While the Surface was originally envisioned as a tablet, at some point along the way, Microsoft realized that, you know, what a lot of people actually want is a laptop. One with a real keyboard that you can type on, not some floppy snap-on device that can’t even be properly used in your lap.
Enter the creatively-named Surface Laptop, a machine that launched last year with the goal of providing a simple notebook for Everyman, something that its luxe Surface Book, launched two years prior, never really managed to do. Unlike the Surface Book, the Surface Laptop’s keyboard is permanently attached to its chassis, and frills are in short supply. With version 2 of this device, you’re getting a down-to-earth laptop that, while quirky at times, serves as a solid, versatile computing device for a wide range of user types.
The original Surface Laptop was designed as an entry-level device, with the tragic inclusion of the pared-down Windows 10 S operating system as the default. Windows 10 S has since been revamped as a subset of Windows 10, but even Redmond seems to be backing away from it, now including a full version of Windows 10 Home on the Surface Laptop 2.
That’s a nice step, because it makes it easier to appreciate the laptop’s more impressive features and charms. The keyboard is a particular highlight – peppy and responsive, one of the best in the ultralight form factor that I’ve ever encountered. It and the clickpad are all surrounded by the Surface Laptop’s fuzzy, suede-like material that covers the entire palmrest and lower chassis, another unique feature you won’t find on the typical budget ultralight. Don’t like typing? The 13.5-inch touchscreen (with an oddly tall but very bright 2,256 by 1,504-pixel resolution) tracks well, either with a fingertip or Microsoft’s optional Surface Pen ($100, sold separately).
As with most new laptop releases this fall, the big news is the inclusion of an eighth-generation Intel CPU (a 1.6GHz Core i5 on my test unit), here paired with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. The Surface Laptop is right where it should be on productivity benchmarks (precisely in line with other eighth-gen ultralights) but its battery life is downright insane. I clocked over ten hours of nonstop video playback in my testing, a benchmark which I haven’t seen surpassed on a laptop I’ve tested since 2013.
If the Surface Laptop 2 falters in one place it’s in the realm of ports, which is becoming a bit of a pandemic in the Surface universe. Here you get a mini-DisplayPort jack and a single USB 3.0 port. No HDMI, USB-C, media slot, or anything else. Charging is performed through the proprietary, magnetic Surface Connect port, a feature I’d gladly do without in exchange for a USB-C port that doubled as a power jack. We’re on the cusp of 2019, Microsoft. It’s time to embrace a standard that was developed over four years ago.
The Surface Laptop 2 comes in your choice of four colors, and starts at $999 with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Modest upgrades take this unit (as tested) up to $1,299, which is reasonable, though just a little on the high side in comparison to competing products. If the machine is to your liking—and I don’t know why it shouldn’t be—I recommend keeping your eyes open for a sale.