Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio full review
Ever since the Surface range debuted a decade ago, Microsoft has specialised in hybrid devices. The original Surface Pro tablet could become a laptop of sorts thanks to an optional keyboard, but the company has experimented with different form factors in the years since.
Another new one was added to the mix in 2021 in the form of the Surface Laptop Studio. Rather than detaching the keyboard entirely, it has a flexible hinge that lets you move the display between three key positions. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a design like this, but its introduction here is a clear signal of intent from Microsoft.
But does it do enough to convince creative pros away from an iPad Pro or Mac? Or can it even tempt consumers? I spent a few weeks testing the Surface Laptop Studio to find out.
Design & Build
- New 3-in-1 design works well but has its limitations
- Great video calling features
- Limited port selection
The Surface Laptop Studio replaces the Surface Book as Microsoft’s high-end hybrid laptop, adopting a very different form factor in the process. Instead of a laptop with fully detachable display, the screen on the Laptop Studio can be pulled forward in front of the keyboard or lay flat on top of it.
This technically makes it a 3-in-1 device, although you lose the flexibility of using the screen as a standalone tablet. You’re also limited to these three fixed positions, unlike on convertible laptops with 360° hinges. I found this particularly problematic with the display pulled forward in Stage mode, which isn’t the most natural angle for watching videos - but there’s no way to adjust it.
However, that was the only real scenario where I found the design to be a limitation. The device is excellent in regular Laptop mode, while Studio mode works great for handwritten notes using the new Slim Pen 2 stylus. My daily workflow doesn’t involve presentations, but I imagine Stage mode is much more effective here.
It’s also extremely easy to move between the different modes. Within a couple of seconds, the Laptop Studio can feel like a whole new device, something that’s not possible on many rivals.
But with the device closed, you wouldn’t necessarily know this functionality is available. The premium aluminium alloy build is something we’ve seen on Surface devices countless times before, while a Platinum finish is your only option. I’d have liked to see some alternative colours, but this minimalist aesthetic is typical of hardware designed for business use.
However, you will notice a couple of design quirks when looking closely. The first is a long split across the back of the device – that's how the display remains attached when it’s moving between positions.
The other is a large base which extends from the bottom of the device, giving it an unusual dual-level design. This is presumably to improve stability (which is very good), but it means the device is chunky at 17.88mm thick.
Microsoft has put the space around the base to good use, though, with large speaker grilles on the left and right side. You’ll also find strong magnets around the front, designed as a secure storage location for the Slim Pen 2 stylus. This doubles as a charging station, making it easily accessible yet still out of the way when not required.
But the Surface Laptop Studio isn’t just thick, it’s heavy too. The i7 model I tested is a hefty 1.82kg, while i5 versions aren’t far behind at 1.74kg. That’s heavier than most 14in laptops, so not as portable as you might be expecting.
However, the most disappointing design choice for me is the port selection. Not only has Microsoft stuck with Surface Connect as the main charging method, it’s joined by just 2x USB-C (with Thunderbolt 4 support) and a 3.5mm headphone jack. On a device this thick, there’s really no excuse for the lack of USB-A ports, and there’s plenty of room for an HDMI too.
However, it’s much better news with regards to the webcam. The 1080p sensor delivers clear, crisp video calls, while dual studio mics ensure you can be heard loud and clear. With an adjacent IR sensor, it means the Laptop Studio supports Windows Hello face unlock.
It’s fast, reliable and easy to set up, but remains your only biometric unlocking method. Microsoft has again decided against a fingerprint sensor, while the Surface Book 3’s rear camera has also been sacrificed. Neither are deal-breakers, but I’d still expect them on such a premium device.
Keyboard & Trackpad
- Decent keyboard, but could do with more travel
- No fingerprint sensor
- Impressive trackpad, but Slim Pen 2 sold separately
The Surface Laptop Studio has a large, full-size keyboard, although Microsoft has opted against including a separate number pad. I prefer this design, both aesthetically and functionally.
