Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 Review

The newest Surface Laptop refines the concept to a fine edge

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4.5

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

What We Like
  • Attractive, robust design

  • Useful 3:2 aspect ratio

  • Great day-to-day performance

  • Respectable graphics performance

  • Large, responsive touchpad

  • Excellent audio

What We Don't Like
  • Limited connectivity

  • Keyboard shows some flex

  • Display could be brighter

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 fixes its predecessor’s flaws while retaining its strengths, and the result is an excellent Windows laptop.

4.5

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

We purchased the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is a small but important step forward for this mid-range laptop, though you wouldn’t know it at a glance. Even Surface fans will be hard-pressed to spot any difference between the new model and its predecessor. The Laptop 4’s size, weight, and screen size are nearly identical to prior models. 

Inside, it’s a different story. The Surface Laptop 4 has new AMD and Intel processor options that promise not just a boost in performance, but also battery life. This should help the Laptop 4 compete with Dell’s XPS 13 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 line—but can it catch up to Apple’s MacBook Air? 

Design: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it

The Surface Laptop 4 is nearly identical not only to the prior Surface Laptop 3, but to the original Surface Laptop released in spring of 2017. Yet the Laptop 4 looks utterly modern. That’s the sign of great design. 

A tall 3:2 display aspect ratio defines the laptop’s boxy shape. This was the Surface Laptop’s most distinctive feature on its debut and had the benefit of providing more usable screen space. Many companies have since copied Microsoft’s decision: the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga is one example. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

Microsoft’s minimalist aesthetic has aged well, too. Clean, sharp lines and expanses of smooth, matte metal define the laptop, providing a luxurious yet professional look. It’s easy to forget the Surface Laptop 4, though not a budget laptop, undercuts the more luxurious pricing of ThinkPad and Dell XPS models. 

A tall 3:2 display aspect ratio defines the laptop’s boxy shape. This was the Surface Laptop’s most distinctive feature on its debut and had the benefit of providing more usable screen space.

I love the fabric interior, which remains a unique design decision but is now optional. The fabric looks and feels more inviting than the metal used by competitors. If you’re worried about how it will hold up: don’t be. Speaking from experience, I can assure you the fabric holds up well. Yes, it will eventually show signs of wear, but it’s no worse than a typical plastic or metal laptop interior. 

Size is the Surface Laptop 4’s only downside. It has a 13.5-inch screen with large bezels, and it’s significantly larger than a typical 13.3-inch laptop with a 16:9 display aspect ratio. The Laptop 4 takes up more space than you’d expect in a bag or on your desk, and its overall footprint is closer to a 14-inch laptop. 

Display: Pixel dense but mediocre

The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 4 has a 3:2 display aspect ratio with a resolution of 2,496 by 1,664. That works out to 201 pixels per inch, which is less than the 220 pixels per inch that Apple shoots for with Retina displays, but I doubt you’ll notice a difference. The display looks crystal-clear when using Word or viewing 1440p video. 

Color performance is solid but not exceptional. The Surface Laptop 4 has a standard IPS panel and lacks special features, like Apple’s True Tone or HDR support, to help it stand out. The gap between the Surface Laptop 4 and superior competitors is most noticeable in movies or other high-quality streaming content. Video often looks plain or dull on the Laptop 4.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

Brightness is an issue. The Surface Laptop 4’s maximum brightness on battery power is roughly 40 percent less than when connected to a wall socket. Many laptops reduce brightness on battery power, but this is more aggressive than usual. To make matters worse, the mirror-like screen does nothing to reduce reflections. Outdoors use is unpleasant and even a bright, sunlit window creates enough glare to be a distraction.

Brightness is an issue. The Surface Laptop 4’s maximum brightness on battery power is roughly 40 percent less than when connected to a wall socket.

The touchscreen is compatible with the Surface Pen. This isn’t especially useful given that the Surface Laptop 4 is, well, a laptop, but it’s nice to have the option. I often use the touchscreen as an alternative to the touchpad in casual use, like online shopping or watching YouTube. 

Performance: AMD and Intel options hold their own

Microsoft offers both AMD and Intel processors for the Surface Laptop 4. I tested the base model, which has AMD’s Ryzen 5 4680U six-core processor with nine AMD Radeon graphics cores. It also had 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. 

