Microsoft’s latest premium notebook, the Surface Laptop Studio, borrows the best from Microsoft’s other products: the flexibility of the Surface Studio, the convenience of the Surface Laptop, and the power of the Surface Book. It might not be the Surface Book 4 we were expecting, but with a new pull-forward display, Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics, Thunderbolt, Windows Hello 2.0, and a high-refresh-rate screen, it’s both an interesting fusion of other Surfaces as well as a physical avatar for many of the new capabilities within Windows 11.
The Surface Laptop Studio won’t come cheaply, though. Microsoft has priced the notebook at $1,599.99 and above, with prices climbing to $3,099.99 for the most premium model. The Surface Studio Laptop is available for preorder beginning today, and will ship on Oct. 5.
Content creation improves via the new display
With the Surface Laptop Studio, Microsoft has simply swapped one iconic hardware design for another. The original Surface Book defied description. Though it was probably most often used as a traditional clamshell notebook, a detachable hinge allowed it to be used as a tablet. The drawback was that the tablet component lacked a kickstand, making the tablet a bit awkward to tote about and actually use, save for inking. The Surface Laptop, by contrast, is a simply a traditional clamshell notebook PC, and as our Surface Laptop 4 review shows, a pretty good one—even it faces some tough competition.
Microsoft’s new “dynamic woven hinge” on the Surface Laptop Studio solves that problem. In both its design as well as its name you can see how the Surface Laptop Studio has evolved from the design of the Surface Studio all-in-one. The Surface Laptop Studio operates in Laptop mode, but the 14.4-inch PixelSense display can pull forward into what Microsoft calls Stage mode, where the display is thrust forward, covering the keyboard.
Here, the Surface Laptop Studio looks very reminiscent of the HP Elite Folio, though it appears that the metal hinge may be able to support the display somewhat as it pulls forward. When fully pulled forward and pressed down flat, the Surface Laptop Studio can also operate in Studio mode for inking. PCWorld was offered a bit of hands-on time with the Surface Laptop Studio prior to the launch, and we can report that the hinge seems extremely sturdy, with additional support in the “pull forward” and Studio modes,
The “hybrid” concept extends to other aspects of the Surface Laptop Studio’s design, as well. For one, the Surface Laptop Studio is offered in just one size: a 14.4-inch display neatly combines the Surface Book’s former 13-inch and 15-inch form factors into a single “PixelSense Flow” touchscreen display with 2,400 x1,600 resolution and Dolby Vision HDR support. PixelSense Flow apparently refers to the new Dynamic Refresh Rate feature built into Windows 11. When enabled, the feature allows displays that support it to run at a higher refresh rate for smoother inking. In the case of the Surface Laptop Studio, the display can run up to 120Hz.
Nevertheless, that’s a step down from the Surface Book 3, which offered either 3000×2000 (267 ppi) for the 13.5-inch display or 3240×2160 (260 ppi) for the 15-inch option. At 201 ppi, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio appears to be trading pixel resolution for refresh rate—not unheard of, to be fair, in a world where 300Hz 1080p gaming laptops exist.
This, too, may indicate that Microsoft is fixing one of the Surface Book 3’s flaws: battery life. The Surface Book 3 lasted about 12 hours on battery—not bad at all, but not on par with previous Surface Books. Microsoft is claiming that the Surface Laptop Studio will yield between 18 and 19 hours of battery life, an untested claim that, if true, would outperform the Surface Book 3 by a substantial margin.
There, Microsoft’s port choice plays a role. The Surface Laptop Studio includes a Surface Connector, allowing it to take advantage of earlier chargers. (The Core i5 model includes a 65W power supply, however, while the Core i7 model includes a hefty 102W power supply.)
But the Surface Laptop Studio also marks Microsoft’s conversion to Thunderbolt, with a pair of Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports that can be used for charging or for I/O purposes. Essentially, a Surface Laptop Studio owner will have a choice between using an existing Surface Dock or investing in the small but growing ecosystem of Thunderbolt 4 docks.
