When I decided to upgrade my black metallic Surface Laptop 3 two months ago to what was to come from Microsoft in 2021, I went all out. I sold it on eBay, along with my base model Surface Pro 7 to ‘upgrade’ to one of Microsoft’s latest new laptop offerings, the massive Surface Laptop Studio, which was released on September 22, 2021. So, you may be asking: ‘what was the upgrade like?’ The answer is: phenomenal!
The Surface Laptop Studio is a 3-in-1 convertible laptop with a new twist… it combines everything that was great about the desktop Surface Studio PC with the Surface Laptop and Surface Book to create a new form factor, all thanks to Microsoft’s new “woven hinge” on the back of the display… a new laptop with ‘3 modes’ of viewing and input, including a ‘laptop mode,’ a ‘stage mode’ (great for watching movies and listening to music) and, of course, ‘tablet mode,’ which is great for drawing directly onto the screen. You do all this by ‘pulling forward’ the display and locking it into the 2nd or 3rd mode. This is slightly hard to explain in words so be sure to look at the pictures in this review for a better understanding of this laptop and it’s 3 flexible, fabulous modes.
The Surface Laptop Studio is a powerhouse laptop, the more expensive, higher tiered models coming with a dedicated dGPU inside. However, for my purposes (as I’m not a laptop gamer), I opted to get the base model Intel i5 Surface Laptop Studio with Intel Iris XE graphics, which means my model has no dedicated dGPU, but it does have an amazing illuminated keyboard which is great to type on (great for a writer and student), a large trackpad which features haptics (much like Apple’s Pro keyboards) and produces loud sound, which emanates from different parts of the laptop depending upon how you use it, what ‘mode’ it’s in. The trackpad is the largest, most precise trackpad with haptics I have ever seen on any Windows laptop. It’s a pretty great product to use!
This amazing 3-in-1 laptop features Windows 11 right out of the box (after a small upgrade) and is one of the first to do so. Mine came with Windows 11 Home edition but the higher spec models feature Pro. Some more specs are listed below:
- Windows 11 operating system (Home or Pro)
- Intel Tiger Lake 11th Gen Core i5 or Core i7 processor
- Intel Iris XE graphics, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti (Consumer), or NVIDIA RTX A2000 (Enterprise) GPU with 4 GB of GDDR6 RAM
- 120Hz or 60Hz (changeable) refresh rate and Dolby Vision support
- 16 or 32GB of LPDDR4X RAM
- 256GB to 2TB NVME SSD storage
- 2 Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports
- A new three-position display with complete overhaul
- Display: 14.40-inch touch display 2400 x 1600 pixels 201 PPI 3:2 aspect ratio
- New removable SSD
- Precision Haptic touchpad
- New pivoting display with 3 modes – stage, laptop & tablet
- Up to 8-10 hrs battery life
Why this laptop is great for me
First off, as a grad school student who tends to write 2 papers a week for school, and as a YouTuber who needs to do some light video and photo editing, as well as occasional PC gamer, as well as a poet & writer, I find the base model Surface Laptop Studio to be a great fit for all my needs. I don’t need a dedicated graphics card to do what I need to do on a day-to-day basis, so I opted for the base model, which features slightly improved battery life. I was taken aback at home cool the ‘stage mode’ is, where you literally lift the screen forward so that it covers the keyboard, leaving only the screen and haptic trackpad at the forefront, with sound shifting from underneath the keyboard to behind the display: it’s an amazing experience! I love the freedom this laptop provides for both drawing on a canvas or taking notes to typing on a regular laptop, to viewing content on its large 14.4 touch display… all the modes completely fit my lifestyle for work, play and more. The laptop is made from magnesium, I believe, and the feeling is great when using the laptop. In fact, when using the keyboard (even with the small, raised portion on the bottom) my wrists don’t suffer while typing, either. The ‘SLS’ seems to be the perfect device for flexibility, design, adaptability and allowing its user to create or consume any way they see fit.
Ins & Outs
This is the first Microsoft Surface device to feature 2 Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, which are perfect for supporting large 4K monitors, modern accessories and such. Since the Apple days, I always seem to have a USB-C dongle or two at the ready should I ever need them. As another reviewer pointed out, when Macs came with 4 Thunderbolt ports, you usually had to use one of those to keep the thing charged, not so with the Surface Laptop Studio – you have a proprietary Surface Connect port on the right side, alongside an audio jack for your audio needs.
