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Whether it's intended to be simply aspirational or not, the Surface Laptop needs a killer price point

When it comes to schools, IT purchasing is "price" before anything. Forget form or function; it's all about budgets and the bottom line. The rise of cheap Chromebooks stands to exemplify that fact.

While we're still waiting on the full specs of this thing, the leaked renders from earlier don't exactly inspire in the same way previous Surface devices have. Yes, it looks stunning, but due to the omission of a pen in the marketing materials, you can bet that it won't sport canvas mode for intuitive inking, which would've been an easy way to differentiate from Chromebooks in the educational sector. There are tons of clamshells on the market already, and you can effectively transform Windows 10 into Windows 10 S by locking the OS to the Windows Store by group policy anyway.

So, lacking any surprises (and sure, there may well be some), no self-respecting finance department will approve the purchase of the Surface Laptop unless it has an aggressive price point, but does that matter?

This is the new Surface Laptop

Reinventing the wheel

The leak shows that the Surface Laptop doesn't sport USB-C, no canvas mode for inking (but there may well be touch support) and the impressively slim footprint might look pretty, but it hints at modest specs.

I can't help but wonder if they're just reinventing the wheel here.

With Windows 10 S, Microsoft's new cloud-based OS that is locked to the Windows 10 Store (or Stores set up and defined by managed networking environments), the new Surface Laptop is already looking at vastly decreased versatility vs. a Surface Pro 4 or a Surface Book. We've heard that Windows 10 S can be upgraded to Windows 10 Professional, of course, but that's only going to add $$$ to the equation. Those more intensive Win32 applications, particularly in an educational environment, such as Adobe Suite, won't run all that well on lower-end hardware anyway.

Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop are built through and through for Windows 10 Store applications, whether injected through Project Centennial or built specifically for the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Doubtless, Microsoft will have some partnerships to announce today, regarding other educational tools migrating to the Windows 10 Store, but I can't help but wonder if they're just reinventing the wheel here. If you're a school's IT department who couldn't care less about the way a device looks, why bother picking up a Surface Laptop vs. a cheap Lenovo or even a Chromebook, that does the same stuff?

The aspirational argument

Of course, there's always the argument that the Surface line was never truly intended to be a mainstream success. The fact that Surface sales are shrinking due to increased competition from OEMs building their own Surface-like devices is a testament to that fact. As an aspirational device family, the Surface line has lived in this strange limbo between being successful, but not too successful.

The Surface line has lived in this strange limbo between being successful, but not too successful.

The difference between the Surface Book, Studio, and Pro, has always been that they were overpriced, almost on purpose. This allowed OEMs to step in, produce similar hardware and undercut Surface by design, to help reignite flagging PC sales. There's some evidence that it's working. However, each of these Surface-inspired devices had a strong, visual calling card. The Surface Laptop doesn't look as though it does anything unique; instead, it's almost unashamedly plain.

As a device, at an event called #MicrosoftEDU, it's clear Microsoft is positioning Windows 10 S as a stripped down, highly-managed solution that conforms to school policies. IT managers and administrators will see the value in Windows 10 S's improved manageability. The thing is, you can do all of those things today with Group Policy, Azure AD, and Windows 10 standard. What's the differentiator here?

The only real difference between third-party Windows 10 S devices and the Surface Laptop is going to fall to price. If the Surface Laptop and its ilk are standard clamshells locked to the Store (something you can already do via Group Policy), if it isn't aggressive on price, it will be hard to envision what the point of this device, or indeed Windows 10 S, actually is.

There's every chance Microsoft, in true Surface style, has some unique tricks up its sleeve — but I feel as though any "hardware twists" would've been communicated through its marketing renders.

Either way, we won't have to wait long to find out what the true play is here. Of course, if there is one. Hopefully, Microsoft has some cards to play that move beyond another "me too!" hardware launch, which historically has rarely paid off for Redmond. I'm making a lot of assumptions in this piece, ultimately, we'll just have to wait and see.

