We purchased the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (Check latest price on Amazon) so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
Though it may not appear so at first glance, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is a small but significant step forward for this mid-range laptop. Even Surface fans will have a hard time distinguishing the new model from its predecessor. The Laptop 4 is nearly identical in size, weight, and screen size to previous models.
It’s a different story on the inside. New AMD and Intel processor options for the Surface Laptop 4 promise improved performance as well as battery life. The Laptop 4 should be able to compete with Dell’s XPS 13 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 line as a result of this, but will it be able to catch up to Apple’s MacBook Air?
Design: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it
The Surface Laptop 4 is nearly identical to the Surface Laptop 3, as well as the original Surface Laptop, which was released in spring of 2017. Despite this, the Laptop 4 appears to be completely modern. That is a sign of excellent design.
The laptop’s boxy shape is defined by a tall 3:2 display aspect ratio. At the time of its launch, this was the Surface Laptop’s most distinguishing feature, and it had the added benefit of providing more usable screen space. Many companies have since followed Microsoft’s lead, including Lenovo, which recently released the ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga.
Microsoft’s minimalist aesthetic has also stood the test of time. The laptop is defined by clean, sharp lines and expanses of smooth, matte metal, giving it a luxurious yet professional appearance. It’s easy to overlook the fact that, while not a budget laptop, the Surface Laptop 4 is less expensive than ThinkPad and Dell XPS models.
The laptop’s boxy shape is defined by a tall 3:2 display aspect ratio. At the time of its launch, this was the Surface Laptop’s most distinguishing feature, and it had the added benefit of providing more usable screen space.
I adore the fabric interior, which is still a unique design choice but is now available as an option. The fabric has a more inviting appearance and feel than the metal used by competitors. If you’re concerned about its durability, don’t be. I can tell you from personal experience that the fabric holds up well. Yes, it will show signs of wear over time, but it’s no worse than the interior of a typical plastic or metal laptop.
The Surface Laptop 4’s only flaw is its size. It has a 13.5-inch screen with thick bezels, making it much bigger than a typical 13.3-inch laptop with a 16:9 aspect ratio. In a bag or on your desk, the Laptop 4 takes up more space than you’d expect, and its overall footprint is closer to that of a 14-inch laptop.
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Display: Pixel dense but mediocre
The Surface Laptop 4’s 13.5-inch display has a 3:2 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2,496 by 1,664. That translates to 201 pixels per inch, which is lower than Apple’s target of 220 pixels per inch for Retina displays, but I doubt you’ll notice the difference. When using Word or watching 1440p video, the display is crystal clear.
Color performance is adequate but not outstanding. The Surface Laptop 4 has a standard IPS panel and no special features to help it stand out, such as Apple’s True Tone or HDR support. In movies or other high-quality streaming content, the difference between the Surface Laptop 4 and superior competitors is most noticeable. On the Laptop 4, video often appears plain or dull.
The lack of light is a problem. On battery power, the maximum brightness of the Surface Laptop 4 is roughly 40% lower than when connected to a wall socket. On battery power, many laptops reduce brightness, but this is more aggressive than usual. Worse yet, the mirror-like screen has no effect on reducing reflections. Even a bright, sunlit window creates enough glare to be distracting when used outside.
The lack of light is a problem. On battery power, the maximum brightness of the Surface Laptop 4 is roughly 40% lower than when connected to a wall socket.
The Surface Pen can be used with the touchscreen. Given that the Surface Laptop 4 is, well, a laptop, this isn’t particularly useful, but it’s nice to have the option. In casual situations, such as online shopping or watching YouTube, I frequently use the touchscreen instead of the touchpad.
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Performance: AMD and Intel options hold their own
For the Surface Laptop 4, Microsoft offers AMD and Intel processors. The base model has AMD’s Ryzen 5 4680U six-core processor and nine AMD Radeon graphics cores, which I tested. It also had a 256GB solid-state drive and 8GB of RAM.
