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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is a new take on convertibles

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is a premium laptop with one of the best displays available today. Should you buy it? Here's our review

Instead of picking up a device and folding it a full 360 degrees, the Surface Laptop Studio’s screen does all the work.
Instead of picking up a device and folding it a full 360 degrees, the Surface Laptop Studio’s screen does all the work. (Microsoft)

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A laptop or smartphone is pretty much a commodity today. In markets like India, consumer electronics aren’t devices we “want”, they are things we need. So, if you read this Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio review and think you don’t “need” this device, you would be right.

It’s always tough to determine who Microsoft is aiming a particular Surface device at. They are sometimes underpowered for power users or too expensive for the casual user—especially in India. The Surface Laptop Studio, though expensive, may be the first device where the power isn’t a problem.

Also read: Review: Xiaomi OLED Vision TV makes for picture perfect viewing

It’s a device you would “want” rather than need. It’s suited more to artists, to a retail outlet, perhaps even a museum. It’s too heavy to be a business user’s daily laptop, and too expensive to be a regular Joe’s machine. This refined and strikingly unfamiliar device is for those who have the money and want to stand out.

For early adopters

Even though the concept of a “convertible” is fairly new in the history of laptops, words like “flip”, “fold”, “tent mode” have become common for such machines over the past seven-eight years. Instead of picking up a device and folding it a full 360 degrees, the Surface Laptop Studio’s screen does all the work. The top half of the screen is affixed firmly, the bottom half is held together by magnets. You can pull the screen forward and prop it up above the keyboard when you are watching a movie or if you want to touch/scribble on the screen instead of typing—call this tent mode. Pull it further and the screen now rests on top of the keyboard, giving a more tablet-like form factor, useful for drawing on the screen with a stylus.

The laptop has magnets on the keyboard deck for the tent mode, and it’s much more useful than turning a screen the wrong way and watching a movie on a wobbly aeroplane tray table. The problem, though, is that other than that tray table use-case, I can’t think of any reason why anyone needs this.

It is, then, a device for early adopters or those who put more stock in form factors and premium aesthetics.

Pulling and pushing the screen feels unfamiliar at first but Microsoft has made these movements so seamless that you get used to it quite easily. It always seems to snap in place exactly how you want it. The whole device has that high-end industrial design feel, with no sharp edges and an overall sleek look, and there’s no wobble in the screen’s movement and hinge.

The underside isn’t exactly like that of other laptops either. Unlike most laptops, where the keyboard deck forms the base, this has a platform that holds additional hardware, like a graphics processing unit. It also holds some surprisingly powerful magnets for the Slim Pen to snap on.

Since the platform raises the laptop, you can simply leave the Surface pen under the laptop and it snaps in place. The platform doesn’t lead to any wobble; typing feels like you are using an ordinary laptop.

But the platform, convertible keyboard and everything else means this isn’t just a thick device, it’s also heavy. The tent and tablet modes are good when you are on the move but lugging this around will add a significant load to your backpack.

Fewer compromises

The really good news, though, is that it’s not just about the design. The available specs allow for apps like Adobe Premiere Pro to run without hiccups. It can also handle a bit of gaming, but only for the really casual gamers. Don’t expect 60 fps games on Forza on this one.

The screen is not just about flexibility. It’s among the best laptop displays available today, with great colour balance and 120Hz refresh rate. Windows 11 doesn’t support dynamic refresh rates, though, which means that the screen is running at that high refresh rate even when you don’t need it—and consuming more battery.

The real compromises are in terms of battery efficiency and port availability. The Surface Laptop Studio’s battery lies somewhere between gaming laptops and ultrabooks, slightly higher than the former and much lower than the latter. Even turning the screen down to 60Hz doesn’t make a significant difference.

For a laptop that seems to be aimed at creators, one wonders why Microsoft has given only two USB-C ports. It doesn’t have an SD card slot or any other connectivity option. The ports support the Thunderbolt 4 standard, though, which is even more reason to believe that Microsoft sees this device docked on museums and storefronts to other accessories.

Should you buy it?

There’s no doubt that the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is a nice, premium laptop. And after spending two weeks with the device, I can say I want something like this. Do I need it, though? And would I tell anyone that THIS is the laptop for them? I am not too sure.

Until Macbooks start supporting touchscreens and stylii, this is perhaps the best laptop for an artist. But other than this small user-base, I don’t see who else would want to spend this kind of money on it.

The Intel i5 variants start at 1,56,999, while the Intel i7 variants start at 2,01,399 for commercial customers. Microsoft is only offering the i5/16GB/256GB and i7/16GB/512GB variants to consumers, at 1,65,999 and 2,15,999, respectively.

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