Surface Laptop Studio Hands-on Review

Microsoft describe their Laptop Studio as a “Portable Device with a Seamless Transition Between Laptop and Canvas…. Your Own Portable Studio with a Large Touchscreen & Top Performing Graphics“.

In this hands-on review, I put one of these devices through the paces for two weeks as my daily device, to see how this new form factor device, which blends the best of Surface Studio 2 and Surface Book performed.

Spec Tested: Surface Laptop Studio – 14.4″ Platinum | 11th Gen i7 | 32GB RAM | 1TB SSD

My First Impressions

Being a long-term user/fan/enthusiast of Surface, then the first thing I was presented with when un-boxing the Surface Laptop Studio is how familiar, yet unique and different at the same time it is. Laptop Studio is a natural modern evolution of all the best things that makes a Surface a Surface and they have done a great job putting together their latest flagship devices. Its simply a thing of beauty with grunt and muscle to go along side the good looks.

At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking it is simply a bigger, slightly chunkier Surface Laptop that has been given the Windows 11 “rounded edges” treatment. But it is not. Then there is the fact there are many similarities not only to Laptop 4 but also to Apple’s latest MacBook Pro range. From the rounded corners, layout of the keyboard and ports and the large trackpad, these are all similar to that found on Apple’s MacBook Pro (after all both have been borrowing design ideas and innovation from each other for years).

Surface Studio Laptop in ‘Laptop Mode’

Microsoft are known for setting the design standard through innovation when it comes to their products. If it wasn’t for Microsoft Surface the 2-in-1 or ink driven UI may never have been born after all!

Laptop Studio is no different so when you look a little closer you notice that’s much more than meets the eye.

Blending the best of Studio and Laptop

Whilst Laptop Studio can be used just like a a normal clam-shell laptop, you can fold down the screen to turn the laptop into a tablet (aka Studio mode) for drawing and sketching.

Surface Laptop Studio in “Studio Mode”

There’s also a half-way house, where by you can simply just pull forward the screen into “Stage Mode” to use it as an angled touch canvas for taking notes, annotating work, playing games and watching films or box sets.

Surface Laptop Studio in ‘Stage Mode’

This is all made possible thanks to what Microsoft is calling a “Dynamic Woven Hinge,” which feels sturdy and makes it easy to flip the screen into its various modes of use.

Who is Laptop Studio designed for?

In all the promotional videos around Laptop Studio, Microsoft showcases digital artists using the screen in its various positions to draw on it in flagship apps like Adobe Creative Studio. They also show it being used flat when docked to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard for a complete hybrid experience of digital note taking and conventional computing.

Laptop Studio is clearly an evolution of what Microsoft had developed with Surface Book. With Laptop Studio, Microsoft have made it easier to change between modes and there’s no need to separate the screen from the base unit, though I did often find some advantages in that since I could separate tablet component and move around leaving the base connected to a monitor and dock.

Surface Slim Pen 2

Ok, some personal advice. Do not buy, test or be given (you never know) a Surface Pro, Book, Studio or Laptop Studio without a Surface Pen. To me, the touch screen and ability to use digital ink is what stands Surface out from the crowd. Inking is it’s thing and with Surface Laptop Studio and Surface Slim Pen 2 – that experience just got even better.

Surface Slim Pen 2, is of course a must-have for graphic designers or just the more artistic users but for me (who’s been using Surface since the days of Surface RT) it’s still a must and I’d say that it’s a necessary extra for anyone buying a Surface.

Surface Pens have always been great with their 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity and inter-changable nibs, but the best thing about Surface Slim Pen 2 that is now has haptic feedback which works in a growing number of apps – from drawing and inking in Whiteboard or OneNote you now get distinct vibrations which mimic the resistance felt when using different types of pencils, pens, markers and highlighters. The haptic feedback makes it feel much more like you are drawing on a real sheet of paper or canvas that a screen and their is remarkable improvement when comparing the canvass feel I was used too on my Surface Book 2.

