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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Faster but still pricey

Our Rating :
£1,899.00 from
Price when reviewed : 3,199
inc VAT

A Raptor Lake CPU, faster SSD, updated GPU, and card slot propels the clever flip-screen Surface Laptop Studio 2 from niche to mainstream

Pros

  • Devilishly clever hinged lid
  • 13th Gen Intel CPUs
  • Superb build quality

Cons

  • BIG price hike
  • Surface Slim Pen 2 not included
  • Limited upgradeability

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 is the follow-up to what was a slightly odd combination of cutting-edge design and somewhat dated silicon. The hinged lid was a brilliant piece of engineering, but inside lurked an 11th-generation CPU and a pedestrian SSD.

Version two addresses those issues and leaves us with something we can wax lyrical about without having to park a big “but” after the sentence.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: What you need to know

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 is aimed directly at professional creative types: photographers, videographers, engineers and 3D artists. People who want visual fidelity and power from their laptops.

To that end, the Studio 2 includes features such as a high-quality 120Hz display and support for Microsoft’s fine range of creative peripherals like the Surface Slim Pen 2 stylus, Surface Dock and the Surface Dial (although none come free in the box). And it has that clever hinged lid, which allows you to fold it flat for sketching and notetaking without having to lift it up off the desk.

On the performance side of the equation, Microsoft has added thirteenth-generation silicon and the latest discrete Nvidia GPUs, so it now has the power to match the looks. Usefully, a USB-A port and a memory card slot have been added to the design, addressing two issues with the original Surface Studio.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Price and competition

Configuration tested: Intel Core i7-13700H CPU, Nvidia RTX 2000 Ada (80W) GPU, 64GB RAM, 8GB vRAM, 2TB SSD, 14.4in 2,400 x 1,600 IPS touchscreen; Price: £3,199 inc VAT


All Studio 2 models are built around the 13th-generation Core i7-13700H CPU, and as with all new Surface devices, the price has risen.

The cheapest one comes with Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and a price tag of £2,069. Adding an RTX 4050 GPU ups that to £2,469. That same GPU but with 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD will set you back £2,869, while upgrading to an RTX 4060 GPU and 64GB of RAM takes the price to £3,369.

Top of the pile is the RTX A2000 model with 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for an eye-watering £3,669. That’s the model we were sent to review, but it had a 2TB SSD and 64GB of RAM, which isn’t a combination available in the UK.

When we reviewed the Core H35 i7-11370H model in October 2022, the range-topping RTX 2000 version with 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD cost £2,879. Granted, the new model is more powerful, but that’s still quite an increase.

Mention the words “laptop” and “creatives”, and most people will think of an M3 Apple MacBook Pro, and for good reason; it’s an outstanding machine with a stellar display and a great battery life. You don’t get a touchscreen, though, and the design is rather unimaginative. On the plus side, prices start at just £1,699, although that’s for the 8GB model. If you’re going to buy one, the 16GB model should be where you start and that costs £1,899.

If you want a good do-it-all laptop with power and capability to spare, then the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 is a hard act to beat. With a high-end mini-LED display and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU inside content looks stunning and programmes run like the devil himself is chasing them. It isn’t cheap at £3,599, but it is very good.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Design and build quality

The key to the Surface Laptop Studio 2’s appeal still hinges on its clever lid. It’s a piece of design genius that lets you use the Surface Studio as a regular laptop or as an easel but without having to pick it up off the desk to transform it. That’s because the lid is attached to a hinged arm halfway down its length.

Leave the screen folded against the stand and it’s a regular laptop, but pull the bottom lip of the screen towards you and you can position the display at almost any angle, although it does have a natural resting place just behind the top of the touchpad. If you are working with a stylus or your finger, it’s a supremely natural position to be in, and you can still use the touchpad as you would on any other laptop.

