Hardware Reviews

Is the Surface Laptop really suitable for students?

If you’re a student, weighing up whether you should stress test your overdraft limit on a new laptop, Microsoft has a tempter for you: the Surface Laptop.

What is the Surface Laptop? The name is a big clue: unlike the Surface Pro, which is basically a tablet with a detachable keyboard, the Surface Laptop is a pure, 100%, unadulterated laptop. There’s no funky hinge that you can twist 360 degrees, and the keyboard will only come off if you have a terrible accident.

Despite announcing it as a college-ready laptop, Microsoft forgot to mention that by “college” it means education establishments with their own helipad and Swiss bank account.

The very cheapest Surface Laptop costs £799, and even though you can claim 10% off if you can prove that you’re studying or a teacher, we’re still talking three or four Chromebooks’ worth of laptop. Microsoft may point at all the MacBook Airs you’ll find on a typical campus, but there are two things to remember: one, Apple has that extra cachet with students; and two, MacBooks are proven to last.

What’s more, that £799 is only buying you a laggardly Core m3 processor (fine for everyday stuff, slow for anything intense) and 128GB of storage. I humbly suggest that most people will be far happier with a Core i5 processor and 256GB of storage, for which you’ll need to pay £1,249. 

The other “this isn’t for kids” giveaway is the Surface Laptop’s lack of ruggedness. It’s slim and gorgeous, but if you drop it then it’ll be slim, gorgeous and dead.

It also isn’t a Windows 10 laptop. For this is the first Windows 10 S device, which means you can only install programs from the Windows Store – unless you upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. In the future, that’s likely to cost you around £50, but you can upgrade for free until the end of this year.

Let’s concentrate on the positives for a while. You are getting a 12.3in screen with pixels aplenty: 2,736 x 1,824. As with all the Surface machines, you can expect a top-quality display (although the first review we’ve seen, over on Expert Reviews, suggests it isn’t up to the usual Microsoft standards).

Microsoft Surface Laptop side view
Microsoft’s official specs say the Laptop is 8.5mm thick but that’s at its slimmest edge. Still, this is one slender machine.

Note it’s a weird 3:2 resolution, so videos will play back with bars at the top and bottom, but according to both Expert Reviews and Microsoft you can get over 10 hours of video playback – that translates into a full day away from the mains.

More importantly, that means you shouldn’t need to drag the power supply with you, helping to keep your bag that little bit lighter. And, at 1.25kg, this is a light laptop.

Microsoft Surface Laptop rear view
Here’s the Surface Laptop in classic grey – or Graphite, as Microsoft calls it

Theoretically, the Alcantara fabric Microsoft uses to cover the keyboard area means this will also be a hard-wearing machine. It’s tough to describe the fabric – think a hardened yet slightly rubbery version of fuzzy felt – but it’s nice to the touch.

So, what is the Surface Laptop? It’s a slim, pretty computer that will appeal to those with big pockets and hectic schedules. Think business execs not debt-ridden students, think Home Counties rather than – no, I’ll stop there before I get into trouble.

As to the why – well, that’s tougher to understand. There are many brilliant laptops out there, with far more innovation happening around Windows 10 than macOS, so Microsoft’s usual excuse that it’s daring to experiment where its partners aren’t just doesn’t hold true. Perhaps Microsoft had a huge order of Alcantara fabric and simply ran out of offices to carpet.

Or perhaps it looked wantonly at Apple’s total ownership of hardware and software and fancied some of the action. More likely still: it looked at all the cash Apple makes from its hardware, and the profit paradise that is the App Store, and decided 2017 was time to enter the laptop mainstream.

Four Surface Laptops in a square
The Surface Laptop comes in a choice of four colours


About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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