The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is a spiritual successor/wild-child offshoot to Microsoft’s Surface Book line. But unlike its convertible predecessor, the Laptop Studio doesn’t have a detachable display. Instead, the Laptop Studio shares its lineage – and name – with the Microsoft Surface Studio, a creative-friendly desktop that utilizes an easel-like hinge to let you draw directly on its massive display. It’s a fitting moniker, as the Laptop Studio features a similar screen, which sits in one of three positions, allowing you to illustrate, prototype, and write with the Slim pencil.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
While that touchscreen will make the Laptop Studio a compelling option for creatives, it’s also powerful enough for most games. Can this laptop be your all-in-one? Let’s find out.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio – Design and Features
The Laptop Studio’s biggest selling point is its unique touchscreen – featuring a three-position hinge system. That hinge system allows you to use the Studio 1) as a typical laptop, 2) fold the screen down on top of the keyboard like a double-decker tablet or 3) pop into an angled tent-like position that exists (literally) between the two.
Whether or not this is the right laptop for you probably hinges on how valuable you think that, well, hinge is. Because this is an expensive computer – it starts at a base price of $1,599 and can cost up to $3,100 for its top configuration.
But the Laptop Studio is no slouch. It comes equipped with 16 or 32GBs of RAM, a customizable SSD ranging from 256GB to 2TBs, Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 6, and a high-quality 1080p front-facing camera with Windows Hello for logging in without a password. There’s a sleek, haptic touchpad below the keyboard, which registers your clicks and sends a vibration back at you – a la Apple’s MacBooks. The version I tested sported an Intel i7-11370H, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti – and retails for $2,699.
Oh, and did I mention the display? It’s a stunning 14.4-inch PixelSense display with a 2400×1600 resolution, 3:2 aspect ratio, and a velvety 120Hz refresh rate.
For a pro device aimed at creatives, I was surprised by how sparse connectivity on this laptop was. There’s no SD slot, no USB-A, no ethernet. There are just two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports (plus a USB-A port on the power brick), a headphone jack, and a proprietary charging port. If that’s aimed at keeping the device slim, you’d be forgiven for thinking the thing would be a whole lot thinner.
The Laptop Studio weighs in at a chunky 4lbs even, and it seems heavier in hand (or backpack). Microsoft has this thing measuring 0.7” thick, but I swear it feels significantly thicker. That’s on account of a strange little pedestal the laptop sits on, which acts as the cooling solution. The first thing to know about this little podium is that it looks weird – not bad exactly, but probably unlike any cooling solution you’ve seen before. And it makes the laptop feel extremely thick or extremely thin, depending on where you grip it.
But in a way, it’s also very elegant – there’s no doubt it’s pushing out serious heat (more on that later) and it does so quietly. Better yet, it also means when the screen is folded down on the keyboard, the hot air isn’t blowing directly into the display. After unboxing it, I thought this little pedestal was going to bug me, but it’s sturdy enough not to introduce any wobble whatsoever. The little overhang also produces a perfect spot for Microsoft’s Slim Pen 2 (sold separately), which slides right under the front and charges magnetically.
Besides the unconventional cooling platform, the hardware looks and feels fantastic. In many ways, it feels like a Microsoft-branded MacBook Pro, with a gorgeous light silver aluminum finish and black bezels around the screen. The keyboard is decent but a little mushy for my tastes, but it’s at least as good as anything you’ll find from Cupertino.
And like those Apple computers, the Laptop Studio is also limited in upgradeability – you won’t be able to upgrade the RAM or SSD yourself, and the proprietary charging mechanism is a bummer when the computer has perfectly serviceable USB-C ports.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio – Performance
Here’s the part where I reiterate that this thing isn’t exactly made for gaming. My unit came equipped with the upgraded 3050 Ti graphics – and that’s not going to blow anyone’s socks off. And an overclocked quad-core isn’t going to match many of the eight cores on the market.
I knew this going in, but I still expected the laptop to show a little more gusto when I loaded up its first test – the not-exactly ravaging Diablo 2: Resurrected. I popped all the sliders to the highest setting and watched as my frame rate quickly dropped to around 30 fps.
The Studio’s cooling system did what it could, but it came with the side-effect of blowing uncomfortably hot air onto my mouse hand. The keyboard was also uncomfortably (but not unbearably) hot. I dropped the settings to High and could achieve around mid 30 fps, while Medium dropping things down to “High” got me in the 40s, and Medium had me closer to 60.
To reap the benefits of that 120Hz screen, I had to sadly forego the graphical enhancements entirely and watch my Sorceress transform into a chunky mess of 21-year-old polygons. But at 100+ fps, even the ancient graphics looked surprisingly smooth. Still, the Laptop Studio’s pixel density does leave a little to be desired. At just 201ppi, it has fewer pixels-per-inch than both the Surface Pro and Surface Book (267 and 260, respectively) or on a similarly-priced MacBook Pro (227ppi).
During our benchmarks, The Studio Laptop held up pretty well. It held 72 fps during Hitman 3, 43 in Borderlands 3, and 48 in Total War: Three Kingdoms. That’s not quite the performance you’ll squeeze out of a RTX 2080 Super or RTX 3060, but it’s pretty close. The Studio Laptop outperforms the Razer Blade Stealth OLED and comes within swinging distance of the 3060-equipped Acer Predator Triton 300 SE.
Unsurprisingly, the battery didn’t last long while gaming – though you’ll want to stay plugged in for maximum performance anyway. Should you ever need to game without access to an outlet, though, I found that merely 11 minutes of gameplay at ultra settings dropped the battery from 100 to 80%.
That said, for everything outside of gaming, the battery was phenomenal. It took 10 hours and 32 minutes to run the battery from 100% to 0 while running a series of productivity-focused tasks with PCMark 10. That’s longer than any gaming laptop we’ve ever tested and nearly double the battery life you’ll find on the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition. Its closest competitor is probably something like the M1 Macbook, which was able to average around 12 hours of moderate-to-heavy usage in our tests.
And that battery life extends beyond productivity tasks. Even during intense creative processes, the Studio Laptop stayed cool enough and had enough power to make multi-layer photoshops and large illustrations a cinch. Unfortunately, serious video editing is probably still a bit out of reach.
In Stage mode (the tent-looking one), the bottom of the screen “latches” with magnets. But it feels surprisingly secure, and as I drew Wartortle after Wartortle, I was impressed with the palm detection. However, Stage mode feels too upright for my drawing style, and I didn’t find it much more valuable than just the plain-old laptop mode for drawing (or watching movies, for that matter). In every formation besides tablet mode, I felt myself constantly hunched over or manipulating the screen in weird directions.
The speakers are loud but not particularly bass-heavy. They’re located under the keyboard, which means your audio quality often depends on where your hands are and the orientation of your display. Even in ideal conditions, I found the speakers a bit tepid – putting the monitor in Stage (tent) mode made it worse, and folding the screen down into tablet mode made the sound downright awful.
Navigation on the laptop is excellent. The touchpad is phenomenal – as good as anything out there – boasting a considerable size and pleasing haptics. The pressure sensitivity, haptics, and general feel of the Slim Pen 2 are also great (and you can navigate by touch – though I don’t recommend it for gaming). Though, after you’ve spent nearly $3,000 on this laptop, forking out another $130 for the Slim Pen 2 feels a bit insulting. Still, I can tell already the Laptop Studio will be a hit with creatives – combining a best-of-both-worlds approach to illustration and productivity work.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is available from Microsoft starting at $1,599 with models ranging up to $3,099.
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