The #MicrosoftEDU event kicks off at 9:30 AM ET (6:30 AM PT / 13:30 UTC / 14:30 GMT / 19:00 IST) later today. See below for information on how you can watch it.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

82 Comments
  • Just wondering, but as there are no air vents / outlets on this devices (judging by the pics), could it be the first ARM based device running Windows 10? And hence, could the device have a killer price point. Or too soon?
  • Hard to say to be honest, they could certainly surprise us.
  • I'm going out on a limb here and I think the screen detaches. The button on the top right of the keyboard looks bigger than the others and could be the detach button similar to the surface book. Also it doesn't look like there are any cameras on the front of the screen which could cut cost but could promote a good tablet writing experience. Also the keyboard top looks like the surface keyboards with that fabric like material. Again all speculation but given MS's hardware track record with surprising us on announcements that's my guess but I could be completely wrong.
  • inking would greatly attract schools and colleges to buy...and hence a detachable screen would very desirable....finger crossed to see some surprises
  • Sorry to crush your dreams, which I had too, but a top down picture which was leaked alongside the others shows all the buttons, it's just a delete and power key. Still hoping for a surprise tho. https://mobile.twitter.com/h0x0d/status/859230040189419521/photo/3
  • Not really. Microsoft will be 'excited', like allways. Give us your money and we will let you down after one year.
  • I'm wondering that too. And, seriously, wouldn't it be easier to produce a Windows 10 on ARM version that doesn't (yet) run Win32 applications...?
  • Might be, there is a tray on the side. Maybe for a sim card? Or it could also just be for a micro SD card
  • I think that might be a volume rocker, not a tray.
  • But there is the volume keys on the keyboard
  • There are volume keys on every Surface keyboard. 
  • But you can't detach or flip the screen on this device, not with that hinge. So why have a volume rocker?  BTW I hope I'm wrong
  • Irrespective, even if the screen was detachable, the volume rocker would still be on the side of the keyboard. It's hard to say exactly what it is, but the shape and size seems to look very much like thr volume rocker on the Surface and Surface Book. It could be a spring loaded SD expansion slot, which I would really hope for with such a device, as if it's anything like Chrome Books it won't be heavy on capacity to begin with. I have my doubts it would be a SIM slot for education purposes.
  • It is the proprietary power connector as seen on every Surface device
  • we were referring to the other side next to the headphone jack.
  • LOL, the other side
  • There are still fanless Intel chips.
  • May be Core M..
  • uh no.. they're intel x86 chips.
  • This device is being created to set a precedent for third parties. Third parties will create devices that are appealing to schools. The Surface Laptop is more a MacBook (with Win 10 Home / Pro installed) and Google Pixel (which was extremely limited in comparison).
    This is my opinion. I may be wrong.
  • Set a precedent or a president?
  • Good spot. I'm an idiot. #typo
  • Lol. How'd you understand his comment? 'Precedent' meaning to be the first, as an example for other OEM/third parties.
  • It was my fault. I initially typed president.
  • Maybe, I mean me and Zac just had the debate that the Surface Laptop could hold mass market appeal where the other Surface devices don't. It IS very recognizable as a clamshell.
  • If they cover all ranges, Atom (or Y processor) and i3/5/7... as well as Windows S / Home and Pro option it'll be very popular. Many people just want a laptop. I mean, look at the Macbook... spec wise it's crap yet they still charge a fortune for it. This will beat it hands down.
  • Depends on spec though, don't forget this will be locked to the W10 Store without an upgrade.
  • As per comment, if they offer i3/5/7 processors and all version of Windows 10. They won't keep it locked forever... unless they call it Surface CloudBook... Surface Laptop is too general and implies future Windows versions will be supported as well as faster hardware.
  • I agree that the absence of pen and possibly touch is a big deal because then it's basically not much better than a Chromebook. I still think that functionality is important and that students as individuals may possibly want to buy devices like this, but without pen it's pointelss because they can't even make notes on it. 
  • maybe its because they already have surface 4/Pro/Book
