Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: a laptop unlike any other

The second-gen Surface Laptop Studio shows Microsoft is still willing to experiment with unique kit – and it sure is special

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The Surface Laptop Studio 2 is a bloomin’ lovely laptop that's not exactly like anything else out there (bar its predecessor). It isn’t half pricey, though, and when the processor and display tech aren’t quite cutting-edge, and its most distinctive hybrid position isn’t all that useful for design work, it's going to be a tough sell for many. But for those in this niche territory it's certainly a pleaser.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Unusual hinge design

  • +

    Quality keyboard and touchpad

  • +

    Clever and quiet cooling system

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Screen resolution could be higher, colour depth better

  • -

    Uses 13th Gen CPUs, not the latest Intel Ultra kind

  • -

    Falls short of all-day battery life

  • -

    Highly expensive

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The Surface Laptop Studio 2 is Microsoft’s latest laptop for designers and content creators. It looks great, feels top-tier and is a joy to work on. 

Those content creators in Microsoft’s sights had better come with a host of followers and an advertising deal, though. The Surface Laptop Studio 2 costs a fortune if you want a spec ideal for jobs like video editing, and even then the battery life doesn’t get remotely close to that of the MacBook Pro 16 equivalent. 

What makes the Surface Laptop 2 so designer-y? Like the original model, the sequel has a hinge that folds forwards, letting you position it a bit like a drawing board, or a 16-inch graphics tablet. It's certainly a stunning laptop, though will it be the best laptop for many people? No – but it's its niche nature that'll be so appealing to a select audience.

Surface Laptop Studio 2: Price & Availability

So then Surface Laptop 2. I'd love to own one, you’d probably love one too. But could – or, indeed, should – we buy one? That’s less certain. 

It starts at £1,799 / $1,899 / AU$3,343 before any online discounts, but this review model is worth a cool £3,369 ($3,200 in the USA equivalent or AU$5,729.00 in Australia). 

Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Design

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

At first glance the Surface Laptop Studio 2 appears a dead ringer for a MacBook Pro. There are endless fields of anodised aluminium, a pleasantly minimal look when you sit back with the laptop out in front of you, ready for work. 

And, unlike most of the rest of the Surface laptop range, the Studio uses aluminium rather than a magnesium-aluminium alloy because ultra-low weight is less crucial when making a workstation like this. Aluminium feels instantly metallic, with a certain cool-to-the-touch sense missing from the average magnesium PC.

Start playing around and you realise the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is nothing like a MacBook, though. A light prod at the top of the screen lets you tilt the lower part forwards, to rest with its bottom sitting just above the touchpad. 

Or you can go further and make display rest flat, above the keyboard. Just like the original, this is a hybrid of a different kind that hasn’t quite been replicated like-for-like elsewhere. 

That said, Acer’s ConceptD series took this concept even further back in 2021. Its screen can rest confidently in more positions, making it arguably better as a designer’s surface. Here, aside from the usual tilting back you can do with any laptop, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 only feels right in those two additional positions – screen just above the touchpad, screen sitting flat, tablet-style. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

One of my big beefs with the first Surface Laptop Studio is there was no slight upward tilt mode for draughtsman-style all-day stylus work. And that hasn’t changed, even though at first glance you might assume that’s the whole point of the Laptop Studio – as it is in the Surface Studio all-in-one PC. Here the tilted arrangement is more for media consumption. 

Its sheer presence is pretty impressive, though. All that metal, and with rigid panels throughout, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 earns its place at the top of the already impressive Surface laptop line-up.

The cooling system is a lot more forgiving than the performance laptop norm too, as there’s nothing to block on the bottom. Instead, big ‘ole intake and outlet grilles sit on each side, forming a sort of river of air that runs through the entire inside. It’s good news if you like working with a laptop in bed, or on your knees, which can often choke up the cooling of these performance PCs.  

At 2kg, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 likes to be home-bound most of the time, but you can tell it’s not meant to be sat static at a desk its entire life. 

Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Display

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

There’s very little progress in the Surface Laptop Studio 2's basic design. And maybe that’s fine. The lack of progress in the display tech may grate for some, though, given how much this thing costs. 

But before I start complaining: the Surface Laptop Studio 2 screen looks great, and is better than the displays of 90% of the laptops I review.  

