There’s a Microsoft Surface for every purpose. I once thought this was marketing speak, but with every Surface machine we’ve reviewed, I’ve come to realize that it’s actually true; there really IS a Surface for every purpose.
Since I’m the go to guy for laptop reviews at The Technovore, I got dibs on the Surface Laptop 2! Finally, I get to try a Surface that’s meant for users like me!
What is the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2?
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is Microsoft’s second attempt at making a thin and light Ultrabook, something along the lines of the ASUS Vivobook, HP Spectre and Lenovo Yoga series.
However, its true competitor is actually the MacBook Air. That’s right, they’re trying to sell you the Windows™ experience, much like how Apple is trying to sell you the iOS experience with the MacBook, or specifically in this case, the MacBook Air.
Here are the specs for the Surface Laptop 2 review unit.
|Surface Laptop 2|
|GPU||Intel UHD 620|
|Display||3:2 1504p IPS|
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
Our review copy came in a straight, no-nonsense packaging that one would come to expect from emulating the Apple experience. The box feels slightly sturdier than it looks and came with a lid/cover that fits snugly around the box.
Opening the box, we see that no expense has been spared to display the Surface Book 2 in all its glory; meaning that all the cables required are packed in the underside. Another very Apple-like experience in the presentation, nice.
It’s too bad we do not consider the quality of the presentation as representative of the hardware that is inside, nor do we give arbitrary points for said presentation. Still, a good first showing from Microsoft!
The chassis is well built, made from machined aluminum just like one would expect from a classy product with smooth and rounded corners to boot. Basically, its just like carrying around a rounded rectangle that is actually a laptop in disguise; an even simpler design compared to Apple’s laptops really.
The laptop we have comes with the default silver finish but they are also available in different shades of black, red and blue. It’s smooth, cool to the touch (and to look at) and really feels like a premium product; sleek, curvy and glossy.
Opening the device with one hand is possible, but slightly tips the device forward. The hinge does not offer too much resistance in this case but still offers the stability one could expect from a modern laptop. I’d had tighter hinges on other laptops I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, but the Surface Laptop 2’s hinges do the job as well as the others, despite it being a bit looser in feel.
In chasing the smooth uniform design, one minor gripe I have about the device is that it is lacking any sort of groove or indent to assist with opening the lid. Of course, with enough upward force this is not a huge issue but it would be nice to see this QoL improvement. Perhaps a small notch or textured grip somewhere? Nothing too fancy or that would standout but just something that’d help out.
The listed weight of this device is 1.25Kg and the charger weighs a measly ~130g with the UK charging head being just about as heavy as the charging adapter itself. Portability is definitely not lacking here.
Microsoft has one again gone with the same kind of 10keyless design that they’ve used for their previous generation surface laptop.
The keyboard deck has also remained unchanged from its previous generation; its covered in a layer of thermally resistant material that has a slightly rough texture to it which is nice to touch.
The layer works well as I never ever felt like any part of the keyboard deck was too hot to touch even in stress tests; the top part of the deck near the vents do get warm but never uncomfortably so. It also doubles as a fingerprint resistant area as I was unable to get any fingerprints to show during my use. Microsoft deserves mucho points for this, as I’ve had my fingerprints stick to countless laptops.
While I can’t speak for the build quality of the previous generation keyboard, the build quality of the second-generation keyboard is fantastic.
It features high-quality plastic keys that is reminiscent of the kind of “hard” plastic you would find in high-quality Gunplas (Gundam models for the uninitiated) and figurines. While the texture is not super smooth like Apple keyboards, it definitely feels sturdier and better to type on.
The actuation force is just about what I would expect from this class of laptop and the presses are tactile and satisfying which makes up for the lack of noise when typing; a plus for a laptop dedicated to productivity workloads. It’s quiet enough that even working in a silent room, the clicking’s barely audible.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests this to be a fairly easy to use keyboard. On a game of type racer based on a 5-game average, I achieved similar results not too far away from my own typical typing speeds based off of a full-sized keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches.
The increased vertical real estate has also been put to good use as a means of increasing the dimensions of the trackpad. While it is by no means as large as something you would find on an Apple laptop, it’s definitely larger than conventional trackpads to be worth mentioning.
The trackpad is smooth to the touch with fairly good accuracy. It also has no indents or grooves to differentiate between left and right clicks which help with the uniform design.
About 80% of the surface can be used to actuate clicks but I found that sometimes left clicks would not register with the device; a rare occurrence but an annoying one nonetheless, perhaps it’s a problem with the firmware?
We also noted that due to the nature of left and right clicks in Windows, clicking right at the center of the trackpad will also give mixed results as to whether it resolves into either a left or right click. The glass-y material is also surprisingly fingerprint resistant, weathering my usage rather well.
Wi-Fi, Connectivity & Storage.
