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Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: An ultraportable dream

4 Dec 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,249
inc. VAT

Another fully fledged premium Microsoft ultraportable to rival laptops from Dell, Asus and Apple

Pros 
Stunning design
Speedy performance
Outstanding build quality
Great touchscreen display
Cons 
Tad pricey
Limited ports
Shorter battery life than original
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It’s not often that a laptop arrives at the Expert Reviews offices about which I have no complaints. The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is one such laptop. It’s not perfect, granted, but nothing is. It’s a genuine struggle to find a major fault with this nifty Microsoft machine, and that’s a very good sign.

From its classy design and build materials to its nippy speed and stunning touchscreen display, it’s everything you could want from an ultraportable. What’s more, it atones for the sins of the first Microsoft Surface Laptop by ditching Windows 10 S in favour of Windows Home 10.

READ NEXT: Best laptops for students

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: What you need to know

This is the highly-anticipated (by us, at least) sequel to the original Microsoft Surface Laptop which was released in June 2017. Like the laptop it’s replacing, the Surface Laptop 2 has a 13.5in touchscreen display with a 2,256 x 1,504 resolution.

There are varying configurations of the Surface Laptop 2 – you can buy it with an 8th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processor – and the prices vary massively, from the reasonable to the irrational depending on which model you buy.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Price and competition

How much does it cost, then? Well, for the base specifications you’ll pay £979. With that, you’ll get an 8th Gen Intel Core i5 chip, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage. For the top of the line model, which has an 8th Gen Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD you’re facing a whopping £2,529 purchase – hardly student laptop material. On that note, don’t forget about the 10% discount offered to full-time students on the Microsoft Store.

The model I’m reviewing here sits towards the lower end of the spectrum. Priced at £1,249, it has a 1.6Ghz Intel Core i5-8250U CPU, Intel UHD Graphics 620, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. As it happens, that’s the exact amount Apple charges for its base spec 12in MacBook (released 2017).

It’s exactly the same as the £1,249 Microsoft Surface Laptop model we reviewed in 2017, too; that came with the same RAM and storage, but had an older 7th Gen Intel Core i5 chip.

Also in the same price range as the new Surface Laptop 2 are the Asus ZenBook 13 at £1,099 and the Dell XPS 13 (2018), which, funnily enough, also starts at £1,249. The XPS 13 is an Expert Reviews favourite, but the Surface Laptop 2 even managed to hold its own against the £1,649 Intel Core i7 model in certain benchmarks, as you’ll see later on in this review.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Design

This is a beautiful, sleek and lightweight machine. The first Surface Laptop felt like a Microsoft cover of Apple’s MacBook Air (now too old to be relevant), and the Surface Laptop 2 carries that legacy forward. At a feathery 1.25kg, this is the kind of ultraportable laptop that you can hold comfortably in the palm of your hand while you type with the other. It’s slender, too, measuring 308mm x 223 mm x 14.5mm.

You could stare at this laptop all day, and you can guarantee it will draw admiring stares from your colleagues or co-commuters too. My review sample came in the sleek platinum finish, although there are three other colour options available: black, burgundy and cobalt blue.

The sturdy aluminium chassis is beautifully complemented by a spill-and-stain-proof Alcantara fabric that surrounds the keyboard and touchpad. You’ll find the same material on the dashboards and seats of luxury sports cars.

My favourite design aspect of all is the hinge; Microsoft has perfected the art of opening up a laptop. The closed lid can be lifted and opened fully with only gentle pressure applied from a single finger, without causing any wobble or movement to the rest of the laptop.

With most laptops, you need to hold the base down with your other hand while opening the lid to prevent the laptop from sliding. But not here. This hinge is an impeccable example of industrial engineering – if only all laptops were this satisfying to open.

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The back of the laptop is a clean, silvery slate with an elegant Microsoft four-square logo in the middle. Every edge is curvy, smooth perfection. Likewise with the black bezels which frame the display. The vents are located at the rear of the laptop’s base, while the speakers are hidden below the surface at the point where the keyboard meets the screen. You won’t be able to crank out the tunes all that loud, but audio quality is perfectly fine if you’re only listening casually or watching some Netflix away from home.

Connectivity is surprisingly limited on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2. This is perhaps its biggest downfall. On the right-hand side, there is only a charging slot, which the charging connector magnetically snaps into in a hugely satisfying manner.

On the other side are the 3.5mm audio jack, a single USB 3.0 port and the mini display port. And that’s your lot. If I’d purchased a £1,249 laptop without USB-C, SD card, HDMI or ethernet connection options, I’d feel a bit shortchanged personally.

For those that need more, there’s a £190 Microsoft Surface Dock that will cater to all your connectivity cravings. For something more portable, any old USB hub will do, but you’ll be instantly robbing the laptop of its sleek elegance.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Keyboard and touchpad

I’m on Cloud Nine as I type away on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2. There’s a reassuring sturdiness to each key; their finger feedback is lovely, providing considerable travel and a hefty click that makes every sentence a pleasure. Grey isn’t normally considered a colour of beauty, but the shade selected for the keyboard and touchpad on the platinum model really is.

Speaking of the touchpad, it’s as responsive as any I’ve used, allowing me to execute Windows shortcuts with delightful ease. The Alcantara fabric, which your wrists rest on while you type, provides an added sense of luxury. Even better, it won’t be ruined if you spill a coffee on it. Not that anyone at the Expert Reviews office would ever dream of eating or drinking while using a computer. Never ever.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Display

Minor improvements have been made with the display quality since the first Microsoft Surface Laptop. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but the original Surface Laptop had such a great screen that it didn’t really need much in the way of improvement.