  • There is no such thing as Surface 4 on the market right now, if it was I wouldn't have said anything ;) 
  • "without pen it's pointless"
    Indeed. Nice pun.
  • Covering a cheap material with glued alcantara fabric indicates there will be a cheap version of surface laptop. You get lots of alcantara fabric out of one queremeter fabric. Besides that, no ports whats so ever...but nicelooking though
  • Do you guys still remember how they priced the Surface RT? $400! And that is the main reason why it was a failure. Aside from being locked to Windows app store, its price really affected the sales. I think, this is the reason why Microsoft is now trying to correct the mistakes they've done before especially on the pricing.
  • This one need to compete with the other middle price laptop. If they put a high price tag again, then this will die slowly like other​ MS devices.
  • Agreed.
  • 399$ XD
  • Source? Let's just wait for tomorrow's event.
  • I'm the source XD it's today, starts in 3 hours.
  • +600$ for laptop
  • "Those more intensive Win32 applications, particularly in an educational environment, such as Adobe Suite, won't run all that well on lower-end hardware anyway." Speaking of the Adobe Suite; Adobe did confirm a while back that it was rebuilding the entire suite as UWP apps for the Windows Store. So I suspect they will be less demanding on hardware in the future.  
  • The ENTIRE suite? That's the first I've heard of this. o_0
  • Are you really sure of that? That would be awesome!
  • Would the move to UWP mean anything for the processing power involved?
  • As pointed out, without any vents it's unlikely to be running anything exceedingly powerful and could even be ARM based. Also, the fact it's lacking a Surface Pen brings the price point down even further, so there's hope it could be quite cheap. Basically, they need to make it in the same bracket as most Chromebooks, along with some new and decent education software or they can forget about it. One thing that will win kids over though is the design, it definitely has a similar draw and quality design like a MacBook Air but without the price tag.
  • Let the event happen... Then we can argue.
  • but I enjoy writing
  • have you visited this site before? ;-)
  • I have been using it for years :p and I really enjoy reading these articles. It's just that for the last couple of months MS is doing everything in the background, and what we hear are only leaks/hints and rumors. Sometimes we fans get all hyped up (reading Jason ward articles and imagining about the "ultimate mobile device"), and sometimes start criticizing. Seriously, I'm just waiting for MS to talk about ANYTHING they're doing/planning. They just don't speak up.
  • Then again, the point of having a Windows Cloud license would be its price ( - €50 )
    If they manage to pull off the ARM trick, it'll be faster, more energy efficient ánd cheaper than its Intel Core M competitors (- €?) School means limited SDD capacity - which is currently the most expensive part of a laptop (- €100) What if they actually manage to pull off all this gorgeous premium bling for competitive price ? That'd be aspirational indeed.
  • Jez..... this isn't Xbox....., they don't need to be mass market to succeed, it's a reference design for OEMs to set a standard, ALL Surfaces have been like this. HoloLens is $3000 and no one cares about the price, yet it succeeded in creating a community and an ecosystem.
  • What are they designing with it though, that's the question. Other OEMs have been making low(er) cost laptops for ever.
  • They're likely setting a benchmark for what Windows 10S laptops could be and if this is using ARM, then there could be another example for OEMs to follow.
  • Looks like RT ....... failed.
  • So is it already confirmed that the Surface Laptop will never be able to run full Windows 10 and run real programs? That's kind of a bummer :/ I hope it has a great price
  • We'll know in about 3hrs.
  • Jez, spot on about what school needs and how it decides purchasing. I have a feeling that Microsoft will go the premium route here. As the first device to focus on Windows S they need to get schools attention. Price point could kill the whole thing even if 3rd party hardware is way cheaper.
  • You know guys! when I look to this supposed Surface laptop 💻 I see a detachable 2in1. Look to the screen alone it's a stunning Surface (not pro) tab. Maybe I'm wrong but wish not 😐
  • You know guys! when I look to this supposed Surface laptop 💻 I see a detachable 2in1. Look to the screen alone it's a stunning Surface (not pro) tab. Maybe I'm wrong but wish not 😐
