Microsoft surface 4 laptop review

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop Review

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Last Updated on January 1, 2022 by Daniel

With the new Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop, Microsoft offers improved components packed into the same thin, lightweight chassis it is known for. The Surface Laptop, which Microsoft announced today, does not try to cut corners, rather it promises longer battery life and more power under the hood than its predecessors.

We’ve spent a lot of time with this laptop, and we found those claims to be true, although we do have some quibbles with Microsoft’s marketing. Since the launch of the Surface Laptop 3 two years ago, competitors like Dell and Apple have increased their focus on making ultraportables thinner, cleaner, and more powerful.

Despite its indisputable status as Microsoft’s best laptop yet, it’s tough to say if it’s the right laptop for you. Here’s our full Surface Laptop 4 review, which should (hopefully) answer your question.

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Price and release date

  • Starts at $999 for 13-inch, $1,299 for 15-inch
  • Our unit with Core i7/16GB/512GB is $1,699

You can order the Surface Laptop 4 from Microsoft beginning April 15th for the 13.5-inch model, and it will cost you $1,299 for the 15-inch version. All of those entry-level laptops are equipped with AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 4000-series processors, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSDs.

The Surface Laptop 4 comes in two versions that can be configured with beefier components. If you configure both with the best components, you could pay up to $2,299 and $2,399 (respectively) for the two models. While the 15-inch model is limited to the Core i7/Ryzen 7 processors, Surface Laptop 4 can be configured with either an Intel 11th Gen Core i5/i7 CPU or an AMD Ryzen 5/7 4000-series CPU.

It’s wearing the new (to Surface Laptop 4) Ice Blue color scheme, and it’s configured with an i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD, bringing the retail price of the Surface Laptop 4 to $1,699.

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Design

Microsoft surface 4 review

  • New Ice Blue color is a nice touch without being too bold
  • Bezels are still on the thick side
  • Alcantara deck is comfy for the wrists

Microsoft’s latest Surface Laptop sticks pretty closely to its minimalist design, which is both welcome and underwhelming; I’d had liked to have seen a more dramatic change in design, but for now, you’ll have to look inside to discover what’s new.

As a result, I’ve always admired the slick, clean lines of the Surface devices, and the new Surface Laptop 4 offers more of the same. It weighs 2.8 pounds and measures 12.1, 8.8, and 0.6 inches, the same as the Surface Laptop 3. It’s not as compact as the M1 MacBook Air (12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches, 2.8 pounds) or the Dell XPS 13 (11.7 x 8.2 x 0.5 inches, 2.9 pounds), but it fits easily into a backpack or briefcase.

Although it’s easy to overlook the bezels surrounding the 3:2-screen, the Surface Laptop 4 has a little more difficulty concealing them. The black bars around the screen aren’t very attractive, and I caught myself staring at them when I wasn’t concentrating on specific tasks, wishing they were smaller so I could have a bit more screen space to play with.

It is easy to see how much difference this kind of engineering work makes on the Dell XPS 13’s incredibly slim bezels, and it would be nice to see Microsoft take the same approach with its flagship laptop. However, the screen feels surprisingly sturdy under your fingers, and I felt no qualms about briskly tapping and swiping my way through Windows without having to worry about accidentally knocking it over.

In-person, the Blue Ice color scheme looks like a very nice, understated, pale metallic shade of blue. This is the first time Microsoft has offered a Surface Laptop in the color scheme previously only offered on Surface Pro tablets. It’s so subtle that when set alongside other gray and silver laptops, I would have been hard-pressed to tell that the Surface Laptop 4 is blue, but then it stands out from the crowd. Likewise, I appreciate how subtle the reflective Microsoft logo on the top of the laptop is; it’s eye-catching, but not as garish as much of the branding on laptops today.

A nice touch is the Alcantara covering the keyboard on the Ice Blue and Platinum 13-inch models. This gives the user an added sense of comfort when resting their wrists on the laptop deck. Whenever I switched back to typing on a laptop with a metal case, I noticed this difference. I liked the feel of fabric beneath my wrists, even as the thought of getting a stain out of it heightened my already serious aversion to eating and drinking while at work.

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Ports

Microsoft surface 4 laptop

  • USB-A, USB-C, and headphone jack
  • Thunderbolt 4 is not available

The Surface Laptop 4’s port selection is pretty basic, but I’m not complaining. It features a Surface Connector for charging, and a USB-A port, a USB-C port, and a headphone jack on the left.

The USB-A connector on this laptop is nice to see on a modern machine, and combining it with a USB-C gives it a good amount of versatility in terms of external devices.

There’s no Thunderbolt 4, so anyone investing in heavy-duty external accessories like GPUs or large hard drives can’t take advantage of this USB-C port. However, a part of me really enjoys when manufacturers work in a stylus cubby or an SD card reader into the sides of their laptops.