So what's the beef? The Surface Laptop Studio 2 uses a fairly conventional IPS-style LCD panel. It’s not an OLED, seen in loads of Windows laptops these days, and it doesn’t use Mini-LED like the top-tier MacBooks. 

Mini-LED screens in laptops have many clusters of backlight LEDs that are operated independently, to improve contrast. Not so here, which leaves the contrast pretty low. The best I recorded was 1619:1. That’s great for a standard LCD panel, but does mean you can expect its blacks to look pretty grey in a darkened room. 

Similarly, colour depth lags behind a lot of laptops, including the MacBook Pro 16. For the screen nerds out there, I recorded full coverage of the sRGB standard, 79.8% of Adobe RGB and 88.5% of the DCI P3 standard a lot of top-tier phones and laptops aim to fulfil. 

While it feels odd to complain about a laptop just falling slightly short of true wide colour gamut coverage, especially when accuracy is excellent, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is meant to be a designer-friendly laptop. And it costs a lot. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

The highest brightness I saw was 518 nits. Again, while this is excellent for general purpose laptop use, and much more than most will need day-to-day, it’s far off the MacBook Pro 16’s 1600-nit peak. That’ll burn through the battery quick-smart, but if you want to master HDR video for YouTube, maybe you want that sort of power. 

The Surface Laptop Studio 2 does not set any new technical standards, but it is still lovely to look at. Like other Surface models, it’s a tall 3:2 aspect display that feels larger than its 14.4-inches when you work as a result of that shape. 

It has 2400 x 1600 pixel to its name. That’s enough to look smooth, but the pixel density could arguably be a touch higher than its 200ppi. Especially at this price. Pixellation is evident if you go looking for it. 

In classic stingy Microsoft fashion, the stylus is not included. It costs extra on its own, so factor another three digits into your purchase.

I used the Microsoft Slim Pen 2, which locks onto magnets in the lip below the front of the keyboard to charge. It feels good, and has a clicker up top that can be used to load an app you choose. Unlike some dedicated graphics tablets, the glossy screen doesn’t have the “tooth” of a textured screen surface to provide that truly pencil-on-paper like feel. But this is still going to be a great combo for digital art and the like. 

Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Keyboard & touchpad

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

Just like Huawei and Dell, Microsoft has spent the last couple of years fiddling around with haptic touchpads after Apple made the move to the tech in 2015. The Surface Laptop Studio 2 has one of these haptic pads.

Classic touchpads are hinged and actually move under your finger pressure, onto a clicker. Haptic pads don’t move significantly, and instead replicate the same sensation using a haptic/vibration motor. Apple pulled this off pretty well from day one. Everyone else? Not so much. But the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is at the level where I’m not left wishing we were back in the land of the mechanical pad. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

However, for anything approaching a satisfyingly sturdy click, head straight to the settings menu and max out the haptic feedback. Like most of these pads, the default setting is extremely light and feels flat-out wrong to my finger. 

Everything else is grand. The pad is large, and is made of textured glass, just as you’d hope from a pricey laptop. 

The keyboard is strong too. Key travel is a little more substantial than that of Apple’s MacBook keyboard, and there’s a good amount of tactile feedback at the actuation point. Sure, it’s not quite at the level of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 keyboard in terms of sheer meatiness, but it compares well with Apple’s design, which plenty of folks love. As you’d expect there’s a backlight behind these keys. 

Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Performance

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Surface Laptop Studio 2 nets you a 13th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD in its entry-level configuration. 

In classic Microsoft tardy fashion, this laptop arrived just before Intel announced its newer Core Ultra 7 155H CPU. It has a standard 13th Gen performance series processor instead. And, also classic Microsoft, the price can quickly head off into the stratosphere when you upgrade some of the specs. 

My review Surface Laptop Studio 2 is the top-end model, with an Nvidia RTX 4060 graphics card, 1TB SSD and absolutely loads of RAM, 64GB of the stuff. While it’s hard to find a mainstream laptop with that much RAM, you can get roundly comparable raw performance from a Lenovo LOQ 16 or HP Omen 16... both of which are far cheaper.

Thinking comparing to a budget line is cheating? Sure, then how about the Dell XPS 15, which when specced up with 64GB RAM and an arguably more advanced 4K OLED screen costs less than a maxed-out Surface Laptop Studio 2.