The choice of AMD processor received criticism after the Laptop 4’s announcement because it’s not part of the latest Ryzen 5000-series line. I doubt most buyers will care, though, as the Ryzen 5 4680U performs extremely well.

GeekBench 5 turned out a single-core score of 1,047 and a multi-core score of 5,448, while PCMark 10 reached a score of 4,366. These results fall in line with more expensive configurations of competing devices like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga and Dell XPS 13 / 13 2-in-1. The Surface Laptop 4’s day-to-day performance is excellent for any laptop and a great value at the starting price of $1,000.

The AMD processor includes nine Radeon Vega graphics cores. These led the Surface Laptop 4 to a 3DMark Fire Strike score of 2,681 and a GFX Bench Car Chase 2.0 result of 24.6 frames per second. These numbers are respectable but not outstanding. The ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga and Dell XPS 13 can achieve better scores with Intel’s latest Iris Xe graphics.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

Still, the Surface Laptop 4 can handle basic gaming needs. Titles like Minecraft and Fortnite are enjoyable at modest detail settings. Newer, demanding games like Metro Exodus are technically playable, but you’ll have to set detail to low and play at a reduced resolution. Even then, you may see hiccups and stutters while playing.

Productivity: A portable multitasking powerhouse

The 3:2 display aspect ratio not only dominates the Surface Laptop 4’s design, but also its functionality in day-to-day use. It offers 12 percent more screen space than a 13.3-inch with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Most 13-inch laptops can’t comfortably fit two documents side-by-side, but this works well on the Laptop 4.

Microsoft pairs the useful display with a nice keyboard that provides crisp, taut feedback. You’ll find plenty of key travel and a bottoming action that’s refreshingly tactile. There is a flaw, though: there’s a lot of flex in the keyboard. You can see this while typing, and fast typists will notice a springy quality to the typing experience.

Microsoft pairs the useful display with a nice keyboard that provides crisp, taut feedback.

Keyboard backlighting is standard. It’s not bright enough to be obvious in a well-lit room but is effective in dark spaces. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

The Surface Laptop 4’s touchpad is large, measuring four and a half inches wide by three inches deep. It’s responsive but doesn’t pick up unintended input. Multi-touch gestures work extremely well, helping you get the most out of Windows’ underrated multitasking touchpad shortcuts.

Audio: Going loud

The Surface Laptop 4 has punchy speakers with excellent volume.  There’s great separation between lows, mids, and highs, which avoids the muddy sound that is common to many laptops as speaker volume nears maximum. There’s no subwoofer, so bass can sound flat, but the Laptop 4 provides some sense of depth without overwhelming the rest of the track you’re enjoying.

The speakers are Dolby Atmos-certified and, for once, this has meaning. Movies and TV shows sound great. Dialogue is clear and crisp, yet explosions are impactful. Crisp dialogue also translates to great performance in podcasts. Ramping up volume to maximum let me listen to a podcast while moving around my house, something that normally isn’t possible with a laptop.

Network: Great Wi-Fi, but can we get LTE?

The Surface Laptop 4 supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. Wi-Fi performance was strong in my testing. It can exceed speeds of 800Mbps near my Wi-Fi 6 router, which is true of nearly all compatible laptops. Performance remained great at range, hitting 103Mbps in a detached office. This easily defeats the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, which hit only 40Mbps in the same situation. 

4G LTE cellular data is not available. That’s a bit disappointing, as LTE is available in some Surface Pro devices and in competitors like the ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga and HP Spectre x360 13t. Optional LTE would be a match for the Surface Laptop 4’s productivity-first design. 

Camera: An okay webcam with Windows Hello

The Surface Laptop 4 has a 720p front-facing camera that suffers all the shortcomings you’d expect from a laptop webcam. It looks ok in a bright room, but even a moderately dim setting will lead to grainy, soft video. The camera fails at proper exposure when lighting is uneven. 

An IR camera is standard, so Windows Hello facial recognition login is supported. This feature is easy to enable and extremely quick once set up. It works well in poor or uneven lighting. 

