Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review
The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio offers a fantastic design for digital artists, allowing you to fold the screen flat against the keyboard to use it as a makeshift graphics tablet. But this may only be a worthwhile device for hobbyists and causal content creators, as during testing we found the lack of high-end GPU options and the screen’s low colour coverage hampers its ability to compete with professional-grade devices.
- Versatile hinge is great for digital artists
- Sharp and vibrant display
- Top-class design and keyboard
- Surprisingly good battery life
- Weak graphics power compared to rivals
- Screen lacks pro-grade colour accuracy
- Stylus isn’t bundled in
- UKRRP: £2479
- USARRP: $2699.99
- EuropeRRP: €2829
- Can be used like a graphics tabletThe versatile hinge allows you to fold the touchscreen down flat, and use the Laptop Studio like a tablet – although you’ll need to purchase a Surface pen separately
- Entry-level graphics performanceThe optional Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti allows you to complete tasks such as video editing and 3D animation; but rival laptops offer more power
- All-day battery lifeThis laptop lasted 10 hours in our battery benchmark test, proving that it can outlast the working day when dealing with productivity tasks
Microsoft’s Surface Book range sported a clever design – but, ultimately, it was flawed. Being able to detach the screen made it a joy to use for doodlers and artists, but as the GPU was baked into the main chassis, using the device as a tablet would lead to a compromised performance.
The new Surface Laptop Studio addresses this flaw. Microsoft has created a new screen hinge that still allows you to use this high-performance laptop as a tablet, but without detaching it from the main deck and all of the powerful components stuffed inside.
Microsoft isn’t the first company to create such a design, with the Acer ConceptD Ezel range beating the Surface Laptop Studio to the punch. But with the allure of the Surface brand, Microsoft may be onto a winning combination with the Surface Laptop Studio. After over a week using the device as my main laptop I can confirm it is a brilliant device for hobbyists and more casual users. But the lack of a more powerful graphics card option became an issue when I tried to run more demanding processes on it, like 4K video editing. Here’s why.
- Versatile hinge is great for digital artists
- Doesn’t come bundled with the Surface Pen
- Haptic feedback trackpad takes some getting used to
The most impressive aspect of the Surface Laptop Studio is its screen hinge, which allows the device to not only be used as a clamshell laptop, but also as a tablet – albeit an extremely heavy one.
With a starting weight of 1.7kg, the Laptop Studio is far too hefty to be used like a traditional on-the-go tablet such as the iPad or Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8. But the tablet mode is still useful for those who want to draw and sketch at a desk based on my experience with the device.
I’m a big fan of the ability to pull the screen forward and magnetically clip it to the desk just above the trackpad, putting it in a secure, slanted position that’s super-handy for drawing on the touchscreen. I’ve also found it to be ideal for watching video or even playing a game through Xbox Game Pass during my time with the new Surface.
I was initially concerned that the hinge would feel a little flimsy having seen its slender design via images online. But it feels robust, while still being flexible enough to flip into a variety of positions easily.
The Surface Laptop Studio pairs really well with Microsoft’s Slim Pen. The stylus can be wirelessly charged (with up to 15 hours of typical use) by magnetically clipping it underneath the device’s front lip. It connects seamlessly with the laptop via Bluetooth.
I’m unconvinced by Microsoft’s claim that the stylus feels like pen on paper, but it still feels great on the touchscreen, with 4096 pressure levels allowing you to change the thickness of each stroke by simply pressing harder. You also get a digital eraser on the end of the pen, making it easy to wipe out errors.
What’s rather disappointing is that Microsoft isn’t bundling the Slim Pen with the Laptop Studio, especially given it’s such an important accessory. In fact, I don’t know why anyone would want to buy this laptop without the stylus, and rival manufacturers – such as Acer with the ConceptD Ezel – provide the pen in the box by default.
Thanks to the all-metal build, the Surface Laptop Studio feels classy and well made, which is no surprise given this is a Microsoft device. It’s only available in one colour, a basic Platinum, but that isn’t unusual for a laptop aimed at creators – just look at the MacBook Pro 2021.
My biggest issue with the design is the stingy offering of ports – you only get 2 x USB-C (Thunderbolt 4), a 3.5mm headphone jack and a Surface Connect port. The 14-inch MacBook Pro isn’t too much better, but at least it comes rocking an extra USB-C port, as well as connections for HDMI and an SDXC card slot. The Acer ConceptD 3 also has Microsoft beat here, with ports for USB-A and a mini DisplayPort.
Microsoft hasn’t even bothered to include an adapter in the box, so if you want to plug in a USB-A peripheral, USB stick or SD card, you’ll have to purchase your own dongle and carry it around with you. You at least get a USB-A port on the laptop’s power adapter, but this is only useful for power delivery to additional devices such as your smartphone.
