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Ctrl+Alt+Del: I tried all the Copilot Plus PCs and I’ve never been as excited about Windows

OPINION: When we look back at the big computing news of 2024, Microsoft’s huge announcements this week will surely stand as one of the biggest events.

I was in Seattle for both the Surface event that kicked off the week and the Build Developer Conference that took place afterwards. There was an air of positivity around the place that showed just how important the proceeding announcements were.

During the event many were expecting the news to be the consumer versions of the business-focussed Surface devices Microsoft announced a couple of months ago. This certainly wasn’t the case.

Instead we got a new category of PC (the Copilot Plus PC), and the promise of Windows 11 machines that could offer huge battery life improvements and performance ahead of Apple’s M3 family.

All these Copilot Plus PCs run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon X series of chips, be it the Plus or flagship Elite versions. Like Apple’s M-series, these are built on the Arm architecture. Whether you plump for a machine with the Plus or Elite branding, the NPU (neural process unit) remains the same and enables the various AI features in Windows 11, including the clever (if slightly controversial) Recall. As we’ve seen with Arm chips on the Mac and iPad ranges, they also have dramatic effects on battery life and general performance.

While myriad partners including Asus, Acer and HP, launched machines around the event, the flagship products were the duo of new Surface devices.

The Surface Laptop Copilot Plus PC (or Surface Laptop 7) and the Surface Pro Copilot Plus PC (or Surface Pro 11) both feel like notable upgrades, and for the first time in about a decade I am seriously thinking about moving across to Windows for one of these new machines.

Big battery claims

The highlight of the Surface Laptop 7 is the claimed 22 hours of battery life, although the 86% performance boost over the Intel i5 version of the older Surface Laptop 5 should generate a lot of interest too.

I was also taken with the design, which has thinner bezels around the screen compared to the previous version and comes in four tasteful colours. It’s slim and light too, all the ingredients required for a laptop like this to be successful.

Surface Laptop 7 Copilot Plus PC front
Surface Laptop

The Surface Pro 11 is a delight too. Here, Microsoft swapped the LCD for a wonderful OLED panel that really ups the quality of the screen. I am also a huge fan of the new Flex keyboard, which can be used independently of the tablet for more versatility. It’s just a shame neither a keyboard nor a pen is included in the box.

I got to spend a few hours with each machine after the initial announcement, however questions remain that will only be answered by getting these machines into our labs and putting them through our review process.

Are those performance claims correct? 22 hours of battery life might be achievable when watching offline video, but what’s the endurance like across a regular workday? My biggest question is around app compatibility, and how the biggest services work on this Arm hardware.

Microsoft Surface Pro 11 keyboard detached
Surface Pro

Microsoft did address this during the launch, claiming that apps like Spotify, Disney Plus and Chrome would all be natively built for the hardware. Numerous apps in the Adobe Creative Cloud suite are native too, with others – like Premiere Pro – coming soon. Finally, the Prism emulator will be on hand for apps not natively designed for Arm and Microsoft said 90% of apps will work fine on day one.

The other side of the software debate is focused on AI. Microsoft has made it clear that Windows 11 is built with AI at the heart, and these PCs have that focus too thanks to the dedicated on-device AI hardware. During the Copilot Plus PC launch, Microsoft also announced Recall – a new way of finding everything from Teams messages to presentation slides – and a Photos app with generative AI features. The NPUs inside these Qualcomm chips are capable of performing 40+ trillion operations per second, so expect these AI features to be very fast.

The combination of excellent hardware, capable chipsets that promise huge boosts to both battery life and performance, plus the selection of genuinely exciting AI advancements in Windows 11 make this the most tempting Microsoft computing product I can remember.

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