In our Wi-fi tests, the Marvell Avastar 802.11ac wireless chip that we have compares very favorably to other chips we have tested. It gave an average speed of 16MB/s in our Steam download test where we used a 5Ghz network with the laptop placed around 5m away from the router. it’s a really good result I’d say. It only falls behind the killer 1550 chip that we have tested on the Alienware m15.
This laptop also comes with a magnetic charging input much like those you would see on the newer generation of MacBooks. It’s similar to the ones on the Surface Go and the Surface Pro 6.
It’s still attaches to the charging port with a satisfying click and the magnets inside as just as strong as the ones in the other Surface machines, meaning the charger won’t fall out without effort.
It’s nothing hugely innovative (since we’ve seen it before) but it does help to not accidentally trip the wire resulting in the charging cable pulling the entire laptop together with it onto the floor.
Unfortunately, connectivity wise, it leaves much to be desired. Below are the ports listed for this machine:
- 1x USB 3.0
- 1x 3.5mm Headphone Jack
- 1x Mini DisplayPort
- 1x Surface Connect Port
Once again, even a microSD card would come in handy for Ultrabooks like these. That aside, it is also a little disappointing to note the singular USB 3.0 port that you are most likely going to use for the mouse; it leaves no ports for something as basic as a USB thumb drive that productivity users will surely use.
Also, like Sal, mentioned in his review of the Surface Pro 6, it’s also shocking to see that the port’s just a regular USB 3.0 port instead of the faster USB 3.1.
It is a hassle for users to need to take out their mouse connection just to be able to access their files. Hopefully at least one more port will be included in the next generation of this device. We know that a USB hub can circumvent this, but if you’re opting for portability, it sorts of defeats the purpose to be lugging around extra gear, right?
We also note that interestingly, Microsoft has gone for a Mini DisplayPort instead of a mini HDMI port; a space saving measure, perhaps?
Given that a mini HDMI port is still the more common connector on the market, I also would not expect users to need to use DP specific functions such as daisy-chaining the display. This makes the Mini DisplayPort an odd choice to say the least. Again, a converter will fix the issue, but it’s still an extra step required.
Our unit came with a SKHynix SSD with 256Gb of storage (Model: BC501) that achieves typical NvMe speeds that you would come to expect. While there are no complaints about the read/write speeds, we recommend users to get a bigger capacity drive (external or otherwise) if available as 256GB is paltry even for an UltraBook.
Pricing, Specs and Comparison.
The laptop compares very favorably to the Apple MacBook Air.
Just based off hardware configurations and the price/performance ratio, the Surface Laptop definitely comes out on top; Microsoft simply isn’t charging a premium like the “Apple Tax” we see on Apple products.
|Surface Laptop 2||MacBook Air 2018|
|GPU||Intel UHD 620||Intel UHD 617|
|Display||3:2 1504p IPS||16:10 1600p IPS|
Apart from the display (which is a slightly lower resolution than Apple’s product), the Surface Laptop 2 is more than a match for the MacBook Air 2018.
Performance & Synthetic Benchmarks.
The cooling of this device is definitely sufficient as the chassis really only has to keep the low power i5-8250U in check as it lacks any kind of dedicated GPU.
Since the whole chassis is used for thermal dissipation, expect the bottom of the laptop to get a little hot when stress testing the CPU. We also note that although the fan speeds do spin up in these cases, they never get too loud, just a low whine in the background, which you won’t even notice if you’re concentrating on work.
The performance numbers are typical of what you would expect of the chip really, its never going to wow you on the graphics department; it certainly is never going to be able to run VR or high-fidelity benchmarks without choking on itself. The Surface Laptop 2 isn’t a hardcore gaming machine but then again, it’s not meant to be.
In our Cinebench R20 stress test, we noted an all core speed of 2.1Ghz which throttles down to 1.8Ghz all cores about a minute into the test.
The good news is that it seems like Microsoft is adamant on keeping the temperatures in check via firmware as I never saw a CPU temperature that is higher than 76 degrees Celsius even in demanding situations like these.
Do expect marginally lower scores compared to other manufacturers who are more keen on pushing higher temperatures and performance though.
Gaming Benchmarks – Mostly for indies.
This device marks our first review on the site where a particular laptop has no dedicated GPU to speak of.
As such, we have introduced a variety of indie titles that should be able to run on the integrated UHD 620 graphics chip present in the i5-8250U. We will also include slightly more demanding 3D titles in this test (in another category) to see just how capable this chip is.
As with all our tests, we will also be targeting a minimum of 30fps during general gameplay or benchmarks to ensure a minimally smooth gameplay experience.
As expected from the hardware, the UHD 620 chip spits out very playable framerates on a variety of titles. Do note that we try to retain the 1080p 16:9 ratio for games where we were able to change the resolution to ensure a more level and consistent result with other machines; do also note that while running in this resolution, black bars will be present on the top and bottom side of the screen to fit this ratio.