  • It could also be that MS is willing to take the cheap, low-profit end of the market off OEM's hands, selling this laptop at (or under) cost. That would raise margins for OEMs (even if their revenue would sink, their profit wouldn't take a hit) which is something good.  I could see them trying that but have my doubts.
  • A few things of note   - No fans = low specs - No camera(s) that I can see, defintiely no rear facing one. - No pen - Minimal ports - Basic hinge   I think they've really cut back on all the luxuries here, although they still use the usual Surface charger port, which is odd considering those chargers go for silly money. If this was ARM I doubt they would need to use the magnetic charger and would have just opted for USB-C
  • For the OS not running the non store app,I think it's a good think if this new device will be a success. Because developers will be forced to use centennial bridge to put their classic apps in the store even if they will work only on pc.
  • Don't expect Surface Laptop to be very cheap.  Afterall, OEMs will make even cheaper devices of the same spec. Price is of course an important factor to be considered for learning at school.  Whether the kids feel good with the device is equally important.  Still many schools are using iPads.  Why?  Because kids think iPads are cool.  I don't see any problem a Surface device charges more given its appealing look.
  • Well, yes, it needs to be cheap. At least as the first windows s machine, which is aimed at a budget market, it needs to be. UWP wise, the educational offerings in the windows store are already pretty strong. With office 365 coming to the store, as far as students go, the software is not an issue. One note- seems to have an SD card slot. That IMPLIES cheap actually. Why include cheap expansion capabilities if you weren't using something like eMMC or something non-upgradeable for internal storage? I think that's a big clue there. And the other note is- that's a pretty weird/cool mouse. Whats even up with that?
  • The mouse is an arc touch mouse its been around a bit its awesome. It folds flat and has bluetrack
  • Well unless they figure something out and unless the speculation in this article turns out to be false, W10S and this device will land hard like Windows RT did. And if that ends up being the case, one would have to wonder exactly what is going through the minds of the higher ups in MS when they try and make the same mistake twice going down this bottleneck OS plan and yet gradually killed off Windows Mobile right around when WP8.1 was just starting to pick up steam. They killed off Mobile right when it was starting to move forward and yet try again to recycle WinRT with a new name when it clearly failed the first time around. Keep in mind that I am aware that W10S isn't exactly WinRT, but the principle is the same. An OS restricted to only the Windows Store to help cut costs to the consumer, which few consumers wanted in the first place. And how much would a consumer save? An extra $50?? I doubt there would be any ground breaking savings here. And of course Win10ARM is a whole other ball game.
  • I think pricing will be a big part of this (not that this device will be the cheapest, MS will leave room for other OEM's). I reckon that with a locked down version of windows 10 it will probably be provided for free, so the cost will only be associated to hardware. Yes, all of this could be locked via Group Policy etc but then you are paying for full versions of Windows - if you want to upgrade you will pay the price of the OS, which will likely put this device up to the price range of normal laptops. I reckon this will be a new category of Windows 10 devices that will be able to be super cheaper due to a free (or very cheap) OS - this should give people something more powerful than Chrome OS for very similar pricing I think. I do believe though that Microsoft won't make themselves the cheapest for this category, they will leave room for other OEM's
  • Maybe, as a way to teach students and educational staff about remote working, Remote Desktop capability may already be baked into Windows 10 S, which sets it apart from Windows 10 Home. And if the hardware for this is powerful, there's a chance that students will want to convert this into a full-fledged Windows 10 experience without buying a new laptop.
  • What I don't like, proprietary charger and no USB-C. I can forgive the other omissions or compromises (no pen / no touch / no back camera). Price will be the key though.
