Surface Laptop 4 review: Microsoft returns to form with a solid notebook

Surface Laptop 4 review: Microsoft returns to form with a solid notebook

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 has significantly improved where it matters—in performance and in battery life. Even though it’s largely unchanged otherwise compared to the Surface Laptop 3 (and available in the same 13.5-inch and 15-inch sizes), that’s not a bad thing given the product line’s tradition of offering a great screen, a great keyboard, and great battery life. Microsoft has hit its mark on all three criteria once again, and the important changes under the hood make all the difference.

Our praise comes with a few qualifications. The product line is expensive. The long battery life is attained with a few tricks. We also don’t know how the Ryzen 7 version we’ve tested here compares to its siblings with an Intel CPU inside. Despite these unknowns, we would still easily recommend buying this laptop.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Basic features

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 offers a surprising diversity of exterior design options: size (13.5-inch versus 15-inch), finish (clad in metal or Microsoft’s signature Alcantara fabric), and color. We’ve listed the available combinations and prices in our original news story announcing the Surface Laptop 4. One thing we appreciate about the Surface Laptop 4 is that there’s really no “gotcha” configuration—they’re all good. Our review unit retails for about $1,500 on Amazon. However, if you’d like to pay a little less for a model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, feel free.

We received a review unit of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 in a Matte Black, metallic configuration. It’s so visually identical to the Surface Laptop 3 we reviewed previously that we were tempted to attach sticky notes to distinguish the two.

  • Processor: Core i5-1135G7, Core i5-1145G7, Core i7-1185G7; Ryzen 5 4680U Surace Edition, Ryzen 7 4980U Surface Edition (as tested)
  • Display: 13.5-inch (2256×1250, 201 ppi); 15-inch (2496×1664, 201 ppi, as tested) PixelSense with touch
  • Memory: 8GB/16GB/32GB LPDDR4X (3,733MHz); 8GB/16GB (as tested)/32GB DDR4 (2,400MHz)
  • Storage: 256GB/512GB (as tested)/1TB M.2 NVMe SSD
  • Graphics: Iris Xe/AMD Radeon Graphics (as tested)
  • Ports: 1 USB Type C, 1 USB Type A, Surface Connect, 3.5mm jack
  • Security: Windows Hello camera
  • Camera: 720p (user-facing)
  • Battery: 45.8Wh (design), 46.6Wh (full charge)
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.0
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home (consumer, as tested) / Windows 10 Pro (commercial)
  • Dimensions: 13.5-inch: 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches (14.5mm); 15-inch: 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.57 inches (14.7mm)
  • Weight: 13.5-inch: 2.79 pounds (Cobalt Blue, Platinum) to 2.84 pounds (Sandstone, Matte Black); 15-inch: 3.4 pounds (Platinum, Matte Black, as tested). Add approximately 0.64 pound for the AC adapter.
  • Colors: Matte Black (as tested), Platinum, Cobalt Blue, Sandstone
  • Prices:  $999 to $2,499; $1,529 (as tested) from the Microsoft Store and Amazon
Surface Laptop 3 15-inch Ryzen 7 primary Mark Hachman / IDG

This is Microsoft’s last-generation Surface Laptop 3, which is visually identical to the new Surface Laptop 4.

The Surface Laptop has always been Microsoft’s minimalist response to the Apple MacBook, and that’s still apparent. With a flick of your finger you can lift the lid. Tap the power button, and you’re off. The OOBE (out-of-the-box experience) asks for your Microsoft account to smooth the process, though you can create a local account with a little finagling. You’re encouraged to enter your Android phone’s number to set up Your Phone, to enter your Microsoft account to set up Office, and to tell Microsoft how you plan to use the laptop to customize the UI. The latter option is still a bit of a mystery, because you have essentially one chance to tell Microsoft if you plan to use the Laptop as a gaming PC, for productivity, or something else—or even all three. I usually opt for all of the options to be on the safe side, but some additional documentation, examples, or just a chance to reconsider your choices would be handy.

Once open, the Surface Laptop 4 exudes a clean aesthetic. There aren’t even any stickers advertising the processor or audio technology, as you’ll often see on other laptops. There’s the keyboard, the trackpad, and just bare metal surrounding it. The 15-inch model we tested provides seemingly acres of space for your palms. Unfortunately, the metallic finish does attract some fingerprints, though they’re easily wiped away.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4  left side Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

The Surface Laptop 4’s port arrangement is minimal: USB-C, USB-A, and a headphone jack.

There’s a lot to be said for the dimensions of the Surface Laptop 4 as well. Lacking discrete graphics, the shell tapers down to just 14.7mm (rated). While I’ve never been especially picky about how thin a laptop is, I do care about how light it is. A 3.5-pound 15-inch laptop feels comfortable in your hand and in your backpack.

Microsoft usually does an excellent job of cooling its Surface Laptops. Like the Surface Laptop 3, this year’s Surface Laptop 4 includes fans that rarely turn on, and run quietly when they do. You’ll hear the fan kick on more strongly during light gaming. As our performance section indicates, both the CPU and GPU appear thermally limited— performance appears to diminish somewhat over time as heat builds under intensive load. With everyday tasks, however (web browsing, Office work), throttling shouldn’t be an issue. 

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