Laptop Mag Verdict
Microsoft's Surface Laptop 4 (13-inch) brings faster performance and longer battery life to an already excellent ultra-thin laptop.
Sleek aluminum chassis (in various colors)
Bright and vivid display
Long battery life
Excellent keyboard and touchpad
Few ports (No Thunderbolt)
Top configs get pricey
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Price: $999 (starting); $1,699 (as reviewed)
CPU: Intel Core i7-1185G7
GPU: Iris Xe
Display: 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504-pixel
Size: 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 2.8 pounds
Microsoft and Apple are trading punches, and this year it's all about performance and battery life. The Surface Laptop 4 may not have received the same internal transformation as the MacBook Air with M1, but the latest 11th Gen Intel chips bring faster speeds and significantly longer battery life to what was already one of the best laptops.
Not much else has changed, and that is mostly for the better. The sleek minimalist aluminum chassis remains but now in a lighter shade of blue while the 13.5-inch display is as gorgeous as ever, and the keyboard and touchpad are at the top of their class.
Without any major functional design changes, the Surface Laptop 4 stubbles over the same pitfalls as its predecessor, with the lack of ports and thick bezels being our biggest gripes. If you can overlook those quibbles, and have a big enough budget for some of the top configs, then it doesn't get much better for Windows 10 users than the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 4.
Surface Laptop 4 price and configurations
Available in AMD and Intel versions, the Surface Laptop 4 starts at $999 when configured with an AMD Ryzen 4680U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Upgrading to 16GB of storage raises the price to $1,199. Unfortunately, these two models are only available in Platinum.
For more color options, you'll need to opt for Intel CPUs. Available in Platinum, Sandstone, Ice Blue and Matte Black is a config with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for $1,299. For $1,499, you can get the same processor but double the RAM to 16GB.
For the most power, you can get our review unit with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD costs $1,699. Doubling the RAM to 32GB and storage to 1TB raises the price to $2,299.
Surface Laptop 4 design
The Surface Laptop 4 is every bit as elegant as the MacBook Air and unique color options give it a wider appeal.
Our Ice Blue model has a metallic sheen with a subtle arctic tint and a reflective Microsoft logo stamped on the lid. The top panel and frame are made of aluminum while the deck is coated in a soft-touch Alcantara fabric. The supple material is resistant to stains, but if you're not convinced, consider the stealthy Matte Black or stunning Sandstone options which trade the fabric deck for an all-aluminum chassis.
Microsoft didn't make any changes to this latest model. That's both good and bad. While this design is one of the most refined, the Surface Laptop 4 is lacking some modern amenities. More specifically, the bezels surrounding the 13.5-inch display are thicker than those on rival PCs, like the Dell XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360. A trim would go a long way to making the Surface Laptop 4 as eye-catching with the lid open as it is when it's closed.
I say that because the Laptop 4 has a sleek, low-profile footprint (not unlike the MacBook Air) with attractive angles like the beveled edge on the rear. At 0.6 inches and 2.8 pounds, the Surface Laptop 4 is as thin and lightweight as the XPS 13 (0.6 pounds, 2.8 pounds), the MacBook Air (0.6 inches, 2.8 pounds) and understandably more portable than the HP Spectre x360 14 (0.7 inches, 3 pounds).
There are some smart design choices here, but you need to look closely. To make the laptop easier to open, Microsoft made the lid just barely overlap the deck so you can pry your finger underneath. When you open the lid, the deck stays firmly in place — no need to use your other hand to keep it from lifting. And while this is strictly aesthetic, I love the color-matched keys which look more natural than the black keyboard on the MacBook.
Unlike the 15-inch model, the 13-inch Surface Laptop 4 doesn't have an easily replaceable storage slot. Then again, the larger model only gets half credit because replacing the M.2 SSD yourself voids the warranty.
Surface Laptop 4 security
Microsoft is no fan of passwords, so it equipped the Surface Laptop 4 with an IR camera. This way, you can sign into the system using facial recognition via Windows Hello.
It works quickly and reliably (most of the time), still, I wish there was a fingerprint sensor as a backup. The feature won't work past a layer of Scotch tape and there is no webcam cover for those worried about prying eyes. Also, the IR camera didn't have a 100% success rate in my testing, so I was forced to remember and type out my password.
Hidden beneath the hood is a TPM 2.0 chip, a security feature that ensures all data coming to and from the Surface Laptop 4 is encrypted.