The new Surface 14.4-inch, 2400 x 1600 display is wonderful, too, and supports up to an 120Hz refresh rate, but can be halved to 60Hz to save on battery, which is what I have done. Scrolling through multiple tabs in Microsoft Edge to uploading or downloading video is a breeze on this thing. I use a variety of video and audio editing apps and they all worked great right out of the box. The images are sharp, crisp and pretty phenomenal, and rivals anything Apple has released to date. Again, the display can tilt forward to ‘stage mode’ or fold all the way down facing upwards to form the ‘tablet mode,’ which I found handy for taking notes, drawing or doodling, and more. The laptop is on the heavy side at 4+ pounds, so I recommend drawing or doodling on your lap or on a table rather than holding it. The screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is fundamentally ‘taller’ than most laptops, allowing you to see more of your webpage or Word document or PowerPoint presentation than you could before.
The quad ‘Omnisonic’ Dolby Atmos Speakers are also a joy to use here. I found the sound loud and vibrant, not as much bass as I would have liked, but perfectly fine for enjoying anything and everything without compromise. Conference calls were also a breeze and audio sounded great on both sides. I got nothing but compliments on the built in 2 MP 1080 camera.
Speaking of cameras, the Surface Laptop Studio features ‘Windows Hello,’ which has been around for a few years now with earlier Surface products but is a real gem to use here, as once you set it up a few times, the laptop can recognize me without glasses, with glasses, and even in darker light; it’s a joy to use and wakes literally in an instant without the need for a password, a PIN or other biometrics. Such a breeze!
Slim Pen 2, here we come…
Microsoft also announced an upgraded “Slim Pen 2” alongside the release of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio. The “Slim Pen 2” features haptic feedback inside the pen (when you draw on a surface, to simulate real pencil to paper drawing) and an extra function button, allowing more customization of the pen. The Slim Pen 2 also magnetically adheres to the bottom front of the SLS, in the most perfect hiding place, right in front of the raised bit underneath the laptop that allows for better air cooling, and for automatic charging of the pen… pretty nifty. The Slim Pen 2, while not an accessory that is included with the device, costs $129 new, and I feel, for the artist or note-taker, is definitely worth it. Would I purchase the Slim Pen 2 if I already owned a Slim Pen 1? Probably not. I don’t feel the small upgrades justify the new purchase as the haptics are very very light (to me, anyways) even after adjusting the sensitivity to high. If you like to have the latest and greatest, of course, then go for it. The pen delivers a more tactile feeling and works well with Microsoft Word for crossing out mistakes or errors and also highlighting content. It’s a great addition to Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop, and all future apps that opt to support the extra functionality.
Performance & Battery
Performance on the SLS seems great, and while I’m not a ‘new gamer’ and don’t intend to use the SLS as a gaming laptop, which doesn’t seem to be what it’s suited for, I would have to say it passes with flying colors. I played Minecraft for Windows on it and I got great frame rates, didn’t notice any lag and the big bright vibrant screen seemed great to play this on. I would advise for the more hardcore gamers to purchase a dGPU unit, or use a desktop PC built just for gaming, if you want the best stutter-free and optimal experience. The battery on the SLS lasted about 10 hours for me with the device at 50% brightness or less, and got me through an entire workday and then some. If you have the laptop in 120Hz mode, it may last a shorter time, and I don’t find I need the extra Hz just to write and blog with, or even edit photos with, to be honest. If your requirements are normal usage, I say it performs amazingly.
My final impressions after using the SLS after one week is that it’s a great premium laptop, the best Microsoft has to offer in 2021 and probably 2022, if you keep your needs in check. As a student, blogger and YouTuber, I find the Surface Laptop Studio to be an amazing device that more than fulfills my needs, and I have the base model i5 version with 256gb of SSD storage. With my student discount and holiday ‘specials’ at Best Buy, I was able to get my machine for $1299, about $300 off, and this may be the best price point for this device. The pen was $116 after student discount at Microsoft.com and I think with the three different modes (stage, laptop and tablet) are a perfect feature for those who like to watch movies or consume content and music, as well as draw or write when the mood strikes, and all of these modes inspire me to achieve more, which is what Microsoft touts itself on helping us do. It’s also interesting to note that the device comes with a free month of XBox Live Ultimate out of the box (you have to activate it within the Microsoft Store on the device) and it also comes with a trial of Office 365, which I already use, and it’s a real joy to use in Windows 11 on this amazing new laptop. I truly feel Microsoft ‘hit it out of the park’ with this Surface device, which borrows heavily from all those Surface devices that came before it (but thankfully not the ‘shag carpeting’ laptop from the Surface Laptop days!)
The official Microsoft webpage for this device is also here for your reference.
My Score: A+