Surface Laptop 4 Review: Finally The Upgrade For Me?
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
To be very honest, even after reviewing several laptops, the Surface Pro is still our favourite laptop for good reasons. Its design has stood the test of time; we really think it still looks as great as it was a few years back. Even when you consider the competition now, it has become somewhat of an iconic design. The 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 that we reviewed came with a matte black colour, and the anodisation of the aluminium is very well done. It just looks and feels great.
Of course, it goes without saying that with enough use, you’re definitely going to see it get dirty quite fast. If you want it to stay looking fresh even with heavy use, you’d probably like the platinum-coloured one instead.
Once you open it up, you’ll be greeted with a 15-inch PixelSense IPS display with a 2496 x 1664 resolution in a 3:2 aspect ratio, 100% SRGB, brightness of up to 350 nits and touch screen support. The display has plenty of grit – it’s sharp, vibrant and you’ll enjoy using it for pretty much anything you’ll use the laptop for, even photo editing.
But it must be said that that the laptop’s panel is the same one as in the previous generation. Additionally, when you compare it to the competition now like the XPS and the MacBook, it does fall short. We do wish that Microsoft had at least upgraded the panel to at least 500 nits in brightness or a wider colour spectrum like 100% Adobe RGB or 100% DCI-P3. It is what it is, but those upgrades would have made the laptop a little bit more enticing or, at least, comparable to the competition now.
We have to say that the Surface Laptop 4’s speakers are pretty great, and it did catch us by surprise, considering the form factor and that there aren’t any speaker grills. The sound sort of just comes from the keyboard itself, but it still does get pretty loud for speakers on a 15-inch laptop. You can definitely hear more depth to the bass and a slightly wider sound stage.
Overall, the Surface Laptop 4’s audio is above average.
You do also get a 720p webcam up top that has decent colours and white balance. We’d say that the laptop’s microphone is pretty decent as well. But overall, it’s just a 720p webcam and it’s comparable to any other laptop with a 720p webcam. The thing is, the Surface Laptop 4’s webcam is arguably the same webcam that you can find on its first-generation model, which makes zero sense.
It’s been years, Microsoft. This deserves an upgrade.
The problem with the webcam is also been made weirder by the fact that the Surface Pro and the Surface Go, which are much cheaper laptops, have a better webcam than the more expensive Surface Laptop 4. Just take the webcam from those laptops and put it in here, Microsoft.
As for the Surface Laptop 4’s keyboard, we can say with utmost confidence that they feel amazing to the touch. The keys feel really great to type on and the entire typing experience is just really comfortable thanks to the extra space provided by the 3:2 aspect ratio. However, we do wish that the backlight is a little bit stronger than it is.
The laptop’s trackpad is as great as ever and is pretty much the second in the world, behind only the MacBook Pro’s. However, we personally prefer typing on its first-generation model due to the Alcantara. It was such a unique and one of a kind experience and it’s just so comfortable, nice and soft. Granted, you don’t have the Alcantara option on the Surface Laptop 4 so it is what it is.
For ports, you basically get the proprietary Surface Connect, a USB Type-A port, a 3.5mm combo headphone/microphone jack and a USB Type-C port. There aren’t a lot of ports, especially for a 15-inch laptop. But it’s made worse by the fact that Microsoft just doesn’t want to include Thunderbolt 4 on their USB Type-C port, even on the Intel Core model as well.
We have been asking this for years, but Microsoft just doesn’t want to do it. It is what it is, but it’s still a huge problem.
The laptop has a 47Wh battery and Microsoft claims a battery life of 17 hours. In reality, however, it’s more around 9 to 10 hours of battery life. For those of you who travel frequently, even from room to room, you’ll be delighted to know that this laptop weighs just around 1.54kg.
The Surface Pro 4 model we reviewed comes with an AMD Ryzen 7 4980U processor, as previously mentioned, along with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of PCIe SSD storage. This particular configuration will cost you around S$2,399 or US$1,699.99.
In Cinebench R23, the Ryzen 7 4980U was able to score 6194 points on multi-core and 1212 points on a single core. As usual, in an AMD vs. Intel comparison, the Ryzen chip wins in terms of multi-core but loses in the single-core test. In DaVinci Resolve, a 10-minute 1080p project took about 40 minutes to render, while a 15 minute 4K project took only around an hour and 10 seconds to render.
Light games like CS:GO and Genshin Impact barely managed an average of 30fps, while AAA titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Metro Exodus are pretty much unplayable unless you drop to a 720p resolution with low graphics settings – not a great experience.
As you can tell from the benchmarks, the performance isn’t all that impressive despite the Ryzen chip sporting eight cores and 16 threads. This is especially true with sustained workloads like rendering or gaming. Now, it’s not that the Ryzen chip can’t perform. It technically can, especially if this chip is in another laptop. But with this laptop, Microsoft has tuned it in favour of reduced noise levels and temperature. Be it rendering in DaVinci Resolve or playing Genshin Impact, the Ryzen 7 chip manages to keep a clock speed far lower than its base clock, meaning that temperatures never really go above 70 degrees Celcius, and fan noise is really minimal in exchange for a really huge and obvious hit on performance.
First-generation Surface Laptop users who are looking to get the Surface Laptop 4 as an upgrade wouldn’t find it that appealing. Even after three generations of Surface laptops, there isn’t much of a difference between the first-generation and the latest one. While the Surface Laptop 4 has slightly better performance, the difference isn’t worth upgrading. The first-generation Surface Laptop is made for simple tasks like web browsing, media consumption and document creation. We really don’t see the need for the extra horsepower the Surface Laptop 4 offers. Granted, the Surface Laptop 4 is better, but at the same time, it’s also a weird laptop in the sense that there are so many things on it that you can also find on the first-generation model. While the Surface Laptop 4 has a better port selection, it still isn’t good enough. The main difference between the two laptops is just the specifications.
With all that said, we’re not saying that the Surface Laptop 4 is bad. It’s still great to use, but compared to the competition now, it just falls short on so many fronts. If you’re looking to upgrade from a previous generation of the Surface Laptop, then we’d say: don’t. It’s not worth it. If you’re looking for a new laptop, and you know you want a Surface Laptop despite what we’ve said, then go for it. You can arguably get a good price for it thanks to additional discounts. Just remember to take note of its shortcomings.
All in all, the Surface Laptop 4 is pretty great. But against the competition, it’s definitely below average.
Content by Soon Kai Hong