Personally, I don’t have any use for a touch display on a laptop without a 360-degree hinge because I don’t like that way the lid tends to wobble each time you tap the screen in laptop mode. That said, the touchscreen on the Surface Laptop 2 is excellent, responding to the subtlest of gestures. If I wasn’t reviewing it, however, I wouldn’t be using the touchscreen for anything other than scrolling through a document or web page.

The screen is compatible with the Microsoft Surface Pen, sold separately for £100. It’s a nice, sturdy stylus that sticks magnetically to the base of the laptop – just below the touchpad – or the right-hand side to prevent it from going AWOL.

The display resolution has remained the same 2,256 x 1,504, with an aspect ratio of 3:2, which is perfectly fine. Oftentimes a laptop manufacturer will offer higher display resolution options for a bit more money, and I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t gone in for this. But nevertheless, the screen looks great. If you want to watch 4K content, a 13.5in laptop is not the device to do it on anyway.

Onto the colour measurements. The previous Microsoft Surface Laptop produced a sRGB gamut coverage of 95.6%. Not to be outdone, the Surface Laptop 2 manages 96%. Its made even bigger strides with colour accuracy, however, achieving an average Delta E score of 0.85, a marked improvement on the predecessor’s 1.41. In general, the display is vivid and vibrant, and the numbers back that up. Screen brightness is decent at 334.6 cd/m2; that’s serviceable, but there will be a touch of glare when using it outdoors or sat right by a window on a sunny day.

READ NEXT: Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Performance and battery life

Intel’s 8th Gen i5 helped the Surface 2 cruise past the original Surface Laptop in our benchmarks. In our 4K speed test (not related to display resolution) which combines the image editing, video editing and multi-tasking speeds of the CPU, the Surface Laptop 2 achieved an overall score of 84 – well and truly battering the 49 of the first Surface laptop.

The Asus ZenBook 13, too, has been put in its place by the Surface Laptop 2 despite having an identical Intel Core i5-8250U processor. In fact, the Surface Laptop 2 isn’t even that far behind the Dell XPS 13 (2018) – which got 96 – considering that the latter was packing an Intel Core i7 chip during the same tests.

Read and write speeds are more than adequate given the price of the Surface Laptop 2. While its AS SSD writing ability proves roughly equal to that of the Dell XPS 13, it steamed ahead with a read speed of 629.1 compared to the Asus ZenBook 13’s 476. None too shabby. But neither the Microsoft or Asus are a match for the insanely quick 2,224 AS SSD reading speed of the Dell XPS 13’s 512GB PCIe storage.

In terms of gaming, the Surface Laptop 2 is competent, but not amazing. The chart above demonstrates the average fps each laptop maintained during the GFXBench Manhattan tests. The Surface Laptop 2 is equipped with an Intel UHD Graphics 620 iGPU, the same as the Dell XPS 13, whereas the Asus ZenBook 13 was blessed with a Nvidia GeForce MX150. Of course, there are other factors that affect frame rate, the processor chief among them. Let’s just say that the Surface Laptop 2 is fine for lightweight gaming, but serious competitors will want the Intel Core i7 configuration.

There is one more chink in the Microsoft Surface 2’s shiny armour, and that’s battery life. During our standardised video playback battery test, the power ran out after 7hrs 7mins That’s a heck of a lot shorter than the original Microsoft Surface Laptop, which made it to 10hrs 42mins. Microsoft promised a battery life of over 14hrs on the Surface Laptop 2 but, realistically, you could only achieve that through conservative use. If you’re travelling long distance, you’re going to want to bring a power bank – or find a plug socket.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Windows 10 Home

Presumably, due to an overwhelming wave of negative feedback about Windows 10 S, Microsoft has decided to run the Surface Laptop 2 on Windows 10 Home. My colleague Nathan had numerous complaints about this Diet-Windows OS, which made its debut on the first Microsoft Windows Laptop.

On Windows 10 S, the Windows Store restricted app downloads that were not pre-approved by Microsoft, which seriously limited the capabilities of the machine. For the first year after purchase, owners had the option to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro free of charge – I sincerely hope they all did. Thankfully, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 comes with Windows 10 Home as default, and it certainly invokes the sense of cosy familiarity suggested by its name.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: Verdict

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is a near perfect ultraportable laptop, with only a sub-par battery life and limited connection ports holding it back. Its design is flawless, both functionally and aesthetically, and its performance is up there with the big name rivals from Dell and Asus. Sure, it’s expensive, but you’re paying for quality – the Surface Laptop 2 is a highly desirable device.

In summary: can I keep it, Microsoft?

Core specs
ProcessorIntel Core i5-8250U
RAM8GB
Memory slots (free)No
Max memory8GB (16GB configuration available)
Dimensions308 x 223 x 14.5 mm
Weight1.25kg
Sound3.5mm audio, Dolby Audio 'Omnisonic' speakers
Pointing deviceTouchpad, touchscreen
Display
Screen size13.5in
Screen resolution2,256 x 1,504
TouchscreenYes
Graphics adaptorIntel UHD Graphics 620
Storage
Total storage256GB
Optical drive typeN/A
Ports and expansion
USB portsx1 USB 3.0
BluetoothYes
NetworkingWi-Fi: IEEE 802.11
Memory card readerNo
Other portsMini display port, Surface Connect port
Miscellaneous
Operating systemWindows 10 Home
Operating system restore optionWindows restore