WHEN THE SURFACE LAPTOP made its debut, it was met with critical acclaim and arguably set the benchmark for what a Windows 10 ultraportable should be. It also presented what some would see as the closest a Windows machine has come to the original MacBook Air in terms of a high watermark in ultraportable machines.
That being said, it was hobbled with cut-down Windows 10 S software, though the path to full-fat Windows 10 wasn’t exactly an arduous one. And the model with 4GB of RAM ran out of puff relatively quickly, while but a couple of ports didn’t exactly overburden the Surface Laptop with connectivity.
But it was an excellent laptop all-in-all, so it’s no surprise that the Surface Laptop 2 doesn’t really deviate that much from its predecessor, with the major change being a processor refresh. Still, if you want to know if it’s worth your cold, hard cash then read on.
If you can spot the difference between the Surface Laptop 2 and the Surface Laptop, then you have a better eye than us and perhaps those of an eagle; the Surface Laptop 2 is pretty much identical to its predecessor.
That’s no bad thing as the original machine was bloody lovely. Its dimensions of 308x223x14.5mm are svelte and at 1.25kg, it’s pretty easy to lug around as well.
The new laptop sports the lovely slim and clean look of its predecessor, with no screws or unsightly seams in sight; everything is flush and even the ventilation grill on the laptop’s back is wonderfully neat.
Open the lid and you’re not only greeted with the 13.5in display but also the Alcantara topped keyboard. While slathering a keyboard deck with a material more commonly found in high-end sports cars rather than gadgets might seem a tad silly, it absolutely works here.
We already expected that from messing with the Surface Laptop, but once again the Alcantara feels very nice to the touch. It’s also stain resistant and can be wiped clean with a damp cloth, so you shouldn’t need to worry about getting it too messy.
As for the keyboard itself, we really rather liked the chiclet keys of the Surface Laptop, and the same can be said here.
The 1.5mm of key travel and lovely tactile feedback makes typing on the Surface Laptop 2 an utter joy; in fact, we’d say it’s one of the best keyboards we’ve ever used.
Thankfully the trackpad also puts in a sterling performance, with its matte glass being both smooth and precise to use, no doubt aided by Microsoft’s excellent Precision drivers. It’s not MacBook Force Touch good, but it’s up there with some of the best Windows 10 laptops.
Port selection is where things are still a tad disappointing. All you get is a USB 3.0 Type A, mini DisplayPort, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the proprietary Surface Connector port to take care of charging the machine.
There’s no SD card reader and more disappointing still is the lack of a USB Type-C port, Thunderbolt 3 compatible or otherwise. Yes, we know not everyone is keen on the connection and nor is it as ubiquitous as the likes of Apple would want. But we’re still a bit baffled as to why Microsoft decided to shun the port.
We’re not hardware engineers but we reckon Redmond’s boffins could have squeezed in a Type-C connection or at least dropped the DisplayPort and popped a Type-C in its place.
The lack of a USB-C port, especially one with Thunderbolt 3, means the Surface Laptop simply isn’t as futureproof as you’d want it to be for around a grand of Blighty bullion.
Furthermore, we feel there’s a missed opportunity here to turn the Surface Laptop 2 into a pseudo gaming and video editing machine by plugging in an external graphics card, especially as the latest Intel processors have enough grunt to be paired with a mid-range GPU.
Performance, storage and battery life
Speaking of performance, there’s plenty of it here to make day-to-day tasks feel slick and it even facilitates some light gaming – we managed to get The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim running on it for example; hardly a modern game but still one that’s rather nice to look at.
Our review unit came sporting a Core i5-8250U quad-core processor that clocks up to 3.4Ghz and comes paired with 8GB of RAM. You can opt to pay more for a Core i7 chip and 16GB of RAM to go alongside it, but the price of the Surface Laptop 2 quickly gets past the £1,000 mark and we’re not convinced the extra power is really needed in the ultrabook.
Throwing the Geekbench 4 test at our review unit, the Surface laptop 2 clocked up 3,873 for the single-core score and 12,505 in the multi-core score, putting it on par with the likes of the Dell XPS 13 and Asus ZenBook UX430UA.
But in every-day use, we don’t reckon there’s a massively noticeable increase in performance over the Surface Laptop, though having more RAM as default is certainly appreciated.
The Surface Laptop 2 runs full-fat Windows 10 with aplomb; Windows 10 S no longer comes as default thankfully, though you can enable it in the settings if you’ve been licking hallucinogenic forest frogs or want to punish yourself.
And we didn’t find any productivity apps that managed to get the laptop in a tizz. It also runs whisper quiet and doesn’t get too hot when put under strain.
It will also deliver its solid performance for a good day’s worth of work before you’ll need to reach for the charger. While Microsoft claims 14.5 hours of battery life, in proper use with the display’s brightness cranked up, because that’s the way we (uh, uh) like it, you’re looking at some seven to eight hours of decent productivity use.
If you’re someone who loves to mess around a lot with video and picture files stored locally, you’ll be pleased to know the Surface Laptop 2 can be specced with up to 1TB of storage, though you’ll need to pay for the privilege.
Our model came with 128GB, which is fine if you’re not filling the machine up with apps; options for 256GB and 512GB are on offer, but again each step up in storage hikes the price up a bit. Go for a Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage and you’re looking at a price tag north of £2,000, which is a heck of a lot for an ultraportable.
Where the Surface Laptop 2 earns its appeal, alongside its design, is with its 13.5in 4:3 aspect ratio PixelSense display.
With a 2256×1504 resolution and pixel per inch density of 201, everything looks very crisp on the laptop’s display, if not quite as sharp as the displays on the Surface Pro 6, which has a higher ppi thanks to the smaller screen space.
The display’s colour and contrast are very good, though if you’re a professional photo editor you might want to opt for an external display for perfect colour accuracy. The screen gets pretty bright as well which helps make the vivid colours pop, but it’s not the brightest panel in the ultraportable word, not that we’re going to kick up a fuss about that.
The touch element of the screen is also very nice and responsive, and thanks to the use of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, it’ll resist any scratches from pointy fingernails or violent prods from a Surface Pen.
All-in-all, the Surface Laptop 2’s display is thoroughly pleasant, but then we expected that as its predecessor’s screen was also impressive. Combined with the sleek design, the PixelSense display is lovely to use and gawp at.
As we mentioned, the Surface Laptop was a success and it’s the same story with the second-gen model. Go for the same spec as our review model and you’ll pay £979, which snares you pretty much the best Windows 10 ultraportable around for everyday computing.
While we haven’t had a chance to fully review Apple’s new MacBook Air, from a brief play with the machine and a look at the specs, the Surface Laptop 2 pretty much trounces it in terms of processor and keyboard; you know, in case you’re torn between Windows 10 and macOS.
The only thing that gives us pause is the lack of a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, which limits the Surface Laptop 2’s potential and future proofing. We’d place a hefty bet that a 2019 Surface Laptop will fix that, so we’d be tempted to suggest a wait until then if you already have an ultraportable that’s ticking along well enough.
Don’t care about Thunderbolt 3, then fill yer boots as you won’t be disappointed with the Surface Laptop 2 one tiny bit.
Lovely design and display, the latest Intel chips, wonderful keyboard.
No USB-C, and it gets pretty expensive once you spec it up.
Two grand is way too much for the top spec model.