Surface Laptop Studio review: Redefining what a Windows laptop can be (again)

While the Surface Laptop Studio's design isn't entirely new, no one has done it quite to this level with such great results.

Surface Laptop Studio Stage Mode
(Image: © Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

In 2015, Microsoft introduced the Surface Book in one of the most noteworthy product reveals ever. With its never-before-done detachable display, later iterations of Surface Book delivered the power of a modest workstation but the flexibility of a tablet PC when required. The idea seemed ingenious, almost too good, and yet years later, the idea has fizzled as people questioned its practicality and tradeoffs in performance.

Surface Laptop Studio is the spiritual successor to Surface Book and, and in many ways, feels just like it did. It's a bigger, heavier, and indeed, a more powerful PC compared to Surface Laptop 4.

This time, the Microsoft trick is that new pull-it-forward display, one Acer and Sony VAIO, have been dabbling in for years. However, unlike those PCs this is a Surface. Everything is more premium with unique features like a 120Hz display, haptic pen and touchpad, quad-audio, a distinctive design, and balance between all the components. It all adds up to an incredible machine despite a few odd choices and early rough edges.

Aimed at mobile creators and engineers I've spent the last few days with Microsoft's most expensive mobile PC yet. I've learned quite a bit about what it can do and what it can't, with a lot of detail that you won't find elsewhere. So, is Surface Laptop Studio a boom or a bust?

Let's find out.

Surface Laptop Studio: Price, availability, and specs

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

Surface Laptop Studio is now available in the U.S. and Canada, with 47 additional markets coming sometime in early 2022, with the delay due to the ongoing chip shortage.

Consumers can purchase the laptop through Microsoft, Best Buy, or Amazon, while those wanting the commercial version can order through Microsoft (opens in new tab), or through retail partners.

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SKUPrice
Intel Core i5, 16GB RAM, 128GB storage, Iris Xe$1,599
Intel Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB storage, Iris Xe$1,799
Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB storage, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti$2,099
Intel Core i7, 32GB RAM, 1TB storage, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti$2,699
Intel Core i7, 32GB RAM, 2TB storage, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti$3,099

Pricing begins at $1,599 for a Core i5 processor with integrated graphics (Intel Iris Xe), 256GB of storage, and 16GB of RAM.

The Core i7 models ship with a more powerful NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti graphics processor, while the commercial version uses an identical NVIDIA GeForce RTX A2000 for ISV-certified professional software. Both GPUs have similar architectures, memory, and performance, with the RTX A2000 having a slightly higher GPU boost clock (1,207.5MHz vs. 1,035MHz) and error correction code (ECC) memory. ECC is vital to commercial applications like CAD, video, and 3D programs, but not gaming.

Surface Laptop Studio: Specs

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CategorySurface Laptop Studio
OSWindows 11 Home
Windows 11 Pro
Windows 10 Pro
Processor11th Gen Intel
Core i5-11300H
Core i7-11370H
RAM16GB, 32GB
LPDDR4x
GraphicsIris Xe (i5)
NVIDIA RTX 3050 Ti Laptop (i7)
NVIDIA RTX A2000 Laptop (i7, commercial)
Storage256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB SSD
Upgradeable
Display14.4 inches
2400x1600
201 PPI
3:2 aspect ratio
Dolby Vision
Up to 120Hz
Touch
PortsTwo Thunderbolt 4
3.5mm audio
Surface Connect
AudioFour Omnisonic speakers
Dolby Atmos
Two far-field mics
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.1
CameraFront-facing 1080p
IR camera
KeyboardBacklit
TouchpadPrecision
Haptic
PenSurface Slim Pen 2
(Not included)
SecurityIR camera
Firmware TMP (consumer)
Hardware TPM 2.0 (commercial)
BitLocker (commercial)
Battery56.3WHr
Up to 19 hours (i5)
Up to 18 hours (i7)
Dimensions12.7 x 9.0 x 0.7 inches
(322.6mm x 228.6mm x 17.8mm)
Weighti5: 3.83 pounds (1.7kg)
i7: 4.0 pounds (1.8kg)

The top-tier configuration for Surface Laptop Studio includes a Core i7, 32GB of RAM, 2TB of storage, and an RTX 3050 Ti GPU costing around $3,100. The same version with an RTX A2000 GPU is $3,800.

