Microsoft Surface Laptop Review

Microsoft Surface Laptop Review

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Surface Laptop has a unique Alcantara fabric layer on its inner deck
  • Performance is good for everyday work, but connectivity is limited
  • The Surface Laptop is available in five different configurations in India

We waited years for Microsoft to launch its Surface tabletsin India, and it’s taken even longer for the Surface Bookand Surface Laptop to arrive. This family of devices is meant to showcase Windows to the best possible extent – they’re all unapologetically premium, but more than that, they’re genuinely fresh and interesting. Microsoft is competing with its own partners by pushing out PC hardware, and is emphasising design and engineering to set itself apart. It’s pretty obvious that Apple’s success integrating hardware and software has influenced this strategy.

Of all the Surface devices, the Surface Laptop is the most conventional. It isn’t a 2-in-1, and it doesn’t have a fancy engineered hinge or kickstand. It’s meant to strike a balance between portability and productivity, and will appeal to those for whom the Surface Pro with its keyboard cover won’t cut it.

Interestingly, Microsoft had students in mind when it first launched this laptop over a year ago in the US. There’s a lot to go through, so let’s get started.

Microsoft Surface Laptop design

Everyone who sees photos of the Surface Laptop will want to know how its fabric deck feels, and honestly, it isn’t easy to describe even though we’ve used it before on the Surface Pro’s Type Cover. Alcantara is a material that’s 68 percent polyester and 32 percent polyurethane, and it’s a bit like suede with a slightly waxy coating. It isn’t perfectly smooth, but it doesn’t have the texture of cloth either. It didn’t fray or come undone even when we scratched it hard, and it’s moulded like plastic around the keyboard tray. The Alcantara extends all the way to the edges of the deck and is pinched down, leaving room for a fingernail to help you lift the lid when it’s closed.

The material is supposed to be resistant to spills and stains, and Microsoft even says it can be cleaned with warm water and mild soap, two things we wouldn’t want anywhere near a laptop. We can’t yet say how well it will hold up to long-term use, especially for people who tend to use their gadgets while eating.

It’s worth pointing out that the fabric has one major downside – it’s permanently stuck on to the metal chassis. The only way to replace or repair anything on the inside of this laptop is to rip the layers apart with a knife, and there’s no putting it back together after that. In fact, when the Surface Laptop first launched in the USA, it famously received a repairability index score of zero from iFixit.

microsoft surface laptop keyboard ndtv surface

 

As for the rest of this laptop, it’s fairly minimalist but still very noticeable. The lid has a simple matte aluminium finish, but with a prominent and highly reflective Windows logo in the centre. Microsoft has said that it isn’t bringing the Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, or Graphite Gold options to India, which is a pity. The lid is pretty thin and it does bend and flex under pressure, but surprisingly there’s no distortion whatsoever on the screen. The hinge is sunken and completely hidden under the fabric layer. It feels firm, and at least on our brand new unit, the lid didn’t fall even if it was left just barely open. Overall, despite its waif-like appearance, the Surface Laptop seems to be built very well.

The lack of connectivity will be a huge concern for many buyers. The Surface Laptop is even more minimalist than the MacBook Air, with only a single USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm audio socket, and a Mini-DisplayPort for video output. There isn’t even an SD card slot. Many ultraportables are light on ports, but the Surface Laptop isn’t even that thin or light. In this day and age we would have expected USB Type-C and preferred Thunderbolt 3, but most people will be fine with the far more common Type-A standard.

Your only relief comes in the form of Microsoft’s Surface Connect Port, the tab-like slot on the right used by the bundled charger, which also supports Microsoft’s Surface Dock. This accessory will give you four more USB 3.0 ports, two more Mini-DisplayPorts, Gigabit Ethernet and another audio output, but it’s listed for Rs. 17,560 online in India, which is an absurd amount to pay.

The ports are also a little hard to reach thanks to the Surface Laptop’s inward-slanting sides. Slotting the charger into the narrow Surface Connect Port in particular is an extremely fiddly process, and we wound up having to lift the laptop and bend over to see exactly what we were doing each time.

