Thanks to its larger screen and improved performance, the Surface Pro 8 is the flagship of Microsoft’s Surface series. However, those who prefer genuine laptops to convertible tablets should look at the Surface Laptop Studio, a new member of the Surface family.
Like the original Surface Book, the Surface Laptop Studio aspires to be a standard laptop with the option to remove the keyboard when using the Surface Pen to draw or write. However, unlike the Surface Book, the Laptop Studio features a connected screen with a folding hinge, similar to the original Surface Studio desktop for which it is called.
So, how does the Surface Laptop Studio fit into Microsoft’s new Surface lineup? How does it compare to the previous Surface Book model? And how does it stack up against other high-end large-screen laptops from other PC manufacturers?
A reliable, albeit unusual, laptop
The Laptop Studio inherits the original Surface Book’s rock-solid, all-aluminum construction. The metal has been handled in such a way that it feels softer to the touch than the aluminum finish on a MacBook Air or Pro, and it feels good against my wrists and palms.
The Surface Laptop Studio is noticeably flat and slab-like, with softened corners but aggressively angular surfaces throughout. However, the Surface Book’s strange bendy-straw hinge has been removed, making the Laptop Studio appear more like a conventional laptop. I say “more similar” because this is still a weird design—most high-end professional computers have a taper or curve to minimize hard edges and reduce bulk.
With a backlit chiclet-style keyboard, a huge one-piece trackpad, and a 14.4-inch 24001600 screen with a uniform, narrow-ish bezel, the Surface Laptop Studio looks more like a traditional laptop when viewed from the top down. Like those on other Surface devices, the screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio rather than the more common 16:9 (or increasingly ubiquitous 16:10), allowing for more vertical room for images and papers.
The screen has a 120 Hz refresh rate, making the new animations in Windows 11 look silky smooth. The Laptop Studio, unlike the Surface Pro 8, uses a faster refresh rate by default. According to our i1DisplayStudio colorimeter, the screen boasts an impressive (for an IPS panel) 1675:1 contrast ratio and a maximum brightness of 506 nits.
The only drawbacks are the screen’s high reflectivity and color gamut coverage, which covers 100% of the sRGB spectrum but only 84 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut. Several laptops in this price range from Apple, Dell, Lenovo, HP, and other PC manufacturers can display this wider color gamut, but most Surface devices still can’t.
The keyboard and trackpad are excellent, as they are on all Microsoft products. The stiffness and travel of the chiclet keyboard are comparable to those of Dell’s most current XPS 13 and 15 laptops or Apple’s post-butterfly MacBook keyboards. The trackpad, which doesn’t have a real hinge and thus doesn’t “click” in the traditional sense, may be more unsettling to some individuals, though it will seem very familiar to veteran Mac users: the trackpad doesn’t have a physical hinge. It hence doesn’t “click” in the usual sense. The Laptop Studio uses haptic feedback to imitate the impression of a simple click, just like Apple’s MacBooks have for years.
After years of using a MacBook, I’m not bothered by this sensation, and I sometimes prefer it because the “click” effect is consistent over the entire trackpad—and it produces far less noise than physical clicking. However, if this is your first time using a haptic trackpad, it may take some time to get used to. You can adjust the firmness of the haptic feedback in Windows settings; I enjoy it with the haptics cranked up, which is exactly how I set it in macOS, but you can make it lighter or even turn it off entirely if you prefer.
The laptop’s… lip? Shelf? is the oddest part of the complete design. Overhang? It’s a small rim around the edge of the computer that creates a space between the bottom of the machine and the surface it sits on, and I’m not sure what to call it. The Surface, Slim Pen attachment, is magnetically attached, charged, and stored in that gap in the front of the laptop. It takes place for the display hinge on the back. It also makes room for airflow and speaker cutouts on the sides.
Another oddity about the Surface Laptop Studio is the rounded corners of the screen. True, rounded corners have been added to Windows 11’s windows and menus—you could call it the “cornerstone” of the new operating system’s design! However, because Windows still expects monitors to have squared borders, the corners of fullscreen windows and windows Snapped anywhere on the screen still have square corners.
The Laptop Studio’s rounded-corner screen is treated the same as any other display in Windows 11. This implies that Windows expects to see a small pocket of pixels that you cannot see in each corner of the screen. As a result, the corners of windows (and the mouse cursor when moved to the screen’s corners) are partially covered.
When using fullscreen programs, the impact is to round the window corners anyway, and I can’t think of any software or game that would make a significant difference. Still, using a screen with rounded corners and an operating system that isn’t aware of them is a weird design choice. None of the other Surfaces, including the recently released Surface Pro 8, have the same screen. It’s just another aspect of this laptop that I don’t quite understand.
Ports are limited.
The port selection is also a little odd. The Laptop Studio has two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone jack, and a Surface Connect port; the laptop’s primary charger is a 102 W brick that plugs into the Surface Connect port, though it can also be charged using USB-C chargers and displays.
