In all the years it has been making hardware, Microsoft has shied away from making a traditional clamshell laptop, at least in part because the company didn’t want to upset its OEM partners by competing with them directly. But it has been edging closer to that territory with each new Surface Pro iteration and with the convertible Surface Book, and today Microsoft is formally announcing its first-ever plain-old, no-gimmicks clamshell notebook, predictably called the Surface Laptop.
Preorders for the new system start today, and it will be available on June 15. A Core i5 model with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD will start at $999; it’s only available in the silvery “Platinum” finish. A Core i5 model with a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM also comes in “Graphite Gold,” “Cobalt Blue,” and burgundy, and it will run you $1,299. The model that adds a Core i7 and an Iris Plus 640 GPU will run you $1,599, while the top-end $2,199 model comes with the Core i7, 512GB SSD, 16GB of RAM—both of these systems only come in Platinum.
The Surface Laptop looks to be a high-quality system in the vein of all the other Surface gadgets. It has an aluminum body with a Microsoft logo etched into the lid, a 13.5-inch PixelSense display with relatively slim bezels along with a nice-looking chiclet keyboard and large trackpad that appear to be modeled after the Surface Pro 4’s Type Cover (right down to the fabric on the palm rest).
The laptop won’t set records for weight or thickness, but given its specs and size, it’s quite svelte at 2.76 pounds. It’s 0.39 inches (9.9mm) thick at its thinnest point and 0.57 inches (14.47mm) at its thickest point. Its port selection is a bit anachronistic, though: it uses one USB-A port for data, a mini DisplayPort for driving external monitors, and the same proprietary power connector as the Surface Pro 3, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Book.
Similar minimalist laptops from other manufacturers have moved to USB-C, which can be used for power, data, and charging, and the Surface Laptop certainly has room for two to four of these ports. Assuming this laptop was made with education in mind, including USB-A (still the most common port for USB sticks and peripherals) is a smart move, and mini DisplayPort has the benefit of being fairly common in any school with Mac users in it (display dongles are cheap and abundant). Still, for anyone else, it feels a bit backward-looking, especially in a $1,000 machine.
The screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio that Microsoft says makes it feel more like a 14-inch laptop than a 13-inch laptop. Microsoft says the display has 3.4 million pixels—the exact resolution is an oddball 2256×1504, but irregular resolutions are to be expected when you use irregular aspect ratios.
On the inside, the Surface Laptop uses 7th-generation Kaby Lake processors; both Core i5 and i7 options will be available. The device can be configured with 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB of RAM and 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB PCI Express SSDs. The Core i5 model includes the Intel HD 620 GPU, while the i7 model steps up to the Iris Plus 640 GPU—64MB of eDRAM will boost its graphics performance considerably. Microsoft says the battery can last for up to 14.5 hours, presumably for light browsing or mixed-use. 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 720p webcam round out the spec sheet.
The Surface Laptop ships with Windows 10 S, the new cut-down Windows 10 SKU Microsoft also announced today. Out of the box, the operating system can only run apps from the Windows Store, though it’s possible to upgrade it to a full Windows 10 Pro install for free until December 31, 2017. Afterward, the Pro upgrade will cost $50, the same as it normally will for Windows 10 S users.
Look for a more detailed hands-on with the Surface Laptop later today and a full review in the coming weeks.
Listing image by Microsoft