Left: Original Surface Pen | Middle: Surface Slim Pen | Right: Surface Slim Pen 2

Like I said, Surface Pens are not just for artists. I see the pen as a vital tools for taking notes, marking up documents or making quick edits to Office docs. The pen can also double up as a more natural tool for reviewing, editing and presenting. As an example, in Microsoft Word, you can use the pen to delete sentences by simply crossing them out, in PowerPoint you can simply ink and draw on the slides and with Edge you can write and draw directly on web-pages or use the pen to annotate notes etc. You can also program the pen to launch apps on a click and of course you can use it as a trust PowerPoint clicker in presentations.

Surface Pens are also designed to work with well known third-party programs including the Adobe Creative Suite, Sketchup and many others.

Surface Pen Slim 2 storage and charging

Surface Slim Pens are magnetic and charge wirelessly. On the Laptop Studio the pen is designed to be stored under the front lip on the keyboard area where it magnetically sticks nicely sticks and charges.

Ports and Charging

The Laptop Studio is actually also pretty slim on ports, with just two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C inputs, a headphone jack and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect port for using the included charger. You can, however also charge the device via the USB-C port with a compatible power cable). The latest Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports are ideal for connecting to 4K monitors and for connecting to external files from hard drives.

Keyboards and Touchpad

The Keyboard on the Surface Laptop Studio is probably the best they have ever made, and Microsoft keyboards (even on the Laptop Go) are really good. The keyboard has great depth and travel and is responsive with the keys well spaced. As you’d expect it has the usual back-lighting which can be customised or tuned off and you get all the usual volume and media controls above the function keys.

The haptic touch pad brings another similarity from the MacBook Pro. Haptic touchpads, uses a touch-sensitive pad that vibrates to simulate a click instead of buttons that sit beneath the trackpad. I found the trackpad worked really well, with everything from clicking links and browser tabs in edge to pinching to zoom into webpages or office documents felt responsive and natural. Just like a traditional click-based trackpad, the haptic touchpad responded well to our inputs no matter where on the touchpad I clicked or pinched.

Microsoft provide the ability for you to adjust the intensity of the touchpad rumble. It isn’t a killer feature by any means, but it is a nice upgrade which I hope becomes standard on Surface devices moving forward.

Screen and Multi-Media

The display on the Surface Laptop Studio is simply a thing of beauty. As well as looking modern and sharp, the colours are vibrant, blacks black and detail is crisp and sharp whether you’re working in Office apps, inking or drawing or watching a film or box set on Netflix.

The screen is a 14.4-inch, 2400 x 1600 resolution, 120Hz display with the usual Surface 3:2 standard aspect ratio, which means you can comfortably watch 8K films or National Geographic documentaries on Disney Plus! The 120Hz does wonders for image quality and smoothness since the 120hz refresh rate is double that of most mainstream laptops and non-gaming monitors, which essentially means the display is twice as responsive.

It’s not just gaming and film watching though that benefits from a 120Hz display. I noticed that when scrolling through webpages or word documents or using a digital graphics apps like Microsoft Whiteboard, the display felt much more responsive and smoother that it does/did on my Surface Book 2 which is standard 60Hz display like most mainstream laptops.

Laptop Studio also has an impressively high quality set of quad Dolby Atmos speakers which is far from what you’d expect on a laptop! From watching StarWars films, to playing games and listening to Spotify, the audio was loud, crisp and clean with no distortion or tinny sounds/vibrations at full volume.

In usual day to day Microsoft Teams Calls, audio comes through clearly and colleagues gave no complaints about my own audio when using the built-in dual microphones.

Power & Performance

Microsoft position the Surface Laptop Studio as Microsoft’s most powerful Surface yet, and based on using the device for 2 weeks, I wont argue with that statement!

I’ve been using this device for pretty much everything this past two weeks and it has handled everything I threw at with ease with no slowing down or performance drag. The device I have been using is equipped with an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11370H processor and 32GB of RAM and was running the GA build of Windows 11.

