Microsoft has experimented with design and form factors since its initial 2-in-1 Surface RT. Now, the lightweight and portable Surface Pro X is available. The Surface Laptop Studio continues this experimentation. It combines elements from the desktop Studio with the more high-end 2-in-1 Surface Book.
Surfaces are normally referred to as “convertible” devices. This means that a keyboard can be removed from a laptop and turned into a tablet. It is possible to argue that removing the keyboard doesn’t convert the device. Depends on you.
Personal experience and what I liked
In my opinion, it is a convertible laptop. It looks like a laptop when you first see it. The device opens just like a laptop, and it has a standard keyboard. You’ll soon notice the difference if you reach out for the top and grab it from either side.
As you pull the screen from the magnets, there will be some resistance initially. The screen should be pulled forward and tented over the keyboard. You will find another set of magnets to secure it in what Microsoft calls “Stage mode”.
This is similar to flipping the screen around and folding it like a tent if you have a Surface Book. Surface Laptop Studio makes it much easier. There’s no need to press buttons or wait for the memory wire to release. You can also stop any applications that use the GPU. It’s as simple as a quick lift and click into the magnets at the keyboard. This position is ideal for viewing videos, making presentations or using an external keyboard.
The screen will fold down against the keyboard when you pull it forward. You can use it like a tablet by tilting the screen slightly. This mode is designed for pen users. You can use it as a tablet or with graphics tools such as a Cintiq, or another pen-driven screen. You can pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard to have everything you need for an on the road photo processing system. This is especially true if you purchase one of the more expensive SKUs with 1TB and 2TB storage.
For the past few weeks I have been using the Surface Laptop Studio 11th generation Core i7-powered for photo post-processing, general productivity, some program development and a bit of gaming.
The Surface Laptop Studio’s first impressions are positive. Since Intel’s early 2000s concept devices using a similar fold-forward screen design, I have been fascinated by them. Although it took a while for this technology to be shipped, Microsoft’s implementation using a fabric hinge in their screen works well.
Microsoft’s keyboard is among the best. It combines the feel of the Surface Book keys with the look of the Surface Laptop. The keys are slightly recessed which makes typing more comfortable. It’s large and has ample wrist rests. You can use it to quickly navigate with the mouse pointer.
Although the 14.4-inch screen may be smaller than the Surface Book 15″, its small bezels make it feel larger. The resolution is also lower than the Surface Book. There is a big difference in refresh rate. It supports 120Hz scrolling for smoother scrolling. The screen was similar to the Surface Book, with a good colour palette and great blacks. It is a great machine for processing photos with its 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 3050 Ti GPU, which provides plenty of power for Lightroom’s machine-learning-based image scaling.
The Surface Laptop Studio’s GPU is a major selling point. It’s a quick way to boost device performance, along with the Intel Iris Xe CPU-integrated. It’s an RTX3050 Ti and you have access to Nvidia’s Broadcast suite. This suite includes audio processing tools and camera software that can improve video quality. Nvidia uses machine learning to remove the sound from your typing and create a background blur. Face tracking keeps you in the center of the frame.
What I don’t like
The Surface Laptop Studio has one drawback: it lacks a lot of ports. The Surface Laptop Studio’s 2 USB-C ports are a bit limited if you’re already used to the Surface Book, which has three USB ports (two A and one C), and SD card slot. They are Thunderbolt 4 so they can be used with a docking system, but if your goal is to download photos from a digital camera then the absence of an SD card slot will be a major omission. Although I was able to find a good USB-C mini-dock with the missing ports, it is something that I still have to carry.
The familiar Surface Connect adapter delivers power, which comes with a 120W power adapter. A PD PSU with at least 100W can be used to charge the USB-C ports. This allows you to use a Thunderbolt 4 docking station, or Microsoft’s Surface Dock. Both allow you to drive additional displays.
The Surface Laptop Studio is a great upgrade for those who have been using Microsoft Surface devices. The Core i7 specification will give you a portable, discrete-GPU computer that can handle most developer and creator tasks. Although it is not cheap, it can handle all aspects of machine learning and gaming. It also features one the best screens Microsoft has ever made, which converts quickly from stage to laptop.
The Surface Laptop Studio is innovative and powerful. It has design chops comparable to the MacBook Pro. Be prepared for all the magnets!