Because it is not part of AMD’s latest Ryzen 5000-series line, the Laptop 4’s processor choice drew criticism after its announcement. However, I doubt most buyers will notice because the Ryzen 5 4680U performs admirably.
PCMark 10 had a single-core score of 4,366 and a multi-core score of 5,448, while GeekBench 5 had a single-core score of 1,047 and a multi-core score of 5,448, while GeekBench 5 had a single-core score of 1,047. These results are comparable to competing devices such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga and the Dell XPS 13 / 13 2-in-1, which have more expensive configurations. The Surface Laptop 4’s day-to-day performance is exceptional for a laptop and a fantastic value at $1,000.
Nine Radeon Vega graphics cores are included in the AMD processor. This resulted in a 3DMark Fire Strike score of 2,681 and a GFX Bench Car Chase 2.0 result of 24.6 frames per second for the Surface Laptop 4. These figures are respectable but not exceptional. With Intel’s latest Iris Xe graphics, the ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga and Dell XPS 13 can achieve higher scores.
Nonetheless, the Surface Laptop 4 is capable of handling basic gaming requirements. At low detail settings, games like Minecraft and Fortnite are enjoyable. Newer, more demanding games, such as Metro Exodus, are technically playable, but you’ll have to reduce the resolution and set the detail to low. Even so, hiccups and stutters may occur while playing.
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Productivity: A portable multitasking powerhouse
The Surface Laptop 4’s design, as well as its functionality in everyday use, is dominated by the 3:2 display aspect ratio. It has 12% more screen real estate than a 13.3-inch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Most 13-inch laptops can’t fit two documents side by side comfortably, but the Laptop 4 can.
The useful display is complemented by a nice keyboard that provides crisp, taut feedback. There’s plenty of key travel and a satisfyingly tactile bottoming action. However, there is one flaw: the keyboard has a lot of flex. While typing, you can see this, and fast typists will notice a springy feel to the typing experience.
The useful display is complemented by a nice keyboard that provides crisp, taut feedback.
Backlighting on the keyboard is standard. It isn’t bright enough to be noticeable in a well-lit room, but it works well in dimly lit areas.
The touchpad on the Surface Laptop 4 measures four and a half inches wide by three inches deep. It’s responsive, but unintended input isn’t picked up. Multi-touch gestures perform admirably, allowing you to make the most of Windows’ underappreciated multitasking touchpad shortcuts.
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Audio: Going loud
The speakers on the Surface Laptop 4 are loud and punchy. The lows, mids, and highs are well separated, avoiding the muddy sound that many laptops produce as speaker volume approaches maximum. Because there is no subwoofer, bass can sound flat, but the Laptop 4 adds a sense of depth without overpowering the rest of the song.
The speakers are Dolby Atmos certified, which means something for once. Movies and television shows sound fantastic. Although the dialogue is clear and crisp, the explosions are powerful. In podcasts, crisp dialogue translates to excellent performance. Increasing the volume to maximum allowed me to listen to a podcast while moving around my house, which I couldn’t do with a laptop.
Network: Great Wi-Fi, but can we get LTE?
Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 are both supported by the Surface Laptop 4. In my tests, the Wi-Fi performance was excellent. Near my Wi-Fi 6 router, it can reach speeds of up to 800Mbps, which is true of nearly all compatible laptops. At range, performance was excellent, reaching 103Mbps in a separate office. This easily outperforms the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, which only managed 40Mbps in similar conditions.
Cellular data on 4G LTE is not available. LTE is available in some Surface Pro devices, as well as competitors like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga and HP Spectre x360 13t. The Surface Laptop 4’s productivity-first design would benefit from optional LTE.
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Camera: An okay webcam with Windows Hello
The Surface Laptop 4 has a 720p front-facing camera that has all of the flaws that a laptop webcam should have. In a bright room, it looks fine, but even a moderately dim setting results in grainy, soft video. When the lighting is uneven, the camera fails to expose properly.
