Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Evolution, not revolution
The Surface Laptop 4 follows the same formula, delivering a product that’s expectedly more evolution than revolution
Since its launch in 2017, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop range has been all about purity, not only by way of the clean lines and minimalist trim but also the promise of offering Windows the way Microsoft intended, albeit in a familiar laptop form factor. The Surface Laptop 4 follows the same formula, delivering a product that’s expectedly more evolution than revolution, but one that has all the elements of a premium Windows laptop meant for a discerning set of consumers. Is this the laptop for you? Let’s find out.
Before we proceed, a quick note on the multiple variants you can pick from if you’re considering the Surface Laptop 4, and the options are a plenty! Two sizes options – 13.5-inch and 15-inch screens – on an aluminum chassis with Alcantara (only 13.5-inch variant) or metal palm rests. Powering the devices are Intel and AMD chips, with AMD Ryzen 5 4680U/Ryzen 7 4980U chips and Intel Core i5-1135G7/Core i7- 1185G7 on the 13.5- and 15-inch models. I had the 15-inch model with an 11th gen Intel Core i7 chip, 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 512GB SSD for review, which represents the top-spec configuration in this series.
The design is largely unchanged from the previous generation, which is both a good and a bad thing. Good, since it’s a design I personally like - with the signature 3:2 screen aspect ratio (and dare I add, signature thick bezels) which adds more viewing area for work documents and web pages at the expense of horizontal space for widescreen movies…and the clean, squared off edges and aluminum-chassis thin-and-light design make for a premium-looking 15-inch laptop. Opening it up happens rather effortlessly with the sturdy screen showing no signs of flex when you open it or touch the display for interacting with the Windows UI. The keyboard layout is excellent, with adequate spacing and good key travel, and the trackpad is the best I’ve used on a Windows laptop in recent times. In all, the Surface Laptop 4 is undeniably slim laptop while packing in a big screen, and the 15-inch variant will appeal to those looking for slightly sober, business-friendly color options.
Bad, since a lot of competing laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and the Asus ZenBook Duo pack a lot of punch with insanely thin bezels and dual displays, leaving the Surface feeling just a little bit left behind on the tech curve.
Ports are limited to the single USB-A, one Type-C and a headphone jack on the left, and charging happens via the proprietary Surface Connect cable, which continues to be fiddly and detaches too easily. You can, of course, charge over USB-C, though there’s no Thunderbolt 4 connectivity on the USB-C port.
The 15-inch PixelSense display is, as one has come to expect from previous Surfaces, an excellent display, and has a native resolution of 2496 x 1664 pixels and bright and vivid color reproduction. The 10-point touch input response is good, as is support for inking accessories like the Surface Pen (an optional extra). Watching 4K HDR content is enjoyable on the screen, except that the taller aspect ratio means that 16:9 content renders with two sizeable black bars. This is a screen that really comes into its own when you’re working. Interestingly, the speakers are positioned under the keyboard, and get fairly impressive for a pair of laptop speakers – there’s a decent amount of bass and they’re good for casual media consumption and music.
Performance wise, the Core i7 variant I tested is specced rather well, so it didn’t have any issues in the usual cocktail of (way too many) Chrome tabs, Excel sheets and music streaming I threw at it. Of course, that’s to be expected for something at this price point, and you should note that while it can do casual gaming like Asphalt 9 or lightweight video edits just fine, you shouldn’t go in expecting gaming laptop performance with its integrated Iris Xe graphics. Of course, the Windows 10 install on this is completely bereft of any added bloatware whatsoever, and the Surface is a great showcase for Windows on a laptop. Battery life is a respectable 10-12 hours, (depending on the workload) which is a huge generational improvement by itself.
To be fair, this is more a nip-and-tuck on an existing formula than a revolutionary new offering, but the improvements that Microsoft has delivered in the same slim, easy-to-tote chassis are discernible, particularly in the battery life, keyboard/trackpad and performance departments. This is a laptop I’d recommend to a discerning writer or corporate executive with a penchant for a larger screen, who would primarily use this for hammering away at the keyboard or peering at a spreadsheet. It may feel a bit dated visually compared to its premium ultrabook competitors, but I sense a niche of business users to whom this would appeal immensely.
Highlights: Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch)
Pros: Great keyboard and trackpad, good screen, lightweight and portable, great speakers, good battery life, acceptable ultrabook performance.
Cons: Dated looks, particularly the screen bezels. Lacks ports.
Price: Rs. 177,499 (Core i7-1185G7, 16GB RAM, 512GB) as tested
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar