On May 3rd, Microsoft unveiled the new Surface Laptop. The announcement was met with mixed feedback due to several decisions that Microsoft made regarding the Surface Laptop design and specs. Previous Surface devices have always fit the mold of being hybrid devices. The Surface Pro series and Surface Book easily transform from a laptop to a tablet. The new Surface Laptop moves away from that paradigm and functions only as a touch screen laptop. This begs the question, is this new Surface Laptop a bust?
Let’s review the specs.
The 13.5-inch base model starts at $999 running on an Intel Core i5 processor. The Surface Laptop runs on Windows 10 S. For those that don’t know, Windows 10 S is a locked version of Windows 10 Pro, which can only run apps included in Windows 10 or that are available in the Windows Store. The only ports you’ll find on the Surface Laptop is one USB 3.0 port, a MiniDisplay Port, and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect port. Microsoft decided on opting out including a USB Type-C port featured on newer laptops.
Who is the Surface Laptop For
Before I get into the major concerns regarding the Surface Laptop, let’s talk about who this laptop caters to. The best comparison I can make is the MacBook. Both laptops have higher price tags compared to laptops with similar specs. The MacBook is geared towards the everyday casual user whose main functions include surfing the web, entertainment, email, and word documents. The Surface laptop is no different and will most likely cater to college students and casual users.
This is a big change from the previous Surface devices which are aimed at niche markets for professional users that need the mobility of a hybrid device. My work uses the Surface Pro 4 as the primary computer for all scientists because it allows us the flexibility to connect to a monitor, use as a tablet for reading papers, or use at our lab bench. This was probably factored into the non-detachable keyboard because Microsoft wanted to create a simple laptop for the causal user. I think this is a smart move by Microsoft because it diversifies their devices to a wider audience.
The Major Concerns
The three main concerns regarding Surface Laptop seem to be the high price, Windows 10 S, and keyboard material.
The high price is an unfortunate reality of life. Bigger companies like Apple or Microsoft are always associated with higher costs because you are paying for the brand. If you think paying $1000 for a laptop is ludicrous, then there is nothing I can tell you to justify buying a Surface Laptop. There are much more affordable option with similar specs. If a $1000 or above price tag doesn’t make you bat an eye, then this could be for you. Many people are complaining about how under-powered this computer is for the price. The MacBook base model starts at $1299 and comes with 256 GB storage, Intel m3 processor, and 8 GB RAM. The $1299 model of the Surface laptop comes with a better Intel i5 processor along with 256 GB storage and 8 GB RAM. Not to mention, it comes with a bigger screen at 13.5 inches compared to 12 inches.
I’m not going to lie. I think the addition of Windows 10 S was pretty lame of Microsoft. I have a Surface Book and find the Windows Store useless. Making the default operating system run only on apps from the Windows Store is a cruel joke. However, for $49 you can can unlock Windows 10 Pro. Early Surface Laptop owners will be able to switch to Windows 10 Pro for free as long as they upgrade before the year is over. This is why I think it is unfair to dump on the Surface Laptop solely for the Windows 10 S feature. It does sucks you have to pay an extra $49 to upgrade to something that should come as default. If this is the deciding factor on whether to get a Surface Laptop, I would recommend getting one before the year is up. Problem solved.
The last concern is regarding the cloth-like keyboard. I am personally not a fan of the keyboard. I’d much rather have a aluminum keyboard mostly because it looks nicer. People seem to be concerned that it will get dirty very quickly. I think that this concern is overblown. The material looks like cloth but it is actually a material called Alcantara. Alcantara is a mixture of 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane. This material is found on the Surface Pro 4 Type Cover and interiors of luxury cars. Alcantara is known to be stain-resistant. There are resources out there that give instructions on how to clean this material. The picture I’ve seen circulating the Internet shows dirt build up where the palm rests on the keyboard. The Type Cover (same material as the Surface Laptop keyboard) shown on the circulating picture is a light gray color. My speculation is that the darker keyboards will have less problems with discoloration from dirt build up. Aluminum keyboards aren’t immune to these kinds of problems. There are many examples of aluminum keyboards showing significant wear-out damage.
Microsoft made some eye-raising moves to the latest Surface Laptop. The Surface Laptop shifts from a niche, professional device towards one that is geared towards a wider, casual user base. Is the Surface Laptop a bust? My answer is no. I think the Surface Laptop is a great option for those willing to spend the extra money. The negative feedback associated with the Surface Laptop is exaggerated. I think Microsoft inconvenienced a lot of potential buyers, but I don’t think any of it is a deal breaker.
At $999, I think this is a great option over the MacBook’s $1299. The only caveat is that the base model comes with only 4 GB of RAM. I think the majority of people overestimate their needs when it comes to buying a laptop. I hear words like “future-proof” and “multi-tasking” from people who justify needing 16 GB of RAM with a i7 processor. These are the people I see using their computer for Buzzfeed articles and watching Netflix. These users would be more than fine with 4 GB of RAM. I would not recommend the base model if you are planning on doing work such as 4K video-editing that requires more RAM. If you are okay with a cloth-like keyboard and higher price tag, I would definitely scoop up the Surface Laptop before the year is over to get the free Windows 10 Pro upgrade.