Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 Review

The Surface Laptop 2 is a slender and stylish touchscreen that gives the MacBook Air a run for its money.

Verdict

An excellent display, long-lasting battery, comfortable keyboard, and fetching design mean the Surface Laptop 2 is a high performer for everyday use. It's not cheap though.

Pros

  • Excellent display
  • Battery that'll easily last you a day
  • Lightweight and attractive design
  • Nicely spaced keyboard

Cons

  • No USB-C ports
  • Expensive

Key Features

  • Review Price: £1299
  • 13.5-inch touchscreen
  • Surface Pen stylus support
  • Alcantara finish
  • Supports Windows Hello face unlock
  • Intel 8th Gen Core i5 or i7 processor options

What is the Surface Laptop 2?

The Surface Laptop 2 follows in the wake of the original (and excellent) Surface Laptop, which Microsoft launched last year. It seems that Redmond hasn’t spent the time kicking around and sitting on laurels, as this update is not only better looking, but it has a bit more going on under the hood, too. 

The Surface Laptop 2 has managed to shoulder its way into a competitive ‘premium’ sector, with an iterative upgrade on the original Surface Laptop that should impress, even if it doesn’t quite live up to some of the pre-release hype.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

The very slender Surface Laptop 2 – with a Pixel 3 photobomb for scale.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 – Design and Build

From the outside, the Surface Laptop 2 is a real looker. I’ve always been a sucker for the way Apple’s MacBook range looks, but I think the Surface Laptop 2 looks as good if not better. It’s all clean lines and smooth surfaces, with everything tightly packed into a swish metal jacket. I took a picture of it with my Google Pixel 3 for comparison. 

It’s light, too. It weighs nearly dead-on 1.25kg, meaning it’s not going to hurt your back carried around in a rucksack all day – and I should know, I’ve been carrying it around as my daily driver for work for over a fortnight now – and it travels well.

The Surface Laptop 2’s keyboard is surrounded by alcantara, a vegan, suede-like microfibre that feels very premium to the touch and offers a degree of comfort that’s rare on laptops. I’m not sure how well this fabric finish will hold up over time, but so far it’s held its lustre nicely.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

The reflective Windows logo sits square in the centre of the Surface Laptop 2.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for the entire laptop. Just from being in my bag, the laptop has picked up a fair amount of muck. All that’s in my bag is papers and technology, so it’s disheartening to see it pick up dirty marks. These can be easily cleaned, but it’s still a bit of a downer.

Elsewhere, the external ports are fairly generous for the current state of the ultrabook market with connectors for USB-A, a Mini DisplayPort and a headphone jack. The charging port is a little annoying. It uses Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connect port, which is so shallow on the laptop that even with the magnets that are supposed to hold it in place doing their magnetising thing, the slightest movement of the cable wrenches it free from the port.

I’ve always had a hatred of proprietary cables but it’s particularly annoying here when you realise that a USB-C connector would be both more efficient in terms of cables to carry, but would also just be better at charging the laptop. Helpfully, the mains adapter itself also features a USB-A port, so you can keep other devices charged up at the same time. You can pick up a Surface Connect to USB-C Adapter which would solve this, but at the time of writing, it’s only available to buy in the U.S. for $80. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Some might find the arrow keys of the Surface Laptop 2’s keyboard to be a little bunched up there, but generally, the spacing of everything is good and the typing experience is solid.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 – Keyboard and touchpad

I’ve already mentioned the alcantara cladding on the keyboard and how much I like it. The rest of the keyboard is pretty decent too. It feels like there’s some travel to the keys, which is good – there’s a satisfying crunch with every keypress which helps with accuracy.

There’s not much in the way of audible clicking either. The well-spaced keys rattle softly, even when you type at speed which is great. Your colleagues will appreciate not being annoyed. It’s a long way ahead of the new-era butterfly switched keyboards of the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Again, it’s not the best there is, but it’s close.

