REVIEW OF THE MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP SE: GET A CHROMEBOOK INSTEAD?

To describe an unattractive Windows laptop, I’ll often use the term “laptop cart.” If you were a college student in the early to mid-2000s, you can certainly appreciate why this was the case. The computers that schools give to students in elementary and middle school are notoriously unattractive, outdated, and generally awful.

Microsoft is experimenting with a new strategy with the Surface Laptop SE, which is only available to schools and is designed specifically for classroom use. In terms of design, the Surface Laptop SE is an adorable machine. In terms of design, it resembles Microsoft’s popular Surface Laptop range in small form, right down to the lid and bottom bezel with the instantly identifiable logo. At only 2.45 pounds, it’s a breeze to carry. If you’re looking for a device that can be used by adults rather than only kids, this is it.

If only things weren’t so sluggish

MICROSOFT SURFACE SE Tech specs

Dimensions11.17” x 7.6” x 0.70” (283.70 mm x 193.05 mm x 17.85 mm)
DisplayScreen: 11.6” TFT Liquid Crystal Display Module
Display Resolution: 1366 x 768 (135 PPI)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Memory4GB or 8GB DDR4
ProcessorIntel® Celeron® Processor N4020
Intel® Celeron® Processor N4120
SecurityFirmware TPM
Nano Security Lock slot
SoftwareWindows 11 SE
Microsoft 365 for Education3
Sensors1 x Hall-effect sensor
What’s in the boxSurface Laptop SE
Power Supply
Quick Start Guide
Safety and warranty documents
Weight2.45 lb (1,112.4 gr)

REVIEW OF THE MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP SE: GET A CHROMEBOOK INSTEAD?
7.2
MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP SE

It is more important than ever that all of your kids have equal access to modern technology. With a laptop that runs Windows 11 SE and Microsoft 365 Education,1 including web experiences, students can unlock learning and build new abilities. In the eyes of schools and IT administrators who require secure, premium student experiences, the Surface Laptop SE is a worthwhile investment. This is a product for K-8 schools.

Please contact us if you have questions about purchasing products for your school.
It’s our job to help you choose the best gear and software for your school.

PROS
  • Microsoft’s Surface design signature
  • Repairable and lightweight
CONS
  • Cramsy Celeron chipset
  • Stains easily appear on a white keyboard
  • A school day may be too long for the battery

Let me be clear: this is the slowest computer I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. As a hardware reviewer, I’ve tried a lot of Chromebooks, iPads, and inexpensive Windows laptops, and this one just creeps. Although Intel’s low-cost Celeron N4120 processor (my model costs $329, but I’m sure schools can negotiate bulk prices) is what’s available at this price point, boy is it slow. Pages take a long time to load and windows take a long time to resize to the desired size. It was a chore to switch between my regular half-dozen Chrome tabs, and typing in Google Docs was painfully slow.

It’s important to note that “slow” is a relative and subjective adjective. An adult laptop reviewer who spends his or her days on Zoom is likely to have different speed expectations than the ordinary third grader. So I contacted a few teachers and inquired about what their children were doing on their school-issued gadgets and how much electricity they needed.

Storage164GB or 128GB Embedded MultiMedia Card (eMMC)
Battery life2Up to 16 hours of typical device usage
GraphicsIntel® UHD Graphics 600
Connections1 x USB-A
1 x USB-C
1 x Barrel type DC connector
1 x 3.5 mm Headphone/Mic Jack
Cameras, Video, and Audio1MP Front facing camera with up to 720p 30fps video
2W Stereo Speakers
Single digital microphone
WirelessWi-Fi: 802.11ac (2×2)
Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 LE
ExteriorCasing: All plastic body unpainted
Color: Glacier
Physical buttons: Power button and Volume buttons on Keyboard
Hinge: 135 degrees open angle
Warranty41-year limited hardware warranty
Battery capacitiesBattery Capacity Nominal 35 Wh
Battery Capacity Minimum: 33.9 Wh

An elementary school reading teacher in Houston, Texas, says that her students use Google Classroom and other educational software for a large portion of their assignments. However, I was unable to download and test these programs because the Laptop SE doesn’t allow users to download things on their own (good for schools, a hassle for me). If students finish early, they can play math games or listen to audiobooks while listening to background music. For the most part, her students focus on one task at a time and don’t require a lot of tabs open at once.

The Laptop SE is more than capable of doing this type of task. One tab or app will suffice, even if it isn’t the fastest. Good news for students: I tried Prodigy, which Rancourt’s students enjoy playing. It worked perfectly, but my mediocre score was a sobering reminder of how long it has been since I took mathematics.

Surface Laptop SE on a desk next to educational accessories.
MICROSOFT

I’m a little more dubious about older children’s use of technology. Robert Puharich, a middle school health teacher in British Columbia, usually instructs his students to conduct research on the internet using their laptops – reading articles, Googling, and so on. Microsoft Word is a common tool for them, and they may also use Photoshop on occasion to edit photographs. Puharich explains that during these research sessions, they may have as many as five browser tabs open at once.
If you have a tight deadline and just have five minutes to finish your project before it gets put back on the cart, I’d say five tabs might be a bit much for this laptop. The $349 Lenovo Flex 3 Chromebook (also powered by a Celeron) was able to operate over a dozen Chrome tabs with no issues if I were undertaking that degree of multitasking.
On the Laptop SE, Microsoft’s own programs like Word and Paint run noticeably faster than any of the browser-based G-Suite alternatives. Chrome was slower to open and load documents than Word was, on average.
Puharich’s students frequently have to make video calls, and Puharich’s Laptop SE isn’t ideal for that. In every Zoom call I made on the SE, the CPU was overburdened at some point. I was frequently mistaken for being frozen by coworkers because of the poor quality of the audio.
For the duration of the testing period, regardless matter how awful the computer is, I utilize that computer for all of my work. Because I couldn’t put my faith in this Celeron not to crash, I had to use another device for certain crucial video conversations. That was until I got the SE. In the absence of ideal camera quality, students should be able to hear their teacher without distortion.