The sheer spend factor here is real. But it does at least result in a fantastic all-round productivity experience. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

Microsoft's machine can handle gaming too. Thanks to the frame generation feature of the Nvidia RTX 4060 I was able to play Cyberpunk 2077 using a taxing Ray Tracing mode without it becoming a judder-fest. 

However, buying the Surface Laptop Studio 2 as a stylish gaming PC is a very silly thing to do. 

For starters, its RTX 4060 graphics card is only able to draw 80W of power. This series is rated for up to 115W, where some dedicated gaming laptops push this up to 140W by nicking some power that would otherwise be used by the CPU. With this sort of money to spend you’d be able to get a laptop with an Nvidia RTX 4090 and 2.4x the gaming power anyway. But even for its spec, it’s not a top performer. 

On the more positive side, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is remarkably quiet for a laptop of its power. As noted earlier, the cooling system relies on pulling air in, and firing it out of, the sides of the laptop. While the fan tone is a higher pitch than that of a hulking great big gaming PC, it can be drowned out by the slightest bit of ambient noise. 

Thanks to some recent home DIY efforts, my fridge is currently in the living room. And its occasional refrigeration whir is louder than the Surface Laptop Studio 2’s fans. 

This laptop's speakers can blare over the fan noise without even trying too as, much like the MacBook Pro 16’s, they are quite brilliant. The sound is wide, loud, full and (for a laptop) bassy. 

Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Features & battery life

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

Connections are quite sparse for a serious workstation style PC, but there is at least more than is found in a MacBook. The Surface Laptop Studio 2 has two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 connectors, a single old-school USB-A, a microSD slot, and a Surface Connect port, which you use the plug in the magnetic power adapter. 

It’s neat to see a laptop that appears to use pretty much the entire power output of its 147W power supply when maxed out, and the cable will fall out on snagging rather than pulling the Studio off a table. 

Given this laptop is made for creative types, a full-size SD card slot might have been more useful than a microSD one. However, I have more of an issue with the battery life, or at least how Microsoft doesn’t really let you make the most of it. 

The Surface Laptop Studio 2 lasts 7 hours and 45 minutes when streaming video off YouTube, or 7 hours and 18 minutes when doing light work. This is miles off the 19 hours Microsoft claims, and you can expect hours of use in the teens of hours with a MacBook Pro. 

However, part of the problem here is the Surface Laptop Studio 2 will typically use the Nvidia RTX 4060 graphics card’s power for hardware acceleration a lot of the time. And there’s no particularly user-friendly way to disable it. 

I used a benchmark tool that can shut out of the dedicated GPU, and found the Surface Laptop Studio 2 can then last up to 10 hours and 45 minutes during light work. That’s a massive improvement, but there’s no particularly easy or convenient way to effectively turn off the Nvidia RTX 4060 graphics card when it’s not needed. 

Still, it’s good news for those who buy the entry-level Surface Laptop Studio 2 without a dedicated graphics card, as it should be able to last a full day of light work without issue. 

Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Verdict

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 looks conventional on the surface but is a bit of a one-off. Or at least a two-off, considering how similar it is to the original Surface Laptop Studio.

Touchscreen and stylus support, and the highly unusual hybrid hinge, mark it out as an obvious pick for creatives. But the design doesn’t actually explore these avenues quite as well as the original Surface Studio 2+ all-in-one PC from 2022 (outdated) or the Acer ConceptD (also outdated).

However, cost is the main potential stumbling block here. Lovely at it is, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is very expensive for a laptop not quite at the bleeding edge of performance in terms of display colour/contrast or raw computing power. 

But for the niche market it appeals to, it's undeniably a bloomin’ lovely laptop that's unlike anything else out there.

Also consider

The most compelling alternatives to the Surface Laptop Studio 2 in design terms are now a bit out of date. There’s the Acer ConceptD range, which hasn’t been updated in a couple of years and therefore uses aged components. 

Or if you came here expecting that drawing board style effect, you’re better off with Microsoft’s Surface Studio 2+ PC. But, again, it’s a bit old at this point, even though you can buy it new still. 

And if you like the idea of the stylus feature but aren’t wedded to the whole design ethos here, there are plenty of hybrid alternatives. Key top-tier rivals include the HP Spectre X360, Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Pro 360 and LG Gram 2-in-1. They aren’t as powerful as the Studio, though. Despite all the criticisms in this review, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 really is a bit special.