Each key offers a decent amount of travel, although I was hoping for more from a device of this size. It certainly won’t rival mechanical keyboards or even Dell’s XPS line, but typing experience is fine for most people. You also get three different settings for backlighting, while the F keys double as quick access to many common functions.
But with all this space to work with, I really don’t understand why Microsoft decided against a fingerprint sensor. I appreciate the large palm rests, but the current layout is hardly too cramped to accommodate it.
Indeed, there’s still plenty of room for a large trackpad on the Surface Laptop Studio. Its haptic feedback takes a bit of getting used to, but it delivers a more convincing navigation experience than most rivals. Of course, there are plenty of alternatives, including touch, mouse or pen input.
The latter requires a stylus (such as the Slim Pen 2) to be bought separately, but it’s worth mentioning here. As I mentioned in my Surface Pro 8 review, this has a flatter design than previous Microsoft styluses, but this feels more natural when taking handwritten notes or sketches.
It’s able to detect many different levels of pressure sensitivity (4096, to be specific), and the 2ms latency gives it a pen-on-paper-like experience. Magnetically attaching and charging under the trackpad is the icing on the cake. It's just a shame it isn't included in the price.
Screen & Speakers
- Great 120Hz LCD display
- Adaptive refresh rate feature on the way
- Quad speakers are solid but unspectacular
With the Laptop Studio, Microsoft has opted for a screen size we haven’t seen from a Surface device before: 14.4in. It’s what the company describes as a ‘PixelSense Flow’ display, but this is LCD and not OLED. I was hoping for the latter on Microsoft’s most expensive laptop, but it’s not a big issue.
The screen itself has a resolution of 2400x1600, meaning it adopts the now-customary 3:2 aspect ratio. Colours are vivid and vibrant, while the level of detail is excellent. Only a handful of people will need a higher quality display – this is plenty good enough for most people.
Figures back that up, with 100% coverage of the sRGB colour gamut, 83% of Adobe RGB and 87% of DCI-P3 in my testing. I also recorded an impressive max brightness of 532 nits, although outdoor usage is still a struggle most of the time.
But one of the big advantages of the Surface Laptop Studio display is its high refresh rate. The device can output at both 60Hz and 120Hz, with the latter delivering silky-smooth visuals and excellent responsiveness.
Microsoft is working on a Dynamic Refresh Rate (DRR) feature for Windows 11, which allows the refresh rate to automatically adjust depending on the situation. However, that isn’t available at the time of writing, so you’ll have to choose between 60Hz and 120Hz.
The display is surrounded by an impressively slim bezel, and I appreciate Microsoft’s decision to make it the same thickness on all sides.
You’ll also find a total of four speakers, which output via large grilles on the left and right underside. Audio is clear and crisp, but I was hoping for extra bass and a more immersive sound. However, one advantage here is that the sound very rarely gets distorted, even at high volumes.
Specs & Performance
- Great performance from 11th-gen i7 chip
- Nice boost from discrete RTX 3050 Ti GPU
- SSD storage up to 2TB
The Surface Laptop Studio is Microsoft’s most powerful laptop to date, and it’s got the internals to match. Entry-level configurations feature an Intel Core i5-11300H processor and Iris Xe integrated graphics, but you can pay more for the Core i7-11370H and an RTX 3050 Ti GPU instead.
It’s rare to see a Microsoft laptop with a discrete graphics card, even if it’s one of Nvidia’s cheaper options. Alongside a bumper 32GB of RAM on the model I tested, performance is excellent across the board. Nothing in my daily workflow - which includes web browsing, email, Adobe Photoshop and multitasking – caused any slowdown or stuttering.
I tested it as a productivity device, but the Surface Laptop Studio is also capable of some light gaming. Don’t expect it to excel at AAA titles though, despite the Nvidia GPU.
This solid performance is reflected in the benchmarks below:
Microsoft is generous with its storage options, partly due to a lack of expandable storage. The cheapest model has a 256GB SSD, but this can be configured all the way up to 2TB.