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Display

micresoft surface 4 review

  • 3:2 aspect ratio good for productivity
  • A little too bright and reflective

The Surface Laptop 4’s 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504-pixel screen is attractive, especially if you’re reading, editing, or doing anything else that benefits from that extra vertical space afforded by the 3:2 screen ratio.

I was a bit disappointed, though, when I switched from productivity mode to enjoying some TV and movies on the laptop. There were times when bright colors were so vibrant on the screen that they made the game jump off the screen, like the vibrant orange explosions. It was more difficult to pick out details when viewing dark scenes or in settings with muted blues and greens.

Even with the screen’s brightness cranked up all the way, I noticed my reflection a lot more often than I am accustomed to when working on a laptop. Clearly, the Surface Laptop 4’s screen is more reflective than others, but I’m leery of claiming that without hard testing data. Although I did not encounter any issues with this (other than inducing that unique form of self-loathing generated by seeing yourself staring blankly at a screen for long periods of time), it’s worth considering if you are planning to frequently work under bright light.

The Surface Laptop 4’s screen produced 108.3% of the sRGB spectrum under our colorimeter test, an increase over the 104.5% produced in the same test by its 15-inch predecessor. That’s almost on par with the cheaper Thinkpad 14s Yoga (109%) and ahead of competitors like the Dell XPS 13 (99.7%), though it’s still not on top of the MacBook Air (114.3%) and Mac Pro (110.6%).

Using our light gun, we measured an average brightness of 348.6 nits. That’s more than my Lenovo Thinkpad 14s Yoga (313 nits), but well behind the Intel and AMD versions of the Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch models reached 366 and 380 nits, respectively), as well as the Dell XPS 13 (469 nits).

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Keyboard and touchpad

microsoft surface 4

  • Plenty of travel for comfy typing
  • You also have a touchscreen and a smooth touchpad

Thanks in large part to the nicely sized keys and the Alcantara material surrounding the keyboard, typing on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 feels more comfortable than on most other laptops. Despite having 1.3mm of travel, the keys feel satisfying to type on, and they have a nice click to them, which prevented me from bottoming out when typing quickly.

Underneath the keys is a 4.5 by 3-inch touchpad that feels quite comfortable to use since it is close to the keyboard, and still offers plenty of room for big dumb sausage fingers. I was able to smoothly use gesture commands on both surfaces, and both felt very responsive to touch.

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Audio

  • Loud and clear sound from a compact laptop
  • Dolby Atmos support adds depth

It’s the addition of Dolby Atmos technology that has got people talking about the Surface Laptop 4, which Microsoft claims lets it deliver richer, more spatially accurate sound by pumping sound out from underneath the keyboard.

Even though I am not an audiophile, the Surface Laptop 4’s speakers produce excellent sound quality for listening to music or watching movies. The bass drops in tracks like Massive Attack’s “Angel” still have a kick to them, and I found myself looking down during the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer to make sure my laptop wasn’t actually vibrating.

Nonetheless, the Surface Laptop 4’s speakers really shine with well-balanced tracks, and as I listened to Muddy Waters’ “Folk Singer,” I was impressed by how clearly the vocals rang out without losing any of their warmth. Even if I had not already known the music was coming from someone’s laptop, I would’ve never guessed it was Waters’ beautiful voice emanating from there.

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Performance

microsoft surface 4

  • Performance is excellent thanks to the Intel Core i7 11th gen and 16 GB of RAM
  • Dell XPS 13 has lower benchmark scores than Apple MacBook Air, MacBook Pro
  • Suitable graphics for 30 fps on less demanding games

In the course of an average workday, Microsoft’s Surface 4 Laptop can handle pretty much anything you throw at it, with the exception of playing Cyberpunk 2077 with the settings cranked up. I was able to run 20+ tabs across four Chrome windows and watch two 4K YouTube videos, a Twitch stream, and listen to my Spotify playlist while completing our review with this unit’s 16GB of RAM and 11th Gen Intel i7 CPU.

According to our GeekBench 5 performance test, we scored the Surface Laptop 4 at 4,829. That’s a decent result compared to similarly-priced competitors like the Dell XPS 13 and Lenovo’s ThinkBook 14s Yoga.

While we tested it with 25GB of multimedia files, its 512GB SSD transferred them at a decent rate of 562.73 MBps when we tasked it with duplicating them. Our testing last year revealed an Intel-powered Surface Laptop 3 capable of 508.9 MBps. However, it was slower than current competitors like the Dell XPS 13 (806 MBps) or the Think book 14s Yoga (886.35 MBps).

The Surface Laptop 4 isn’t the quickest laptop on the block but if you’re into video editing, the 16GB of RAM will do the trick (especially for those of you following the competitive market). We found in our Handbrake video-editing test that our review unit took about 17 minutes, 18 seconds less time than the Surface Laptop 3 you tested last year.