Next to the ports on either side of this laptop are white patches that look a lot like the antenna lines that are now common on smartphones. They stand out quite distinctly, and unfortunately they look like additional ports or slots that have been blanked out.

microsoft surface laptop powerbutton ndtv surface

 

The keyboard has one major quirk, which is the placement of the power button. Microsoft obviously wanted the Delete key to be in the corner above the Backspace key, but we found ourselves still likely to hit the power button by accident. It also isn’t flatter or stiffer than the keys surrounding it, which would have been the obvious precaution to take. The Fn row has been displaced by the paging keys and various shortcuts, but you can swap the keys’ primary and secondary roles by simply tapping the Fn modifier once, which is quite convenient.

The Surface Laptop is only 14.47mm thick at its thickest point, and weighs only 1.25kg. It’s super portable and super convenient to whip out of a sling bag or backpack. The only thing you get in the box with the Surface Laptop is its proprietary 44W charger, and we love its integrated USB port. You might not have enough ports on the laptop itself, but you can at least charge your phone on the go. However, we found the power cable to be a bit too short.

microsoft surface laptop usb ndtv surface

 

Microsoft Surface Laptop specifications and software

Microsoft is selling the Surface Laptop in five different configurations, ranging in price from Rs. 86,999 to Rs. 2,33,999. At the bottom of the stack you get an Intel Core i5-7200U CPU with integrated Intel HD Graphics 620, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. The top-end variant has a Core i7-7660U processor with Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. This is a pretty wide range, and so the Surface Laptop competes with premium thin-and-light models including the MacBook Air as well as luxury laptops and 2-in-1s such as the Lenovo Yoga 920 and Dell XPS 13 9370. It’s worth noting that these 7th Gen Intel Core processors are nearly two years old and significantly weaker than current offerings. It’s also surprising that Microsoft has launched such expensive variants here but not the entry-level ones with Core m3 processors and 4GB of RAM.

We’re reviewing the variant priced at Rs. 1,14,999, which has the Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. Considering that the RAM and SSD are soldered to the motherboard and there’s no access to them anyway, you’re going to want to account for future needs right from the start. Upgrades are simply not possible.

The touchscreen measures 13.5 inches diagonally but has a unique old-school 3:2 aspect ratio. Microsoft chose this squarish shape for its Surface tablets, and it makes sense when trying to use a device in portrait or landscape. While the look is consistent here, it isn’t necessarily useful. You might think of it as extra vertical space or reduced width. It isn’t the best choice if you watch a lot of videos or need to work on two documents side by side, but it works well for general productivity.

The resolution is completely non-standard at 2256×1504, and makes for a density of 201ppi. Windows 10 scales to 150 percent by default and we found this to be comfortable and crisp. This might not be a 2-in-1, but the touchscreen can still come in handy. We didn’t wind up using touch a lot, but it’s always nice to have. The Surface Pen is supported, but won’t be particularly comfortable to use.

One thing that we don’t often see even on premium laptops is an ambient light sensor, which means that brightness adjusts itself automatically. Above the screen is also a 720p webcam and the sensors needed to support Windows Hello face recognition. Stereo speakers are embedded beneath the keyboard. Microsoft isn’t publishing an exact battery capacity, but iFixit has discovered that it’s a 45.2Whr unit. It’s rated for 14.5 hours of video playback which is impressive on paper, but we’ll see shortly how well it really performs.

