Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review: Surprisingly Adept

Where the Surface Laptop Studio gets interesting is when you step up to the Core i7 models, which get Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics cards. The cheapest of these is $2,100, and you can keep adding RAM and SSD space until you get to the top-end model with 32 gigabytes of RAM and a 2-terabyte SSD for $3,100.

The model I tested featured a Core i7 chip with 32 gigabytes of RAM and a 1-terabyte SSD, which retails for $2,700. That’s a lot of money, but it’s in the same ballpark as a similarly specced Macbook Pro and the Dell XPS 15.

No matter which model you opt for, you get one of the best-looking screens I’ve seen in a long time. It’s large at 14 inches, with a 2,400 x 1,600-pixel resolution, which works out to 197 pixels per inch. That’s not quite as sharp as the 4K Dell XPS 15, but side by side I barely noticed the difference. Like the rest of the Surface devices, the Laptop Studio screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio.

Where the Laptop Studio’s screen stands out from nearly everything else in the consumer market (except the new Surface Pro 8) is the 120-Hz refresh rate. You can read our guide to screen refresh rates for the nitty-gritty on what this means and why you want it, but the short story is that super-smooth animations and interactions, once the province of high-end gaming machines, are now available on mainstream laptops. The result is noticeable. Windows 11 on the Laptop Studio is a visually delightful experience. I am less sold on Windows 11 functionally, though. More on that in a minute.

What’s almost as impressive as the performance and screen is the battery life. The Studio always lasted a full workday and managed almost 12 hours in our looped-video battery drain test. That’s not the 18 hours Microsoft is claiming, but it does beat the XPS 15.
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Sound is also a standout feature on this Surface. It’s got four speakers, including subwoofers, and it sounds fantastic. The trackpad is also the best I’ve ever used, bar none. It’s large, has excellent gesture support, and has a haptic feedback system that makes it feel like you’re pressing a button even when you’re not.

The Problem With Windows Tablets

Windows 11 takes several steps forward, and nearly the same amount back. You can read our Windows 11 overview to see the new features and some of the problems. The biggest problem from the Laptop Studio’s point of view is that almost no desktop apps are optimized for Studio Mode. It’s not that you can’t use apps like Adobe Illustrator or Lightroom, but they lack the tablet-friendly aspects of their iOS counterparts.

What’s great about the iPad is that apps are forced to deal with the idiosyncrasies of a tablet experience. What’s great about the Laptop Studio is that apps don’t have to deal with the power limitations of the iPad. Somewhere in the blending of these two different poles lies the ideal, but neither system is quite there yet.

It’s tempting to think that running Android apps in Windows 11 might solve this, but if you’ve ever used Android on a tablet, you know you’ll have to hold your breath. A laptop with a detachable screen that starts running Android when you remove it and seamlessly reverts back to Windows when reattached, all without closing your apps or otherwise interrupting your work, feels a long way off. So does tablet optimization on Windows 11.

The world is a series of compromises, and the Surface Laptop Studio straddles these device lines better than anything else I’ve ever used. It’s not perfect, but for a certain type of user, it’s as close as you can get right now.

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