If you want to talk about the best there is, though, a lot of manufacturers could learn something from the slick glass-covered trackpad on the Surface Laptop 2. It feels really nice under-hand, it picks up multi-fingered gestures easily, and there’s plenty of space: if you’re looking to edit photos or work with media you really should be using a mouse, but the size of the trackpad will make things a little easier for quick resizing and cropping-type work, as well as general web browsing. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

The keycaps have a nice spongey feel, but also spring back nicely.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 – Screen

The Surface Laptop 2’s screen is excellent. It’s a 13.5-inch LCD touchscreen, using the same PixelSense technology that you’ll find on the rest of the Surface range. It runs at a native resolution of 2256 x 1504, in 3:2 aspect ratio.

Using DisplayCAL and an X-rite i1 Display Pro colorimeter, I’ve pulled out some figures, and I’ll drop them below – along with results from competitors – before talking through what they actually mean, and what you can expect.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 (Intel Core i5-8250U) Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (Intel Core i5-8250U) LG Gram 14Z980 (i5-8250U) Apple MacBook Air 2018 (i5-8210Y)
Max brightness: 379.33 nits 422.74 nits 292 nits 304.48 nits
Black levels: 0.27 nits 0.3132 nits 0.3542 nits 0.6 nits
Contrast ratio: 1371:1 1350:1 823:1 501:1
Colour temperature: 6305K 6265K 6666K 6404K

This colour temperature is a little on the warm side. It’s 200K or so away from the sweet spot: 6500K if you’re keeping score. I’ve not noticed anything looking overly red during my time with it. 

The brightness, black levels and contrast ratio paint a flattering picture. Anything that can give you over 300 nits is decent, and while the actual score of 379.33 nits is a fair distance from the 13-inch 2018 MacBook Pro, which smashed it out of the park with 514 nits, but it’s still a decent option. Note that Trusted Reviews recorded 304.48 nits of max brightness with the 2018 MacBook Air – you can see how it compares to laptops in a similar price range above.

With regards to colour gamut coverage, the Surface Laptop 2 tells a similar story, i.e. decent, if not record-breaking results:

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 (i5-8250U) Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (i5-8250U) LG Gram 14Z980 (i5-8250U) Apple MacBook Air 2018 (i5-8210Y)
sRGB 93.1% 90.2% 94.9% 93.3%
Adobe RGB 66.5% 62.4% 67.5% 68.2%
DCI P3 69.0% 64.2% 70.6% 70.8%

These results are solid, but they show a screen that’s great if you want to watch a movie, browse the internet or do some work on a high contrast screen without washing out the colours. I played The Return of The Obra Dinn and watched a good chunk of Daredevil S3 on the screen, and I’ve got no complaints.

However, the low Adobe and DCI scores here mean that you probably won’t want to use this screen for any serious media editing work, as it’s a real weakness in an otherwise solid laptop. As you can see, that’s par for the course for most laptops in this price range. If you want a laptop with higher Adobe and DCI P3 coverage, you should look at the MacBook Pro 2018 or Dell XPS 15 2-in-1.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Corning Gorilla Glass 3 offers a degree of protection on the Surface Laptop 2, but it can’t help but reflect ambient light.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 – Audio

The speakers appear to be mounted under the keyboard, and while I didn’t encounter any issues streaming Netflix with the laptop, the sound isn’t particularly inspiring. If audio quality is important to you, you might want to plug in some cans, or external speakers. There’s no real problem, it’s just that the sounds can be a little flat, even though they’re plenty loud – enough for you to comfortably blast music over the typical levels of office noise, to the delight/chagrin of your colleagues.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Skinny laptops tend to be light on ports, and the Surface Laptop 2 is no exception.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 – Specifications

Here are the full specs for the Surface Laptop 2 options. The version we’ve tested has a 1.6GHz Core i5 CPU, a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, which usually retails for £1249.

Surface Laptop 2
Display 13.5-inch Retina Display, 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI) LED
Processor Intel Core i5-8250U / i7-8650U
Memory 8GB / 16GB RAM
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 620
Ports USB-A, Surface Connect port, Mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm headphone jack
Connectivity 802.11ac Wi‑Fi, Bluetooth 4.1
Misc Windows Hello face authentication camera, 720p HD camera
Dimensions 308.1 x 223.27 x 14.48 mm
Weight Core i5 version: 2.75 lbs (1.25kg) / Core i7 version: 2.83 lbs (1.28kg)
Battery Up to 14.5 hours video playback
Price range £979-£2529

