Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review: The Imperfect Creative Mix
It’s a little shame but there seems to be a trend with Microsoft Surface products in general. Their flagships always arrive just a tad too late. This is the Surface Laptop Studio and it really is quite the unique take on what hybrid style laptop can be. But with the market now saturated with Intel 12th-Gen, this is still running on 11th-Gen. So is it still worth it? Let’s talk about this.
When we talk about the Microsoft Surface lineup, the most prominent two would be the Surface Pro and the Surface Laptop which are loved by many. Myself included. The Surface Laptop Studio is kind of like combining those two to make a single product that will appeal to both sides of the market.
So, you can lift up the lid and use it like a standard clamshell type laptop like that of the Surface Laptop, or you can tilt the display and prop it slightly forward or all the way down like you would with the kickstand on the Surface Pro. This is the very mechanism which makes this unique and quite a bit different from everything else in the market out there.
It’s the way in which you can interact with it that makes it quite versatile. Combine it with the Surface Slim Pen 2 and it really can be your own portable design studio. When I dabble with Lightroom or even Photoshop, everything just feels great to use and the whole design just makes it really intuitive. It’s natural. Not to mention there’s a neat trick to charge the Surface Slim Pen 2 simply by sliding it under that front lip and it’ll attach magnetically. And it’s really strong to the point that it fills me with confidence, knowing it’ll be there even if I’m running with the laptop in my hand.
Now for those of you who follow the channel, you’ll know that I personally own a first generation Surface Laptop and I really love it to bits. The build quality, the experience, all of it. That is true here as well.
The build quality is amazing and immaculate. Every edge is refined, it’s going to stay clean looking thanks to the matte finish, and specifically for the Laptop Studio, it has quite the unique side profile due to its design. Now it’ll be a little heavier compared to the other two options, weighing in around 1.74 kg (3.83lb) for the i5 model, or about 1.82 kg (4.00lb) for the i7 model. Which isn’t that surprising in the least given the slightly larger display and hinge mechanism.
That brings us to the display, and this is probably the highlight for me. It’s a gorgeous 14.4-inch IPS panel with a resolution of 2,400 x 1,600, a refresh rate of up to 120Hz, covers 100% sRGB, can hit up to about 450 nits in max brightness and has support for 10-point multi touch. The display is fantastic. Videos on YouTube or Netflix are really enjoyable and even the gaming experience was surprisingly great thanks to the 120Hz. But arguably you will most likely be creating with this laptop more so than anything else and in that regard, not only is it really color accurate, but the 3 by 2 aspect ratio helps with documents and photos immensely.
You’ll also appreciate the Windows Hello compatible webcam with relatively good image quality at 1080p with decent microphones as well. Combine that with a good enough set of speakers and you can easily take calls and join meetings anywhere without worry.
Now for the keyboard and trackpad experience, don’t really need to say much. It’s as great as ever and arguably still one of, if not, my favorite typing and trackpad experience on a Windows laptop by far. Personally, I still prefer the Alcantara but I guess it’s not really feasible here due to the design.
As for ports, it’s really simple. You just have two Thunderbolt 4 ports, the Surface Connect and the 3.5mm combo jack. That’s about it. You do get an additional USB port on the adapter itself, but it is solely for charging, nothing else. Though you can choose to not bring it along at times. Despite the mere 56 watt hour battery, you can get 9 hours out of it with generic daily average use, which is pretty amazing for sure.
But here’s where we get to the not that great portion of this review. The performance. As mentioned at the start, the Laptop Studio runs on Intel 11th-Gen and not the latest 12th-Gen. It simply came to the market a little too late and for us here in Singapore, even much later. So we have the Core i7-11370H, a GeForce RTX 3050 Ti, 16GB of LPDDR4x RAM and 512GB of PCIe 3.0 SSD storage.
First up, we have Cinebench R23 and the results are as expected from the quad core chip. Just about 5,000 on the multi-core and about 1,450 on the single core. Now of course, we’ve yet to try the P and U series of 12th-Gen thus far, but compared to the full-blown H series like that in the ROG Flow Z13, performance leaves much to be desired.
As for DaVinci Resolve, this is also where the quad core CPU starts to show where it's lacking. The 10 minute 1080p edit took about 12 minutes to render while the 4K edit took roughly 25 minutes.
Since this laptop does feature a RTX 3050 Ti with a 40W TGP, we tried some games as well. We tested at both 1080p and the native resolution of 2,400 x 1,600. At 1080p, performance was fantastic with games like CS:GO and Valorant, easily pumping out more than 100 frames per second, making full use of that 120Hz display, Where it’ll fall short is if you game at the native resolution. While CS:GO and Valorant are still plenty enjoyable, the same can’t be said for Apex Legends where the frame rate drops below 60 and even Genshin Impact, where there would be sudden spikes and drops below 60 if there’s too much happening on screen. With all that said, not understandable given the resolution and GPU. Thermals on the other hand are fantastic and well under control. With the CPU fully taxed in Cinebench, it could sustain just shy of 90 degree celsius without the fans on full blast, while in a gaming scenario, the CPU will generally hover around the mid 60s while the GPU is even lower in the mid 50s. Again, with the fans at moderate speeds.
All in all, performance is pretty decent and to be expected given the hardware. But this is where we come to the question of whether it is worth it.
For this specific configuration, it'll set you back just about S$3,000 Singapore Dollars (3,088 SGD) or about US$2,100 US Dollars (2099.99 US Dollars), and that’s not including the Slim Pen 2 which is a separate purchase. That’s quite a lot of money for a system with a last gen quad core CPU. Now you can save some by opting for the Core i5 with just integrated graphics instead, but we highly recommend not to do so. You will want the performance to complement the versatility of this design especially when you’re working with creative applications.
So the Surface Laptop Studio is kind of in a rock and a hard place. The design is pretty fantastic and we daresay that it really opens up a new path for creators to interact and go about with their projects. It's got a great display, a nice pen, comfortable battery life and much more. But the performance is a little lacking especially for the price. So you have to balance it out. Do you require versatility and are you willing to pay the price just for that? Or would you rather have more performance for the price, or perhaps you don’t need the versatility or performance at all and can just go for something much more simple and affordable?
That’s up to you to decide. But if you’re literally looking for the best from the Surface Laptop and the Surface Pro, this is it for now.