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Surface Laptop Studio *is* a better Surface Book. Here's why.

Surface Laptop Studio Hero
Surface Laptop Studio Hero (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

I've been a Surface Book user since the first one was unveiled back in 2015. I dabbled with the Surface Laptop a bit in 2017, but ultimately found myself back with the Surface Book form factor when push came to shove. There's just something about that design that I couldn't get away from; the magnesium finish, the sharp 3:2 display, the hinge, all of it when put together made a laptop that I couldn't help but love.

Unfortunately, the Surface Book was not a perfect product. Its unique design came at the cost of an imbalanced product that was very top heavy and not all that powerful in the CPU department considering its position in the Surface product portfolio. It was essentially a Surface Pro that could detach from a real keyboard deck and GPU packaged in a unique chassis, but was that worth the trade-off in CPU performance?

Because the "brains" of the Surface Book were in the display portion, Microsoft was thermally limited in the kind of chips it could put in there. This ruled out the Surface Book line for many potential buyers looking for something with more power that a Surface Pro under the hood. If the design of your product is limiting its potential growth, then that design isn't sustainable.

And that's exactly what we've seen happen with the Surface Book and the introduction of the Surface Laptop Studio. Surface Book 3 was a real letdown for me, as it was the point in which I was expecting Microsoft to finally figure out how to make the Surface Book a true Surface for power users, and not a glorified Surface Pro with a GPU.

Zac Surface Book Desktop Dock

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I even tried to replace my desktop with a Surface Book 3 and Surface Dock 2 setup, but after two weeks I was back using my desktop because the CPU just couldn't keep up with some of the tasks I'm required to do in my workflow. Anything that taxed the CPU for longer than a few minutes would see the Surface Book throttle to the point of it being unusable. It even happened as I was hosting the Windows Central Podcast.

In fact, the 13.5-inch Surface Book 3 doesn't even have a fan for the CPU, which should tell you everything you need to know about how fit for purpose the Surface Book 3 was for power users. The answer is it wasn't, and that was becoming a problem for me and I'm sure many other potential buyers looking for a "MacBook Pro" alternative in the Surface line.

It's not surprising that Laptop Studio ditches the detachable design.

So it comes as no surprise to me that the Surface Laptop Studio ditches the ability to detach the display entirely. I assume the detachable nature of the Surface Book was a selling point for only a very small subset of users, because I certainly never utilized it. The selling point for me over a Surface Pro or Surface Laptop was the dedicated GPU and larger, higher-resolution display. It was not the detaching screen.

With that in mind, I know there are people out there who did in fact buy the Surface Book because its display could detach. Those people will be disappointed by the Surface Laptop Studio, but outside of that specific use case, I think the Surface Laptop Studio is an upgrade in pretty much every way. It does the Surface Book line justice and is deserving as a successor to that product line. Here's why.

It's still a unique laptop

Surface Laptop Studio Surface Connect

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Just like the Surface Book, the Surface Laptop Studio embraces unconventional beauty. That's sort of what Surface does best. The Surface Book's hinge was a design choice that many questioned at first, but over time people grew to love it. The same will happen with the Surface Laptop Studio's weird double-layered design which sees the keyboard deck sitting above a smaller base.

I also think the Surface Laptop Studio does a better job at switching between postures. Surface Book required you to detach, flip around, and reattach if you wanted to use it in any mode other than laptop. On Surface Laptop Studio, you just pull the display forward and you're good to go in less than a second. It keeps you in your flow and doesn't get in the way of your work.

I can tell you that I've used the Surface Laptop Studio in stage mode this past week more than I ever detached the Surface Book in the six years I've used one.

I'm also here to tell you the keyboard and trackpad on Surface Laptop Studio is leaps and bounds better than the Surface Book, and the Surface Book had a pretty good keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard on Surface Laptop Studio might be the best laptop keyboard I've ever put my hands on. It's tactile, clicky, responsive, and so satisfying to use.

The trackpad is now haptic enabled too, so it no longer physically moves. Some may like this change, others not so much. I personally love it, and the different levels of intensity really let you dial in the kind of click you want. The Surface Book's trackpad was a little small, and VERY loud compared to the Laptop Studio, and other Surface devices for that matter.