Fortunately, Microsoft hasn’t skimped on the webcam, which is capable of 1080p-resolution video capture. It’s one of the best integrated webcams I’ve tested on a laptop yet, although you’ll still get sharper capture quality by purchasing an external cam.
One of the biggest advantages of the clever hinge design, compared to the 2-in-1 build of the Surface Pro, is that Microsoft has been able to provide a proper keyboard. With the combination of a solid deck underneath and keys with lots of travel, the Laptop Studio is very comfortable to type on. Keys are nicely spaced out, too, reducing the number of typos when I’m trying to type up an essay quickly.
Unfortunately, I’m really not a fan of the trackpad. Microsoft has gone down the MacBook route, preventing you from being able to push in the trackpad, but using haptic feedback to simulate that clicky sensation. While Apple has managed to make pushing down feel natural, this isn’t the case with the Surface Laptop Studio. The vibrations feel a little too powerful, akin to the haptic feedback on a smartphone.
Fortunately, Windows 11 allows you to adjust the intensity and sensitivity of the trackpad vibrations, or even turn off the haptic feedback completely. But even with all of these settings made available, I still struggled to make it feel like a good ol’ physical trackpad during testing.
- Sharp 2400 x 1600 display
- Lacks the colour coverage for professionals
- 120Hz refresh rate is a plus
The Surface Laptop Studio features a 14.4-inch panel, with a 2400 x 1600 resolution. That isn’t quite as sharp as the 14.2-inch screen on the MacBook Pro 14, which flaunts an even more pixel-packed 3024 x 1964 resolution.
But it’s important to remember that the MacBook Pro costs a few hundred pounds more. And after watching Netflix and browsing the web with the Laptop Studio, I think the screen is perfectly punchy enough to please users at this price point.
Our colorimeter backed up my impressions, posting results of a 497-nit brightness and 1669:1 contrast ratio, which are both superb. Most laptops I review are only capable of hitting 300 nits, so Microsoft is beating the majority of its competition by a significant margin. A nit measures how much light is emitted from a screen, a single unit is roughly the same brightness as a lone candle.
Color accuracy isn’t quite as impressive, though. The sRGB coverage is great, which means digital art should look exactly as it does on the Laptop Studio screen. But the 74% Adobe RGB and 81% DCI-P3 coverage are underwhelming; rival laptops (such as the MacBook Pro) will present photo-realistic work more accurately.
It’s a major issue for the Surface Laptop Studio, since this is a device that’s clearly pitched at content creators who require high levels of colour accuracy to ensure images and videos look good on a number of different displays. It’s also an ongoing issue we’ve had testing Microsoft Surface devices over the years. Given that the issue’s been reported since we tested the first generation Surface Pro many moons ago, it’s a little sad Microsoft hasn’t made any progress improving its device’s color accuracy.
Microsoft has boosted the refresh rate to 120Hz here. Those simply browsing the web or checking emails probably won’t notice any differences to a standard 60Hz screen, but the higher refresh rate allows for smoother motion that could be useful for content creators. It’s also a nice upgrade for gamers, although the graphical power of the device will likely make the most of the screen specs.
The speakers also deserve a mention. They’re some of the loudest speakers I’ve ever tested on a laptop, with Spotify playlists easily filling the entire office room. Bass can struggle when cranked up to the highest decibel, but it’s still a perfectly competent performance.
- Processor is speedy, but a little outdated
- Poor GPU options limit graphics power
- Entry-level model has stingy storage
The Surface Laptop Studio packs an 11th-Generation H-Series Intel Core processor (option of i5 or i7), offering a choice between 16GB and 32GB of RAM.
Such specs shouldn’t be sniffed at, although the Laptop Studio’s delayed launch in the UK (it launched back in October 2021 over in the USA) has meant that CPU options are now a little out of date with the rollout of Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake chips.
As such, performance results are underwhelming. The Huawei MateBook X Pro is capable of similar CPU performance, despite lacking a H-Series chip, designed for high-performance laptops. Compare the Surface Laptop Studio to the MacBook Pro (with an M1 Pro chip), and you’ll find that the performance gulf is absolutely huge.
|Surface Laptop Studio||Huawei MateBook X Pro (2022)||MacBook Pro|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-11370H||Intel Core i7-1195G7||Apple M1 Pro|
Is this a major problem? I don’t think so. The Laptop Studio is still capable of fast enough performance to ensure all basic tasks are completed smoothly, and while it may be slower than rival laptops when dealing with high-intensity workloads, it can still get the job done. The GPU options are the bigger issue.
The base model of the Surface Laptop Studio is limited to integrated Intel Xe graphics, which simply aren’t powerful enough for professional-standard video editing. You’ll need to fork out at least £1899 to get a discrete GPU, and even then you’re limited to the RTX 3050 Ti, which is one of the weakest options in Nvidia’s latest GPU range.