Battery: It’s good, but don’t believe the hype

Microsoft says the Surface Laptop 4 will last up to 19 hours on a charge. The laptop might be capable of hitting that number, but it’s misleading. Real-world battery life is much less than Microsoft’s ads would have you believe.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Lifewire / Matthew S. Smith

Despite that, the Surface Laptop 4’s battery life is good for the category. I saw 7-9 hours of battery life while using the Surface Laptop 4 for web browsing, writing, and basic photo editing. It can outlast the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, a 2-in-1 that’s similar in size and performance. 

You can drain the battery more quickly, however. I used the laptop for an hour-long session of heavier photo editing in GIMP and chewed through about 20 percent of the battery. This is a downside of the laptop’s fast six-core processor.

Software: Keep It Stock

The Surface Laptop 4 ships with Windows 10 Home installed. There’s otherwise not much to say about the software which, for most people, will be good news. The Laptop 4’s stock Windows installation has zero bloatware.

Price: It’s not cheap, but it’s good value

I tested the entry-level Surface Laptop 4 with an AMD Ryzen 5 Surface Edition processor. This model starts at $1,000 with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. Intel models start at $1,300 for a Core i5 processor with the same RAM and storage.

Microsoft’s pricing feels spot-on. It’s expensive, but not so expensive that it’s unobtainable, and you get a lot for your money. Even the base Laptop 4, which I reviewed, has an acceptable amount of storage and RAM with a fast AMD processor. 

This is similar to Apple’s approach with the MacBook Air; even the base model is great.  Dell’s XPS 13 is a different story. It starts at $1,000, but the base model has a lackluster Intel Core i3 processor. Upgrading to the Intel Core i5 sets you back another $100.

What’s New: A small, useful upgrade

The 13.5-inch models of the Surface Laptop 3 and Laptop 4 are nearly identical in design, connectivity, display, keyboard, and touchpad. Most changes are under the hood, as the Laptop 4 receives new AMD and Intel processors. These extend battery life and provide a small boost in performance. 

Microsoft sells the Laptop 3 starting at $800. Seems like a deal, right? But here’s the thing: the base Laptop 3 has a 128GB solid-state drive, while the base Laptop 4 has a 256GB drive. The real difference is only $100 because the Laptop 3’s price jumps to $900 with the storage upgrade. 

I think most buyers will be happy with either laptop, but the Laptop 4’s performance feels worth the extra $100. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 vs. Apple MacBook Air 

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 and Apple MacBook Air are both portable laptops that start at $999. Microsoft’s option is larger and heavier with a more useful screen, while the MacBook Air has a smaller but more attractive display.

AMD’s Ryzen processor with Radeon Vega graphics leads the Surface Laptop 4 to strong performance in both CPU and GPU tests, but Apple’s incredible M1 chip can outrun it, and it does so in a fanless design. The Surface Laptop 4 is fast for a Windows device but just can’t compare to Apple’s MacBook line. 

The same is true for battery life. Lifewire’s Jeremy Laukkonen saw about 12 hours of life while testing the MacBook Air. I saw a maximum of nine hours from the Surface Laptop 4. 

I like the Surface Laptop 4: it’s a wonderful Windows laptop. Still, the Apple MacBook Air is the better choice for most people. It’s faster yet also more portable, and that’s a hard combination to beat.

Final Verdict

One of the best Windows laptops you can get. 

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 is one of the best Windows laptops available today. Its design is attractive, yet functional, and it delivers great performance for the price. The Surface Laptop 4 can’t overcome Apple’s competing MacBooks, but it’s a great pick if you want to stick with Windows.

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Specs

  • Product Name Surface Laptop 4
  • Product Brand Microsoft
  • MPN 5PB-00001
  • Price $999.99
  • Release Date April 2021
  • Weight 2.79 lbs.
  • Product Dimensions 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 in.
  • Color Ice Blue, Matte Black, Platinum, Sandstone
  • Warranty 1-year limited warranty
  • Platform Windows 10
  • Processor AMD Ryzen 5 4680U Microsoft Surface Edition
  • RAM 8GB
  • Storage 256GB
  • Camera 720p with IR camera
  • Battery Capacity 47 watt-hours
  • Ports 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, 3.5mm combo headphone/microphone, Surface power adapter
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