Updated Nov. 26 at 3:30 pm ET: The Surface Laptop 2 is currently $300 off at Best Buy.
The second edition of Microsoft's Surface Laptop is similar to the first, and that's not a bad thing at all. This 13.5-inch touch-screen laptop is a sleek, minimalist machine with an Alcantara keyboard that's nice to look at and touch. This year's model offers two notable perks: modern 8th-Gen Intel processors and a slick black color (though you need to spend more for it). Its sluggish SSD and lack of Type-C ports are my only knocks against this laptop. Still, the Surface Laptop 2 presents a beautifully clean vision for the PC, and this update allows it to keep up with our other favorite ultraportable laptops.
I love, love, love the Surface Laptop 2's lid, a fine piece of aluminum with tight corners and a chrome logo. The lid looks especially neat in our black test unit, though the Alcantara fabric-covered deck looks closer to gray, and I wish it were darker.
Microsoft doesn't give the black option to anyone buying the intro-level $999 Surface Laptop 2 (Core i5, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD), so you need to spend more on storage, with the black option starting with the $1,299 (Core i5, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD) version. The same goes for the Cobalt Blue and Burgundy models.
Unfortunately, only the platinum color is offered on the Core i7, 16GB of RAM, 1TB model, which seems ludicrous. On top of all that, Microsoft's selling a Blush Pink Surface Laptop that looks fantastic, but is only available in in China.
At 2.7 pounds and 0.6 inches thick, the Surface Laptop 2 is similar in size to the Dell XPS 13 9370 (2.7 pounds, 0.5 inches), lighter than the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro (3 pounds, 0.6 inches) and the Huawei MateBook X Pro (2.9 pounds, 0.6 inches), but heavier and thicker than the HP Spectre 13 (2.4 pounds, 0.4 inches).
Annoyingly, the Surface Laptop is stuck in the past when it comes to ports. On its left, you'll find a USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort (words that take me back to the mid-aughts) and a headphone jack.
Want to use a modern, reversible Type-C port? Microsoft has a $79.99 adapter cable to sell you, which you plug into its proprietary Surface Connector, on the right side of the laptop. This is disappointing, as the Matebook X Pro includes both Type-C and USB 3.0 Type-A ports, while the MacBook Pro, Spectre 13 and XPS 13 are all Type-C, with no Type-A ports.
One point for Microsoft, though, is that its Surface Connector power cable uses magnets to attach, similar to the MagSafe technology that Apple used to offer, and no longer does. This kind of port comes in handy if the cord is accidentally tugged on, and doesn't pull the laptop away with the cable onto the floor. This port isn't new -- it first arrived in the Surface Pro -- but it's still something that helps Microsoft's notebook stand out.
As I watched 4K nature videos on YouTube, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2's brilliant picture quality left my jaw on the floor. Water registered in an incredibly tranquil blue, a snake appeared in a vivid, eye-popping shade of green, and I saw an insane amount of detail in its eyes, thanks to the notebook's 2256 x 1504-pixel screen.
According to our colorimeter, the Surface Laptop 2 produces 176 percent of the sRGB spectrum, a rating that rockets past the 114 percent category average. The Surface Laptop 2's screen also beats the panels in the XPS 13 (117 percent), the MacBook Pro (119 percent), the Spectre 13 (111 percent) and the MateBook X Pro (124 percent).
The Surface Laptop 2's screen is also plenty bright, emitting up to 321 nits, which exceeds the 311 premium laptop average. We saw brighter displays in the 372-nit XPS 13, 439-nit MacBook Pro and 458-nit MateBook X Pro. Colors stayed bright, though, when viewed 45 degrees to the left.
Tapping, swiping and doodling on the Surface Laptop 2's touch screen is speedy and responsive. I saw barely any lag as I drew in Paint 3D, and TweetDeck columns scrolled smoothly. Edge-swipes from the left and right sides of the screen activated the timeline and control center, respectively, without lag.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2's keyboard offers a comfortable typing experience with cushy keys. Testing the Surface Laptop 2 out on the 10fastfingers typing test, I clicked my way to 78 words per minute, coming close to my 80 wpm average.
The Surface Laptop 2's keys offer 1.3 millimeters of vertical travel and require 69 grams of force to actuate. While the former is shy of the 1.5 to 2.0 millimeters we hope to find, the latter clears the 60-gram minimum we look for, and helps compensate for the shallowness of the keys.
The 4.1 x 2.7-inch glass touchpad in the Surface Laptop 2 offers excellent scrolling and input. Not only did it accurately register my clicks as I navigated the desktop, but it recognized Windows 10's three-finger app-switching gestures.
The Surface Laptop 2's speakers produce sound that I'd classify as "OK, but could be better." As I listened to my daily playlist -- ranging from Music City's "Pretty Feelings" to Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag" -- I kept wanting more warmth from the speakers, which sounded a touch too flat and cold. The speakers did better with the high end of the sound, giving detail to vocals and guitars, but they lacked that strength in the low-end on the bass lines.
Armed with an Intel 8th-Gen Core i5-8250U processor and 8GB of RAM, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 provides enough speed for serious multitasking. I didn't notice a single stutter as I split the screen between a 1080p YouTube video and more than 12 Chrome tabs (including Giphy, TweetDeck and the Google Doc for this review).