- Windows 11 Pro out of the box
- Handful of extra security/management features
- Performs almost identically to Windows 11 Home
Unlike Microsoft’s other laptops, the Surface Laptop Studio runs Windows 11 Pro out of the box, as it’s primarily designed for creatives and executives using it in a business environment. There are a few extra security and management features compared to Windows 11 Home, but these aren’t really relevant to consumers. Most people won’t notice a difference between the two.
But Windows 11 in general is quite a departure from Windows 10 – especially visually. There is a way to roll back to Windows 10, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that after you buy the Surface Laptop Studio. Almost every feature you need is still here, and Microsoft is regularly adding new features to Windows 11.
These include some it omitted with the introduction of the new OS, but Windows 10 is unlikely to get any more features of note. Windows 11 feels like the place to be moving forward.
Battery Life & Charging
- Battery capacity 56.3Wh-58Wh
- Doesn't quite hit Microsoft claims, but battery life still solid
- Full charge in around 2hr 15mins
Microsoft says the battery in the Surface Laptop Studio can range from 56.3Wh to 58Wh, which is typical for a laptop of this size. However, the company has made some big claims about how long it’ll last – up to 18 hours on the Core i7 model I tested, or 19 hours on Core i5 versions.
While I couldn’t quite reach those heights in testing, battery life is still impressive. In our 720p video loop test, I recorded 15 hours and 22 minutes on a single charge. This was with the brightness set to 120 nits so not necessarily reflective of real-world usage, a full working day is still well within reach.
A software-based battery saver mode can help if you’re running low, but charging speeds are solid too. Using the charger included in the box (Microsoft doesn’t quote a specific wattage), I reached 20% battery in 15 minutes from off. By 30 minutes, this was 37%, while you’re looking at around 2 hours 15 minutes for a full charge.
Not bad at all, but you'll need to use the proprietary Surface Connect port for the fastest speeds. It attaches magnetically, but can easily be displaced with any significant movement. I wish Microsoft fully embraced USB-C for charging.
As you might already know, the Surface Laptop Studio doesn’t come cheap. It starts at £1,449/US$1,599.99 for a model with an Intel Core i5 processor, Iris Xe integrated graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
However, prices climb steeply from there. The Intel Core i7/RTX 3050 Ti configuration I tested (16GB RAM /1TB SSD) will set you back £2,479/US$2,699, while you can pay even more for double the storage.
Discounts appear to be relatively frequent, but this is more than most consumers would be willing to spend on a new laptop. It might be a different story for business users, but you can still find better value for money elsewhere in our business laptop chart. Other 2-in-1 devices also offer more flexibility.
The Laptop Studio is a compelling new addition to Microsoft’s Surface range, but it doesn’t get everything right.
I’m impressed by the functionality available in all three modes, but some will miss the extra flexibility afforded by the Surface Book. However, a slick design makes switching between them feel seamless.
It also helps Microsoft pack in more power than the Book 3. While it was announced before 12th-gen Intel laptop chips were official, combining Tiger Lake CPUs with an RTX 3050 Ti GPU yields a nice performance boost.
Other highlights include an impressive 120Hz display (with adaptive refresh rate on the way), solid battery life and a great video calling experience. However, a limited port selection and no fingerprint sensor take the shine off the experience.
At these prices, these shortcomings are difficult to ignore. But let's hope more companies experiment with form factors like this in the future.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio: Specs
- 14.4in 2400x1600 LCD display, 120Hz refresh rate (adaptive)
- Intel Core i5-11300H/i7-11370H processor
- Intel Iris Xe/Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU
- 16/32GB RAM
- 256GB/512GB/1TB/2TB SSD storage
- Windows 11 Pro
- 10Mp rear camera
- 1080p camera with Windows Hello support
- Quad stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos
- Wi-Fi 6
- Bluetooth 5.1
- Up to 19h battery life (i5), up to 18h (i7)
- 1.74kg (i5), 1.82kg (i7)
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