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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  • Reflex - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    This list is silly. Almost all of the things you mention are mostly accessed wirelessly these days. USB-A to USB-C adapters are super cheap and Anker sells a nice line of USB-C hubs that provide additional ports if you truly need them. I have one in my bag due to my Dell laptop having only 2 USB-C ports, but I can't even remember the last time I needed to use it.

    There are excellent actual bluetooth mice out there, I use a Microsoft one.
    Who is using their optical drive on the go, or really at all?
    Your storage is better in the cloud or on the network, again how most people use it nowadays.
    Also, printers, can you even buy a decent printer that isn't wireless now?
    And again, bluetooth keyboards are a thing and they are cheap.

    Just bizarre list. Reads like someone stuck in computing from 15 years ago.

    If this is your list of needs, modern ultrabooks are not for you.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Or people reasonably can't afford to repurchase everything. A cheap just to get it done wired mouse can be had for as little as $5 where as a good BlueTooth mouse starts at $20. The kicker is that people already have a wired mouse they could plug-in and use. Yeah, $20 in the grand scheme of things but when you have pay that extra amount five or six times, it starts to get noticed by the masses especially on top of the price of a new ultrabook.

    Ditto for printers. If you've saved up and purchased a unit years ago and is humming along nicely, why replace it with something new? At some point it does make sense to upgrade due to the lack of ink/toner available on the market or it just breaks down, but realistically things can last a very long time.

    My Dell 5540M I'm currently using has two USB-A and one TB3 port and I often find myself limited. I use a lot of hardwired networking to isolated networks so there goes one port dedicated to that. The wired networking port generally gets the TB port even though it is type-A and I'll need an A-to-C adapter. One Type A goes to a wired mouse since it also doubles as a mouse for some systems that either have BT disabled or no wireless connectivity at all (and i'm not going to carry a second one if i don't have to). The remaining type A is often used for removable storage or a wired audio device. Thankfully I still have a dedicated barrel power jack. The TB3 port also supports power in a pinch and I borrowed other people's type-c chargers in an emergency. There are indeed times where I wish I had four USB ports.

    I also do have access to a USB external optical drive which I pull out once or twice year to access an old physical media file. I've probably had this over half a decade with the same relative pace of usage and probably will keep on to it until it break at what point I imagine it'll pass the decade mark. My coworkers know I have it and again a few times a year one will ask to borrow it for a similar one-off data transfer. Migrating data to the network/cloud is a generally a good idea but it takes time, has costs (and monthly costs for the cloud) associated for it and a small amount of skill on the user's end.
    Reply
  • simonpschmitt - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    While your desccribed use case seems to need more (USB) ports at times most of it could be managed by a cheap USB-hub.
    Additionally, you must admit that this is beyond propably 99% of computer users out there.
    Most people don't use one mouse for more than one computer.
    Actually everyone I know outside IT does not use wired networking on a mobile device.
    For my sisters (both teachers) and parents (small buisness owners) switching everything possible to wireless was propably the best quality of live upgrade since they use computers.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Monday, May 10, 2021 - link

    Hubs can be problematic vs. having the port natively in a device. Large capacity hubs or those that can power other devices require AC outlets. Small data only hubs exist but generally are not the highest quality. Hubs also run the risk of some one tripping over a cable and unplugging everything off of that hub (uplink is disconnected) vs. a single device. A single home run to the host device is strongly preferred where every possible. This also applies to various adapters from say USB-C to DisplayPort: a single cable with the proper ends is preferred over a USB-C to female DP port and a DP-to-DP cable. Simply less to go wrong in the single path and you carry around less.

    Wired networking is critical for me as I often work on isolated, wired networks. There have been at times where I've been on two independent wired networks and still had wi-fi going. I realize that my use-case is rather specific but it does drive home the more general idea that the number of USB ports on a system is restrictively small, especially if they're pulling double duty for the likes of power, video, audio and networking.
    Reply
  • PaulMack - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    I've had a Surface for some time and, while the limitation to one USB port is occasionally annoying, it's never been for a mouse. It's a premium device, and it's not unreasonable to spend $/£/€50 on a Bluetooth mouse. I only ever hit the limit when connecting a memory stick and another peripheral, and that's rare when on the move without the dock. Reply
  • MrCommunistGen - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    You can get a pretty inexpensive travel USB-A 3.0 hub for less than $20. I just keep one in my travel bag. A quick search turned up two different 4-port models for $13-15. Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    By "expensive adapter" you mean something like this (25usd)? https://www.amazon.com/-/es/Adaptador-USB-Hub-Mult...

    Using more than 2 USB port at the time is quite rare. Yes, more ports would help, but clearly teh space is rather limited.
    Reply
  • Spunjji - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    If you're using an external optical drive and a printer then you can probably handle using a hub, too. Reply
  • 29a - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    People giving presentations often need more than one USB port which I can see this laptop being used to give a lot of presentations. A flash drive and a Powerpoint presenter are both commonly used when giving presentations, that's two USB ports there. Reply
  • philehidiot - Sunday, May 9, 2021 - link

    Typical use case for a business machine - running software that requires a USB dongle to operate. Removing it disables the software. One port down. Need to charge? Both down. How about people who leave a low profile USB drive in a slot for local back up purposes? If my livelihood is based on what is on that machine, I've got a local backup running as well as cloud.

    Sure, plug in a USB C dongle with a wire and giant block with all the connections you'll need (because having a different one for every use is expensive and fiddly) and you'd better not be using the laptop on your lap on a train or in a car. It'll dangle off your lap, yanking on the port constantly.

    A business laptop, in my humble opinion, should have three available ports as a minimum. But as others have said here, they are likely working on feedback from telemetry and real world use. 95% of people don't use it so screw 5%.

    In my view, a business laptop like this, with such an asking price should be putting in the extras that ensure more than the bare minimum for the majority. The people who have a use case as I have suggested above simply won't buy it, so it won't be their problem.
    Reply

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