The 8th-Gen CPU brings the Surface Laptop 2 to parity with its competitors, enabling a score of 12,676 on the Geekbench 4 general performance benchmark, which is slightly above the 12,533 premium laptop average.
We saw slightly higher marks of 13,254 from the XPS 13 (Core i5-8250U with 8GB of RAM), 12,913 from the MateBook X Pro (Intel Core i7-8550U with 16GB of RAM) and 13,090 from the Spectre 13 (Core i7-8550U with 8GB of RAM). The MacBook Pro (8th-Gen Core i7 with 16GB of RAM) netted a much-higher 17,348.
The 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD in the Surface Laptop 2 duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 25 seconds, for a rate of 203 MBps. That's well-below the 484 MBps category average, which includes the curve-breaking speed of 2,519 MBps from the MacBook Pro (256GB NVMe SSD), as well as faster marks of 339 MBps from both the XPS 13 (256GB SSD) and the Spectre 13 (256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD) and 283 MBps from the MateBook X Pro (512GB NVMe PCIe SSD).
The Surface Laptop 2 completed our Excel VLOOKUP test (matching 60,000 names to addresses) in 1 minute and 15 seconds, coming in under the 1:28 category average, tying the XPS 13 (1:15) and finishing a hair shorter than the MacBook Pro (1:16). The MateBook X Pro (1:49) needed more time.
It took 17 minutes and 30 seconds for the Surface Laptop 2 to complete our Handbrake video test, which converts a 4K video to 1080p. That's shorter than the 20:06 category average, the 18:17 from the XPS 13 and the 27:18 from the MateBook X Pro. The MacBook Pro (14:47) was faster
The integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 chip in the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 pushed it to a 71,647 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test. That's below our 90,387 premium notebook average, which also contains scores from laptops with discrete graphics, such as the 2GB Nvidia MX150-based MateBook X Pro (116,359). The XPS 13 (77,584) and the Spectre 13 (75,114) got similar scores to the Surface Laptop 2, as both pack the same Intel UHD Graphics 620 chip.
The Surface Laptop 2 fared well on the Dirt 3 racing game, running the modestly demanding racer at a brisk 82 frames per second, which is higher than the 77 fps premium laptop average. We saw lower (but still playable) speeds from the XPS 13 (57 fps), the MacBook Pro (47 fps) and the Spectre 13 (57 fps). The MateBook X Pro (117 fps) ran the game at an even smoother pace.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 lasts long enough that you won't worry about battery life every time you unplug to leave the house. The notebook lasted 9 hours and 22 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web surfing at 150 nits), which is more than an hour above the 8:14 premium laptop average, and slightly above the 8:43 time from the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The MateBook X Pro (9:55) and the XPS 13 (11:59) lasted longer, and the Spectre 13 (5:16) posted an unfortunately short time.
The 0.9 megapixel webcam in the Surface Laptop 2 is decent.
Sure, it captured accurate tones in my face and shirt, but there's a grainy pixelation throughout the image and the natural light from the window behind me is blown out, even though there's a window shade in front of it.
The Surface Laptop 2 gets a little warm down under. After we streamed 15 minutes of HD video on it, the laptop's underside got as warm as 100 degrees Fahrenheit, exceeding our 95-degree comfort threshold. Its touchpad (85 degrees) and keyboard (90 degrees) stay cool.
Microsoft's vision of Windows, as seen on the Surface Laptop 2, feels a little like Google's vision of Android on the Pixel 3, as in there's nothing extra junking up this notebook. The Start Menu has its usual entries for freeware apps and games, such as Hidden City: Hidden Object Adventure, but that's not considered bloatware by Microsoft's standards.
How Much Does the Surface Laptop 2 Cost? Configuration Options
The Surface Laptop 2's $999 starting price isn't shabby, but it's lacking on storage. At that price, you get only a 128GB SSD (in addition to a Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM). Want the room to flex you get in a 256GB drive? You'll need to spend $1,299, and you'll get no other perks for that $300, aside from more color options.
The Spectre 13 starts at 256GB with its $1,149 model, and you can upgrade to 512GB with the $1,269 model. The XPS 13 includes a 256GB SSD at its $1,079 config, and Dell prices the 256GB to 512GB upgrade option at $150, but that only becomes available for its $1,309 model.
MORE: Best Hard Drive Speed
While Apple's 8th-Gen Core i5 MacBook Pro starts at a higher $1,799, an upgrade to its 512GB SSD upgrade (from 256GB) costs $200, which is $100 less than what Microsoft charges. The Matebook X Pro provides 256GB of storage in its intro-level $1,199 model.
Sleek and speedy with a stunning screen, the Surface Laptop 2 continues Microsoft's tradition of hardware excellence. If only its port selection were stronger, its storage more affordable and Microsoft didn't place its black colorway at a pricier tier.
For a proper set of ports -- that won't send you looking for adapters -- plus more battery life, check out the $1,199 Huawei Matebook X Pro, which offers the same storage for $100 less. Even more battery life can be found with the Dell XPS 13, though it's missing USB 3.0 Type-A ports. If you want to experience Microsoft's pure vision of what a laptop should be, though, the Surface Laptop 2 is an excellent option.
Credit: Laptop Mag