Finishing in last place, Microsoft had a quiet year when you separate the products it released from those it announced. The new addition to its laptop/tablet lineup, the Surface Pro X, disappointed, while tried-and-true models were largely unchanged from the previous models.
The Surface Pro 7, for example, kept the outdated design of its predecessor and even did worse on our battery test. Also, Microsoft failed to take advantage of the Surface Book’s compelling form factor or modernize the Surface Laptop. There is a lot of excitement coming from Microsoft in late 2020 and beyond, but the past 12 months have been forgettable.
Microsoft's Key Strengths
- Excellent build quality: Using aluminum and magnesium across its products, Microsoft crafts some of the best-built laptops on the market. Even the $400 Surface Go 2 is made out of premium materials. Now we’re just waiting for a few updates to help modernize the design of these sleek devices.
- Innovative form factors: Most of Microsoft’s devices can be used in tablet or laptop mode or, if you prefer something more traditional, there is the Surface Laptop 3. While it hasn’t improved much over the years, the Surface Book 3 remains a standout for its ability to offer a full tablet and laptop experience in one device.
Microsoft's Main Weaknesses
- Limited selection, high price: Pricing remains a problem for Microsoft and the new $999 Surface Pro X doesn’t help. What does is the Surface Go, which elevates Microsoft above the likes of Apple when it comes to selection.
Top-Rated Microsoft Laptops
- Best Laptop: Surface Laptop 3 (13.5-inch)
- Best 2-in-1 laptop: Surface Book 3 (15-inch)
- Best Budget Laptop: Surface Go 2
The one new model Microsoft released this year, the Surface Pro X, missed the mark but its low score was largely offset by the 2020 versions of already established Surface lines.
Ironically, Microsoft’s best product this year isn’t being sold to the larger public. The 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 with Intel CPUs is marketed as a business laptop and sold on select retailers who market to IT admins.
If you go to Best Buy or Amazon, you’ll end up with the AMD model of the Surface Laptop 3. Unfortunately, Microsoft was a year too early with AMD as the 3000-series CPUs in the Laptop 3 can’t compete with the Intel equivalents. We’re excited for a Surface Laptop 3 with Ryzen 4000-series chips, but that’s probably several months away.
The rest of Microsoft’s laptop and tablet lineup is solid but uninspired. The Surface Pro 7 is very similar to the previous model apart from the added USB-C port and 10th Gen Intel CPUs. But those benefits are offset by lower battery life, making the Surface Pro 7 a disappointing entry to Microsoft’s 2-in-1 offerings. We also got a new budget tablet in the Surface Go 2, which is a great update thanks to its larger display, faster performance and longer battery life.
Microsoft has evolved beyond the polarizing fulcrum hinge. Instead, you now have sleek aluminum chassis that are both thin and sleek. And if you’re a fan of Alcantara, it’s most certainly an option. Sporting thinner bezels and a beautiful Sandstone tone, we were blown away by the 13-inch Surface Laptop 3. However, the company definitely could have made better use of the extra real estate on the 15-inch model by adding some top-firing speakers.
But maybe convertible tablets are more of your thing. If that’s the case, then the Surface Pro 7 and Surface Go 2 and their adjustable kickstands might be more your speed. And while the Alcantara keyboard covers are nice, the overall design of both systems can use a serious overhaul, like what we saw with the Surface Pro X.
Support and Warranty (15/20)
Microsoft has a website that’s convenient to navigate, a very well-made user interface, a plethora of useful how-tos and active community forums. If this extensive vault of knowledge isn’t for you, you can visit Microsoft’s Contact Us page and speak to either a virtual assistant or actual human. Both Microsoft’s web and phone service turned out to be equally decent, with operators properly providing accurate information, but our average call time was 30 minutes and it took equally as long for certain web operators to help us.
Many Microsoft laptops and tablets ship with a one-year limited warranty. In specific markets, you can purchase Microsoft Complete, which provides two years of protection including hardware and accidental damage. This can cost $99 if you’re using a Surface Go or $249 if it’s a Surface Book.
Microsoft didn’t do too much to rock the boat this time around. The most innovative move the company made in recent months is implementing the first 3-GHz ARM processor on the Surface Pro X, which features two teraflops of graphics processing power. However, the appeal of the new ARM processor wore off when we tested the device and we weren’t blown away by its middling performance. On top of that, the Surface Pro X’s ARM-based SQ1 chip causes some app compatibility issues.
We also want to ask Microsoft, “Hey, what’s up with the Surface Book?” It’s one of Microsoft’s most innovative devices due to its seamless tablet-to-laptop transitional feature. But the Redmond-based tech giant hasn’t given the lineup a proper, respectable update yet. When we reviewed the Surface Book 3 last year, we were disappointed about the minor, negligible upgrades. On the plus side, with the Surface Duo and Surface Neo on the horizon, we expect Microsoft’s innovation score to increase on our Best and Worst 2021 report.
Value and Selection (9/15)
Microsoft is purely a consumer-based brand so there are no gaming laptops, business laptops, workstations, rugged notebooks or Chromebooks. And no, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 for Business ($1,599) is not a business laptop no matter how hard Microsoft attempts to pitch it as such.
However, Microsoft has got consumers covered when it comes to budget, mid-range and premium laptops. The Surface Go 2 ($399) is a nice little appetizer for those who want to dip into a Surface product for a cheap price, while the Surface Pro 7 ($749) takes us up to the mid-range. Finally, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 ($1,299) propels us into premium land while the Surface Book 3 gets into Apple terrority when it comes to pricing. There’s also the Microsoft Surface Pro X ($1,499) for those who want an expensive tablet.