In the two weeks I had the device – I used it every day and didn’t reboot it once. Most days I had at least 8-10 apps open including Microsoft Teams, PowerPoint, Word, Excel, PowerBI Desktop, Power Automate Desktop, Paint3D, Camtasia and Edge (with far too many tabs open). This was connected to my Surface Dock where it also powered a ultra-wide 4K screen and allowed me to switch seamlessly between the apps without any signs of struggling or slowdown. I also managed to do some graphics rich editing in Camtasia with the other apps running in the back-ground without any effort at all.

I managed to spend an evening (once the kids were in bed) using Laptop Studio as a mini gaming station by pairing my son’s Xbox controller via Bluetooth and using the device in its’ “stage mode”. It was a real pleasure to use and something I could easily get used too.

Battery Life

Given the amount of power in the Surface Laptop Studio, you’d think the battery was going to let it down. It doesn’t.

I spend a day in our London office last week and risked not taking a charger with me. I’m never one to believe the claims made by manufacturers around battery life, but in my “day out”, the Laptop Studio lasted me just over 8hrs 30 mins of usage which was spend mainly in Office apps and Teams video meetings (webcam on), on a wireless internet and with my Poly Voyager Focus 2 Bluetooth headphones connected.

This is felt was pretty impressive when you consider that kept the device in its default 120Hz mode and was connected to Wi-Fi all day too with my web-cam on for a good 2-3 hours.

In my experience, the Laptop Studio’s runtime is just a tad less than on the Surface Laptop 4 and was about the same as the Surface Book 2 (which is nearly 3 years old now). Surface Pro X (which runs ARM) has been my personal best so far consistently giving me over 9 hours of continual use.

Pricing

Ok – so Laptop Studio is hardly an entry level device but pricing depending on what you desire / need isn’t as bad as you might think, but some of the key models and pricing are illustrated below for business.

Model CodePrice (Ex VAT)
i5/16GB RAM/256GB SSDTNX-00004£1,126.90
i7/16GB RAM/512GB SSD/NVIDIA G-FORCE RTX A2000ABR-00004£1,425.42
i7/32GB RAM/1TB SSD/NVIDIA G-FORCE RTX A2000AIC-00004£2,239.31
i7/32GB RAM/2TB SSD/NVIDIA G-FORCE RTX 3050AI5-00004£2,131.43
Sample Surface Laptop Studio Business Pricing [Feb 2022]

Alternatives – of course, the thinner sleeker Surface Laptop 4 or Surface Pro 8 makes for good alternatives for everyday users who don’t need loads of power but still need and good all-rounder device. Personally, I’d always go Pro over Laptop and I don’t think I could live within pen and ink!

Summary

In my opinion, Surface Laptop Studio is the best Surface device Microsoft has ever made.

Suppose I had better back that statement up right!?

Ok – well, it’s has the perfect combination of style, performance and battery whilst still being one of the best looking devices you’ll ever see or use. It’s sleek and flexible 2-in-1 design combined with (optional) Slim 2 Pen make it an especially great choice for graphics, drawing, inking and sketching and the haptic touch-pad and updated keyboard feels great for everyday use. Finally the super sharp 14.4-inch 120Hz display brings both detail, colour and sharpness to every app or use and really shows its self off when used for digital editing, gaming or watching 4K or 8K movies.

Like the Surface Book they are not the cheapest of the range but for that you have the Laptop 4, or Surface Pro, but here is my top 5 reasons to buy one (or get your manager to buy you one).

  • Their Best Ever – The 2-in-1 design makes this the best Surface Microsoft have every made and it is a no-brainer upgrade from the Surface Book
  • Powerful and Sleek – but will still get you through (just) a working day, but supports USB-C charging if you need it,
  • Simply gorgeous and really turns heads
  • Can handle anything and everything you through it without compromise.
  • A true digital canvass – it handles graphics, video editing and drawing apps with a breeze and the Slim Pen 2 turns it into a true digital canvass.


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