Microsoft isn't just about software, as the Surface Laptop 4 proves convincingly. While Microsoft was once primarily known as a software maker behind the likes of Windows and Office, it’s recently been carving out a pretty impressive reputation as the producer of some stylish and premium devices, and the Surface Laptop 4 is a fantastic example of this.
Its predecessor, the Surface Laptop 3, came out in 2019, so Microsoft’s laptop was overdue an update, especially when the likes of Dell and HP have been releasing increasingly impressive laptops for creatives with updated components every year.
Along with Apple’s reinvigorated MacBook Air (M1, 2020) and MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020), the Surface Laptop 4 has its work cut out to stand out in the crowd, but going by Microsoft’s previous Surface devices, we’re confident it can pull it off.
Surface Laptop 4 review: price
Microsoft’s Surface family of devices are, with the exception of the budget Surface Go, premium affairs, and that often means expensive prices, and with the Surface Laptop 4, this proves to be the case once again, with the 13.5-inch model with an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, starting at $999/£999.
That puts it in direct competition with the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), which also starts at $999/£999 for similar specs (though a slightly smaller screen). This gives you a rather stark choice depending on whether or not you prefer Windows 10 or Apple’s macOS. Both operating systems offer broad support for creative applications such as Photoshop, so software-wise and price-wise, it’ll be a matter of preference.
Unlike the MacBook Air, the Surface Laptop 4 comes in two different sizes, with a larger 15-inch model that comes with an AMD Ryzen 7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $1,299/£1,299.
For creatives, the 15-inch model may be the better one to go for. It has a larger, higher resolution, display, which will make working on projects more comfortable, and that bump in processor (it’s an 8-core chip rather than a 6-core in the 13.5-inch model) power means it’ll handle complex workloads better as well.
As with other Surface devices, you can configure the Surface Laptop 4 to best suit your needs and budget, including going-all out on the 15-inch model with an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for $2,399/£2,399.
The model we have in for review is the 13.5-inch version with an Intel Core i5-1145G7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB SSD storage, and costs $1,269/£1,269. As far as laptops go, that’s veering into very expensive territory.
Surface Laptop 4 review: power and performance
Even with the lowest configuration, the Surface Laptop 4 is a powerful laptop that’ll run day to day tasks with ease. As you can imagine, Windows 10 works brilliantly on this machine, and as it’s a Microsoft device, it’ll likely be one of the first devices to get Windows 11 as well.
The model we’ve reviewed has a quad-core Intel Core i5-1145G7 processor, which is one of Intel’s latest processors, and while it’s fine for day-to-day use, if you want to do more multitasking, where you run multiple apps at once, you may want to go for a model with a CPU with a higher core count, and more RAM.
However, even if you stick with the model we’ve tested here, you’re going to be very impressed. We had browser tabs open, music playing and played around with some projects in Photoshop, and the Surface Laptop 4 kept up admirably.
The 512GB SSD storage in this model worked a treat. It’s big enough to keep photos, video files and other large files stored, and opening them up (or moving them to and from a USB drive) was almost instant.
However, none of the Surface Laptop 4 models come with dedicated graphics cards, and instead rely on integrated graphics, either from Intel or AMD, depending on which model of processor you go with. This means for photo editing and video editing, the Surface Laptop 4 does a decent enough job, but for graphically-intensive tasks like 3D animation and game development, you may want to look at something with a dedicated GPU (such as the Surface Book 3).
Overall, the performance of the Surface Laptop 4 is excellent, backed up by some of the latest mobile tech around. Best of all, as well as being a powerful laptop, it also has very good battery life as well. While Microsoft claims it can last 19 hours with the AMD version, and 17 hours with the Intel model, we found in our tests that it was more around the 13 hour mark.
That’s still very impressive for a thin and light laptop like this, and it means it’ll last you a whole work day without needing to be charged. We found we were able to use the Surface Laptop 4 out and about to work on without ever worrying about finding a plug socket. We also ran the PCMark 10 Home Office battery test, which replicated moderate use, including web browsing and video calls, and it lasted almost 13 and a half hours. This is a huge improvement over the Surface Laptop 3, which in similar tests managed only six and a half hours.
The Surface Laptop 4 manages such a leap in battery performance thanks to its newer components, which don’t just perform better, but are also more power efficient, leading to a better battery life.
The included webcam is 720p, which is fine but we’re seeing an increasing amount of 1080p webcams in laptops, and they offer much better detail. With many of us working from home, a good webcam is essential these days. Still, even at 720p the webcam of the Surface Laptop 4 is fine for video calls, and it’s fast and responsive. It also supports Windows Hello face authentication. This allows you to log into Windows 10 securely by just looking at the camera.