There’s also a new Surface Slim Pen 2 hidden beneath the keyboard. Microsoft’s Surface Slim Pen 2 doesn’t come bundled with the Surface Laptop Studio, but there’s a new magnetic cubby underneath the keyboard that can be used to dock and charge the new pen. Microsoft’s Slim Pen 2 supports 4,096 levels of pressure, smooth inking, as well as a new haptic motor that simulates the feel of inking on different surfaces—which felt a bit gimmicky during our hands-on time.
There’s another small twist to the physical design: the thickness. The Surface Laptop Studio measures 12.7 x 9.0 x 0.7 inches—slightly thinner than a Surface Book, but also chunkier than the Surface Laptop 4, which measures 0.57 inches thick. That appears to be due to thermal venting around the bottom outside edges of the Surface Laptop Studio. That, plus any additional cooling needed for the RTX hardware, likely contributed to the extra depth. The Surface Laptop Studio also weighs between 3.83 pounds and 4.00 pounds—lighter than the Surface Book 3, but heavier than the Surface Laptop 4.
Windows Hello 2.0 boosts Teams calls, logins
If the pull-forward display improves inking for content creation, then Microsoft’s improvements in its camera and input system should improve your next Teams call—key changes considering that Teams chat will be front and center in Windows 11. For one, Microsoft included what executives are calling Windows Hello 2.0: the depth camera goes beyond the visible range to identify you, but the facial tracking is now smart enough to factor in beards, glasses, even surgical masks. Even better, the 1080p front-facing camera on the Surface Laptop Studio can now adjust for the lighting on your face, so that you’ll be in focus and well exposed.
Likewise, audio has improved. Microsoft drilled additional mics into the Gorilla Glass to more clearly pick up your voice, and the Surface Laptop Studio now includes quad Omnisonic speakers—two near you, two further back—plus Dolby Atmos sound for clear conferencing audio and music playback.
If you need to chat, the Surface Laptop Studio’s keyboard includes 1.3mm of key travel. That’s a big step down from the luxurious 1.5mm that the Surface Book 3 offered, unfortunately. On the other hand, the Laptop Studio now offers what’s known as an haptic trackpad—clickable all the way to the very top.
RTX hardware makes this a gaming PC
Throughout the past few years, the internal upgrades dominated the conversation of any new Surface. With the Surface Laptop Studio, both the internal and external improvements are worth talking about.
The Surface Laptop Studio is one of the first major PC platforms we’ve seen that uses Intel’s “Tiger Lake” H35 chip, a quad-core, 11th-gen CPU that Intel launched in January. The Surface Laptop Studio will ship in two configurations: a Core i5-11300H, and an Core i7-11370H. The H35 was designed for ultraportable gaming, with a target of over 70fps at 1080p resolution, generally at “high” graphical settings. That’s in line with the other major addition to the Surface Laptop Studio: A discrete GeForce RTX GPU from Nvidia.
Only the latter Core i7 model will ship with the GeForce RTX 3050 Ti. When Nvidia launched these new GeForce GPUs this past May, the company noted that the new RTX 3050 Ti chips would come with a marked step down in gaming performance on traditional games, with roughly a third of the CUDA cores and half of the tensor cores found in the GeForce RTX 3080 GPU. The Dynamic Refresh Rate feature, too, will be used to enable smooth frame rates at up to 120Hz.
RTX hardware of any stripe qualifies the Surface Laptop Studio as a gaming machine, even if it’s more of an entry-level offering than we had previously hoped for.
Don’t forget about Windows 11
Microsoft didn’t overwhelm us with talk of Windows 11, but it’s definitely there. Remember, three key hardware features—Dynamic Refresh Rate, AutoHDR and DirectStorage, all take advantage of hardware features inside the Surface Laptop Studio. The Studio Laptop’s Dolby Vision display will support AutoHDR, and the Surface Laptop Studio’s SSD options—which go all the way to 2TB!—will support DirectStorage’s 1TB requirement.
We’ve included the Surface Laptop Studio’s basic features below, followed by the prices. Our earlier Surface Book 3 review includes those features for comparison.