Our review unit was running Windows 10 Pro. The Surface Laptop was initially meant to ship running Windows 10 S, a reduced-functionality version of Windows. Somewhat like Windows RT, Windows 10 S made Edge and Bing the default Web browser and search engine respectively, without any ability to change them. Users could also only install apps from the Windows Store rather than just downloading anything they like. This was meant to usher users into an iOS-like walled garden, but due to massive backlash, this edition of Windows has been discontinued. Instead, the Surface Laptop ships with Windows 10 in “S Mode”, which behaves the same. This mode can be disabled at no cost – as long as you find an option that’s buried within the Microsoft Store app. With no clear direction, this might confuse a lot of buyers who just want to download Google Chrome or any other common software.

microsoft surface laptop left ndtv surface

 

Microsoft Surface Laptop performance

The Surface Laptop is very easy to carry around and just pop open anywhere you want to get work done. Its keyboard is the right size and has decent key travel, but felt a little too mushy for our liking, and also flexed in the middle. Still, we were able to type quickly and accurately within no time. The white backlighting is also subtle and useful, and there are three brightness levels to choose from. Although the trackpad is large and smooth, the mechanism is stiff and shallow. It also seemed to decide that we were right-clicking more often than we actually wanted to.

We got used to the 3:2 screen without even realising it. It’s great for reading Web pages and working on Word documents. There are of course thick black bands when watching most video content, and this can be quite distracting because of how reflective the glass is. The biggest problem we faced was with games – some titles simply aren’t designed to scale to non-standard aspect ratios.

The screen is bright and vibrant, and pretty much every video file and stream we tried to watch looked great. We had a problem with video stuttering when we first unpacked the Surface Laptop, which turned out to be due to a missing driver. A quick trip to Windows Update sorted that out in a few minutes.

General performance was pretty much faultless. We had no trouble at all with multiple heavy sites open in browser tabs, with other programs running in the background. Our usual benchmarks gave us decent results for a mainstream laptop. PCMark 10 put up a score of 2,969, Cinebench R15 managed 124 and 334 points in its single- and multi-core tests, and POVRay ran its standard benchmark in 6 minutes, 56 seconds.

Graphics tests and games did not do as well, thanks to the basic integrated graphics capabilities of the Intel CPU. Unigine Valley gave us just 16.6fps on average, at 1920×1080 and using the Medium preset – but it ran stretched to fill up the whole screen. We tried the touch-friendly Age of Empires: Castle Siege from the Microsoft Store, and it ran perfectly well.

We ran Rise of the Tomb Raider’s built-in benchmark at 1920×1080 and it stretched itself to fill the screen. We got just 8.16fps at 1920×1080 using the Low preset, and scaling down all the way to 1024×768 gave us just 15.78fps, which was not only unplayable but looked awful. Doom has an aspect ratio control, but the only resolution available at 3:2 was the native 2256×1504 which is way too high for this GPU to handle. The game did run letterboxed 1280×720, but we only got 15-25fps in real-world gameplay, meaning that modern 3D games are completely out of the question.

While the Surface laptop was practically silent even under heavy load, the keyboard deck did get quite warm. The wrist rest area was fine, but the keyboard itself became quite toasty, especially in the upper middle.

Finally, we come to battery life. The Surface Laptop’s 14.5-hour claim seems to be accurate. We started our day with a full battery. With casual Web surfing and typing plus a bit of video streaming with the screen brightness adjusted automatically, we were only down to about 85 percent in two hours, and we were able to get through a full 8-hour workday before running out of power. The Battery Eater Pro stress test ran for 2 hours, 27 minutes with the screen brightness set manually at 50 percent, which isn’t bad at all for a thin and light laptop.

microsoft surface laptop rear ndtv surface

 

Verdict
Microsoft has designed a very good-looking laptop. It delivers solid performance for everyday tasks, as well as great battery life, while still being slim and light. It feels extremely premium and will definitely grab eyeballs. However, the focus seems to have been a bit too narrow. The looks come at the cost of common usability issues such as only having a single USB port and not being able to upgrade or replace any parts. We think this laptop would be best suited for frequent travellers who care more about work than entertainment.

The most polarising thing about the Surface Laptop is its Alcantara fabric surface. Throughout our review period, we kept evaluating how we felt about the texture and finish, and we have to say that we weren’t exactly bowled over. If you type for a long time, you might not like the texture against your wrists. We wouldn’t miss it at all if it was gone, and we definitely wouldn’t pay extra for it.