Dual microphones do a good job of picking out your voice and eliminating background noise, and the built-in speakers also do a decent job, though if your creative work depends on high fidelity audio, such as music production or video editing, then you’ll still want to invest in some standalone speakers (or use any that you already have, of course).
The Surface Laptop 4 comes with Windows 10 preinstalled, and is mercifully free of pre-installed apps (often dismissively called ‘bloatware’) that other laptops sometimes come with. Microsoft also promises that Surface Laptop 4 will be updated to Windows 11 for free when the new operating system launches.
Surface Laptop 4 review: display
The Surface Laptop 4 comes with two display options, but whatever you pick you should be impressed with the image quality on offer here. The 13.5-inch model we tested comes with a PixelSense display with a resolution of 2,256 x 1,504.
Meanwhile, the 15-inch model comes with a resolution of 2,496 x 1,664. The larger display’s higher resolution means that both screens have an identical pixel density of 201 PPI (Pixels Per Inch). This means that you don’t lose any clarity or sharpness by going with the larger screen, so you can pick which ever screen best suits your needs and budget without worrying about compromising on image quality, which is a nice touch.
Speaking of touch, the screen is multi-touch and configured to work with styluses, especially the Surface Pen. This is sold separately, but it’s one of the best styluses we’ve tried, and with the touch screen of the Surface Laptop 4, it makes doodling and annotating intuitive and comfortable.
However, the screen does not flip 180 degrees, instead it only goes back a touch over 90 degrees, which means drawing on the Surface Laptop 4 isn’t really feasible.
The screen of the Surface Laptop 4 has an aspect ratio of 3:2, which is taller than the standard 16:9 aspect ratio found on many laptops. This extra height makes working on documents a lot more comfortable, as there’s less need to scroll.
Overall, the Surface Laptop 4’s display does an excellent job of showcasing your creative work, with a high resolution image that beats many competitors. However, it can’t compete with OLED screens, which are found in high-end creative laptops and offer stunning vibrancy and contrast. Still, the Surface Laptop 4’s display will be absolutely fine for most people.
Surface Laptop 4 review: features
One of the biggest selling points of the Surface Laptop 4 is its design. This is a very stylish piece of kit indeed, and anyone who has been a committed Apple fan will look at this device with approval. It comes in four colour options, including Black, which he had in for review, and it looks sleek and stylish, with the chrome Microsoft logo on the back adding to the overall premium feel of the laptop.
It’s also impressively thin and light, with dimensions of 308 x 223 x 14.5 mm, and weighing just 1.27kg. That makes it both slimmer and lighter than the MacBook Air, which is a pretty impressive feat. The aluminium body, while lightweight, feels sturdy enough that you won’t worry about damaging it as you carry it around with you.
The keyboard of the Surface Laptop 4 is another highlight, and is one of the nicest ones we’ve used on a laptop. The keys are big and easy to hit, while also being comfortably spaced out and with a decent amount of travel. It means the typing experience on this laptop is great, and you’ll be able to hammer away for hours on end. Compared to older MacBooks, the Surface Laptop 4’s keyboard is a marvel.
Ports are disappointingly sparse, however, as you only get one USB-C and one USB-A port, along with a headphone jack. While the USB-A port is a welcome addition that lets you use older USB devices, the fact that there aren’t that many ports means that if you rely on numerous USB devices while you work, then you’ll likely have to invest in a hub to expand the number of ports, which is a shame.
Microsoft has made room for its proprietary Surface Connector, which lets you hook up the Surface Laptop 4 to the Surface Dock. This expands the amount of ports available in the Surface Laptop 4, but it’s a pricey alternative to a dongle. If you’re not interested in getting the Surface Dock, then the Surface Connector port is a waste of space.
Should you buy the Surface Laptop 4?
There’s no doubt that the Surface Laptop 4 is an excellent product, but will it be the right one for your needs? If you’re after a stylish and slim laptop that offers great day-to-day performance and a brilliant keyboard, then you should definitely consider buying this laptop.
Similarly, if you’ve always liked the look of Apple’s MacBooks, but want to stick with Windows, then the Surface Laptop 4 is a great alternative. It has a similar design, but offers some nice twists like having a touchscreen – something none of the MacBooks offer. Windows 10 also runs great, and it’s nice to have a laptop that’s not full of pre-installed bloatware.
However, with no option for a dedicated graphics card, the Surface Laptop 4 won’t be appropriate for people who are looking to do seriously graphic-intensive work on it. The lack of ports is also a disappointment – an Apple influence we’d rather not see, especially on devices aimed at creatives.
Overall, though, the Surface Laptop 4 is an excellent laptop that will power you through your day.