You’ll often find this in premium productivity laptops such as the Dell XPS 15 (2021), so to see it as the most powerful GPU option for a device aimed at content creators is a massive disappointment. The MacBook Pro well and truly blows it out of the water in terms of graphics power.
|Surface Laptop Studio||Dell XPS 15 (2021)||Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED (2021)|
|GPU||Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti||Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti||Nvidia RTX 3070|
|3DMark Time Spy||4030||4596||8637|
This means the Surface Laptop Studio is only really worthwhile for those who want to doodle and sketch on the touchscreen display, but aren’t too fussed about a high-end graphics performance to edit animations, photos and videos with blistering speeds – you’re better off with a MacBook Pro for that.
I’m equally gobsmacked by the base-level storage option of 256GB, which isn’t really enough for a modern-day productivity laptop, never mind one that’s designed for creators who work with large files. Fortunately, there are options for 512GB, 1TB and 2TB storage configurations.
The speed of the SSD is superb, posting read and write scores of 3080MB/s and 3079MB/s respectively, which will ensure quick saving and loading times with data on the physical drive, as well as rapid boot-up times.
- Impressive 10-hour battery life
- Better stamina than most creativity laptops
High-performance laptops usually see sub-standard stamina, since the powerful components stuffed inside typically drain the battery like a hungry leech. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with the Surface Laptop Studio.
After dimming the screen brightness down to 150 nits and running the PCMark 10 office simulation, the Laptop Studio managed to continue chugging for 10hrs 49mins. That’s an excellent result, surpassing the majority of high-end laptops, including the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED (2021), which lasted just 5hrs 23mins in the same test.
But it’s important to remember that Microsoft has achieved this figure by restricting the graphics power. It’s far more impressive that Apple has managed to achieve a long battery life with the MacBook Pro given its top-class performance. Nevertheless, Studio Laptop users should be happy to know the laptop can last a full working day on a single charge.
Should you buy it?
You want a laptop for drawing The Surface Laptop Studio’s greatest strength is the versatile hinge, allowing you to pull the touchscreen forward into a slanted position, or even fold it down flat like a tablet. It’s a shame that the Slim Pen 2 isn’t bundled in, but it’s still a fantastic accessory when paired with this laptop.
You want a high-end performance The biggest issue with this laptop is that it doesn’t have powerful graphics power when compared to its rivals, particularly the MacBook Pro. This means it’s difficult to recommend to professional content creators who frequently need to edit video or create 3D animation.
The Surface Laptop Studio flaunts a fantastic design, with its clever hinge removing the need of detaching the screen in order to doodle and sketch on the display. Acer has already launched several laptops with the same design, but Microsoft has added its classic top build quality to make this hybrid machine feel even more premium.
However, the lack of high-end options is difficult to forgive in a laptop aimed at content creators. The stingy port options could also prove problematic if you don’t fancy the dongle life, and it’s a real head-scratcher that Microsoft doesn’t bundle in the Slim Pen.
Nevertheless, the Surface Laptop Studio will still appeal to those who want a high-performance laptop that can also double as a makeshift graphics tablet for drawing and sketching. Although you’ll really need to make use of that stylus-friendly touchscreen to make it a better option than the MacBook Pro 14.
How we test
Every laptop we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including build quality, performance, screen quality and battery life.
These include formal synthetic benchmarks and scripted tests, plus a series of real-world checks, such as how well it runs the most frequently used apps.
We also make sure to use every laptop we review as our primary device to ensure our review is as accurate as possible.
Used the laptop for two weeks
Used Geekbench 5, PCMark 10 and 3DMark to test performance
Used a colorimeter to test the display
Used PCMark 10 to test the battery life
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It has a starting price of £1449, but that will spiral upwards if you want to upgrade the CPU, RAM, GPU and storage.
No, you have to purchase the Surface Slim Pen separately.
Yes, Microsoft seemingly has no plans to launch a new Surface Book following the launch of the Surface Laptop Studio.
Trusted Reviews test data
The table below shows the test data we collected reviewing the Surface Laptop Studio and how it compares to the Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED, which has similar specs. You can see while the Surface is solid performer for every day tasks, its lack of a powerful GPU meant it did struggle to match dedicated creative machines’ performance in more demanding workloads, like the graphics card focussed Time Spy test.
You can see a breakdown of the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio’s full specs in the table below. Click through and you can also see how they compare to the Gigabyte Aero 15 Pro and new MacBook Pro, which are its closest rivals. The key difference is the lack of a powerful GPU, which will be an issue for power users and creatives looking to do demanding work, like 4K video editing and 3D modelling on the Surface.
The brightness level of a display. 300 nits is regarded as the minimum target for high-end screens.