Design

When the Surface Laptop was first announced, it was a remarkably interesting design. Microsoft continued to advocate for their 3:2 aspect ratio displays, and the Surface Laptop was the first notebook to offer that aspect ratio in modern times. In addition, the design team outfitted the Surface Laptop, which at the time was only offered as a 13.5-inch size, with an Alcantara keyboard deck which was unique in the space.

Microsoft then refreshed the Surface Laptop, and added a larger 15-inch model as an option, as well as offering models with and without the Alcantara keyboard deck, at least in the 13.5-inch lineup. The 15-inch has never offered the fabric option. Unlike Microsoft’s Surface Book, which is made out of a magnesium alloy, the Surface Laptop has always been made out of aluminum. The advantage here for the Surface Laptop is that it is less expensive, and the aluminum finish allows for anodized finishes in a variety of color options. For 2021, the Surface Laptop 4 13.5-inch is available in Platinum, Ice Blue, Matte Black, and Sandstone, while the larger 15-inch model is just available in Platinum and Matte Black. The review unit is the black version, and it looks amazing, but be warned, it is more difficult to keep clean than the platinum model.

Two things can be true at once, and it is both fair to say that the Surface Laptop 4 is a well-designed, attractive notebook, and that it is in need of a bit of a facelift. Microsoft has not altered the overall design since the original Surface Laptop shipped, other than to add a larger model, so the Surface Laptop 4 still has rather large display bezels compared to recent designs from other manufacturers. The 3:2 display aspect ratio is still a win, but it is no longer unique to the segment, with other players now offering taller displays as well. The rest of the Surface lineup all features one cool trick, but the Surface Laptop 4 is just a laptop. There is no 360° hinge, no detachable display. But, not everyone wants that, and as a pure laptop, the Laptop 4 can surpass the other designs in areas like weight, and usability in the traditional laptop mode.

Microsoft has always offered a great keyboard in the Surface Laptop line, and this continues with the 4th generation, offering 1.3 mm of key travel, a logical key placement, easy to use function keys, and three levels of backlighting. The trackpad is also about as good as you can get in the PC space, and the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 offers a large trackpad without going so crazy on the width that it interferes with using the keyboard. As someone who likes the Alcantara, it is a bit of a shame that they do not offer it at all on the 15-inch models. The anodized aluminum feels good, but almost all notebooks in this segment offer the same anodized finish, so the fabric did offer something unique.

While the port selection is not robust, the Surface Laptop 4 does offer enough for most people, with a single USB Type-A port on the right, alongside a Type-C port. If you need additional expansion, Microsoft does offer a Surface Dock which connects over the Surface Connect charging port. Sadly, Microsoft has refused to support any form of Thunderbolt on any Surface devices, meaning the USB Type-C port is USB-only, but it does include native DisplayPort, as well as charging. Microsoft offers some Type-C video and audio adapters as well, if you need to connect to something other than DisplayPort.

Overall, the design does work well, even if it is looking a bit familiar. The Surface Laptop 4 offers a premium feel, and at 1.5 kg / 3.4 lbs, this 15-inch notebook is lightweight as well. Microsoft hasn’t updated the design in a few generations, but still, several years in, the Surface Laptop 4 is still a good-looking notebook.

Introduction System Performance
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  • richardshannon77 - Monday, May 10, 2021 - link

    I've been working at home for the past year using a grand total of 0 type-A ports on my laptop. I have a type-C connection to a type-C dock and a type-A BT dongle attached to that for my mouse. I suspect that this is along the lines of what the gods of technological advancement had in mind. At this point, it's type-C for the win. Although, I can't figure out where to put my 3.5" floppies :/ Reply
  • saratoga4 - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Perfectly fine to have 1 USB-C port, but since its used for charging there should be at least two other ports. Doesn't matter what they are, just give me the ability to have a thumb drive and mouse while charging.

    This is something the (much smaller) Dell XPS 13 devices do a lot better. My older model has charging, 2x USB and TB. They apparently had so much space left over they even threw in an SD card slot. A 15" laptop shouldn't have so much less.
    Reply
  • s.yu - Sunday, May 9, 2021 - link

    For a second I thought that was an iPP there. Turns out there's 1A, 1C and the headphone jack, that's bad but not unusable. Reply
  • Kevin G - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    I think you're looking at it backwards as computer manufacturers have learned one thing: consumers will continue to buy products they don't like if there are no alternatives at the prices they want. Consumers have given up fighting as pricing has become the dominant factor and people don't want to spend more, especially in a market whose pricing has been slowly creeping up of late.

    The reduction of the number of ports historically has made sense for the most part: USB has won out. However with Type-C that can also carry power, things do get more complicated as you can lose a data port for a peripheral when you need to charge the unit. Devices that only have two USB ports feel anemic in this regard as users do notice when they'll have to pull double duty in a crunch.
    Reply
  • Alistair - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Some of what you said makes sense. But removeable batteries and storage are next level, not USB port level priorities. Come On. Apple charges $800 for 1TB storage that I can buy for $100 to add to the Surface. Bam, I'm interested in the Surface. Because my phone lacks a removeable battery, I generally upgrade every 24 months as the phone won't last. Removeable batteries enable 3 and 4 year ownership. These are not "USB port" level myopia. Reply
  • Kamen Rider Blade - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    The point is that Renoir offers more ports internally on it's SoC.
    1x USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-C
    5x USB 3.2 Gen1 Type-A
    2x USB 2.0 Type-A

    That's what is natively available, why not implement all of those USB ports?

    MS doesn't want to maximize the features or ports on Renoir, that's their choice.

    But to the end user, it's cheapening out on features that are available on the SoC and not used.
    Reply
  • grant3 - Tuesday, May 11, 2021 - link

    Your guarantee is now broken: I would buy a surface laptop if they included a single additional thunderbolt port.

    You're probably right that -many- people do not care about ports, but that is changing quickly as people set up their work-from-home hardware and start to realize how damn vital having a hub to connect their monitors and other peripherals is.

    Apple, Dell, and other makers got the memo years ago. They give their premium 15" laptops at least 3+ ports. Microsoft apparently thinks it can replicate Apple's "Remove features and raise the price" approach to hardware success, but haven't clued into the fact that it only works when they simultaneously offer -some- compelling alternative to the hardware they removed.
    Reply
  • Eletriarnation - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    They could have rearranged the layout and added to the BoM cost to get in a second Type-A port which probably >95% of the user base won't ever need. Or, they could tell that <5% to buy a hub and deal with it. Reply
  • drothgery - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Lots of people use external devices; I've got a TB3/USB-C dock that I connect my home or work laptop to that's chained to a monitor, keyboard, mouse, power, and wired internet.

    Pretty much no one uses optical media on laptops (or desktops, to be honest), which is why you have to use an external drive for it even on big clunky gaming laptops.
    Reply
  • Calin - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    The volume and weight of an optical disk for laptops compares to a 48Wh battery.
    You could easily fit one more 2.5 inch SATA SSD _and_ another 20Wh of battery inside that, or SSD plus one M2 plus on SODIMM, and so on.

    Even if 17" gaming laptops are huge, their internal space is at a premium due to the cooling necessary for the CPU and GPU. In this case, the volume and weight of the optical drives give you another 20% cooling capacity.

    One of my university colleagues had a computer (in a tower case) with a CD drive (650 MB) and a 420MB hard drive. Even if that would have been a laptop, losing so much volume to removable media larger than the hard drive would have been a win.
    Not so much for the present - 9GB double side double density DVDs or 50GB BluRays do not compare well to even 256GB SSD of the low end devices.
    Reply

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