Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 Review

Microsoft's ultra-thin laptop can stand toe-to-toe with the MacBook Air

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4.4

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

What We Like
  • Stylish, durable design

  • Uniquely fuzzy finish inside

  • Crisp, colorful screen

  • Quiet, responsive keyboard

  • Stellar battery life

  • Speedy facial recognition

What We Don't Like
  • Very limited ports

  • Unremarkable sound quality

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 is a sharp all-around option for those seeking a polished and premium everyday notebook.

4.4

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

The original Surface Laptop was a well-designed piece of hardware that was held back by modest components and the feature-limited Windows 10 S version of the operating system, but the Surface Laptop 2 is Microsoft's chance to give the idea another shot. The result is a winner. The Surface Laptop 2 is a compelling ultra-thin notebook, with a sleek and distinctive design, solid power and battery life, and a great touch display. Positioned as a rival to Apple's MacBook Air, it delivers a comparable experience with more power and a lower starting price point.

Here's why the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is well worth a look. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Design and Features: It's definitely unique

From the top on our Platinum review unit, the Surface Laptop 2 is undeniably attempting to mine Apple's minimal schtick, with a familiar grey shade of aluminum and a reflective logo right in the middle. However, the Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and Black versions offer a kind of allure that's different than what Apple has in its own color lineup. 

When closed, the wedge-like shape also recalls the MacBook Air, although it's not identical. Flip open the device, however, and you'll find a much different aesthetic on the inside. Right away, you're sure to notice the uniquely fuzzy texture on the bottom panel, which covers the entire surface around the keyboard (including between the keys) and touchpad. It's Alcantara, a suede-like material used for things like flame-retardant Formula 1 car seats and high-end headphones

Instead of resting your palms on cold aluminum, they'll be on a smooth carpet of sorts. The Alcantara finish feels luxurious, but admittedly, we worry about the long-term upkeep.

It's an odd thing to find on a laptop, and it gives the Surface Laptop 2 a very distinctive feel. Instead of resting your palms on cold aluminum, they'll be on a smooth carpet of sorts. The Alcantara finish feels luxurious, but admittedly, we worry about the long-term upkeep. Will it get worn down by several months of everyday usage? Will dirt and sweat ultimately give it an unappealing look? It's too early to tell, but we're certainly curious to see what it looks and feels like in a year or two. For now, it's a very compelling addition. 

Whatever the long-term durability of the Alcantara, the keyboard that the material surrounds is a joy to type on. The keys have a bit more travel than on the current MacBook Air, yet they're soft to the touch and very quiet in usage. We were able to type very quickly and efficiently on the Surface Laptop 2. The touchpad below is modestly sized and responsive; it's not as smooth to the touch as Apple's great trackpads, but it absolutely gets the job done. 

At 12.13 inches across, 8.79 inches deep, and 0.57 inches thick, the dimensions are pretty close to the MacBook Air—even the weight (2.76 pounds) is nearly identical to the Air (2.75 pounds). It also similarly feels densely constructed and properly premium in build and design.

Unfortunately, the Surface Laptop 2 is incredibly stingy with ports, packing in just one USB 3.0 port alongside a Mini DisplayPort and a 3.5mm headphone port on the left side. The right side just has the proprietary Surface Connect charging port, which isn't as efficient or easy to align as the USB-C cables used with some other ultra-thin laptops. If the MacBook Air is perhaps too forward-thinking by only including USB-C ports, the Surface Laptop 2 doesn't seem forward-thinking enough by lacking any USB-C ports onboard. 

The Alcantara finish feels luxurious, but admittedly, we worry about the long-term upkeep.

The Surface Laptop 2 is equipped with a Windows Hello face authentication camera, letting you simply glance at the device to skip past the lock screen. It's incredibly fast and effective, not to mention super handy.

The base model of the Surface Laptop 2 ships with 128GB of internal storage via a speedy solid-state drive (SSD). That's a modest amount of space to work with, although if you're streaming music and movies rather than downloading them and don't need a large cache of space for downloading games, then you might be just fine. You can pay extra to bump up to 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB SSD options if you want.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Setup Process: It's straightforward

Getting the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 ready to run for the first time is no real hassle. Just plug the provided charging cable into the power brick, plug the brick into the wall, and connect the cable to the laptop. Open it up, press the power button, and then keep an eye on the screen.

Microsoft's Windows 10 setup wizard is thankfully pretty straightforward. Cortana, the spoken A.I. assistant, will guide you through the process of connecting to a network and logging into a Microsoft account. Just follow the on-screen prompts and you shouldn't have a problem getting to the desktop in a matter of minutes.

Display: Big and beautiful 

The Surface Laptop 2's 13.5-inch PixelSense display is a definite highlight of the device. At a 2256x1504 resolution, it delivers a pretty crisp display with bold coloring and great contrast. It's not as sharp as the MacBook Air (2560x1600), which packs in more pixels per inch, but the Surface Laptop 2 still crams in a lot of visible detail into scenes. It's also not the brightest laptop screen we've used, although that's not a major issue at all. 

The 3:2 aspect ratio means that it's taller than your average laptop screen, providing a bit of extra real estate for your apps. It's also a touch display, letting you use your finger to navigate the interface or doodle as you please. You can also spring for the Surface Pen stylus, if you're serious about sketching right onto the screen. In practice, we didn't really end up using our fingers very much on the screen—but the option is there if you want it. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Performance: It's solidly powerful

The Surface Laptop 2 is more focused on portability than raw performance, so it's not exactly a powerhouse. The base model ships with an Intel Core i5-8250U chip and 8GB RAM. Still, in the head-to-head battle against the MacBook Air (2018), it definitely comes out ahead. Both are speedy laptops when it comes to getting around each respective operating system, web browsing, and using basic apps—but the difference is more apparent when playing games and doing benchmark testing.