Surface Laptop Studio Bottom

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

There's other little design changes that I really like on the Surface Laptop Studio that make using this device feel better than the Surface Book. The bezels are thinner with rounded corners, which looks really modern compared to the Surface Book. The feet underneath are also much more pronounced and grippy, whereas the Surface Book's feet are basically non-existent.

Magnesium is still here and makes Laptop Studio feel great.

And I really like how the Surface Laptop Studio maintains its magnesium finish. Surface Pro and Surface Laptop have switched over to using recycled aluminum, which is fine, but magnesium is a "Surface" thing that I think makes it stand out amongst other laptops, so I'm glad it's still here on Surface Laptop Studio.

Regarding ports, the Surface Book probably has the more favorable selection of port options. But it also misses out on Thunderbolt 4, which I think is a huge upgrade for any device. Surface Laptop Studio only has two TB4 USB-C ports, compared to the Surface Book's two USB-A ports and single USB-C port. The Surface Book also has an SD card reader, which I know is a must-have for those who deal with video.

Thunderbolt 4 on the Surface Laptop Studio enables the ability to do things such as attach an external GPU, giving it more graphical power if the 3050 Ti inside isn't cutting it for you. That's not something you can do on the Surface Book, which is forever limited to the GPU is has on the inside.

Better specs (and room to grow)

Surface Book 3 Hero

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Then there's the specs story. Already, the Surface Laptop Studio is at an advantage, finally having a CPU that can be taxed for long periods of time without throttling. It's sufficiently cooled, and the chip itself is able to draw more power as a result. It is still a 4-core CPU, but this design allows for Microsoft to put in even more powerful chips in the future.

The Surface Book was backed into a corner due to its design, but that's not the case with Surface Laptop Studio. It would be very easy for Microsoft to make a 15- or 16-inch Surface Laptop Studio in a year or two with true 6- or 8-core processors inside. That would have never been possible with the Surface Book's design.

In the GPU department, it's a mixed bag. The 3050 Ti in the Laptop Studio trades punches with the GTX 1660 Ti Max Q in the 15-inch Surface Book 3, but it outright beats the GTX 1650 in the 13.5-inch Surface Book 3, which I'd argue is a more accurate comparison to make. The thin bezels on Surface Laptop Studio make this device feel more like the 13-inch Surface Book than the 15-inch one.

And that comes back to how I think it's likely that Microsoft will make a more powerful 15- or 16-inch version in the future, because this new design leaves the door wide open to meaningful processor and GPU upgrades down the line. It's a sustainable design, unlike the Surface Book's that quickly found its limit.

Surface Laptop Studio Moviestv

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

On to the display resolution, which is the only other area outside of ports that the Surface Book still wins out in. Surface Book's display is beautiful, and in my opinion, one of the best you can find on a laptop. It's a very high resolution with a PPI of 264. Surface Laptop Studio has a lower resolution and a PPI of 201, which, to me, is a noticeable difference.

That's not to say the Surface Laptop Studio's display is bad, because it isn't. It's still an amazing display with great color accuracy, and the 120Hz refresh rate makes the slight resolution downgrade totally worth it. But there's no denying that the Surface Book's display looks sharper when compared side by side.

The display has hidden benefits thanks to its slightly lower resolution.

There are also a couple of hidden benefits to the lower display resolution that I don't think many have realized. The lower resolution helps prolong battery life, which when paired with a 120Hz refresh rate is super important. But the other thing that this lower resolution does is change the display scaling of Windows to 150%. Surface Book's display scaling is at 200%, which is great, but Windows isn't good at switching between display scales when docked to external monitors.

Most 4K monitors these days are scaled at 150%, so moving a window between a 4K monitor and the Surface Book's display would require Windows to resize that app on the fly, which can make text and icons look blurry and often cause all kinds of UI bugs to pop up over time. Surface Laptop Studio doesn't have this problem, because its default scaling is also set to 150%, just like most external monitors.

Overall, I really think the Surface Laptop Studio is a better Surface Book in most categories. Sure, its display isn't' as crisp and ports not as rich, but outside of that, the Surface Laptop Studio is the preferred device over the Surface Book any day of the week. It just feels nicer to use. As I sit in front of both, the Surface Laptop Studio is just nicer, and that's important too.

