Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2 had a lot to answer for when it was finally unveiled at Microsoft’s Surface event in October. Last year’s ultraportable device was sleek, stylish and truly wonderful in so many ways, except for the inclusion of Windows 10 S and its rather high price tag.
Now, a year on, Microsoft has seemingly refined what an ultraportable should be with the Surface Laptop 2. It’s not perfect, and I’ll come onto why in a moment, but it’s a struggle to find any major fault with Microsoft’s sleek and stunning machine.
It’s premium build materials, slick design touches and nippy speed make it one of the most desirable ultraportables available on the market today. What’s more, it atones for the sins of everything its predecessor threw at the world, so much so that Microsoft has ditched Windows 10 S in favour of full-fat Windows 10 instead. Halelujiah.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Design
The Surface Laptop 2 carries forward the same design ethos that graced the original Surface Laptop. It’s a slim, sleek, MacBook Air-like ultraportable that’s an absolute pleasure to touch and use.
At just 1.25kg, it’s more than lightweight enough to chuck in a bag or simply carry in your hand while typing with the other. It’s also incredibly svelte at just 308 x 223 x 14.5mm.
It’s the sort of laptop designed to turn heads and, as it’s available in four different finishes – platinum, black, burgundy and cobalt blue – you can make sure you stand out from the crowd using by using it. The Surface Laptop’s sturdy aluminium body is complemented by a spill and stain-proof Alcantara fabric keyboard and touchpad, ensuring you won’t ever ruin your Surface Laptop’s fabric finish by spilling your coffee over it.
The best aspect of all of this design, however, is the hinge. I know, it seems ridiculous to focus on such an inconsequential aspect, but just like the Surface Pro 6’s smooth kickstand, the Surface Laptop’s hinge is a thing of beauty. With just one finger and very little pressure, you can effortlessly lift the Surface Laptop’s lid without a single bit of laptop wobble happening in the process. It’s beautiful, and an impeccable example of industrial engineering. I wish all laptops were this satisfying, and blissful, to open.
Tucked away either side of the hinge, where the keyboard meets the display, are the Surface Laptop 2’s speakers. They’re not incredibly loud or much to shout home about in terms of audio quality, but they’re more than fine for some casual Netflix or a bit of light video work without headphones.
In fact, the most disappointing design element of the Surface Laptop 2 is its lack of connectivity options. On the right side you’ll find a single charging slot for Microsoft’s proprietary magnetic charger and on the left, you’re greeted by a single USB 3 port, mini display port and a 3.5mm audio jack. It’s a somewhat hard pill to swallow if you’ve shelled out £1,249 for a laptop without USB Type-C, SD card support or a HDMI and Ethernet port options.
Microsoft’s solution to this is the £190 Microsoft Surface Dock. It caters to all your connectivity cravings, giving you ports galore, but when any old USB hub will do you’re better off saving your money. Plus, a dongle only goes and robs the Surface Laptop 2 of its sleek elegance.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Display
The Surface Laptop 2’s display is, largely, the same as you’d find on the first Surface Laptop. However, Microsoft has made some minor improvements over the original but, in all honesty, the first one was so great anyway that there isn’t much of a need to improve it in the first place.
I’m not really one for touch displays on laptops – on 2-in-1s, that’s a different matter. That said, the touchscreen on the Surface Laptop 2 is excellent. It’s incredibly responsive to even the subtlest of gestures and for those who use them for more than simply scrolling through documents or tapping items on-screen, it’s a great addition to an already fantastic device – and you can use it with the Microsoft Surface Pen (an extra £100) if you wanted to.
Microsoft hasn’t bothered to up the resolution for the Surface Laptop display either. It’s still the same 3:2 ratio, 2,256 x 1,504-pixel PixelSense display, which is a slight surprise given the allure of 4K opportunities. But it’s clearly not Microsoft’s game to play, the Surface Laptop is, after all, angled as a business device over anything else.
In terms of accuracy, the Surface Laptop 2 just pips past its predecessor to cover 96% of the sRGB colour gamut –0.4% up on the Surface Laptop. Regarding general colour accuracy, it manages to score a Delta E of 0.85, a marked improvement over its predecessor’s 1.41.
So, it’s clearly a vivid display and with a screen brightness of 334.6 cd/m2, it’s not too surprising. That’s not the brightest display on the market but, provided you’re not sat outdoors in direct sunlight or in the path of glare from a window, you should be fine.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Performance and battery life
Equipped with 8th generation i5 and i7 chips, the Surface Laptop 2 is certainly a powerhouse in comparison to its predecessor. The model we reviewed was equipped with an i5 and it gobbled our benchmarks, scoring an 84 in our CPU-stressing multi-tasking test. In fact, it bested almost everything in our test except for the Dell XPS 13, which scored a 97, but that’s because Dell’s unit was packing a Core i7, so an unfair test.
In terms of read and write speeds, the Surface Laptop 2’s AS SSD writing speed is around the same of that of the XPS 13, if not a little slower. Compared to the Asus Zenbook 13’s score of 476, it steamed ahead and scored a read speed of 629.1 – however, the XPS bested it in read with a whopping 2224 thanks to its 512GB PCIe storage.
When it comes to gaming, the Surface Laptop 2 is only really competent thanks to Intel’s integrated UHD 620 graphics. Don’t expect anything stellar here, but you’ll be able to get away with some gaming experiences without too much stress. The average fps during GFXBench’s Manhattan tests shows that it’s certainly lagging compared to the competition, but it’s not so bad you couldn’t play something on it.
Disappointingly, the Surface Laptop 2 can’t keep pace with its predecessor when it comes to battery life. In fact, it’s actually underperforming compared to its contemporaries too, largely a result of the new chipset. In our battery tests we see it lasting just 7hrs and 7 minutes, just over half of Microsoft’s stated 14-hour all-day battery.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Verdict
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is a near-perfect ultraportable. Its design is flawless in both function and form and its performance is up there with its rivals. Really, the only sore points are its lack of connectivity, disappointing battery life and high price tag. Despite those issues, Microsoft has built an incredibly desirable device.