That brings us to the matter of pricing, which could also severely restrict the appeal of this laptop. You can do better in terms of portability or performance, or even get a more flexible 2-in-1 for Rs. 1,14,999. In fact, the Lenovo Yoga 730 at exactly the same price has a better processor, double the storage, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports (but an inferior full-HD screen) and still weighs just 1.12kg. You could also consider the Dell XPS 13 9370 and HP Spectre x360 which come in at comparable prices.

The most affordable variant with Intel Iris Plus graphics comes in at Rs. 1,44,999 which puts it right up against the much more appealing Lenovo Yoga 920. It’s also very hard to imagine paying Rs. 2,33,999 just to get 1TB of storage space – for that kind of money you could buy the much more impressive Microsoft Surface Book 2. With that said, there’s a lot to like about the overall package, if you can afford the price.

Microsoft Surface Laptop
Price: 
Rs. 1,14,999 (as reviewed)

Pros

  • Bright, sharp screen
  • Very light and thin
  • Good performance for everyday tasks

Cons

  • Only one USB 3.0 port
  • Gets a bit warm with heavy use
  • Impossible to upgrade or repair
  • Expensive

Ratings (out of 5)

  • Design: 4
  • Display: 4
  • Performance: 3.5
  • Software: 4
  • Battery life: 4.5
  • Value for Money: 3
  • Overall: 4

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

Laptop Ban Lifted in Egypt, Morocco

Laptop Ban Lifted in Egypt, Morocco

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Egypt and Morocco’s airlines say electronics ban has been lifted
  • The original ban affected airports in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and more
  • The ban remains in place for Riyadh and Jeddah

Egypt and Morocco’s airlines have said a ban against carry-on laptops on US-bound flights has been lifted, leaving only two Saudi airports under the restrictions put in place in March.

Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc said in a statement Wednesday that the ban, imposed amid fears the Islamic State group was developing a bomb concealed in electronics, would be lifted as of Thursday.

EgyptAir said late Tuesday that the United States had also lifted the ban for the carrier’s flights to New York from Wednesday.

The ban remains in place for Saudi Arabia’s two main international airports in Riyadh and Jeddah.

The original ban affected airports in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Turkey.

ALSO SEELaptop Ban: Royal Jordanian, Kuwait Airways Say Now Exempt

But last month, the US Department of Homeland Security issued directives to 180 carriers around the world flying into the United States to improve security procedures, especially in screening baggage and electronics.

The directives included pressure to install explosive-detecting scanners within weeks, as well as adding more bomb-sniffing dogs.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

How to Know When to Choose a Tablet Versus a Laptop

You may have thought about whether you can get by with a tablet instead of a laptop in your business.

While in some cases, a tablet may absolutely be the right choice, in other cases, it might not fit the bill. When it comes to deciding between a tablet and laptop for your primary business device, it really depends on what you plan to use it for.

Though decisions of this kind usually have to be made on a case-by-case basis, below is a list of situations where it makes sense to use a laptop instead of a tablet and vice versa.

When to Choose a Laptop

When You’re Composing and Editing Lots of Documents

For instance, many tablets don’t run on Windows. So if you’re a big Microsoft Office user, you may have a problem there. Let’s say the majority of your computer needs involve using these or other software like them to create and work with word documents, spreadsheets etc. Using a tablet could mean not having access to the software you use for these functions. Or you may not have access to the version you would have on a laptop. Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint may have advanced features that aren’t available with apps on a tablet or when using Google Docs.

When You Do a Lot of Heavy Data Keying

When you have to key in a lot of data or do a lot of typing, it can be cumbersome to do it on a touchscreen. Even an attachable keyboard may limit how efficiently or how fast you can work if you just flat out have a lot of typing to do due to its smaller size. Save the heavy typing activities for a laptop. A tablet, in this case, may not be right for you.

