Microsoft has a new Surface computer, but rather than a touchscreen tablet that adds a keyboard cover, the new Surface Laptop is exactly what it sounds like -- a shockingly traditional clamshell laptop.
Announced at Microsoft's May 2 EDU event in New York, its biggest break from tradition may be its new operating system. This is one of the first products to run Microsoft's new Windows 10 S operating system, a "walled garden" version of the OS that promises safer app usage and web surfing.
In both software and hardware, it's very different from the Surface systems that have come before. Although it does share one key feature -- a premium price. The new Surface Laptop will start at $999 in the US, £979 in the UK and AU$1,499 in Australia.
The Surface Pro (currently up to the Surface Pro 4) remains one of the most popular hybrid or two-in-one PCs around. The powerful high-resolution slate connects to a clever keyboard cover to become something between a tablet and a laptop. If the Surface Pro leans more towards the tablet side, its sister product, the Surface Book, leans more towards the laptop side, with a more laptop-like keyboard dock, but the same pull-apart tablet as its heart and brain.
The Surface Laptop moves the needle all the way to laptop territory. It's thin for a 13.5-inch laptop at 14.5mm, and at 2.76 pounds (1.25 kg) it's lighter than a 13-inch MacBook Pro. The components inside are about what you'd expect from a premium laptop in this price range: an Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. A Core i7, 8GB/256GB upgrade is $1,599, £1,549 or AU$2,499.
The 3:2-aspect-ratio display is a touchscreen with the thinnest touch module used on a laptop, and Microsoft's Surface Pen is supported, but the screen here does not fold back 360 degrees or detach from the keyboard, as many pen-enabled PCs do.
The backlit keyboard has 1.5mm of travel with a surrounding deck covered in fabric (!). In our brief hands-on time with the system, the fabric coating gave it a warm, almost analog feel, although I'd be concerned about long-term wear and keeping it clean.
There are four color options: platinum, gold, burgundy and cobalt blue. Each uses subtle tone variations to extend the color across the fabric cover, the keyboard and the aluminum chassis, including the back of the lid.
The laptop's speakers are hidden beneath the fabric and fire upwards. The laptop is also compatible with the Surface Dial, but only with off-screen interaction.
While you will find a full-size USB 3.0 port and Mini DisplayPort, Microsoft is still avoiding USB Type-C ports. Instead, you'll find its proprietary Surface Connect port for use with Microsoft's $200 Surface Dock.
Microsoft promises a 14.5-hour battery life with video playback, which would put it in the upper echelons of current-gen laptops.
|Display||13.5-inch 2,256x1,504 pixels (201 ppi); 3:2 aspect ratio; Surface Pen enabled; Gorilla Glass 3 touchscreen|
|Processor||7th generation Intel Core i5 or i7|
|Memory||4GB, 8GB or 16GB RAM|
|Graphics||Intel HD 620 (i5) or Intel Iris Plus 640 (i7)|
|Connections||USB 3.0, headset jack, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect port|
|Camera, video and audio||720p HD camera with stereo mics, omnisonic speakers, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Wireless||802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 LE|
|Security||TPM chip with Windows Hello face sign-in|
|Software||Windows 10 S (free switch to Windows 10 Pro through December 31, 2017)|
|Sensors||Ambient light sensor|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB or 512GB SSD|
|What's in the box||Surface Laptop, power supply, quick start guide, safety and warranty documents|
|Weight||2.76 lbs (1.25 kg)|
|Dimensions||12.13 x 8.79 x 0.57 in (308 x 223 x 14.5 mm)|
If Windows 10 S is targeted at students or people looking for a simplified, safer laptop experience, it may seem counterintuitive to use a $999-and-up laptop as its flagship product. The closest comparison may be to the Google Chromebook Pixel, which married Google's Chrome OS operating system with premium-priced hardware.
At first glance, the Surface Laptop may be more attractive with the full version of Windows 10, which will be an upgradable option, according to Microsoft. (Switching is free until the end of 2017, but will be $49 thereafter.) If you go for the Pro upgrade, it's a one-way trip that will give you a nearly identical experience, except now you'll be able to download and install any software from the internet, rather then just being restricted to apps in the official Windows app store.
It makes sense, then, that several other PC makers are making Windows 10 S systems, including HP, Dell and Acer. These Intel-powered systems seem more student-ready, starting at under $200, or under $300 for models with touchscreens or hybrid designs.
The Surface Laptop is available to preorder now, and Microsoft says it will start shipping to US customers on June 15, and to those in the UK and Australia by August 15.