Microsoft: 2018 Brand Report Card
Microsoft's inability to rise above sixth place this year wasn't for a lack of trying. The company has a limited lineup, but all of its products are solid and earned strong review scores.
It introduced a new size in its Surface Book line (and finally added USB Type-C) as well as the Surface Laptop. But new, entry-level configurations were outdated at launch, coming with underpowered Core m3 processors, and Microsoft’s tech support didn't do well on the web or the phone, often providing incorrect answers.
Microsoft's Key Strengths
- Good products: The Surface lineup did very well in our testing, earning scores of 4 out of 5 across the board and three Editors' Choice awards.
- Innovative ways of computing: Want a tablet? A detachable? A laptop? A powerhouse? Microsoft offers a little bit of everything in its Surface lineup, so you can get whatever kind of device best fits your lifestyle.
Microsoft's Main Weaknesses
- You need to pay a lot to get the good stuff: While Microsoft introduced some lower-cost models this year, they come with lesser processors, like Intel's outdated, less powerful Core m line. If you're in the market for a Surface Pro, you'll still need to shell out extra for a keyboard.
- Support needs work: Microsoft gave us incorrect answers on the phone, and it wasn't much better on the web.
Top-Rated Microsoft Laptops
Though Microsoft makes only a handful of expensive laptops, everything the company manufactures is pretty darn good. We reviewed all four of Microsoft's products over the last year, and each earned a 4-star rating, while three received Editors' Choice awards.
The 13-inch Surface Book 2 and the 15-inch version stood out from a large crowd of 2-in-1s by offering powerful discrete graphics in elegant, detachable designs. Introduced in 2017, the Surface Laptop showed the world that Microsoft can make an innovative clamshell design, while the Surface Book remains the standard by which other Windows tablet-and-keyboard combos are judged.
If you want something fresh, take a look at the Surface Laptop. Available in Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Platinum and Graphite Gold, the system is sleek and easy on the eyes. Our favorite feature is the Alcantara keyboard deck that feels way better than your average soft-touch finish. Unfortunately, this system lacks a forward-thinking Type-C port.
The Surface Pro retained its telltale kickstand, but it now opens to a wider 165 degrees, making the screen easier to draw on. But this laptop still lacks both USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports. Both the 13-inch Surface Book 2 and the 15-inch model have the gray, magnesium frame with that polarizing fulcrum hinge, but we like that Microsoft added a USB Type-C port.
Support and Warranty (14/20)
Microsoft's phone technical support let us down in our Tech Support Showdown, giving incorrect answers for how to use the company's Surface Pen and protect against Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. Neither Microsoft's social media reps nor its virtual assistant proved a worthy replacement.
On the upside, Microsoft is one of two companies (the other being Apple) with actual brick-and-mortar stores where you can get official, technical support from the laptop maker. If you're too far from one of Microsoft's stores, or a laptop needs to be sent to a facility, the company also covers shipping both ways.
Microsoft had a heck of a year with its hardware. The company's biggest innovation was launching the Surface Laptop, the first Microsoft clamshell. It also updated the Surface Book with USB Type-C and added a new 15-inch variety with a GTX 1060 GPU.
The company also squeezed more battery life into the Surface Pro, though that machine remained largely unchanged otherwise.
Value and Selection (9/15)
Microsoft offers just four laptops: the Surface Laptop, Surface Pro, and Surface Book 2 in both 13-inch and 15-inch varieties. That covers a wide range of form factors, including detachable 2-in-1s, a clamshell and a notebook that keeps a GPU in the base. However, if you want an affordable notebook or one that can play games, you'll have to look elsewhere.
The Surface Laptop and Surface Pro are the cheapest of Microsoft's offerings, starting at $799 with a Core m3. For a Core i processor, you'll need to spend at least $999, and powerful options will take you well over $1,000. With the Surface Pro, you still have to buy the keyboard separately.
The Surface Book 2 offers a ton of versatility, but that comes at a high price. It starts at $1,499 for the model with an integrated GPU, but for a GTX 1050 on the 14-inch version, you'll need to spend at least $2,300. The VR-ready 15-inch notebook starts at $2,500.