Because an IR camera is included, Windows Hello facial recognition login is possible. This feature is simple to enable and use once it has been set up. It works well in low-light situations or when the lighting is uneven.
Battery: It’s good, but don’t believe the hype
The Surface Laptop 4 will last up to 19 hours on a charge, according to Microsoft. That number may be achievable by the laptop, but it is misleading. Real-world battery life is far less than Microsoft’s advertisements suggest.
Despite this, the Surface Laptop 4 has a good battery life for its class. While using the Surface Laptop 4 for web browsing, writing, and basic photo editing, I got 7-9 hours of battery life. It has the potential to outlast the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, a 2-in-1 with similar dimensions and performance.
However, the battery can be depleted more quickly. I used the laptop for an hour of more intensive photo editing in GIMP, which consumed about 20% of the battery. The laptop’s fast six-core processor has a drawback in this regard.
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Software: Keep It Stock
Windows 10 Home comes pre-installed on the Surface Laptop 4. There’s not much else to say about the software, which is good news for most people. There is no bloatware on the Laptop 4’s stock Windows installation.
Price: It’s not cheap, but it’s good value
I put the Surface Laptop 4 with an AMD Ryzen 5 Surface Edition processor to the test. This model comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive and costs $1,000 (Check latest price on Amazon). For a Core i5 processor with the same RAM and storage, Intel models start at $1,300.
Microsoft’s pricing appears to be accurate. It’s pricey, but not prohibitively so, and you get a lot of value for your money. Even the entry-level Laptop 4, which I reviewed, has enough storage and RAM and a fast AMD processor.
This is similar to Apple’s approach with the MacBook Air, which is excellent even in its base model. The XPS 13 from Dell, on the other hand, is a different story. Although it starts at $1,000, the base model has a subpar Intel Core i3 processor. A $100 upgrade to an Intel Core i5 processor is required.
What’s New: A small, useful upgrade
The design, connectivity, display, keyboard, and touchpad of the Surface Laptop 3 and Laptop 4 13.5-inch models are nearly identical. The Laptop 4 gets new AMD and Intel processors, so most of the changes are under the hood. These increase battery life and provide a small performance boost.
The Laptop 3 is available from Microsoft for $800. Isn’t this a good deal? But here’s the thing: the Laptop 3’s base solid-state drive is 128GB, while the Laptop 4’s is 256GB. Because the Laptop 3’s price jumps to $900 with the storage upgrade, the real difference is only $100.
Although I believe that most buyers will be satisfied with either laptop, the Laptop 4’s performance appears to be worth the extra $100.
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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 vs. Apple MacBook Air
Both the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 and the Apple MacBook Air are $999 portable laptops. The MacBook Air has a smaller but more attractive display, while the Microsoft option is larger and heavier with a more useful screen.
In both CPU and GPU tests, AMD’s Ryzen processor with Radeon Vega graphics leads the Surface Laptop 4, but Apple’s incredible M1 chip can outrun it, and it does so in a fanless design. Although the Surface Laptop 4 is fast for a Windows device, it pales in comparison to Apple’s MacBook lineup.
The same can be said about battery life.
While testing the MacBook Air, Lifewire’s Jeremy Laukkonen saw about 12 hours of battery life. The Surface Laptop 4 gave me a maximum of nine hours of battery life.
The Surface Laptop 4 is one of my favorites: it’s a fantastic Windows laptop. For the most part, however, the Apple MacBook Air is the better option. It’s both faster and more portable, which is a difficult combination to beat.
The Final Word
The Surface Laptop 4 from Microsoft is one of the best Windows laptops on the market today. Its design is both attractive and functional, and it provides excellent value for money. Although the Surface Laptop 4 can’t compete with Apple’s MacBooks, it’s a great choice if you want to stick with Windows.