If you're just planning on playing casually, the Surface Laptop 2 can handle some modern 3D games well enough.

On the gaming front, we played a couple of popular multiplayer games: car-soccer romp Rocket League and battle royale shooter Fortnite. Both ran decently at a higher resolution than on the MacBook Air, although we still had to trim down most of the graphics effects for the sake of smoothness and frame rate stability. The end result was hardly ideal, and serious players will want to look elsewhere for more muscle for on-the-go PC gaming. But if you're just planning on playing casually, the Surface Laptop 2 can handle some modern 3D games well enough.

In terms of benchmarking, the Surface Laptop 2 scored 1,017 points using Cinebench, which is a noticeable improvement over the MacBook Air's 657 points. On PCMark, we recorded a score of 2,112. Again, it is modestly powered for a laptop—but for the average user, it's enough power to handle a range of tasks and needs.

Audio: Nothing special

When it comes to sound quality, the Surface Laptop 2 settles for just okay. With no visible speakers in sight, the sound emanates from the little slit in the hinge—and as you might expect from a slim opening within a laptop hinge, the result is a bit flat and not very full-sounding. We've heard a lot of laptops that sound roughly like this, and it's pretty much par for the course. We hoped for better, but it's hardly a deal-breaker. 

Network: Connects as expected

We saw typical results connecting to a home Wi-Fi network, measuring an average download speed around 30-35Mbps and an upload speed around 10Mbps. We tested a Motorola Moto Z4 smartphone on the same network immediately after testing the Surface Laptop 2 and saw comparable speeds both up and down. The Surface Laptop 2 can connect to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
 Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

Battery: It should last the day

Microsoft claims that the Surface Laptop 2 can provide up to 14.5 hours of local video playback, and that might well be true. With the right combination of settings and no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity sucking away at your charge, you probably can hit double-digits in offline video playback. That could make the Surface Laptop 2 an ideal travel companion.

That's not how we use laptops in our day-to-day lives, however, and in more intensive testing, we saw about half that amount. Anecdotally, we typically saw about 7 hours of working usage from a full charge, with a combination of writing in Microsoft Word, web surfing in Chrome, and listening to a bit of music and watching YouTube videos. In our video rundown test, in which we continuously streamed a Netflix movie until the fully-charged battery bled dry, we got 7 hours, 11 minutes out of the Surface Laptop 2. Compare that to just 5 hours, 30 minutes on the MacBook Air (2018).

All told, while the battery uptime won't reach any lavish totals in typical usage, most users should be able to get roughly a full workday out of the Surface Laptop 2. Playing games and downloading massive files will deplete that tally faster, but the battery pack ended up being pretty resilient when it came to typical, everyday apps and tasks.

Software: Full-fledged Windows 10

The original Surface Laptop was hobbled by the inclusion of Windows 10 S, a streamlined edition that limited some functionality. Thankfully, Microsoft doesn't treat the Surface Laptop 2 the same way, giving you a fully-fledged Windows 10 Home installation.

If you're not tied to the Apple ecosystem, the Surface Laptop 2 can save you some cash while delivering some notable, tangible perks over the MacBook Air.

Windows 10 is the world's most-used computer operating system, and it's a polished and plenty useful way to command a computer. It still has a lot of the classic Windows aesthetic and operability about it, albeit with more modern flourishes and features included. Rather than release a massive new Windows version every couple of years now, Microsoft has been steadily updating Windows 10 for the better part of four years—which means it just keeps getting better and better, albeit incrementally.   

Price: Look for a deal

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 starts at $999 for the base configuration, although we have frequently seen it in the $799-$899 range of late. Want to pack in more power? You can opt for an Intel Core i7 processor instead with 16GB RAM and an SSD ranging up to 1TB, but you'll be pushing past $2,000 (before discounts) with a max configuration.

There are much cheaper Windows laptops on the market, certainly, but the Surface Laptop 2 feels well-priced in terms of the overall experience. It has an excellent build, a great screen, and decent power, and feels distinctive amongst the current laptop crop. If you can grab one around that $799 mark, especially, that's a very tempting proposition indeed.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 vs. Apple MacBook Air (2018)

Based on the Surface Laptop 2's own website, it's clear that Microsoft designed the laptop with Apple's MacBook Air in its sights. Luckily for the company, the Surface Laptop 2 compares favorably to the 2018 Air, which released around the same time last year. Both have slight design advantages over the other, so you can pick on preference there; same for choosing between Windows 10 and macOS.

Elsewhere, the differences are a little bit more pronounced. The MacBook Air has the crisper screen, but the Surface Laptop 2 has more power and longer battery life—and usually costs less than the Air. If you're not tied to the Apple ecosystem, the Surface Laptop 2 can save you some cash while delivering some notable, tangible perks over the MacBook Air.

Final Verdict

Not overpowering, but still impressive. 

The Surface Laptop 2 feels like a fully realized version of what Microsoft set out to accomplish with the first version, delivering more power and more capabilities with a full Windows install. It's a premium, ultraportable laptop that looks and feels the part, and while this isn't a computer meant to break benchmark tests and run games at top settings, it's capable enough for diverse everyday usage and has a meaty battery to match.

Specs

  • Product Name Surface Laptop 2
  • Product Brand Microsoft
  • UPC 889842384604
  • Price $999
  • Release Date October 2018
  • Product Dimensions 12.13 x 8.79 x 0.57 in.
  • Warranty 1 year
  • Platform Windows 10
  • Processor Intel Core i5-8250U
  • RAM 8GB
  • Storage 128GB
  • Camera 720p
  • Battery Capacity 45.2 Wh
  • Ports USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect port, 3.5mm headphone port
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