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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 13.5in review: A minor upgrade, but still lovely and on offer on Black Friday

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
999
inc VAT

An impressively quick, ultraportable laptop, but the Surface Laptop 4 can’t quite match the M1 MacBook Air

Pros 
Hugely likeable design
Choice of AMD and Intel CPUs
Great touchscreen
Cons 
Graphics performance below par
Middling battery life
Cheaper models are Alcantara only
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BLACK FRIDAY DEAL: Save £230 on the AMD Surface Laptop 4

The Surface Laptop 4 is a lovely laptop with impeccable credentials and it's reduced in price this Black Friday with various discounts across the 13.5in and the 15.6in models. The best deal is on the 13.5in model with the AMD Ryzen CPU. It comes with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage and there's a significant £220 saving off the regular price.
Amazon
Was £999
Now £779

If the announcement of the Surface Laptop 4 was notable for anything, it was for the revelation that Microsoft would offer both AMD and Intel CPUs across the board for all models. It certainly wasn’t for any exciting upgrades, because Microsoft hasn’t offered up anything on that front this time around.

Nonetheless, even though it isn’t much of an upgrade this year, the Surface Laptop 4 does represent a significant moment: a confirmation that, after years in the mobile CPU wilderness, AMD is finally back in business.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: What you need to know

With the Surface Laptop 4 you have four CPU choices, two of which are AMD chips, and they vary depending on whether you buy the 13.5in model or the 15in variant. The 13.5in laptop comes with the six-core AMD Ryzen 5 4680U, the Intel Core i5-1135G7 or the Intel Core i7-1185G7, while the 15in model comes with either an eight-core AMD Ryzen 7 4980U or an Intel Core i7-1185G7.

Aside from the introduction of AMD CPUs across the board, there isn’t all that much new to tell you about here. It has identical dimensions and port selections to its predecessor and many of the same features. The SSD capacity has been doubled in the cheapest model, but that’s about it.

It’s still a very pretty laptop, though, and in some respects, a nicer design than the current holder of the top slot on our best laptops page – the M1 Apple MacBook Air. The 2,256 x 1,504 3:2 aspect ratio touchscreen display (2,496 x 1,664 on the 15in model), for instance, is more practical to use than the 16:9 non-touch display on the MacBook; the sharp edges and flat-top lid feel more modern, too.

As with the Surface Laptop 3, you still have a choice of whether to have Alcantara on the wristrest or plain metal. Alas, you still don’t get that choice if you want the cheapest model; that’s only available in grey Alcantara.

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Microsoft Surface Pro 4 review: Price and competition

As ever, there are quite a few different options when it comes to configurations and colours, beyond the choice between Alcantara and non-Alcantara Surface Laptop 4 models.

Prices start at £999 and this gets you a 13.5in base model, which comes with the six-core AMD Ryzen 5 4860U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Prices rise throughout the range until you hit the top-end 15.6in model, which comes with an Intel Core i7-1185G7, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. This model will set you back £2,399.

For this review, I was supplied with the 13.5in base model with the AMD Ryzen 5 4860U inside, although it had 16GB of RAM fitted – a specification that isn’t available in the UK.

In this price bracket, the Surface Laptop 4’s main competitor is obvious: it’s the base M1 Apple MacBook Air, which at £898 is a bargain. This comes with an octa-core Apple M1 CPU, a seven-core GPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

Our second favourite laptop at around this price is the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro. Like the Surface Laptop 4, it’s available in two sizes, albeit fractionally different at 13.3in and 15.6in, comes with a glorious 1080p AMOLED display and weighs barely anything at all. Prices for the Galaxy Book Pro start at £1,099 for the 13.3in model with an Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

I’d also encourage you to consider the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7, which also comes with a Ryzen CPU – the Ryzen 7 4700U – plus 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, and outperforms the Surface Laptop 4 for only £849.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Design and key features

As I’ve already highlighted, the Surface Pro 4 has exactly the same physical design as the Surface Laptop 3, and that’s no bad thing. It’s a slim, lightweight laptop that’s both gorgeous to look at and practical to use. It measures 308 x 223 x 14.5mm (WDH) when closed, weighs 1.27kg, and the power brick adds another 343g.