Be sure to check out our full Surface Laptop Studio review if you're interested in benchmarks and a more in-depth look at the hardware. Also be sure to check out our best Windows 11 PCs roundup if you're interested in what new hardware you can get with Windows 11 support.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

25 Comments
  • The lack of an SD card slot is baffling, if "creators" are one of the target audiences. Has MS explained the decision?
  • Idk if they have, but I guess it's similar to what Apple does and reducing ports but have there been complaints from creators about Apple? I'm totally unfamiliar with the Apple line of laptops so maybe they do have a line targeted at creators that does have it.
  • You're correct, Macbooks don't have them (I think they used to but removed them in 2016), people do complain, and the rumor is the new ones will bring it back. That's one reason why I'm curious about the decision. The other reason is Surface Books have it.
  • That question has very different answers when it's Apple. People will accept whatever nonsense Apple does to them in the name of the ecosystem. Microsoft doesn't have that kind of following. Apple managed to say "we're not giving you a charger because you have so many already and we care about the environment" while switching the in-box cable to a different connector (USB-A to USB-C) that isn't even compatible with the existing chargers they said justify the removal in the first place. Apple users won't complain much because they have no other choice, if they want the Apple ecosystem. If you're a Surface user who wants the SD slot back, you can go to any number of other OEMs and get it. On the one hand, that means it's not as much of a problem if the Surface drops it, but it also means Microsoft can't quite act with impunity because users can always pick another OEM.
  • Yeah, considering that there should be more room on Surface Laptop Studio on its base than Surface Book which is pretty slim, but manage to put SD card in there (but the card cant be fully inisderted which is fine). Considering they are marking this to creators, it is a big misstep from them to not include it this gen. Having this requires to have a seperate card reader. Though Laptop Studio only has 2 Thunderbolt ports, so better have hubs as well. Not sure if that Surface Coonect is equivalent of having 2 Thunderbolt, since MacBook Pros have 4. Would be nice if Microsoft make a Surface Connect Hub that can be magnetically attack to Surface Laptop Studio, or any Surface devices.
  • Microsoft can still keep the idea alive by designing surface book style solid keyboard dock with ports & optional gpu for future surface pros.
  • This. This is how it should have been all along. I admit I own one and love it, but Surface Book should have never been a product. The base should be an add-on for the Pro line.
  • Yeah, the Book idea can live on as an accessories. Though the question is, that pogo connection may not have a bandwidth for eGPU, which what makes Book special. This requires them to make Surface Pro to have two Surface Connect on the device itself, and there might not have enough lanes to support another Surface Connect. Or maybe they can do this, the Surface Connect at the bottom of the device is inactive, but when you attach a "Performance Cover", the pogo pins will detect it is not a Type Cover and will switch the lanes to Surface Connect from one if not all the Thunderbolt ports on the tablet. And transfer that to the base. Not sure if that is possible to do lane switching though.
  • Obviously Microsoft has chosen to take the "Apple Route" by strictly dividing the use-case of tablet and laptop going from SB2 to SLS. Now if you want the tablet but still want that lapable big screen with graphics, you have to buy BOTH a SP8 and SLS instead of the SB13 that was versatile enough to be an all-in-1 PC for most people. Surface Book was one-of-a-kind device. Laptop Studio? Not so much.
  • "Surface Book was one-of-a-kind device. Laptop Studio? Not so much."
    Name another device that has laptop, stage, and studio modes, 3:2 display aspect, 120Hz refresh, and a haptic pen with very good audio and an excellent webcam. You can't, it doesn't exist. Even so, when did "one of a kind" become the benchmark for being good? Surface Duo is one of a kind, yet others here trash it all the time, so clearly design and function don't determine everything.
  • If you read my whole comment and your argument is another one of "Name another...it doesn't exist" then as always, you've missed my point entirely.
  • Then, as always, I suggest you write clearer because maybe your point is not that obvious. This point:
    "Obviously Microsoft has chosen to take the "Apple Route" by strictly dividing the use-case of tablet and laptop going from SB2 to SLS."
    Is not obvious, nor factual. They did it because people weren't detaching the display and using it as a tablet. In fact, the use-case frequency of "Windows as a tablet" is very low. And correct me if I'm wrong, you still said "Surface Book was one-of-a-kind device. Laptop Studio? Not so much," which I am free to address and point out is factually incorrect.
