The Surface line of products is fascinating because it was created to fight a threat that mainly didn’t materialize. Granted, that may have been because Surface showed up, but the iPad threat it was designed to fight pretty much petered out early last decade.
The iPad is getting stronger, but so is Surface, and without a good Enterprise Sales channel, I don’t see the iPad becoming the threat it could have been any time soon.
My favorite Surface product isn’t the technology-forward Surface Book; I think that product is cool in terms of tech, and it does have decent performance, but the Surface Notebook, ever since it launched, has been more ideal for how I work which, given its initial target was education, not business, is interesting.
The newest Surface offering is the 4th generation Surface laptop, and I just got in the AMD Ryzen 7 version for evaluation; these are my impressions.
You can get the 4th generation Surface Notebook in several colors and either a 13.3” screen or 15” and either AMD or Intel processors. The choice for me was far easier than it once was.
I used to favor 13.3” laptops back when I felt it was safe to travel on planes, but honestly, even a 13.3” laptop in coach is uncomfortable to work on when I’m flying, and when I get to my destination, the overly small screen annoys me.
With the pandemic, I’m not flying, and as long as reports are still coming in with multiple infections from plane trips, I’m good with not flying. But even if I were flying, given how tight coach seats are, I’d probably still prefer the screen real estate of a 15” product over a 13.3” product now. Now Intel vs. AMD is a tad harder choice.
It used to be that AMD was great on a bargain laptop, and Intel was better on a higher-end product where you wanted more battery life. Now the two are close to each other, and the AMD product has better battery life. Oh, and the choice may have more to do with availability given the chip shortage than performance.
Besides, design-forward products like Surface are typically not performance powerhouses; they favor looks and battery life instead. While this will play computer games, it is not a gaming rig by any stretch of the imagination. One other interesting thing is that the 11th generation Intel processor is pretty generic.
In contrast, the AMD processor in this product carries a unique “Surface Edition” tag suggesting it was uniquely tuned for this laptop. Also, it has eight cores suggesting it should scream at muti-tasking. (As a side note, one of the things that differentiate AMD from Intel at the moment is their practice of customizing processors for individual OEMs. For a product from Microsoft running Windows, that should make for a significant difference).
I’ve gotten so used to gaming with a desktop PC and huge monitors. I find I don’t even like gaming on a laptop anymore, but if you need that performance, you’d likely prefer a more gaming-focused product, and Surface doesn’t yet have one of those in their line.
My color choice: I got black, which remains my favorite laptop color, and pictures don’t do this product justice. It looks fantastic in person, like a piece of metal art.
The flat black finish is set off by the glossy Microsoft logo nicely, and the product has very clean lines. Given it was designed to compete with Apple, it shows better, and you do seem to get more for the money with this product. Apple’s heavy margin focus tends to result in paying more and getting less.
I’ve never been a fan of Apple products and typically find them massively overpriced for what they are. Current Apple offerings have minimal ports, no touch screen (which is addictive), and application support with an emulator or VM can at times be iffy. But I do admit that their latest ARM offerings did turn out far better than I thought.
Then again, we primarily use these things for Office, and email and Apple products are OK with that as well. I do sweat their store as they seem to be at war with a number of their app vendors at any one time and will arbitrarily block applications that are either perceived as competitive or don’t want to pay the Apple Tax. For instance, good luck playing Fortnite on an Apple product at the moment.
Moving to a new notebook has sure improved over the years now. You enter your Microsoft credentials, and much of your stuff shows up on the new laptop. It still takes around 30 minutes, but most of that is system updates and installing the apps you have. It still mostly pulls from the Microsoft store for this, which means that apps like Steam still have to load manually, thanks to fast internet speeds that takes minutes and not hours now. I still recall when it used to take me nearly a week to get a new PC where I wanted it to be and the progress Microsoft has made over the decades is undoubtedly evident.
As you would expect, Windows Hello facial recognition works out of the box and, this time, it even set it up during the setup process. I didn’t have to go into settings and do it. Battery life is listed at 17.5 hours max, which typically means you’ll get over 10 hours of mixed-use. Right now, I’m seldom away from a plug.
The 15” Pixelsense display is unique to Surface and one of the best-looking displays in the market, and as with the processor, tuned for Windows. And given we are increasingly using these things for entertainment, the Dolby Atmos sound system is more than decent for a laptop. But you’ll probably use headphones most of the time if you don’t want the other members of your work from household throwing things at you.
Sockets are limited to one full USB-A port, one USB-C port, a headphone jack, and the magnetic and unique Microsoft power port. This last is interesting because the one, and I mean only, thing I liked in the old Apple laptops was the magnetic charging port that kept your laptop from becoming airborne if anyone tripped over the power cord.
Now Microsoft has it, and Apple doesn’t. Go figure. Back on ports, one other unique thing that Surface products have is a charging USB port in the power supply which is handy if you want to keep your phone charged as well on a plane or don’t want to carry a separate charger for your Smartphone.
Surface products, like Apple products, are design-forward, which means they live or die on their looks, not their performance. The 15” AMD Surface Laptop is arguably laptop art; in person, it is one of the prettiest products I’ve ever carried. I’ve had no issues with performance; the Pixel Sense screen is arguably one of the best-looking notebooks I’ve ever carried, and it reminds me a lot of some of the old Dell Adamo designs from decades ago, which were just beautiful.
I think it looks best in black, but the light blue and silver are worth taking a look at as they’ll likely show less dirt (it resists fingerprints, but black does show dust).
The Surface Laptop 4 remains my favorite product in the Surface line; yes, it doesn’t have as much cool stuff as the Surface Book, but it is far more affordable, and I think it looks far sleeker as well. Prices start at $1,299.99 for 8GB of memory and a 256GB drive and go up to my preferred configuration of 16GB (if you open as many tabs as I do, you’ll appreciate the memory) a 512GB drive for $1,699.99, the Intel version of this is $100 more making the AMD top-end configuration a bit of a bargain. (I like bargains)
Yes, I’m a sucker for a pretty face, or in this case, a beautiful laptop.