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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review: A Creator Focused Laptop


Microsoft recently during their Surface Event announced the all-new Surface Laptop Studio that would be replacing the Surface Book line of laptops, making this their top-of-the-line flagship laptop.


Surface Laptop Studio shares a lot of similarities with Apple's MacBook Pro and may appear as a standard clamshell laptop. But it is more than that with a complex hinge mechanism, rounded corners, a new trackpad, limited ports, and is the first laptop to come with Windows 11 pre-installed.


All-new Design

The Surface Laptop Studio comes with a 2400 x 1600 resolution display with a 120Hz refresh rate, first in a productivity laptop which makes the entire UI and animations feel smoother no matter the task that is being performed on the display or just jotting down notes using the Surface Slim Pen 2.

The display offered by Microsoft is still one the best displays that can be found on a laptop with Dolby Vision Support with higher brightness and HDR playback for both games as well as videos. The 3:2 aspect ratio is perfect as it provides more vertical space which makes reading documents, browsing through the web, or even writing blogs easier and more comfortable.


The display is covered with some thick bezels when comparing it to its competition like the Dell XPS or even Microsoft's own Surface Laptop 8. The display has rounded corners about which I have mixed feelings, I get that Windows 11 has rounded corners, but these corners cut into the window of an application that is placed to the side of the screen.

The top bezel of the laptop comes with a 2-megapixel 1080p camera which is better than the 720p offered in previous laptops, but still leaving a lot to be desired.


The lid of the laptop thicker than usual as it that is due to the 360-degree hinge that Microsoft has added that allows the screen to work in different orientations. The Surface Laptop Studio has a display similar to their Surface Studio.

The display can be repositioned with the help of two fingers in what Microsoft calls Studio mode that rests magnetically between the keyboard and the trackpad, tablet mode, or can go all the back in case you want to show someone something on the screen.


When the screen is all the way back you can see how Microsoft has designed the hinge on the Surface Laptop Studio that is covered by a smooth cloth that keeps the hinge from making direct contact with the screen.

The laptop has a very unusual way of cooling itself which is all hidden on the bottom deck of the laptop, yes the laptop has a bump at the bottom that houses all the cooling solutions and also raises the laptop up a few millimeters. This extra deck allows the laptop to run a powerful Intel CPU and a discrete Nvidia GPU.

Most of the laptops throw the heat generated by the machine away from the users, but since Surface Laptop Studio has its fans in the front half of the bottom deck; it exhausts air from both the sides of the computer which could get uncomfortable when using an external mouse. The fans remain quiet when doing regular day-to-day tasks, but when gaming, editing video, or any other intensive tasks they do get loud which is expected.


Microsoft knows how to make a good keyboard and that remains the same here. Surface Laptop Studio's keyboard is very good with 1.3mm of travel. The keys are comfortably spaced with a backlight and feel amazing to type on, similar to all the other surface laptops. When Microsoft announced the laptop there were speculations that the bottom deck might make typing uncomfortable, but I did not find that to be the case the deck is invisible and typing seems seamless.


Surface Laptop Studio comes with an all-new trackpad that adopts a haptic system as seen in Apple MacBooks meaning that the trackpad is big and very accurate. Since the trackpad has no physical buttons, it can be clicked on anywhere with smooth scrolling and multi-finger gestures are smooth, and the palm rejection is excellent. Making this the best trackpad in any Windows laptop to date.

The space between the main deck and the cooling deck of the laptop (front lip) has some magnets that can store and charge the Surface Slim Pen 2. The new Slim Pen 2 has got a similar share and weight to the Slim Pen that was introduced with the Surface Pro X a few years back, but now has a haptic motor inside of it that provides subtle haptic feedback to the user when writing or drawing on the screen. The haptic is very subtle and barely noticeable and is not supported by many applications like OneNote, Nebo, or Evernote to name a few.

Surface Laptop Studio comes with 4 speakers with 2 on the sides and 2 under the keyboard. It is not mind-blowing and comes nowhere close to the best laptop speakers that are present in the MacBook Pro 16. But the speakers present are good enough to watch videos and use Microsoft Teams.


Speaking of taking design cues from Apple, the ports provided on the Surface Laptop Studio are 2 Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, a headphone jack, and the Surface connector. Finally, Microsoft is embracing Thunderbolt which allows connecting speedy external drives, but this lack of ports is very frustrating.

Performance & Battery

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio starts with an Intel i5 11th Gen processor with integrated Intel Xe graphics. As you upgrade the laptop's configuration, Microsoft provides a discrete GPU option with the laptop i.e., RTX 3050Ti, and an Intel Core i7 11370H processor for $2099. The price may increase as you configure your RAM, warranty, SSD storage, etc.

Microsoft is asking for a lot of money for their new laptops even though they are using a 35 Watt Quad-Core chip in all of their configurations with no option to upgrade to a 6 or an 8 core CPU. The GPU is also not too powerful with the max offering being an RTX 3050Ti which is a midrange GPU and cannot take advantage of the 120Hz display.


Microsoft does not market this laptop as a gaming machine, but rather as a machine for creative professionals. Still, I played out a few games to test the machine's capabilities and these were the results; playing Red Read Redemption 2 at its native resolution provided me with 40fps with high detail quality this was thanks to Nvidia's DLSS technology. Forza Horizon 4 was able to reach 30fps at the laptop's native resolution with ultra settings.

Even though the laptop does not perform very well while gaming, everything changes when using it to edit videos or any other creative work. While using Davinci Resolve it was able to export a 5 minute 4K video in just about 5 minutes which makes it go toe-to-toe with the M1 Macbook Pro. The surface laptop studio can still be defeated by more capable machines having beefier GPUs.

But to ensure that the laptop is able to complete any task easily it is important for the manufacturer to have an effective cooling solution and Microsoft has delivered that as well. The laptop did not throttle no matter the task thrown at it, the laptop did get hot at the lower deck, but it was never uncomfortable.


The laptop is best for productivity work and has no problem in managing multiple tabs of Chrome, MS Teams, Affinity Suite, Davinci Resolve, Adobe XD, Email, multiple Virtual Desktops. Though the performance does take a hit when it is being used on battery power.

Talking about the battery I am not very impressed with it my daily workload includes Emailing, MS Teams, Microsoft Word, Adobe XD, Notion, Chrome with some light gaming which mainly includes Valorant at 50-60% brightness, I was getting around 4-5 hours of battery life from the Surface Laptop Studio which is considerably less when comparing it to my old Dell XPS 7590.

Microsoft packs a 58 watt-hour battery in the Laptop Studio which is considerably less than their previous Surface Book 3 this may be the case due to the 120Hz display that comes with the laptop and since Windows 11 still does not support Dynamic Refresh Rate which allows the display to automatically change its refresh rate based on the task being performed on-screen. Meaning that the laptop runs at 120Hz all the time even when it is not necessary. You can squeeze in more battery life by manually setting the display to an all-time 60Hz.


Conclusion

Microsoft's new Surface Laptop Studio has a great form factor but the internal hardware keeps me from recommending it to creative professionals as they can find better offerings from Razer or Dell with a more powerful GPU and CPU and with the recent release of Apple's M1 Pro & M1 Max the competition has skyrocketed.


The laptop is being offered at a very high price for less powerful hardware, poor battery life, but if you are not a digital artist who can actually utilize the display and the stylus to its full extent, I would not recommend buying this laptop. Instead buy a Dell XPS 15 or 17 which has a modern design and a better display.

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