Surface Laptop 4 ports
The sparse port selection is more understandable on the 13-inch model, but this still isn't a good look for the Surface Laptop 4.
The lone input on the right side is a priority Surface Connect port used for magnetic charging and docking.
Surface Laptop 4 display
Gorgeous tones of red and blue popped off the screen as the light shone through a majestic stain-glass window during the church seen in the trailer for "Spiral." The movie effectively uses lighting to create terrifying atmospheres, and the Surface Laptop 4 was an excellent canvas for these effects. Moreover, I could easily read "Play Me" eerily written in red ink across a filthy USB drive before Chris Rock inserts it into his computer. The level of detail in the pig's head that briefly flashes on the screen during a creepy subway tunnel scene almost made me jump out of my seat.
The Surface Laptop 4 is not a 2-in-1 laptop — for that, see the Surface Pro 7 or Surface Book 3 — but it does have a touchscreen. When I wasn't using the touchpad, the touchscreen let me tap on icons and scroll down with my fingers as I read.
According to our colorimeter, the Surface Laptop 4's display covers 77% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, making it more vivid than the panels on the XPS 13 (69%) and Spectre x360 14 (75%) but not as saturated as those on the MacBook Air (81%) or the average premium laptop (85%).
It landed toward the bottom of the pack in our brightness test, but not by a wide margin. Peaking at 349 nits, the Surface Laptop 4 was outshone by the XPS 13 (469 nits), MacBook Air (366 nits) and the Spectre (365 nits), and it couldn't hit the category average (392 nits).
Surface Laptop 4 keyboard and touchpad
It's like a trampoline for my fingers. I bounced from letter to letter while I typed this review on the Surface Laptop 4. The springy actuation made typing effortless and the key travel was more than I expected from such a thin laptop.
Keyboard flex is usually a big no-no, but not in this case as I find it helps with the up-and-down motion your fingers make when you type. The keys themselves are just big enough for most hands (those with larger paws may find it cramped) and the layout doesn't sacrifice any keys for the sake of minimizing the laptop's footprint.
I typed at 121 words per minute with an accuracy of 95% on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, outpacing my usual 109-wpm average without making any additional errors.
The touchpad is equally successful. Large, silky and responsive to Windows 10 gestures, like three-finger swipes to switch windows or pinch-to-zoom, the 4.5 x 3-inch surface is a pleasure to use, and even the left- and right-clickers feel snappy.
Surface Laptop 4 audio
The Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Atmos hidden beneath the keyboard are a mystery to me. How did Microsoft even fit them there and how could they possibly sound this good? I stupidly blurted "These sound so good!" like a giddy child after playing Billie Eilish's "hostage."
The beautiful ballad had a concert-like airiness that let Billie Eilish's hushed, yet powerful vocals dominate the soundscape as the stripped-back instruments were properly separated so you could hear each guitar twang. When I played "all the good girls go to hell," a more aggressive up-tempo track, the bass had a head-bobbing thud even though it struggled to drop very low. Blasting the track at 100% volume, the Surface Laptop 4 easily filled my apartment and never distorted — in fact, it sounded just as good as it did at lower volumes.
Surface Laptop 4 performance
Armed with an Intel Core i7-1185G7 CPU and 16GB of RAM, the Surface Laptop 4 is a speedy notebook capable of running all but the most intensive tasks. And while it might not reach MacBook Air with M1 levels, this model is a solid upgrade over its predecessor, a laptop we had already praised for its fast performance.
In the spirit of using a Microsoft product, I fired up the new Edge browser and loaded 25 tabs, some of which played YouTube videos while others streamed Europa League games and Twitch feeds. The last few tabs took a split longer to load but that was to be expected. I didn't experience any slowdown during ordinary use, when I was writing this review, editing articles, and listening to music on YouTube Music.
With a score of 4,829 on the Geekbench 5.4 overall performance benchmark, the Surface Laptop fell inches short of the XPS 13 (5,319, Core i7-1165G7) and the Spectre x360 14 (4,904, Core i7-1165G7) and was walloped (as most are) by the MacBook Air (7,575, M1). On a good note, the Surface did beat the category average (4,368).
Needing 17 minutes and 1 second to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution using the Handbrake app, the Surface Laptop 4 outpaced the XPS 13 (18:22) and the Spectre x360 14 (17:02) but once again fell victim to the M1 in the MacBook Air (9:15). This time, the category average (16:17) got the better of the Surface.