That’s not as lightweight as the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 13.3in, which weighs a frankly bonkers 868g, but it’s on a par with the M1 MacBook Air, which is the gold standard in this category.

It’s a shame the cheapest model doesn’t come in all metal because that, to my mind, is the nicer design. The Alcantara wristrest looks and feels nice, but it’s liable to pick up stains and grime and is a lot more difficult to keep clean.

And I do wish Microsoft had found it in its cold, cold heart to add a few more ports and sockets. All you get here is the magnetic Surface Connect port on the right-hand side, one USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 and a single USB-A 2.0 port.

Fortunately, there’s little else to complain about. The keyboard is a joy to type on, with a light yet positive action that has just the right amount of travel. It has a three-stage backlight that engages only when you start typing. The glass touchpad is decent, too. It’s large, responsive and feels smooth under the finger or when you touch the trackpad. It’s a diving-board-style pad, but you can engage the click anywhere on it about a centimetre from the top edge.

The webcam is only a 720p effort but it supports Windows Hello face unlocking, and image quality is pretty darned good. Finally, audio quality is absolutely fine. The “Omnisonic” speakers deliver sound with a surprising amount of volume, if not much in the way of lower-end frequencies. There’s also support for Dolby Atmos, but I’m not convinced this has any discernible impact. And the microphone picks up your voice without overburdening it with background hiss.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Display quality

As ever, you get a touchscreen on every model of the Surface Laptop 4, which is more than can be said for the Dell XPS 13 or the M1 Apple MacBook Air. And that screen isn’t half bad, either. It has a taller, more practical 3:2 aspect ratio than the MacBook Air and most of its rivals, and the 2,256 x 1,504 resolution “Pixel Sense” IPS display on offer here performs well.

In testing, it returned an average Delta E colour variance score of 0.86, indicating excellent colour accuracy. The contrast ratio hit a fine 1,242:1 and brightness reached 394cd/m², ensuring good readability in most conditions, although that’s offset somewhat by the glossy finish on the screen. You’ll still need to find a patch of shade to work in and angle the screen so it doesn’t catch distracting reflections.

Other than that, the only slight disappointment is that colour coverage is limited to sRGB (with coverage of 95.4%), where rivals such as the MacBook Air and the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro have wider, P3-gamut displays and, thus, more vibrant colour representation. Despite this, you won’t be disappointed with the Surface Laptop 4’s screen; it’s a cracker.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Performance

We’ve been mightily impressed with AMD’s last two generations of mobile CPUs, and the Ryzen 5 4680U in our review unit is no exception. It’s a six-core processor with a base clock frequency of 2.2GHz and it’s accompanied here by 16GB of RAM.

You can expect this spec to perform slightly better than the 8GB units available in UK shops; even taking this into account, however, performance from the Ryzen-based 13.5in Surface Laptop 4 is impressive.

In our in-house benchmarks, it compares favourably with the MacBook Air and leaps ahead of most of its Intel-based competitors. It’s a similar story in the Geekbench 5 single- and multicore benchmarks, although the M1-based Macs stretch out more of a lead in this test.

This Ryzen-based Surface Laptop 4 wasn’t as impressive in graphics-focused benchmarks. Here, it performed more on a par with the previous generation, Core i5 10th-gen-based Surface Laptop 3. It also lags considerable behind the far more potent M1 Apple Macbook Air, and the Surface Laptop 4’s Intel-based rivals, which employ Intel’s powerful Iris Xe integrated graphics, are faster, too. If you were hoping for a laptop to take on the occasional gaming session, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

As for battery life, that sits somewhere between CPU and graphics performance. That is to say it’s decent but not stellar, lasting 9hrs 3mins in our battery rundown test. That’s some way behind the MacBook Air’s superb 14hrs 40mins, the 15.6in Samsung Galaxy Book Pro’s 16hrs 28mins and the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7’s 15hrs 40mins.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Verdict

As with the previous generation, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is a very nice ultraportable laptop. It’s slim and light, looks great and the keyboard, touchpad and display are all superb. This is a laptop I’d be happy to own and use as my day-to-day machine for work.

The key question is, however, does it do enough to overhaul the best in the business? My answer to that would have to be: not quite. With uninspiring GPU performance and middling battery life denting its appeal, even the switch to AMD and Intel CPUs across the range can’t drag it level with the M1 MacBook Air.

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