  • Not sure whether MS's data on detaching is even accurate. This design change feels more like an arbitrary move by surveying their own employees who were given SB, or by asking a small external sample-group that's not representative of the whole consumer base. But perhaps you're right. Personally I did use my Book as a detached tablet and backwards stand mode most of the time more than as a laptop. One thing is for sure: If you are someone who chose to use the Surface Book precisely for the convenience having a tablet that doubled as a high-performance laptop, you aren't buying the Surface Laptop Studio because it's not either of those. I wouldn't. I'd rather just get a much better tablet and laptop for $2500.
  • This! I chose the SB2 for laptop & tablet use and am sad it's discontinued.
  • My honest guess? Sales flopped, so they had to cover their assess by replacing it with something mediocre and much less costlier design, and justify the price by marketing to a different group of people so they can target sales to a narrower group who has a better reason to buy it.
  • Then doesn't it seem a bit ironic that Microsoft decided to dump the "Windows as a tablet" function of the SB while trying to make Windows 11 more functional in the "Windows as a tablet" use case? They shift the software to meet the hardware while the hardware jumps the other way.
  • The only way to keep the "Surface Book" idea is I think to release a new Cover for Surface Pro that has a base with GPU, like Surface Book does. But this requires a new Surface Pro design that has another Surface Connect port at the bottom of the device. This means, the new cover can't be use to any older Surface Pro devices. This will also require for both Surface Pro and Surface Pro X to be redesigned. Though the Surface Pro X may not have that performance cover yet, but the connector layout at the button will still have to change.
  • Your point about the design of the SLS being easily upgradable, with potential future versions with better specs, has me excited and worried... Not that it would be a bad idea, but I am now feeling nervous about jumping on this one, because a better SLS could come in a year or two... I have refrained myself from jumping on the book for each iterations and finally thought the laptop studio was the one. Have been waiting for 7 years at this point, to upgrade my laptop, so I suppose this will feel like a major bump anyway right???
  • I mean they are obviously going to release a new model in a year or two, it's a tech device, that's pretty much a given. If you want one, might as well get one now, no point to keep waiting for tomorrow's tech because then you'll never upgrade.
  • I wish they could've kept the surface book design and continue evolving lap-studio. No harm in having both options. There are other categories than creators that aren't looking for that much horsepower.
  • I see the point, but my intuition here is they saw the sales of Book declining and telemetry showing people were not detaching the tablet, making any continuance of the form factor not worth the R&D. The Surface group, as compared to HP, Dell, Lenovo, etc., is still very small regarding manpower and budget.
  • The solution for Surface Book design could be ARM processor. Maybe Exynos with AMD gpu.
  • Can't wait for my SLS to get here. I love my sb2, but I found myself annotating pdfs on my duo bc the book is just too cumbersome to detach, especially when docked. Also can't wait to start using sticky notes again! Any suggestions on a TB4 dock to upgrade from surface dock 2?
  • The decision to treat the SLS as a SB alternative still confuses me. Their optimal use cases are wildly different. All of the changes between the SB to the SLS are things I have no desire for. If they had addressed some of the SB's drawbacks better (and thrown in Ryzen chips), I would have bought it. However, with longstanding driver issues, a clunky hinge solution (a factor in not wanting to use the tablet mode, IMO), a high price, and slow upgrades (in the time of the SB's 3 iterations, they released 5 variants of the SP, and the Laptop that debuted a year and a half later already has had more releases), the Book always felt like a second-tier product from Microsoft. Now, the SLS is something I could never understanding owning myself or recommending to anyone else. You have to be an artist with enough extra money to justify the purchase, and you have to want the limitations of a laptop without as much of the flexibility the Book offered (more form factors, basically). Since this doesn't lie flat, it has no tablet functionality, meaning you're getting a unique device, but one that's also a bit more limited on the go. It's definitely a different product, and I don't see it as any kind of "better Surface Book," unless you look at it from the perspective of never using the Surface Book to its potential (read: using the tablet capability). If the Book's hinge had been replaced with something to allow for 360-degree rotation, I think it would have been received much better as a tablet. Even if they dropped the detachable portion, I think that would have been a more accessible device than what the SLS is.
  • Where are side be side pics to show comparison of thickness, etc