Review: Microsoft's Surface Laptop Studio is unique, fun and sometimes brilliant

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio, review by Mike Kilpatrick at Newshub.
It's a three-in-one design unlike anything else out there, but is it for you? Photo credit: Newshub.

Back in September Microsoft announced its updated range of Surface devices and there was one that stood out: The Surface Laptop Studio.

It just looked so different and the unique look gave it a feel of something new and exciting.

At that point there was no word when it was coming to Aotearoa, just an indication that it would be sometime in early 2022.

Well, that time is now! The uniquely functional laptop-cum-studio-cum-tablet was designed for developers, creative professionals and gamers, Microsoft said at the time.

So could the Laptop Studio live up to the hype in my head or is it destined to disappoint?

I've been using the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good

Let's start with the very best of what the Studio offers: The screen and its adaptability.

The screen is an absolute pleasure to use, whether it's watching high-definition streaming television and movies, working on a new piece of writing or using the touchscreen to navigate.

It's bright, at 14.4-inches it's generous in size and it has 120Hz refresh rate meaning scrolling is as smooth as it's going to get.

The 2400x1600 resolution also means there's a ton of usable space for multi-tasking. It's just beautiful to look at and use, as I've come to expect from Microsoft's own devices.

Adaptability is also key, given that's what this has been designed for.

As a laptop it's fantastic. The keyboard is top of the range, feels natural and I've found the accuracy of Microsoft's laptop keyboards right up there with the very best.

But that's only part of it.

There's also the incredibly clever way the screen hinges forward to hide the keyboard, leaving the touchpad usable but fixing the screen at an angle using magnets. Genius.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Photo credit: Newshub

While the fixed angle of the studio mode was a little acute for me, I asked my artist partner to use it as she normally would and it suited her just fine, helped by the brilliant Slim Pen 2 stylus and its haptic feedback that makes it feel like you're actually writing and drawing on something other than a smooth screen.

I won't include the finished drawing - it's ruder and cruder than I would share with a family audience - but I'll say it convinced me this can absolutely be used by professionals who use digital art as part of their process.

The final function, folding the screen all the way forward so you've got a tablet, is also eminently usable. If there's a keyboard available, chances are I'm going to use it, but when I'm making handwritten notes or doing some brainstorming, it worked really well as a tablet in either landscape or portrait mode.

The touchpad is also very good. Some I've tried lately have behaved in odd ways - right-clicking when I'm trying to left-click or simply not being responsive enough. That's not the case here, as Microsoft's behaved just as it should, and it's a decent size too.

I was also really happy by the front-facing camera and overall performance of the video-conferencing functionality during meetings.

The quality of the HD video was excellent and I was able to hear the other person clearly and they heard me without any audio issues. Companies often scrimp and save here by throwing in any old camera sitting about - I'm glad to see Microsoft didn't compromise.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Photo credit: Newshub

That camera also allows Windows Hello as a login option. Begone, foul unique password - here's my face, now show me my desktop! Yes, it's still the best and quickest way of logging in on the planet. You'll not convince me otherwise.

On top of all of that, you also get some decent speakers. I was a little worried that the sound would be too down-focused because of the shape of the bottom of the Studio, but that wasn't the case.

In all modes the sound was as good as I'd hoped and there was no audible muffling when I moved it from the desk to my legs.

Throw in a battery that lasts way more than a working day - presuming you're not trying to encode multiple 8K movies at the same time - and you've potentially got something quite special.

The acceptable

Gaming wasn't a major part of this review because I consider it as less than essential for a device more aimed at the creative market. However, as it's one of the selling points, I did try it out.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Photo credit: Newshub

And... it was fine. Running older games worked as well as you'd expect with a fast processor and a decent amount of RAM, but some newer titles from Games Pass just didn't quite cut it.

Any time you're pushing the processor really hard you're also going to drain the battery, so if serious gaming is one of the prime reasons for purchasing, I'd be hesitant. 

A bit of casual gaming on the side though? That should be fine.

The bad

The more often it happens, the angrier I get about one particular bugbear: Being charged for accessories which really should be part of an overall package.

In a device for which two of the three stated uses really demands the availability of a stylus, the fact the Slim Pen 2 isn't part of the standard package isn't good enough - particularly when the stylis is as good as this one is.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Photo credit: Newshub

All tech companies need to take a look at themselves and how they handle this. I'd feel much less ripped off if I knew I was going to pay another $200 up front for all of the functionality offered rather than find out after I need to fork out more.

That doesn't matter whether it's Apple, Lenovo, Microsoft or any other company. Just let me know the real cost instead of giving me unrealistic expectations.

Another area in which Microsoft has been a little tight is with ports. There are just two USB-C ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack here.

The two ports are ThunderBolt 4 as well, so high-bandwidth storage and multiple monitors are still an option - but again it feels more like it's an attempt to get people to purchase a dock with more ports.

USB-C has been around for a bit, but so many devices are still shipped with USB-A cables and it shouldn't be that hard to be able to charge them with my laptop.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Photo credit: Newshub

While I found the overall performance pretty good too, I will note there was a lot of heat while using the Studio when it was working hard.

Normally this wouldn't bother me too much, but some of the recent chip advances have shown it is possible to work hard without turning the user's legs extra pink.

It's also quite a heavy device. I mean, it makes sense - it packs a lot of power. But when you lift it in table mode? You suddenly appreciate that holding it in a single hand is more difficult than it should be.

The verdict

Yet again, I'm feeling conflicted. There are some tremendous aspects to the Laptop Studio, not least that stunning screen.

However it's certainly not without its problems.

In New Zealand it starts at $2699, coming with an Intel i5 processor, 16GB RAM and 256GB hard drive. More expensive configurations are available.

That's a lot of cash to fork out for a device which is unquestionably fun and unique - but doesn't quite hit it out of the park.

If the studio and tablet modes don't appeal, then just get a laptop and you'll get one with better specifications for less.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
Photo credit: Newshub

However if you see a lot of use for the different functions then I think you're on to a winner.

I wouldn't put too much stock in it for gaming purposes unless, like me, you're fonder of older titles.

If I was a creative professional that would be fine for me - they'd be a distraction rather than something I'd welcome, but I understand everyone has different requirements.

Regardless, if you're a fan of using a stylus (and happy to fork out the extra 200 bucks), you really aren't going to get much better than the Slim Pen 2, which solidifies its position as best on the market, from my perspective.

I applaud Microsoft's risk in creating the Laptop Studio. It's up to you to decide whether you want to risk purchasing one.


Newshub was supplied with a Surface Laptop Studio with 16GB RAM, an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11370H processor and a 512GB SSD.