While it ran well for most titles, we did notice a slower than average performance on Project Zomboid where it ran quite poorly if the user zooms all the way out to its maximum distance.
We also noted unusual dips in Punch Club where it dropped to 17 FPS during the initial part of the gameplay where the protagonist was ambushed in the streets. It ran fine other than that scene, however.
We also ran a couple of 3D titles that we think this machine can handle.
The games ran pretty well (for its hardware) for the most part, delivering somewhere around the mid-30s to high 40s which is acceptable for most games.
Just for out of curiosity, we also tested GTA V on this machine.
It did provide a sort-of playable framerate at 1080p with all settings turned to the lowest but really, it was not a smooth experience as we hit a minimum fps in the single digits during the benchmark. Users should expect to lower the resolution to 720p to provide a minimally playable experience of 30fps in this title.
Display & Sound
On the display front, our unit comes with a Panasonic 4:2 glossy 1504p display (Model: VVX14T012N00) that does not seem to have its specifications changed from its predecessor.
I found the display to be quite usable in an environment where outdoor glare is to be expected; even if it is a glossy, reflective screen, I didn’t find it to be much of an issue. Its brightness are also average for its class; it’s definitely usable at 100% brightness even if screen glare is your primary concern.
The display still looks great for content consumption and I found the colors to be very neutral and quite high in contrast. While we still do not have any means to test the metrics of this display, anecdotal evidence suggests it to be above average judging by the good contrast and (basically) zero color shift.
Again, note that it’s not really suited for content not optimized for the 4:2 format as black bars will appear to fill the screen gap. Although for productive applications such as Excel, the additional vertical real estate is appreciated so that more content can be seen at once on the screen.
For the audio, the device uses a Realtek ALC298 audio chipset, a mostly low to mid end solution that should suffice for laptops of this size.
Listening to 100 Years by Five for Fighting on a lossless source, the speakers exhibit a bright sound signature as heard from the introductory piano solo; the high notes from the piano sounds sharper than what I’m used to which adds some more texture to the sound, nice.
The highs from the piano are clear and overall very pleasant to hear. The predominantly mid to high vocals are also pleasant, but exhibits very slight distortion due to echoing even at moderate volumes (60 to 70 or so).
Presumably, this is caused by Microsoft’s design of hiding the speakers below the layer of thermally resistant material that covers the entire keyboard deck which definitely muffles the speakers a little.
Secondary instrument clarity are the sore spots of these speakers; the instruments provide most of the mid to low tones of this song instead of the vocal performance so expect the harmonics to be not as good as what you are used to in this song.
The drums from the chorus are less punchy and the cymbal less pronounced; both doesn’t stick out as they should throughout the piece. The base guitar is no better in this case, it sounds mellow and not as clear as it should be; this is especially apparent with the base guitar that gets so drowned out by the low notes of the piano that you are not able to tell them apart. The low notes of this song get very mushy so to speak.
Overall, the listening experience is great, especially for people like me who likes the emphasis on vocals… if only muddied by lower than average mid to low tones, the bane of most laptop speakers.
Battery life is a sore spot for this device.
We tested this with our usual YouTube music video workload and that only resulted in a runtime of 210 minutes (3 hours 30 minutes) at 50% volume and brightness. In our practical workload testing where we used it to play indie games, music and some productivity tasks at 50% volume and brightness, we only managed a measly 190 minutes (3 hours 10 minutes) from this device.
For some reason, the battery is also very slow to charge. Users should expect more than 2 hours of charging time be required to charge from 0% to full capacity.
In conclusion, I can say that it certainly matches the experience that you would get in an Apple device although the higher end configurations are a bit pricey.
Since these types of devices are really difficult to tear down, you can expect the memory and even the storage to be soldered. This means that the only way to get a higher capacity storage is to buy a configuration with better specs and those don’t come cheap.
Still, with the screen it is no doubt to me that this machine is aimed at professionals that can take full use of the aspect ratio to increase their productivity. This is one way that Microsoft is not competing Apple on, the target demographic. We’d still like to see a more traditional 16:9 display though, so there’s definitely room to improve here.
At its almost base configuration like we have, it certainly offers better value for money as compared to Apple’s offerings so they’ve got that going for them.
I’d wholly recommend this machine for users who want the Apple experience but still want to use the Windows platform without resorting to using wine or bootcamp on their iOS machines.
Great value for money, but the display could be better (eventhough we like it). Don’t expect to be playing games on this. It’s a dream to work with if you’re using it in that capacity. The battery life is a bit of a letdown.
|The Good||The Bad|
|+ Good wireless connectivity||– Lack of connectivity, especially USB 3.0|
|+ 3:2 screen is good and unique||– High price for higher spec’d configs|
|+ Apple-like design and user experience||– Bad battery life|
|+ Good quality keyboard & thermal shielding|