Test: Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is about as sensible as an acid trip
Computerworld tests: Microsoft is experimenting with its latest hardware. However, I am afraid that the company is moving down an evolutionary dead end here.
Since Microsoft jumped out as a PC manufacturer more than 10 years ago, the company has in many ways shown the way forward for PCs and other Windows-based systems.
But for every single success or ground-breaking device, you find a bunch of less successful devices from the manufacturer, where Microsoft fails to convince the buyers of, for example, the smartness of using mobile processors in portable machines, which failed, among others Surface RT and most recently Surface ProX.
Microsoft’s newest Surface product, the Surface Laptop Studio, is one of those that will most likely fall into either camp.
Here, the company has rethought the hinge and the folding options in the 2-in-1 machine, while at the same time taking the entire industrial design in new and more angular directions.
The question then is whether it ends well for Microsoft.
Brand new device
Microsoft has always experimented with its Surface products – the series was often supposed to pave the way for a new way of displaying, and the other input devices such as keyboard, touch or pen could play together.
In the Surface Laptop Studio, Microsoft then tries an alternative screen hinge, which makes it possible to let the display turn around itself and lie flat on top of the base, where the keyboard and all the contents are located.
At the same time, an intermediate solution is offered where the screen can rest on top, effectively turning the laptop into a small tablet.
Contrary to previous Surface products, it is not really a new and untested format, as both Acer, Asus and Lenovo have tried similar devices – without much success.
However, Microsoft has bathed the new device in the light grey magnesium that characterizes the Surface series.
Here, however, the company has also introduced some curious design decisions, such as a base under the keyboard, which contributes to making the machine more angular and chunky than the otherwise slim and minimalistic Surface Pro or Surface Laptop.
The machine weighs 1.83 kilos, while the charger with the included 73 watt charger weighs a further 380 grams. Microsoft has therefore not done much to make the device particularly light or elegant.
The Surface Laptop Studio is being pitched as a machine that can be ordered, so one would have hoped that there would be a number of ports and outputs available. But here the same lean is selected as in a Surface Laptop.
Feels like a Surface
However, this does not change the fact that the machine feels like a Surface, with all the accompanying qualities.
The keyboard shines promptly, the touch surface is fine, while at the same time the highly responsive touch screen and the new Surface Pen 2, as both a cunning and well-functioning digital writing and drawing tool, are used.
As with many of Microsoft’s other Surface devices, it is planned that the device must be flexible so that it can be used as both a tablet, a laptop and something in between, where only the touch surface and the touch screen are controlled.
All parts work well, although it becomes very heavy as a handheld tablet compared to the predecessor Surface Books and its removable screen.
However, the intricate construction may seem fragile – at least it was in the first model I got to test, where the screen suddenly lost its connection to the base, causing it to dislodge.
However, the second tester I received worked fine.
Overall, however, the Surface Laptop Studio is also plagued by inferior ergonomics, due to its angular bottom, flat keyboard and relatively angular sides, which do not make it nearly as comfortable to use as, for example, the regular Surface Laptop.
The actual screen offered is 14.4 inches served in a 3:2 format. This puts it halfway between the Surface Book 13.5 and Surface Book 15.0, both of which are being replaced by the new device.
However, the resolution of the screen is lower than in both devices with just 2,400 by 1,600 pixels.
This is enough for most things to be fairly sharp, but not quite as sharp as in even the smaller Surface Book, which could muster 60 percent more pixels spread over a smaller screen area.
However, this does not make the screen bad – in fact, it is a bit sharper than what comes with the excellent Surface Laptop machines.
The sound accompaniment that comes with it is also very good – here you will find some fine speakers that are worthy of the ‘Studio’ name.
The new Studio also inherits the high contrast and lush colours that characterize all Surface machines. As a bonus, you also get 120Hz technology on board, which means that the interface and apps that support the high-frequency move completely fluidly.
Games also benefit from the technology, but it now mostly depends on the graphics card, which must be able to deliver the high frequencies.
Well-tuned machine, small tank
Laptop Studio was born with processors from Intel’s powerful H series.
Unfortunately, it’s the ageing 11th generation at work here, and you can’t get the fastest six- and eight-core variants.
On the other hand, four fast-spinning cores work in the onboard Core i7-11370H processor. Together with the 16 gigabytes of RAM, it is fine for all the office tasks you should be able to handle here.
And for the more graphically demanding tasks, you will find a Geforce RTX 3050 Ti graphics card from Nvidia.
However, it does not turn the new Surface into a gamer drone, but allows most games to be run on modest settings while giving a boost to video production or other programs that can utilize the graphics card’s power.
Fortunately, the base’s remarkable construction has not gone beyond the cooling solution, which keeps the heat from the components out.
However, what the Surface Laptop Studio has difficulty controlling is the power consumption and when the battery is relatively modest (58 kWh), it invariably exceeds the operating time, which borders on the poor.
Five or six hours of work can be done, as long as you just stick to office tasks, but as soon as the cylinders are fired up, we smoke well below the two hours. So the Surface Book 3 was better here.
Different – and not much more
Microsoft has clearly been experimenting with Microsoft Studio.
But as with euphoric drugs, radical political parties or creative accounting, not all experiments are safe.
Most of all, Microsoft seems to have gone down the same evolutionary cul-de-sac as Acer, which disappointed badly with its line of ‘Concept Ezel’ machines. And this one had at least managed to squeeze more horsepower, a pen and more ports into the chunky design.
With starting prices from DKK 13,490 – and DKK 17,190 for the one with RTX powers onboard – Microsoft is paying well for a concept that will most likely not have a glorious future.
I would therefore advise skipping the Studio experience.