I won’t get too vocal about the lack of USB-A connectors because even high-end laptops are rapidly adopting all-Thunderbolt/USB-C connectivity. USB-C hubs, docks, dongles, and cables are also increasingly inexpensive and plentiful. I’ll also admit that Microsoft’s unwavering support for the Surface Connect port is, in some ways, beneficial to upgraders who have already purchased a Surface Connect dock. However, I wish Microsoft had either deleted the Surface Connect connector entirely in favor of Thunderbolt 4, or at the very least made place on the laptop’s right side for a couple of extra ports.
Your options are naturally limited when you have a high-end laptop with so few ports. A multi-port dock, whether it’s Microsoft’s costly Surface Dock 2, a low-cost USB-C hub, or a Thunderbolt dock that falls somewhere in the middle, is a great addition to your workstation. However, if you’re traveling and frequently require USB-A ports, display connectivity, or an SD reader, juggling items between two ports might be inconvenient, even if you’re willing to invest in the necessary dongles and adapters.
Is there a Surface Book replacement? That’s not the case.
Microsoft describes the Surface Laptop Studio as a spiritual successor to the old Surface Book, which might be construed as evidence that there would be no more Surface Books. However, I’m not convinced that the Laptop Studio is a viable Surface Book replacement.
The Surface Book was distinct in two ways: its tablet detachably attached to its base, and the 15-inch model offered a substantially larger canvas than any previous Surface tablet. Because the CPU, RAM, and other important components had to fit in the skinny tablet part and not the beefy keyboard part, the Book’s design came with serious compromises—the tablet could only manage a few hours of battery life on its own, and performance was worse than in other similarly sized laptops because the CPU, RAM, and other important components had to fit in the skinny tablet part and not the beefy keyboard part. The Surface Book’s tablet also lacked a kickstand, so you had to figure it out on your own if you needed to set it up. However, if you wanted a tablet larger than 13 inches, the Surface Book was practically the only game in town, making it stand out.
The Laptop Studio is unlike any other. It has a repositionable screen that does not split from the base, making it a thick and weighty 4-pound tablet. Its 14.4-inch screen, which sits in the middle of the Book’s 13.5- and 15-inch screen options, is still larger than the Surface Pro 8’s, albeit by a smaller margin.
And the Laptop Studio has competition, whereas the Surface Book (especially the larger version) was practically the only laptop capable of accomplishing what it did. For example, Acer’s concept Ezel laptops employ a similar fold-out display concept but with more usable screen positions, faster processor and GPU options, more connections, and Wacom digitizers that are more widely compatible with various pen peripherals.
That isn’t to suggest that the Laptop Studio is without its merits. The Ezel 7 is 1.5 pounds heavier and significantly more expensive than the Laptop Studio, while the Ezel 3 is less expensive and has a smaller screen. Both have 16:9 panels rather than the higher 16:10 or 2:3 screens we like to see in high-end laptops, and neither has been upgraded with the latest Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU options. However, the fact remains: the Surface Book was unique in its field, whereas the Laptop Studio wasn’t.
An observation about the Surface Slim Pen 2
The Surface Slim Pen 2 attachment, which costs $130, is used by the Laptop Studio and the Surface Pro X and Surface Pro 8. It’s similar to the original Slim Pen but with a new haptic feedback feature and a button moved from the narrow to the wide side of the pen. The haptics of the cell make moving it across your screen feel more like dragging a real pen or pencil over a sheet of paper in apps that support it. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s interesting.
The major question is whether the Slim Pen 2 and the new Surface hardware can remedy minor issues like the wavering line issue that has plagued the Surface’s digitizer in the past. (YouTuber Brad Colbow has written extensively about this issue spanning numerous product generations.)
Even after using a straightedge to reduce natural handshaking, I noticed wavy diagonal lines using the Surface Slim Pen 2 in our Surface Pro 8 review. That remains true, at least when compared to an Apple Pencil 2 on a 6th-generation iPad mini or an earlier iPad Air 3 with the original Apple Pencil. Colbow did observe in a brief hands-on with the new hardware and the Surface Slim Pen 2 that the problem appears to be considerably improved with the latest hardware with the Surface Slim Pen 2. And it seems to be a pen issue, as the old Surface Pen used with the Laptop Studio in Colbow’s tests drew wavier lines as well.
So, if you’ve been avoiding the Surface lineup in the past because of this, the new item doesn’t completely cure the problem. However, it does help. This is true for both the Surface Pro 8 and the Laptop Studio.
Quad-core issues in terms of performance and battery life
I don’t think the Surface Laptop Studio has a performance issue. We’ll get into the specifics later, but the short version is that the system is suitable for design work and light gaming. Its quad-core Intel processors and dedicated Nvidia graphics options perform well together. However, compared to other similarly priced thin-and-light workstation computers, the Laptop Studio falls short on performance.
Here are the major specifications for the Laptop Studio we tested, as well as some other PCs we’re comparing it to:
The Surface Laptop Studio is a powerful machine with a quad-core Core i7-11370H processor and an Nvidia RTX A2000 GPU.
With an 8-core Core i7-11800H processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU, the Dell XPS 15 9510 is a powerful laptop.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 4 features an 8-core Intel Core i7-11800H processor and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card.
The Surface Laptop 4 features an AMD Ryzen 7 4980U 8-core processor and AMD Radeon integrated graphics.
The Surface Pro 8 is powered by a quad-core Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor with integrated Iris Xe graphics.