The 512GB M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD in the Surface Laptop 4 is quicker than the storage drives we've tested in previous Surface products. Still, it duplicated 25GB of multimedia files at a rate of 562.7 megabytes per second, putting it in last place against the XPS 13 (729.3 MBps), the Spectre x360 14 (764 MBps) and the MacBook Air (2,692.9 MBps). Unsurprisingly, it couldn't reach the category average (630.5 MBps).
Surface Laptop 4 graphics
No surprise here, the Surface Laptop 4 relies on Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics for playing games or powering 3D modeling software. This will do fine for most applications, but if you need more graphics oomph, consider a proper gaming laptop with a discrete GPU.
The Surface Laptop 4 surprised us by running Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gather Storm (1080p) at 30 frames per second, matching our gaming threshold. That tops the XPS 13 (16 fps), the Spectre x360 14 (20 fps) and the category average (20 fps).
On the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark, the Laptop 4 netted a 5,089 which once again crushes the competition, pushing past the XPS 13 (3,598), the Spectre x360 14 (4,229) and the category average (4,756).
Surface Laptop 4 battery life
Adding 1.5 hours of battery life on top of the solid runtimes of its predecessor, the Surface Laptop 4 can easily last a full day on one charge. The laptop powered down after 10 hours and 46 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test which consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits.
That is an excellent result even if it doesn't match competing models like the XPS 13 (11:07), MacBook Air (14:41) and the Spectre x360 14 (12:11). Those are some of the longest-lasting laptops on the market, so winning this battle was always going to be tough. The Surface does, however, push past the 10:19 premium laptop average.
Surface Laptop 4 webcam
The 720p webcam on the Surface Laptop 4 is a considerable step down from the 5MP snapper on the Surface Pro X. Photos are a step above what we're used to seeing but still nowhere near the quality you get from any modern smartphone or an external webcam like the Logitech C920.
I snapped an image of myself with the camera and immediately noticed how smudgy my beard looked, as though it were one mangled nest instead of individual strands of hair. Moreover, there was a thin layer of visual noise on the darker corners of the photo. Those downfalls are somewhat made up for by good color accuracy; my rosy complexion was properly captured and I could even see the pink hue of my wife's cycling helmet in the back corner of the image.
Surface Laptop 4 heat
Cool as a cucumber with ranch dip, the Surface Laptop 4 peaked at only 93 degrees Fahrenheit after we played a 15-minute, 1080p video. That is comfortably below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
The keyboard and touchpad remained at a temperate 86 and 80 degrees, respectively, so don't worry about burning yourself as you put the Surface Laptop 4 under a heavy workload.
Surface Laptop 4 software and warranty
Smell that? That's the scent of pure Windows 10. Without any bloatware, the Start Menu is primarily occupied by Microsoft 365 apps, Xbox apps, the Edge browser, Groove Music, and, for whatever reason, Spotify.
A refresh of the previous model, the Surface Laptop 4 brings minor improvements to what was already one of the best 13-inch laptops. It's thin, lightweight and powerful, and the battery should easily last you through a day. Better yet, the 13.5-inch PixelSense display is both gorgeous and practical, and the keyboard and touchpad are as good as they get in the ultra-thin class of laptops.
As I heap praise upon the Surface Laptop 4, I find myself wanting more. As gorgeous as is it, the thick bezels around the display prevent this laptop from being on the cutting-edge of design. Just look at the XPS 13 or Spectre x360 14 and you'll see what I mean. Even more of a reason to avoid the Surface Laptop 4 are its limited ports; it lacks a Thunderbolt input and requires a proprietary charger. Then there is the price. The $999 starting sounds great in marketing material but you will pay closer to $1,500 for a decent config (we recommend 16GB of RAM).
Despite those complaints, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Surface Laptop 4. Everything about it just works, from the keyboard to the speakers and the beautiful display. It's fast, it lasts a long time on a charge, and it feels sturdy. I'm still hoping the next version gets a redesign to avoid looking outdated against its peers, but those aesthetic shortcomings are easily ignored because of how well the Surface nails the functional elements.
Phillip Tracy is the assistant managing editor at Laptop Mag where he reviews laptops, phones and other gadgets while covering the latest industry news. After graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Phillip became a tech reporter at the Daily Dot. There, he wrote reviews for a range of gadgets and covered everything from social media trends to cybersecurity. Prior to that, he wrote for RCR Wireless News covering 5G and IoT. When he's not tinkering with devices, you can find Phillip playing video games, reading, traveling or watching soccer.