Furthermore, it performs better than the Dell XPS 13 (which took about 18 minutes) but still falls far short of the sub-10-minute performance of Apple’s M1-equipped MacBook Air (which took 9 minutes and 15 seconds) and MacBook Pro (7 minutes 44 seconds).

For games, we suggest you calibrate your expectations to match that of a typical work laptop: you can generally run a number of older and less graphically demanding games at acceptable frame rates, but don’t expect to enjoy any game with minimum required specs including a discrete GPU.

Our Surface Laptop 4 review unit played Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm at 1080p at a frame rate of 30.46 fps, but that dropped to 27.9 fps at 1504p.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Webcam

  • Image quality for 720p web cameras is decent, but 1080p is better
  • A fast way to log in to Windows Hello with your face

Aside from wishing it was more exciting, there isn’t much to say about the Surface Laptop 4’s 720p webcam. It would have been welcome if this latest Surface Laptop, which has a 720p webcam above the display, had been bumped up to 1080p (especially in light of our overwhelmingly preponderant Zoom meetings) that would have set it apart from its predecessors.

Although the Surface Laptop 4’s webcam isn’t perfect for video chatting, it’ll be adequate for most video needs; the image quality will also suffice for laptop selfies.

Logging in via your face with Windows Hello, which has been much talked about, seems to be faster than before. The camera array struggled to recognize me during the setup process of setting up Windows Hello (perhaps it was my fault for leaving my glasses on), but once it was working, it performed so quickly I wouldn’t have noticed if I’d blink during the process.

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Battery life

  • On our web surfing test, the Surface Laptop 4 lasted nearly 11 hours
  • That’s great, but we’re nowhere close to Microsoft’s 17-hour claim

Battery life is a big selling point for the Surface Laptop, and we can understand why; its predecessors were impressive for their elegant designs and gorgeous displays but failed to live up to the competition when it came to battery life.

According to Microsoft, its AMD-equipped Surface Laptop currently has a battery life of up to 19 hours, while our Intel-equipped version was advertised as lasting up to 17 hours.

It was our wish to be believed, dear reader. My Surface Laptop 4 was an exceptional machine, and the battery lasted a long time on a single charge. I was able to unplug, work 9 hours, edit, write, and watch videos without worrying that it would die.

However, the Surface Laptop 4’s battery life doesn’t quite live up to its hype. During our lab tests, it lasted a little less than 11 hours (to be precise, 10:46:23), based on continuous web browsing.

The Surface Laptop 3 lasts an hour and 32 minutes longer than the Intel-based model, but it still falls behind the competition. In our battery tests, the Dell XPS 13 was able to last longer (11:00) than the Surface Laptop 4 with a similar hardware configuration, for example, and the MacBook Air M1 delivered an unbeatable 14 hours and 41 minutes in our testing.

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop review: Heat

  • As long as you’re not gaming, temperatures should be cool
  • It was mostly quiet when using Surface Laptop 4

Although I opened many tabs and streamed videos during the course of this review, the Surface Laptop 4 rarely got noticeably warm. When I played graphically demanding games like IO Interactive’s Hitman 2, it became hot enough to cause discomfort; even on medium to low settings, the 2018 game pushed the laptop hard, and I could feel the bottom of the laptop becoming noticeably warm in my lap.

The underside of the laptop reached an average temperature of 90 degrees during our heat tests (which involved streaming 15 minutes of HD video), reaching 92.5 degrees near the center (roughly where the F5 key sits). With its touchpad measured at just 80 degrees, the deck of the laptop proved much cooler.

For Against
Great speakers Needs a better webcam
Light, slim design Needs more ports
Very comfy keyboard Thick bezels are an eyesore
Good battery life

MICROSOFT SURFACE 4 LAPTOP (13.5-INCH, INTEL): SPECS

CPU: 11th-Gen Intel Core i7-1185G7 (Core i5 also available)

RAM: 16GB (8GB, 32GB also available)

Display: 13.5-inch touch-screen, 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI)

Storage: 512GB SSD (256GB, 1TB also available)

Ports: 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, Surface Connect port, headphone jack

Battery life: 10:46 (tested, web surfing) | Up to 17 hours (Microsoft’s claim)

Wireless: Wi-Fi 6/Bluetooth 5.0

Dimensions: 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches

Weight: 2.79 pounds

Verdict

In many ways, the Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop is an improvement over the Surface Laptop 3. It offers Windows users a bloatware-free ultraportable with premium components and a thin, lightweight design.

While I would have liked to see some more significant changes made to the Surface Laptop formula, the Surface Laptop 4 still offers excellent speakers, an increased battery life, and under-the-hood upgrades that make it one of the best Windows laptops you can buy.

Despite its many improvements we’d like to see in a sequel, the Surface Laptop 4’s svelte design, comfy keyboard, and tall screen make it a great choice for anyone who likes to work around the house or at the local coffee shop.