-11370H processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, 32GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD were tested in a higher-end configuration. Compare that to the Core i5-powered base version, which has 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD but no separate Nvidia GPU and instead relies on Intel integrated graphics.

While RTX is Nvidia’s flagship GPU brand and Intel’s H-series Core CPUs are the company’s flagship laptop processors, they’re not created equal. The Laptop Studio’s Core i7 features only four cores and a 28-watt minimum power draw, putting it closer to Core i7 models built for ultraportable notebooks than the six-core, 45-watt ones that make up the H-series range’s upper end. When you go from the RTX 3060 (a mid-range card) to the RTX 3050 Ti, which has only 4GB of video memory and can range from 35 to 80 watts depending on the laptop, you’ll notice a considerable loss in graphics performance.

Test System Configurations

PROCESSORGRAPHICSRAMSTORAGE
Microsoft Surface Laptop StudioIntel Core i7-11370H (3.3GHz)Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti (4GB)32GB RAM1TB SSD
Dell XPS 15 OLED (9510)Intel Core i7-11800H (2.3GHz)Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti (4GB)16GB RAM512GB SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4Intel Core i7-11800H (2.3GHz)Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 (6GB)16GB RAM512GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-Inch)Intel Core i7-1065G7 (1.3GHz)Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti (6GB, Max-Q)32GB RAM512GB SSD
Razer Blade 14AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX (3.3GHz)Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 (8GB)16GB RAM1TB SSD

As a result, the Surface Laptop Studio‘s performance follows a predictable trend. It performs admirably in routine chores such as web browsing (as any laptop in this price range should), but it falls short of true power laptops meant for gaming or content creation, such as the Dell XPS 15, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme, and the Blade 14. The specifications of these laptops, as well as those of the Laptop Studio and Book 3, are listed in the chart below.

The first set of benchmarks we perform simulates both ordinary workloads (UL PCMark and Primate Labs Geekbench) and more difficult real-world workflows such as 3D rendering (Maxon Cinebench), video transcoding (Handbrake), and picture editing (Handbrake) (Adobe Photoshop). The Laptop Studio outperforms the Book 3 in PCMark and Geekbench, but trails all three of its opponents in the other tests, a pattern that repeats again.

When all of the results are above the 4,000 level, which denotes exceptional performance, a few hundred points on the PCMark 10 overall test makes little difference. However, when the Surface Laptop Studio takes 12 minutes to complete a video transcoding that the Blade 14 can complete in 7 minutes, it raises some suspicions. Transcoding video using Handbrake, as well as producing code, is a CPU-intensive job, therefore software developers will certainly be disappointed with this result. The Blade 14 is powered by an AMD Ryzen 9 56900H processor with eight cores and a default power rating of 45 watts. (For further information, see how we evaluate laptops.)

Battery Life and Gaming Performance

The RTX-equipped version of the Surface Laptop Studio is intended to double as a gaming platform, and the benchmark scores reflect this. On the 3DMark gaming graphics simulation, performance is comparable to the Dell XPS 15, which is intended to serve a similar purpose (content creation as bread and butter, a bit of casual gaming at lower resolutions and detail settings to relax at the end of the day). We usually perform a second graphics simulation called GFXBench, however it didn’t start on the Laptop Studio, which was most likely due to a software fault rather than a hardware issue.

The Laptop Studio, on the other hand, is just not up to the task when it comes to AAA games with wonderfully detailed graphics that put a GPU to the test. On the in-game benchmarks we performed (F1 2021, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Rainbow Six: Siege), the discrepancies between the RTX 3070-equipped Blade 14 and the RTX 3050 Ti Laptop Studio are stark reminders that not all RTX laptops are created equal. Yes, if you choose low quality and use Nvidia’s DLSS function in games that support it, you’ll get improved performance, but it’ll still be significantly less than what an RTX 3070-equipped computer can deliver.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review

As previously said, the battery life and display performance of the Surface Laptop Studio are superb. In the chart below, you can compare the Surface Laptop Studio’s color, brightness, and video battery rundown performance to that of competitors. It’s particularly impressive that, despite having more powerful components and one fewer battery, it manages to come within two hours of the Book 3’s result.

Despite performance issues, the project is nonetheless groundbreaking.

The Surface Laptop Studio is without a doubt revolutionary. We’ve grown to expect such things from the Surface range, so it’s always good to find a device that goes above and beyond. The concept of a pull-forward laptop screen has been tried before, but never in a device as elegant as this one, with features like a haptic touchpad and powerful digital stylus compatibility.

However, the once-scarce market for compact power laptops is becoming more congested, and many businesses other than Microsoft have seen the promise of 14-inch PCs with a punch. Thanks to its Ryzen 9 and RTX 3070, Razer’s less priced Blade 14 packs a lot more punch. The Blade 14 doesn’t have haptics or a pull-forward screen—in fact, it doesn’t have a touch screen at all.

So, if you’re a creative professional, you have every right to be enthusiastic about the Surface Laptop Studio, but you’re stuck with a dilemma: Get a gorgeous digital canvas, or squeeze every ounce of power out of a compact laptop like the Blade 14? We think you’ll prefer the latter, especially if you like to spend your day (or night, or both) gaming rather than creating with a stylus.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio, which is packed with unique features, heralds a new kind of laptop for creative professionals who prefer pen input. One major criticism: the performance isn’t quite class-leading.


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