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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  • eva02langley - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Seriously... MS... I was going to buy one if you were using Zen 3... but you are using Zen 2... WTH is wrong with you! Zen 2 was for last year! Reply
  • Alistair - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Well, Ryzen 5500 and 5700 are also Zen 2 based, so just think of the Surface laptop as being a Ryzen 5700U. I don't know why they didn't just call it the 5750U or something. Reply
  • sbcui - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    I believe AMD said while the 5500U and 5700U are Zen 2 based, they have separate voltage control for each core instead of a single voltage applied to all cores(which could translate to energy savings and better battery life). I guess that the 4980U may not have that capability and that could be a reason they're not calling it a 5750U. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Could we get a short comparison to M1? Reply
  • eva02langley - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Battery life is about the same... while the AMD take is on 7nm... while the M1 is on 5nm with ARM cores. It is saying a lot. When it comes to performances, Zen 2 is behind the M1 in ST, but MT performance is a bloodbath.

    A 5800u would have trashed the M1 entirely with better battery life. It is a missed opportunity. Now I need to find something similar hosting a 5800u...

    Not to mention the display is way better on the surface.
    Reply
  • Alistair - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Actually look up some info next time. "but MT is a bloodbath", no, a quick YouTube comparison check shows the M1 is only 7 percent slower than the AMD Surface in MT in Cinebench R23. When did "bloodbath" mean 7 percent. Reply
  • Alistair - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    And don't forget the M1's integrated GPU is a bloodbath vs. Intel or AMD right now, especially on battery power. Reply
  • Dug - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    Just to be clear for people that don't understand your comment, M1 outpaces other laptops that aren't plugged into a power source by a very large margin. Reply
  • Ppietra - Friday, May 7, 2021 - link

    Battery life is about the same???
    It isn’t! The M1 MacBook consumes way less... Don’t confuse battery life while watching videos with actual work!
    Reply
  • Alistair - Thursday, May 6, 2021 - link

    My top pick for a cheap laptop right now that is almost as good as the Surface is the Asus Zen OLED. $750 USD for the Ryzen 5500U model. But this Surface 4 AMD model has me intrigued, even if I'd prefer to have a second USB A port.

    Maybe I missed it in the review, but does the USB-C port support Display Port alt mode? Please?
    Reply

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