A child uses Surface Laptop SE at a desk.
MICROSOFT

When it comes to the SE’s performance, things aren’t quite so clear-cut. Results in other areas that Rancourt and Puharich believe are critical also varied.
As an illustration, consider toughness. Both teachers rated this as the most significant quality in a student laptop. As a result, many different students who may not be especially concerned about the device’s longevity use it all day, every day. Educator Rancourt, whose kids utilize Chromebooks in the classroom, argues that the devices must be durable enough to survive frequent drops and abuse. We teach and reteach how to carry the laptop between classes, yet even so, students still fall and drop their devices.
There is no doubt that the SE is a solid laptop. During my week of use, I purposefully damaged it by throwing it around, beating it with backpacks, and eating and drinking close by. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. There are no blemishes or dings.
The SE is also quite repairable, with seven screws on the bottom that can be easily removed. By selling spare parts through approved service providers, Microsoft has stated that IT managers can change components on-site rather than ship devices overseas for maintenance. With this feature, the Laptop SE has a significant advantage over other computers in its class.
On the other hand, that off-white keyboard surface… That’s not my experience. It’s lovely. A week into testing, there were clearly noticeable stains on the fabric. I can’t see how it wouldn’t get filthy with so many people smearing their fingers on it each week.

Surface Laptop SE on a desk beside headphones and a mouse.
MICROSOFT

Battery life was also brought up by both teachers. Disruption is possible when a student’s laptop dies in the middle of class or if the gadget shows up to class dead because it didn’t charge correctly on the cart. A complete school day of uninterrupted work on a single charge of the Surface Laptop SE didn’t always result in a battery life of more than five and a half hours.
Teachers frequently mentioned boot time throughout our conversations. In the classroom, getting students to use laptops is a huge task, but having to wait for the machines to boot up is even more of a hassle. Currently, “by the time you get the cart unloaded, start the computer and uncover all the flaws then you have to clean them up,” says Puharich of his school’s Windows laptops, which he describes as “terrible.” The majority of our issues will be resolved if you can get the item loaded up quickly, he said.

A child uses Surface Laptop SE at a desk in a classroom.


Even while I’m sure the SE boots faster than Puharich’s old computers, I wasn’t impressed. To get from power-down to Windows login, the SE may take more than 30 seconds and another 15 seconds or so. Less than half that time should be required to get even a budget Chromebook or an older iPad working.
Its screen size, though, is the biggest problem I have with the Surface Laptop SE. Both Puharic and Rancourt agree that portability is important, but they also believe that 11.6 inches is just too little. In their previous jobs, they’ve both worked with pupils who have special needs due to their inability to read small print. It was difficult for me to read the stuff on the Laptop SE since it was so little, so I had to keep zooming out to read it. (The screen’s resolution of 1366 x 768 is likewise fairly poor.)

A child uses Surface Laptop SE on the carpet in a classroom.
MICROSOFT

Ultimately, I believe that the Surface Laptop SE‘s design and repairability are its most important selling points. Schools are now handing out cumbersome Windows computers that look and feel a lot nicer than this one. It’s possible to perform elementary school-level tasks with ease. Moreover, I don’t want to understate how important it is for IT departments to be able to easily replace components.
However, customers will need to balance the needs of their IT administrators with the needs of their teachers and pupils while considering this device. Every school’s calculus may appear a little different. However, as a child becomes older and more familiar with the internet, the greater the burden on this processor may become. Additionally, there are Chromebooks and iPads on the market that offer greater overall performance, boot speed, and battery life.
On top of that, I’d strongly recommend that school districts invest in larger-screened computers with better resolutions so that all children have equal access to educational resources.

No data available
MICROSOFT

MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP SE

In order to use any smart device, you now have to agree to a litany of terms and conditions that no one reads. The sheer number of agreements makes it impossible for us to study and comprehend them all. As a result, we started keeping track of the number of times you have to agree to use a gadget when we were reviewing them because these are agreements that most people do not understand and can’t negotiate.

The following policies must be agreed to in order for the laptop to be used:

  • Your location and keyboard layout are requested.
  • Software License terms and conditions provided by Microsoft (Windows Operating System)
  • Establish a wireless network connection
  • Username and Password Requirements
  • Set up a PIN

The following are some more items that you may or may not agree to:

  • Location, Find My Device and diagnostic data are just a few of the privacy settings that may be tweaked.
  • Use OneDrive as a backup solution.
  • Sign up for a free trial of Microsoft 365.

Six of these agreements are required, while the remaining seven are optional.

REVIEW OF THE MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP SE: GET A CHROMEBOOK INSTEAD?
7.2
MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP SE

It is more important than ever that all of your kids have equal access to modern technology. With a laptop that runs Windows 11 SE and Microsoft 365 Education,1 including web experiences, students can unlock learning and build new abilities. In the eyes of schools and IT administrators who require secure, premium student experiences, the Surface Laptop SE is a worthwhile investment. This is a product for K-8 schools.

Please contact us if you have questions about purchasing products for your school.
It’s our job to help you choose the best gear and software for your school.


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