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Surface Laptop Hands-on: What We Love, What We Don't

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop could be the Windows ultraportable to beat. Starting at $999 and in stores June 15, this 2.8-pound stunner comes in four colors, sports a very unique fabric deck and promises up to 14.5 hours of battery life.

We went hands-on with the Surface Laptop at Microsoft's launch event, and it looks like a beautiful piece of hardware for a reasonable price, filling the void by the now-ancient MacBook Air. However, there are some limitations, too.

Surface Laptop Specs

PriceStarting at $999
CPU7th Gen Core i5 or i7
RAM4, 8GB or 16GB
SSD128, 256 or 512GB
Display13.5 inches 2256 x 1504
PortsUSB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, headset
Battery LifeUp to 14.5 hours
Size12.13 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches
Weight2.76 pounds
ColorsBurgundy, Platinum, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold

Design

Because it's meticulously designed, Microsoft says you won't see a screw or anything that signals how the device was put together. That's because Surface boss Panos Panay says it's designed to be "silent to the eye."

The laptop features a 13.5-inch PixelSense display with 3.4 million pixels (2256 x 1504) with a 3:2 aspect ration. The system weighs 2.8 pounds and measures just 14.5 mm thin. Microsoft says it's the thinnest LCD touch module ever put in a laptop.

The device comes in four colors: burgundy, graphite gold, platinum and cobalt blue. We like that you can easily open the clamshell with one finger.

When we went hands-on with the Surface Laptop at Microsoft's press event, the design really impressed. It looks sleek, especially in burgundy and cobalt, and there's not a screw to be seen.

Keyboard

The Surface Laptop offers 1.5 mm of key travel, which is more than some competing laptops. For instance, the MacBook Pro's keyboard is limited to 0.5 mm. Based on our hands-on time, the Alcantara fabric around the deck feels great to touch and rest your wrists on as you type. The keys were nice and clicky on first impression, though we'll spend more time with the layout in our full review.

Ports and Pen

There are, however, a dearth of ports, with just a full-sized USB port, mini DisplayPort and headphone jack on the left side. On the right side, all you'll find is Microsoft's proprietary charger. (It looked like a SD Card slot at first, but it's not.) Conspicuously absent is a USB-C port.

Microsoft explained in an interview why it didn't opt for USB-C, saying that it's not that prevalent yet, but we don't buy that.

As you would expect, the Surface Laptop works with the Surface Pen, which lets you annotate content, as well as leverage other features of Windows 10 Creators Update. The Surface Laptop will run Windows 10 S out of the box, which only works Windows Store apps, but you'll be able to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

Performance and Battery Life

In addition to supporting the latest Core i5 and Core i7 processors, the Surface Laptop offers a PCIe SSD. Most impressively, Microsoft claims up to 14.5 hours of battery life. (Of course, we'll put that to the test.)

The standard configuration comes with a Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD for $999, but you can upgrade up to Core i7. You can also get 8GB or 16GB of RAM, as well as a 256GB or 512GB SSD.

Software

The Surface Laptop comes with a 90-day free trial of Windows 10 Pro, but after that it will fall back to Windows 10 S unless you pay $50 to upgrade. Why is that important? Although Windows 10 S promises a cleaner interface and fast boot times, as well as a more secure environment, you'll be locked into the Edge Browser and Bing for search. You'll also only be able to use Windows Store apps.

We'd opt for Windows 10 Pro.

Outlook

The Surface Laptop looks like a winner, especially given its starting price, and it should make not just Apple nervous but everyone who makes a Windows laptop. It could be a must-have for back to school, but stay tuned for our review.

Additional contribution by Andrew E. Freedman

Laptop Guide

Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.