The models used for this review feature the Core i7, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage, with one using the A2000 and the other 3050 Ti. The cost is around $2,699 for the GeForce RTX 3050 Ti model, while the one with the RTX A2000 is $3,399.

Business editions also ship with Windows 11 Pro or Windows 10 Pro (+$100 license), while the consumer variants use Windows 11 Home.

Pricing also does not include the new haptics-enabled Surface Slim Pen 2, which is an optional $130 purchase.

There's nothing like it

Surface Laptop Studio: Design and features

Surface Laptop Studio Hero

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

The overall look of Surface Laptop Studio is distinct. To my eyes, it continues the "Brutalist design" aesthetics with a hint of Dieter Ram's minimalism we've seen in other Surface products. The top lid looks like Surface Pro. When opened, the rounded corners and edges lend themselves to an Apple MacBook Pro. But peeking underneath it is altogether distinct with a curious pedestal-base and aggressive venting. It reminds me a bit of Xbox One S, which also has a similar stepped design.

Few have wondered if that base would detract from use in the lap or cause it to be unbalanced. It does not. That stepped design gives some extra grip points when grabbing the laptop, and the larger front lip lets the Surface Slim Pen 2 magnetically stick while being completely flush and out of the way. I think it's an ingenious, functional layout and makes this PC unlike any other in the world.

For the first time, Microsoft is using a pull-it-forward display in a Surface PC. The concept isn't new as Acer first tried it with the Aspire R7 in 2013 and VAIO in 2014 with the VAIO Duo 13. HP used it with the 2018 Spectre Folio. Indeed, Acer is still making such devices like its ConceptD Ezel series.

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

But Microsoft is the first to do it this way and at such a premium level.

The pull-it-forward concept is straightforward. You use Surface Laptop Studio like an average workstation laptop, but with a flick, you can bring the screen forward ("stage mode") where the keyboard is hidden, but the touchpad is still visible for navigation. This configuration is ideal for watching a video, conference calls, immersive reading, and light sketching. The shift brings the display about 7 inches closer to you, significantly altering the viewing experience.

This kind of flexibility with this much power is not unprecedented, but it is rare.

It doesn't stop there. Pull it forward again, and now you can lay down the display at a slight angle ("studio mode"), which makes it ideal for extended drawing sessions or manipulating onscreen data using the Surface Slim Pen 2.

You can do all these postures without ever lifting the Surface Laptop Studio off your lap or desk, which is cumbersome on 14- and 15-inch laptops. And, unlike a PC with a 360-degree hinge, the keyboard never gets dirty when in stage mode nor pushes back from taps because it locks into place thanks to some magnets.

If this all looks familiar, it's because Microsoft effectively combined the concepts of its desktop-bound Surface Studio, the tablet-like Surface Pro, and the portable power of Surface Book into one device.

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows CentralSlightly recessed keys keep them from dirtying the display when closed. (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

And the idea works. This kind of flexibility with this much power is not unprecedented (see Acer), but it is rare.

Surface Laptop Studio weighs 4 pounds (1.8kg), not light but not too heavy. It's a very dense machine, and unlike Surface Book, there is no gap thanks to the hinge. While Surface Book felt a bit fragile due to that curved, unfolding hinge, Surface Laptop Studio feels tough. It is easy to carry, and the lid opens with one hand.

There isn't much for ports, just two Type-C on the left-hand side, while on the right, there is the magnetic Surface Connect for charging or use with the Surface Dock and a headphone jack.

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

But, for the first time, Microsoft made those Type-C ports Thunderbolt 4. It's a big deal as it means you could use Surface Laptop Studio with an external GPU (eGPU). Still, the most likely use is for Thunderbolt 4 docks, like the new Surface-certified Kensington SD5750T, or a Thunderbolt external drive where I was able to transfer 7.3GB of videos in just nine seconds. It's a long-overdue technology for Surface and one its target audience will relish.

The keyboard is excellent and is closer to the Surface Laptop with its non-metal dark gray keys and snappier feel than the slightly mushier metal keys on Surface Book. There are four levels (one being off) for backlighting, and the contrast makes these keys easy to see in any condition.