Surface Laptop Studio 2: Bends in all the right places

9/10

Summary

Surface Laptop Studio 2

PAT PILCHER reviews a revamped iteration of a very crafty and power-packed super-duper laptop for creatives.

From $3343

A wise man once said, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. This definitely applies to Microsoft’s second version of the Laptop Studio. The first version was excellent, thanks to its clever and well-executed design. Now, Version 2 is here, and while its overall design remains unchanged (but not identical), the second version is largely focused on delivering a decent spec bump and some subtle (but welcome) design refinements.

 


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While a largely unchanged design is usually good reason for a less-than-positive review, the Laptop Studio 2’s design similarity is more of an endorsement that the folks at Redmond got the original version right.

When unboxing the Laptop Studio 2, I noticed that it now has a slinky aluminium chassis. This translates into less heft and more portability (even if it is slightly heavier than most 14″ laptops). It also has a reassuringly solid feel as it does its party trick and converts into a largeish touch screen/tablet with little in the way of flexing or creaking.

Opening up the Surface Studio 2, it resembles a fairly ordinary laptop. Its 14.4″ display has a super crisp 2,400-by-1,600 resolution. It’s touch-capable with on-screen content looking buttery smooth thanks to a 120Hz refresh rate. Using one of the five meat sticks attached to my hand to select, click, and so on feels super intuitive. For designers, artists, etc, it really is the business.

A clever screen hinge design allows you to pull its screen toward you and extend it over the keyboard,  enabling it to rest its bottom edge next to the touchpad, where everything is held in place with strong magnets. The net result is an easel mode, or what Microsoft calls Stage Mode. This mode makes sense for doodling with the Surface Pen and is also perfect for watching videos.

Its touchpad remains exposed and usable, which I found handy for driving paint. The touchpad also has clever haptics baked in. This meant that its tactile feedback when I clicked felt super realistic, and there was one less set of mechanical controls to wear out. When in use, it felt both responsive and accurate.

The Surface Slim Pen 2 magnetically attaches to the underside of the Surface Laptop Studio’s front. While this is out of the way, I’d have preferred a proper slot or stowage hole built into the Surface Laptop Studio so the pen never got knocked off or lost amidst laptop bag clutter. That said, magnetically attaching the Surface Pen also charges it. The biggest annoyance with the Surface Slim Pen 2 is that it isn’t bundled with the Surface Laptop Studio. Given the premium price the Surface Laptop Studio commands, this strikes me as being more than a little stingy. The pen also figures prominently in the Surface Laptop’s creative capabilities, as you can pull the screen past the midway point and lay it on the deck, transforming the laptop into a Windows tablet, making drawing, sketching, and scribbling notes with the pen far more natural. Why didn’t Microsoft bundle it and charge a few more bucks because of its central role in the creative aspect of the Surface Laptop 2’s design?

The Surface Studio 2 mightn’t be the first laptop capable of transforming into a tablet that I’ve reviewed. Still, its easel mode and solid construction/build quality mean it is one of the better convertible laptops I’ve tested.

Aside from its clever hinge design and alloy body, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 comes with all the pleasantries you’d expect from an MS Surface device. These include its scrabble-tile style keyboard, which provides limited tactile feedback and has plenty of travel. Like other Surface lappies, the keys feel right, not too small or cramped.

Another plus is that as well as adding haptic smarts to the touchpad, Microsoft has also added a USB Type-A port. With the current trend amongst laptop designers being to remove ports rather than add them, this is a commendable move by Microsoft. As well as the USB-A port, Microsoft added a microSD slot, which is likely to be well-received by photographers and YouTube content creators for transferring content from a camera/recording device.

With Microsoft’s Co-pilot gaining the lion’s share of media attention at CES, Their focus on AI is also evident in the Surface Laptop Studio 2. This takes the form of a discrete Intel Movidius neural processor, which handles on-device AI chores, meaning less lag and less of your data allowance being chewed up from AI tasks sent to a remote data centre.

The Movidius Silicon partners with an Intel Core i7-13700H CPU, which is more than ample for demanding tasks such as video editing/gaming and/or Photoshop. Because AI workloads are offloaded from the CPU, the Surface Laptop Studio runs applications smoothly while AI tasks execute.

There are also a few subtle AI tweaks baked in. These include Windows Studio Effects, which enhances video calls (its 1080p webcam also delivers crisp video under most lighting conditions). With Studio Effects, the usual background blur seemed more accurate. I usually look at my laptop’s screen during video calls, which breaks eye contact. The eye-contact function corrects this, so it appears I am always looking at the caller. Even though it felt a wee bit creepy when in use, it worked well. I also found the camera’s ability to track me, should I move, to be very useful. While other vendors have added similar capabilities to their hardware, most have done it via software add-ons. By using on-device AI processing, video enhancements happen on the fly without exacting a performance penalty on the Surface Laptop Studio.

As you’d expect from a premium device aimed at creatives, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is costly, starting at $3343. That said, the review unit packed serious specs under its hood. It came with a Core i7-13700H CPU, 64GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 GPU, and a 1TB SSD (which would make its sticker price an eye-watering $5894).

The more affordable $3343 base model has the same Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB SSD. While the RTX 4060 has been swapped out for Intel’s Iris Xe graphics silicon, the mid-price spec sees this replaced with an RTX 4050 GPU.

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio 2 occupies a unique niche thanks to its clever design and form factor. Its build makes it portable, while a decent spec means it packs all the computing power any professional creator is likely to ever need. Couple that with a solid build and a respectable line-up of ports, and there’s lots that’s bound to appeal to creators with a suitable budget. As much as I would have loved to have given the Surface Laptop Studio 2 a 10/10, it is unfortunately held back by its sticker price and the additional cost of the Surface pen, but still managed to earn a well-deserved 9/10.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-nz/d/surface-laptop-studio-2/8rqr54krf1dz

 

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