Pull the display all the way out at the front and it lays down flat over the keyboard in “tablet” mode. Doing this still covers the power button – a design foible Microsoft should have fixed this time around – but that niggle aside it’s a supremely elegant piece of engineering.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 right edge in easel mode

And while the display movement of the original Studio was rather spoiled by some creaking and groaning in our review sample, there’s no issue this time around. I still wouldn’t advise applying too much torque to the display leg/stand, though. It feels reasonably robust, but not as rigid as as a regular laptop hinge.

Physically the rest of the Surface Studio 2 is much the same as the outdoing model. It has a very well-made aluminium chassis with clean and angular styling and only one colourway, anodised silver.

It isn’t the lightest 14in laptop, weighing some 2kg (the 14in MacBook Pro, for reference, weighs 1.6kg). However, it is well-appointed with ports and sockets and these have been upgraded for this version with the addition of a legacy 5Gbits/sec USB-A port and a microSD card slot. Given the laptop’s likely use case of transferring RAW files from a DSLR, a full-sized SD card would have been better yet, but any sort of memory card slot is better than no memory card slot.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 showing microSD card slot and Surface Connect port

All this comes in addition to a pair of USB-C 4 / Thunderbolt 4 ports, a Surface Connect port and a 3.5mm audio jack. As usual, the supplied 120W charger has a USB-A port on its side so you can charge a second device. And, on the wireless side, you get 6GHz Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3 courtesy of an Intel AX210 card.

Getting the base off the Studio 2 involves ripping off the two long rubber feet and then getting very brave and separating the two parts of the chassis that house the magnetic stylus dock. It’s clear that Microsoft does not intend you to rummage around inside, and given all you can do once you have removed the bottom plate is replace the SSD, it’s a pretty pointless exercise.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Keyboard, touchpad and webcam

The backlit keyboard has been carried over from the first generation model, but that’s not a problem as there wasn’t much wrong with it in the first place. The keys are soft and pleasant to the touch and have a firm, positive action while the keyboard deck itself is rock-solid.

The layout does look a little cramped, given the amount of free space around it though, but the layout looks no more wasteful than that of the current MacBook Pro.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 showing USB-A port and two USB-C ports

The 120 x 80mm touchpad isn’t any bigger than before, either, but again it works brilliantly. As before, it’s a haptic design, so you can click anywhere on its surface and get the same response. And despite there being no physical motion, the very realistic haptic feedback makes it feel like there is. It’s impressive and one of the better haptic touchpads I’ve encountered.

The 1080p webcam above the display, meanwhile, delivers impressively crisp and clear images and comes with all of Microsoft’s latest image trickery, such as gaze-tracking, face-framing and background blurring. There’s also Windows Hello facial recognition security, which is the only biometric log in option here in the absence of a fingerprint scanner.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Display, audio and stylus support.

The 14.4in screen is still decent, but not stellar. The tall 3:2 aspect ratio and fluid 120Hz refresh rate make it an excellent choice for creative work and it’s pin sharp at 2,400 x 1,600 and 200dpi. The MacBook Pro 14 is sharper at  254dpi but that difference shouldn’t be particularly obvious at normal working distances.

In testing, I measured maximum brightness at 457cd/m2, which is slightly higher than we recorded on the original model, and the contrast ratio came in at 1,809:1, which again is very impressive. There’s a reasonable amount of colour with gamut volumes of 112.6% sRGB, 79.8% DCI-P3 and 77.6% of Adobe RGB. That’s pretty much what we got from the original Surface Studio; frankly, I’d have liked higher given the creative pretensions of the machine.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 in tablet mode with Surface Slim Pen

The display has two colour settings, sRGB and Vivid, the latter essentially Display P3. Against the sRGB profile, the Delta E variance came in at an impressive 0.84. Versus DCI-P3, it produced a less-impressive, although by no means disastrous, 1.8.

There are four loudspeakers buried inside the new Surface Studio 2 in what Microsoft calls a “quad Omnisonic” arrangement. It’s a setup that generates serious volume – 79.4dBA from a pink noise source at a 1m distance – and produces a warm, full sound with generous amounts of bass, impressive levels of detail and good stereo separation.