When You Need Extra Processing Power or Screen Real Estate

You may find it takes more work to build a database, edit images or video, or perform other activities on a tablet versus a laptop. This may have to do not just with the processing power of your tablet, it may also simply be harder to edit video, photos or other documents on a smaller screen. This is especially true with smaller seven or eight inch tablets. Again do yourself a favor. Bring in a laptop with more processing power and a bigger screen.

When Touchscreen Technology Makes the Task Laborious

If you need to do a lot of online research or anything that requires a lot of copying and pasting, it may be time to rethink your decision  to abandon a laptop. This can be laborious work with the typical touchscreen tablet. Also, most tablets allow you to only view one screen or application at a time. If you need to jump back and forth between screens or applications to copy anything or gather information, it’s time consuming.

Even with tablets that allow two apps to run at the same time, you may only be able to choose from a limited number of “approved” options for this purpose.  Even though more laptops are employing touchscreen technology, using one gives you the option to work in multiple screen and the ease of keyboard commands, should you need them.

When You Use Software That Won’t Run on a Tablet

This problem has been previously addressed above as it relates to those who use their devices to compose and edit a lot of documents. Very often the same software they use on a laptop either isn’t available or doesn’t have the same features in its tablet version.

Just remember.  Tablets are app focused while laptops are software focused. There may not be an app for the procedure you regularly use your laptop software to perform. Or your company may use proprietary software that cannot run on a tablet at all. For example, most tablets run on Android, iOS, or Windows RT. If you need a certain piece of software that only runs on Windows, you may need to either look for a Windows 8 tablet or go with a laptop instead.

When You Need a Device Family Won’t Borrow!

Let’s face it. Tablets can be used for a whole lot more than business. They can be used to watch movies and videos, listen to music or play the latest video game, for example. Family members, especially children, are more likely to think of a tablet as an entertainment device and want to use it. If you want to avoid risking important business files inadvertently being disturbed by a “borrowing” family member, get a laptop. (Or better yet, buy them their own tablet!)

When to Choose a Tablet

When Price is a Major Consideration

Tablets tend to be less expensive than laptops, although the difference in price is narrowing. It’s not as much of a difference as it used to be. But when comparing price, consider how you’ll use that tablet.

If you need a keyboard and case so you can use your tablet as a desktop or laptop replacement when traveling, stop and think. Be sure to factor in the extra cost of those accessories. You may also need a larger 10-inch tablet if you need to do keyboard work, compose and edit documents, or do other intensive projects on your device. All of these things may potentially add considerable expense. So you may find the price advantage of a tablet in this case is minimal.

When a WiFi Signal Isn’t Available

Some tablets use a wireless cell network, for example 3G, 4G or 4G LTE. And if you can’t get a WiFi signal, you can use your data connection through the tablet to connect. On the other hand, it may be difficult to find a laptop with built-in cellular network connectivity. So without WiFi, you may be out of luck.

When You Need to Pack Extra Light for Travel

You can often keep tablets packed away through airport security, whereas you may be required to pull out your laptop from your briefcase. Tablets also tend to be lighter than laptops. Although just like with price, the weight difference is narrowing. Laptops and notebooks are getting smaller, thinner and lighter. So this may not be a consideration forever.

When You Use Your Device While Walking Around

Let’s say you use your device for doing checklists or verifications while on the move. Maybe it could be used for filling out insurance claims or checking inventory. Are these the kinds of activities you want to be carting around a laptop or even a notebook to do?

Laptops and notebooks have come a long way in terms of their portability. So you may think nothing of taking one with you to work or even to a coffee shop. Anywhere with a table, desk or other flat surface that can become your office.  But carrying a laptop around with you constantly so you can glance down at it or work from it while on the go is another story. This is a time to consider a tablet instead.

When You Need A POS (Point of Sale) Alternative

For restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores and even street vendors, the tablet has become a vital new tool. And in this case it’s not the laptop or notebook the device is replacing. In fact, it’s the traditional cash register. Card reader attachments and apps allow tablets to do so much more than take credit card payments and keep track of revenue. They also gather analytics. If you need a device to perform any of these functions, a tablet may be your best bet.