  • So I think you may be overlooking something.....  with today's event aimed at education, will these devices be aimed at schools?  or will they be aimed at students?  There is a big difference there.  If aimed at students (high school and below), then a low price point with low specs may be more than sufficient.  Most high school students will not be using the full adobe suite, but will be using the browser and office applications. I guess we just have to wait and see, only 90 minutes away.    
  • MSFT cannot compete with OEMs. I expect price higher than $500
  • Has anyone confirmed that this is the only new model coming out? I feel like they could release a Surface 4 as well that is slightly more expensive but still has the pen support to give schools flexibility to choose which model they want.
  • This device is already being framed as Microsoft's "Chromebook Killer" - and sadly this will likely be another case of too-little-too-late for Microsoft. Just like they did with the iPhone, Microsoft was quick to dismiss Chromebooks as something consumers wouldn't want to use because they weren't "real PCs" and didn't run office. Then they say idly by as Google took over the education market - even puting a dent in the mighty iPad and are even starting to have an impact on PC sales. Maybe this device has something hidden up its sleeve or Windows 10 S will be what schools are looking for - but plenty of companies already do mid-range / affordable laptops and they aren't being used in schools.
  • It is weird that it wouldn't support inking. Especially since the invitation for the even is hand drawn. I just think that inking would be a big part of really entering the education market.
  • It needs killer WiFi. If they put that Avastar in another product so help me. The Surface WiFi/Bluetooth has not been acceptable for Enterprise. Just look at their failure to break open that space. If they make the same mistakes for EDU...
  • I don't know how to feel about this. But the event just started, so I hope they'll surprise us 😁
  • Past rumors say this device would cost about 1000 USA Dollars definately cheaper than a Surface book but too high for some low income Students to pay. There are a lot of People who do not want a 2 in 1 Surface book but wanted Microsoft to make a good Laptop. They finally got their wish. The Microsoft standard Laptop Computer fans will update this device to full Windows 10 Pro. Wise Microsoft Physical stores and the Microsoft online store should have some of these new Microsoft laptops preloaded with Windows 10 Pro with beefed up specs than a Basic models has. I hope that this Laptop can esily be opened up and a person can install or have techs install a larger faster Harddrive and more ram  
  • group policy is going away
  • It certainly looks sharp, if a little generic. However I'm stunned it doesn't have USB-C, that's just insane.
  • I don't understand the existence of this device. It's a generic laptop that's not even competitive in design or price with your average 2-in-1 Ultrabook. Does MS think OEMs don't know how to make an Ultrabook? This certainly isn't what I would want from OEMs.
  • I'll be highly disappointed if this doesn't come with pen inking support out of the box and tablet mode. In education sector this makes sense. Reading books in tablet mode,annotating, highlighting are all important points for education sector. If its significance relies on Windows 10 S, Surface division shouldn't even have been part of this project. There is no innovation here. It is infact a step backwards even by Microsoft's standards. What will be the point of such a device? We already have good enough clam shells by the likes of Dell, HP and Lenovo. It might well be Core Y series Dell XPS 13 with Windows 10 S. That too has a 360° mode and this might not. How is such such a device gonna be aspirational in any way? It should've had pen support out of the box, tablet mode. How's gonna next generation of mathematicians gonna learn on a laptop class device with keyboard? You have inking. Use it to your advantage. Integrate mathematics, numerics, arithmetics, algebra, trignometry, calcus to One Note for Education, it's recognition through pen input, ability to solve it all there with detailed steps. And now you are talking. As for criteria to compete with chromebooks, startup times, battery life,management, pricing are all very important metrics. Without cShell, Windows on ARM, combination of Windows 10 S with a Surface laptop is a very careless execution by Windows and Devices Group of Microsoft. And to think they were doing so good. Still hoping they will take us by surprise in some manner. If not, these leaks might have done them a favour and toning down the expectation and cushioning the backlash. All in all, it seems like this event is gonna be meh.
  • No, too low of a price point would anger and push away. OEMs.