The display’s touch interface performed faultlessly, whether I was prodding it with my fingers or the Surface Slim Pen 2 stylus that Microsoft’s PR team dropped in the package. As pens go it’s hard to fault, with 4,096 levels of pressure support and haptic feedback. Our review of the original Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio contains an in-depth look at the Surface Studio’s stylus support and nothing has changed. Thanks to a coating of Corning Gorilla Glass 5, the screen should stay scratch-free, too.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 underside

I’m not entirely convinced by the magnetic stylus dock under the front lip of the body, however. It’s a useful place to store and charge the stylus while at your desk but I’ll wager that eventually you will fold the Surface Studio 2 up and walk off with it, forgetting the stylus is attached only for it to get knocked off and lost.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Performance and battery life

Inside the new Surface Studio, you will find an Nvidia RTX 2000 Ada Generation GPU. This professional graphics card has 3,072 CUDA cores and 8GB of GDDR6 VRAM.

Think of it as the nerdy brother to the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060, which uses the same AD107 chip, and you won’t be far wide of the mark, and thanks to the Ada Lovelace architecture, it supports DLSS3 upscaling, so it is just as at home running AAA-games as it is doing serious stuff.

The main difference between the RTX 2000 and RTX 4060 is in the BIOS and drivers, which in the former are targeted at professionals doing things like CAD, simulations, data mining and such. Enhanced stability and reliability is the name of the game rather than tweaking performance for ultimate gaming performance.

The combination of an 80W GPU and a Gen Intel Core i7-13700H crushes the old model when it comes to performance. In our 4K multimedia benchmark, the new machine scored 368 points compared to the first-generation machine’s 157.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 4K media benchmarks chart

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 Geekbench 5 chart

Across the board, in fact, the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 proved a more potent performer than the old model, completing the SPECviewperf 3dsmax 3D modelling test with a highly creditable score of 92.1. And, with a touch of DLSS upscaling, it ran the Metro Exodus gaming benchmark on the Extreme setting at 49.7fps, which is a clear indication of some very useful gaming potential.

Intel’s new 14th generation Meteor Lake processors have built-in AI support via an integrated neural processing unit in the CPU. Microsoft presumably didn’t want to delay the launch of the Laptop Studio 2 until the new chips came online but given its creative applications, it did not want to hobble the new model’s machine-learning capabilities.

Instead, it has installed a separate Intel Movidius neural processor or Vision Processing Unit (VPU), designed to power local AI tasks, the idea being to take the weight of AI computation off the main CPU. In real terms, this means it takes care of “AI” tasks like the webcam Windows Studio Effects and creative tools features like Paint and Copilot. As AI becomes ever more ubiquitous, the role of these VPUs will no doubt become more significant.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 storage performance chart

The first Surface Studio had a very pedestrian SSD for a creative workhorse, which could only manage sequential read and write speeds of 2,642MB/sec and 1,465MB/sec. The new model does much better, returning scores of 5,416MB/sec and 2,900MB/s, which means it can shunt files around at more than twice the speed.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 battery life chart

Perhaps the best news of all, however, is that, despite the increased performance, the new Surface Studio lasts longer away from the mains, outstripping the original machine by 9hrs 38mins to 8hrs 20mins. That’s still somewhat short of the M3 MacBook Pro’s 15hrs 43mins, but it’s still a welcome step in the right direction.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Verdict

The second iteration of the Surface Laptop Studio addresses most of our issues with the first model. The screen hinge feels – and sounds – more robust, while the addition of a USB-A port and memory card slot is welcome. The big performance boost is the main improvement, though, and gives the Surface Studio 2 a serious fillip for both work and play.

Ultimately, however, it’s the price that proves the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2’s undoing. It’s more expensive than the M3 MacBook Pro for similar configurations and you don’t get a free stylus in the box, either. That leaves the hinging touch display as the main attraction and you’ll have to want it a whole lot if you’re willing to pay this much of a premium for it.

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