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Microsoft Surface Laptop SE review: Lightweight and likeable but (probably) not for you

Jonathan Bray
12 May 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
227
inc VAT

The Microsoft Surface Laptop SE is a great budget machine; it’s a shame it isn’t available on general sale

Pros 
Well made and attractive design
Decent keyboard
Solid display
Cons 
Only available to education buyers
Nothing else
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The Microsoft Surface Laptop SE is a cut-down, affordable take on Microsoft’s Surface line of laptops and tablets. A compact, lightweight and simple notebook, it’s specifically designed as a children’s laptop and is ideal for schoolwork of all kinds. It comes with a bright, readable 11.6in screen, a spacious and comfortable keyboard and all the connectivity today’s young students require.

The price is attractive as well – at only £227 inc VAT I can’t think of a nicer little laptop. But there’s a catch. The Microsoft Surface Laptop SE is only available to those in the education sector and it’s locked down to such an extent that only administrators are able to install applications on it.

Find out more at Microsoft


Microsoft Surface Laptop SE review: What you need to know

If this isn’t you, well that’s a shame – you’ll have to choose from the selection of alternatives on our best Chromebook and best cheap laptops pages. If, on the other hand, you do work in education and are lucky enough to have the budget to refresh your fleet of student laptops, then this might be just the ticket.

For the money, the specification doesn’t look like much. The laptop comes with a small 11.6in non-touch compatible display with an unremarkable resolution of 1,366 x 768. It’s powered by either a 1.1GHz Intel Celeron N4020 or N4120 CPU backed up by 4GB or 8GB of RAM and either 64GB or 128GB of eMMC storage.

The webcam is only 720p with no biometric support whatsoever. It only runs Windows 11 SE and, as I’ve already mentioned, is locked down in the extreme – you can’t run anything on this machine unless it’s been okayed first by your admin.

However, its design – all clad in smart white plastic – is elegant, it’s light, it has a decent keyboard, touchpad and practical selection of ports, all of which go together to produce a handy little machine. For this little money, schools can’t really go wrong.

Microsoft Surface Laptop SE review: Price and competition

Windows laptops in the Surface Laptop SE’s price bracket (£227) aren't usually this good. They either suffer on the performance front, they’re not particularly nice to use or the screen is terrible, so much so that I’d normally advise upping the budget or buying a Chromebook instead.

The Lenovo Ideapad Duet (£279) is our current favourite, however. Like the Surface Laptop SE, it isn’t the fastest machine, using a Mediatek processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage, but it comes with a crisper 10.1 Full HD display that beats the Microsoft machine on both brightness and vibrancy, and it’s just as usable, too.

READ NEXT: The best laptops for you to buy

Microsoft Surface Laptop SE review: Design, keyboard and touchpad

Despite the fact that this is isn’t a particularly exotic laptop, it does tick plenty of boxes. It’s compact and light, measuring 284 x 193 x 17.8mm and weighing 1.1kg. Its textured white plastic chassis looks and feels great and it has a minimal but practical selection of ports, with one USB-C on the left, one USB-A on the right and a 3.5mm audio jack.

Likewise, the keyboard isn’t the best I’ve ever typed on – it’s a bit bouncy, a touch rattly and doesn’t have a backlight – but it does the job. It’s spacious, the key action is positive and the Scrabble-tile layout is spacious enough to keep typos to a minimum. There’s also nothing bad at all to say about the touchpad, which is reliable and responsive, easy to click and feels like it would take a fair amount of abuse.

Even the webcam, which is a lowly 720p effort, produces pretty well-exposed images. It doesn’t support Windows Hello facial login, but that probably wouldn’t be appropriate anyway on a laptop designed for use in shool.

In fact, the only thing I have a serious issue with on this machine are the speakers, which are quiet and rather thin sounding, making connecting headphones essential for video calls in even mildly noisy environments. In a classroom, they will have no chance.

Find out more at Microsoft


Microsoft Surface Laptop SE: Display

For this amount of money, you’re never going to get pro-level colour accuracy or wide DCI-P3 gamut reproduction. It only produces 72% of the sRGB gamut with an average Delta E of over three, which means it lacks a little vibrancy when compared with laptop screens with wider coverage.

In addition, the 1,366 x 768 resolution means the view is a little pixellated and brightness is only good enough for use in indoor environments, peaking at 217cd/m². However, the matte-finish, anti-glare coating helps to keep distracting reflections at bay and the contrast ratio is a decent 997:1, ensuring that images always look punchy and have presence.

In this price bracket, all too many laptop displays look grey and washed out due to low contrast. The Microsoft Surface Laptop SE is a far cry from that.

READ NEXT: Our guide to the best laptops for kids

Microsoft Surface Laptop SE: Performance and battery life

It’s much the same deal with performance. The dual-core, 1.1GHz Intel Celeron N4020 isn’t the last word in speed, but I found it nippy enough to run the Microsoft Office 365 apps that had been preinstalled on the laptop without much slowdown, and I happily spent a day or two typing away on it, running Google Docs and even some quite hefty Google Sheets without it grinding to a complete halt.

It’s perfectly suited to life in the classroom, in other words, where it’s never likely to encounter this sort of workload.

Considerably more impressive is battery life. In our video playback test, with the screen set to 170cd/m² and flight mode enabled, it lasted a (I use this word advisedly) stonking 18hrs 1min. Although this result isn’t directly comparable with other laptops – I had to use the Windows Film & TV player where normally we would use VLC – it’s still a very impressive result.

Micosoft Surface Laptop SE: Verdict

Most of this is moot anyway because, as a regular consumer, you can’t buy the Surface Laptop SE; it’s only available to the education market. And even if you were able to lay your hands on one, it wouldn’t make a practical device as you’d need an IT admin to install software for you, via Microsoft’s remote device management tools.

That’s a shame because if it had been available to consumers, it would have made an easy recommendation for anyone looking for a laptop on the cheap. Despite its foibles, it’s a likeable, usable and attractive machine – at this price it would have made the perfect laptop for anyone with modest computing needs.

Find out more at Microsoft


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