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 – Performance

The Surface Laptop 2’s specs are about standard for its price category. The CPU is a quad core 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-8250U, with 8GB of DDR3 RAM. The Intel UHD Graphics 620 integrated GPU is a little disappointing – you won’t be playing any AAA PC games on Ultra or doing any heavy video editing on the Surface Laptop 2. The best way to put these figures in context is with some benchmarks:

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 (i5-8250U) Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (i5-8250U) LG Gram 14Z980 (i5-8250U) Apple MacBook Air 2018 (i5-8210Y)
PC Mark 10 2216 3309 3170 n/a
Geekbench 4 single-core 3050 4080 4085 4248
Geekbench 4 multi-core 10873 13913 11888 7820
CrystalDiskMark read 1637.5 MB/sec 1640 MB/sec 550.6 MB/sec 2036.2 MB/sec
CrystalDiskMark write 776.0 MB/sec 807 MB/sec 504.9 MB/sec 1091.9 MB/sec
Cinebench OpenGL 37.93 fps 46.25fps TBC 34.08fps
Cinebench cb 485 cb 595 cb TBC 252cb

Editor’s Note: Disk read and write speeds for Windows 10 devices are currently calculated with CrystalDiskMark, which isn’t available for macOS. For macOS devices, we use Blackmagic.

These results aren’t too far of what we saw with the Surface Pro 6 and LG Gram – unsurprising, because the models my colleagues reviewed featured the same i5-8250U CPU – and a little better than what we recorded with the new Apple MacBook Air. That’s something I’d chalk up to the MacBook having a less-powerful i5-8210Y processor running things, and the likes of Geekbench focussing on CPU performance.

These benchmarks are solid though, and show a system that can handle light games without too much effort, although you shouldn’t expect miracles. 

To illustrate this, I ran 3DMark’s Ice Storm benchmark, which is designed specifically to stress test systems without dedicated GPUs. I got 45,642, which is a pretty average score, below the 50,847 Trusted Reviews recorded with the Surface Pro 6 and way south of the LG Gram’s impressive result of 67,216.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

The Surface Laptop 2’s lightweight and slender frame houses a seriously beefy battery.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 – Battery life

Anecdotally, I’ve been very content with the battery life on the Surface 2. Take this out for a day’s work, and it’ll usually survive until lunch without too many issues.

I’m a multitasker too, jumping frequently between several different office apps and browsers, while Spotify pumps out music in the background. I got about eight hours of use before getting spooked and scurrying off to charge the battery, but I’ve regularly used it for 6-7 hours without plugging it in – often because I’ve forgotten to bring my charger into to work. If you were to knock the screen brightness down and turned off some non-essential features like Bluetooth, you might be able to get longer, but I’d say anything past 9 hours is a bit brown trouser.

Our benchmarks reflect this, making it an impressive 10 hours and 11 minutes in Powermark before conking out. That’s an excellent result, on par with the MacBook Air 2018’s 9-10 hours, and a little below that of the LG Gram’s 12-ish hours.

When we use Powermark to test laptops, we use it to simulate 10 minutes of browsing and 5 minutes of video streaming, with the screen brightness set to 150 nits, about halfway on the Surface Laptop 2.  

To round out the Powermark result and my anecdotal observations, I looped a locally-stored 4K video sample with the brightness kept at 150 nits, to measure how quickly the battery would fall. Microsoft quotes you 14.5 hours of video playback in similar conditions – everything set ti default, auto brightness disabled, connected to Wi-Fi – but in my experience this doesn’t stand up.

Power levels dropped to 88% after one hour. After two hours the Surface Laptop 2 dropped to 75%, and hit the 50% mark at four and a half hours. As I found when using the Surface Laptop 2 day to day, I noted that the battery hit 10% at 9 hours. Still, you’re getting just over ten hours of use with the Surface Laptop 2, which is excellent.

Why buy the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2?

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is a solid mid-range device that gives you solid performance combined with a decent screen and solid battery. It’s hard not to recommend the laptop, and the luxury feel means it might even tempt away some of the MacBook faithful with its combination of solid designs and reliable hardware.

Verdict

Microsoft has a solid and smart-looking device in the Surface Laptop 2. If you want a device primarily for writing that can give you plenty of juice throughout the day, this is a top, albeit expensive, choice. 

Score