When Using Loyalty Programs or Promotional Coupons

You can place a tablet on the counter in your retail store, bakery or other brick and mortar for customers to collect discounts, sign up for loyalty program points or “check in” on social media sites. While these things could be done on a laptop too, it isn’t as elegant a solution — and looks matter.

When Reading eBooks or Doing Other Leisurely Activities

As we  pointed out earlier, tablets are often more fun and convenient for watching videos, playing a game, doing general web browsing and some other entertaining activities. If you need to catch up on your ebook reading while on a business trip, it’s a great option, too. While this makes a tablet a bad choice if family members are going to want to borrow it, the reverse is true for your more casual business use. After all, it’s hard to curl up in bed with a laptop to do some reading. A tablet, on the other hand, is made for this.

When Apps Just Work Better

One case in point is Microsoft’s OneNote. It has more features as a Windows app than it does in the browser-based version. Though it varies by software, sometimes the app version is just easier to use or better. If you use a lot of these kinds of solutions in your business, then a tablet may definitely be the right option.

Still Not Sure Which to Get? Get Both!

There are times, of course, when it’s not necessary to make a choice. Some devices offer the best of both worlds. The Asus Transformer Book Trio runs both Windows 8 and Android, for instance. It costs a bit more, but you will have access to two different operating systems in one device. Another device is the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It handles like a tablet but has the power of a laptop.

No matter what kind of device you choose for your business, be sure it meets your specific needs. The scenarios above should give you some idea of when certain devices are better than others. But ultimately every business is different. So asking some questions about how you plan to use your technology should guide you in your decision making.

Tablet Laptop Photo via Shutterstock

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[“source-smallbiztrends”]

New Samsung Chip Could Make Your Phone Faster Than Your Laptop

Samsung is set to make mobile devices bigger, faster, and more brilliant in the very near future. The company announced that it has begun mass production on the very first 8-gigabit LPDDR4 Mobile DRAM mobile memory module.

The new chip marks a new benchmark for mobile devices aimed at being the best. In fact, Samsung’s innovation means the best mobile devices likely will have more memory than a lot of laptops and desktop computers.

The new era of 4GB mobile DRAM will have other obvious impacts on the kinds of mobile devices we’re likely to see in the near future.

In a post on Samsung Tomorrow, the company’s official blog, Joo Sun Choi, Executive Vice President of Memory Sales and Marketing at Samsung Electronics, explains:

“By initiating production of the 20nm 8Gb LPDDR4, which is even faster than the DRAM for PCs and servers and consumes much less energy, we are contributing to the timely launch of UHD, large-screen flagship mobile devices. As this major advancement in mobile memory demonstrates, we will continue to closely collaborate with global mobile device manufacturers to optimize DRAM solutions, making them suitable for next-generation mobile OS environments.”

Only the best mobile devices on the market today can offer 3GB DRAM. But with 4GB of mobile DRAM, it looks as if ultra-HD video on mobile devices will be the norm. And this also means larger mobile devices with better quality images.

Samsung says that its new memory innovation enables users to capture ultra-HD video from mobile devices, as well.

In addition to being 50 percent more powerful than the fastest LPDDR3 or DDR3 memory available, the new Samsung chip uses 40 percent less energy too.

And Samsung’s influence will likely be seen in a lot of other companies’ high-end smartphones and tablets released this year, Electronista reports. The company supplies other manufacturers with its memory technology as well.

In another post from the company blog, Samsung’s Memory Sales and Marketing vice president Young-Hyun Jun adds:

“We will continue introducing the most advanced mobile DRAM one step ahead of the rest of the industry so that global OEMs can launch innovative mobile devices with exceptional user convenience in the timeliest manner.”

Samsung will likely unveil the first devices with 4G of mobile DRAM in early 2015.

Image: Samsung

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[“source-smallbiztrends”]