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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is all about the screen

The clunky Surface Book morphs into the sleeker Surface Laptop Studio with an articulated display that looks a lot like the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
4 min read

From clamshell to tablet with a stop in between.


Laptop designs have changed significantly since Microsoft debuted its Surface Book, a laptop with a tablet that detached from a keyboard base with discrete graphics for more power. It awkwardly straddled the two-in-one (with displays that rotate around 360 degrees, like the HP Spectre x360) and detachable (where the keyboard snaps onto the tablet, as with the Surface Pro 8) categories. Now Microsoft has thrown off the shackles of the 2015 Surface Book design -- which I was never a big fan of -- and modernized it for 2021 as the Surface Laptop Studio. In addition to changing the name, it ditches the detachable base and replaces it with a hinged display that can tilt at various angles above the keyboard. It can go as far down as roughly flat so you can use it as a pressure-sensitive tablet, similar to its big brother the Surface Studio 2 or the iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.


You can preorder it now, with prices starting at $1,600. It's coming to the UK and Australia in 2022, where the US price converts to about £1,170 or AU$2,200. Surface Laptop Studios will begin shipping in the US on Oct. 5.

The Surface Laptop Studio is a different beast than the Surface Book 3 it replaces, sharing more with the Surface Laptop line it joins, but it's still targeted at content creators and gamers. Microsoft splits the difference between the previous 13- and 15-inch models, settling on a single 14-inch -- in keeping with current laptop trends. 

We're missing some important specs for the 14.4-inch, 3:2 aspect ratio PixelSense screen, including the color gamut, calibration and brightness, but we do know it has a lower pixel density than the Book: 201 ppi vs. 260 ppi. 201 ppi is still pretty high, but it's not as good as Apple's Retina for any of its iPads

It's not the first Windows laptop to incorporate this sort of semi-articulated display, but it's a lot smaller than, say, Acer Concept D Ezel models. The Ezels are more flexible, though. For instance, you can flip them away from the keyboard for presentations. It does support up to a 120Hz refresh rate for gaming, though.

Watch this: Hands-on with Microsoft's new Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio

The display still supports 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, but Microsoft has also unveiled a new stylus to go with it, the Surface Slim Pen 2. It's Microsoft, so you'll have to spring $130 for the Pen 2 or $100 for the old model. 

But the new stylus adds haptics that Microsoft claims better simulates the feel of a drawing or writing surface, as opposed to using a nib with more or less friction on the slick display surface, and to provide feedback when you select interface items. It's also added Zero-Force Inking (in theory, it's better at detecting proximity to the screen for quicker first-stroke performance) and inductive charging like the Apple Pencil 2. The latter will probably be the most notable enhancement for many people. The Surface Laptop Studio has a niche below the keyboard where you can magnetically attach the stylus and charge it.


The Slim Pen 2 slips into a lip beneath the keyboard for storage and charging.


I'm looking forward to trying out the haptics. I'm not fond of the way any of these styluses feel on the glossy screens, including the the Apple Pencil 2. It's new, though, and requires application support to take advantage of it.

Haptics also come to the Surface Laptop Studio's touchpad; haptic touchpads, like the one in the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, deliver that left and right click feel without using switches. It also retains the 1080p webcam with Windows Hello support -- it lacks a rear camera, which is disappointing -- has quad speakers and the mechanical keyboard. Two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 connections, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Surface Connect port round out the connectors. It's not clear whether you can charge it via USB-C in addition to the proprietary connector like the Surface Pro 8.

At first glance, the specs aren't impressive. The laptop incorporates the meh 35-watt (H35) Intel Core i5-11300H or i7-11370H processors like the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti (or A2000 for business systems), which is fine but it can run at anywhere from 35 to 80 watts, so it's not clear how well the system will perform. It's a step up from the Surface Book's GTX 1660 Ti, but that's about it. Certainly it's enough to stream games via Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Cloud Gaming the way Microsoft probably would like.


The two-level design accommodates the extra ventilation Microsoft needs to cool the system.


If the Surface Laptop Studio were ultrathin or ultralight, I could understand going with the low-power parts. But it's 18mm thick and weighs 3.8 to 4 pounds (depending upon configuration). And the laptop has a two-level design in order to accommodate sufficient ventilation for even those parts. So folded up to use as a tablet it's somewhat chunky. Microsoft claims up to 18 hours of battery life, which sounds good but I wonder what the company considers "typical device usage" for something like this. It's going to require some testing to sell me on this aspect of the system.

One of the biggest disappointments, though, is the nonupgradeable memory (which maxes out at 32GB) and the "removable" solid-state drive. According to Microsoft, "This device does not contain user serviceable parts. Hard drive is only removable by an authorized technician following Microsoft provided instructions." 

Microsoft announced a collection of new products at its Surface event including the Surface Duo 2Surface Go 3Surface Pro 8Surface Adaptive Kit and Surface Slim Pen 2. For more, you can also take a look at all the differences between the Surface Duo and Surface Duo 2 and these camera tricks you can try on the new Surface Duo 2