The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio (available at Amazon for $1,899.99) is an ambitious experiment, but it ultimately falls flat. It forges a new design for 2-in-1 laptops, folding the screen forward instead of backward, and its stylus storage and integration take a lot of cues from the Apple Pencil. While it is an excellent companion for stylus-compatible apps, it is a middling laptop thanks to lackluster performance and a bulky design. Content creators with a demanding workload should skip it and consider its competitors, instead.
About the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
- Processor: Intel Core i7-11370H
- Memory: 32GB DDR4 RAM
- Operating System: Windows 11 Pro
- Storage: 1TB SSD
- Display: 120Hz @ 2400 x 1600p 16-inch display
- Webcam: 1080p with Windows Hello
- Ports: 2 x USB Type C with Thunderbolt 4, 1 x Headphone jack
- Graphics: Nvidia RTX A2000
- Wireless: Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.1
- Battery: 58 WHr
- Weight: 4 pounds
- Dimensions: 12.72 x 8.98 x 0.75 inches
- Warranty: One-year limited warranty
The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio is a 2-in-1 laptop with a 16-inch display. It’s available in multiple configurations, including 256GB to 2TB of storage, 16GB to 32GB of memory, integrated or discrete graphics, and an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor. The 1TB model we tested is among the most powerful versions, with an MSRP of $2,699.99
What we like
A phenomenal display
If the Surface Laptop Studio has one major highlight, it’s the display. The 16:10 aspect ratio makes it easy to split-screen any applications so you can multitask while keeping your windows large. The touch-enabled, pressure-sensitive display is incredibly bright and has great color depth.
When we analyzed the display, we found it covers the entirety of the sRGB color gamut and 88% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. At about five hundred nits, the screen’s peak brightness makes it versatile for working in bright or sunny environments. If you need to do color-accurate work like photo editing or digital painting you will be very pleased with this display.
All-day battery life
In order to test battery life, we simulate a user’s typical session by cycling through web pages with the display set to 250 nits of brightness, draining the battery from a full charge. The Surface Laptop Studio did well under the microscope, running for an impressive nine hours and five minutes in our tests. That makes it easy to stray away from the power cord, which is especially useful if you need to rotate the laptop around like a normal tablet.
The Surface Studio does fall short of the powerful MacBook Pro 13, which has a 13-hour battery life, but it beats out the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4’s eight-hour battery life.
Its keyboard and trackpad are excellent
Similar to the Surface Laptop 4 we reviewed in June, the Surface Laptop Studio’s keyboard and trackpad are sublime. The keys have a good travel depth and resistance that feels just right for long typing sessions. The trackpad is large and easy to glide across, but it does not get in the way of typing if you accidentally rest your wrist on it.
Its stylus experience is incredibly smooth
If you use the Surface Laptop Studio with the Surface Slim Pen 2, it takes the experience to another level. Its haptic feedback is on point (pun intended), the display easily picks up the pressure sensitivity of the pen’s strokes, and the pen itself feels smooth against the screen. Drawing and writing are an absolute pleasure, comparable to the experience with an iPad and Apple Pencil.
Additionally, the Surface Laptop Studio has a magnetic edge that will grab the Surface Slim Pen 2 when not in use. It very much feels like this laptop was designed to showcase the stylus first.
What we don’t like
Its performance isn’t great for creative work
While the Surface Laptop Studio’s Intel Core i7-11370H processor excels at conserving power, this comes at the cost of its performance. In both benchmarks and in real-life applications, the Surface Laptop Studio does fine, but it doesn’t stand out.
When rendering a 3D image in Blender, the Studio’s discrete Nvidia RTX A2000 graphics card pulls ahead of the much cheaper Surface Laptop 4’s integrated graphics, but barely. The Studio rendered the scene 30 seconds faster than the Surface Laptop 4, taking a total of eight minutes 25 seconds. Both of the laptops’ CPUs rendered the same scene faster, but the Surface Laptop 4’s processor was significantly faster, taking four minutes 58 seconds to render while the Surface Laptop Studio took seven minutes and two seconds to render.
Transcoding a 12-minute 4K video into a 1080p video with Handbrake was also slower with the Surface Laptop Studio than with its more affordable Surface sibling. The Surface Laptop Studio took 11 minutes 29 seconds while the Surface Laptop 4 took eight minutes 49 seconds. Opening and modifying a large Photoshop file created little to no lag on the system. However, if you plan to do a lot of video work, you may want to consider a laptop with more central processing power, like the MacBook Pro 14 (which took 7 minutes 22 seconds) or the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (which took 6 minutes 8 seconds).
The Surface Laptop Studio does beat the Surface Laptop 4 when it comes to tasks demanding more from the graphics card, like rendering video game scenes. In 3DMark’s Firestrike benchmarks, the Surface Laptop Studio decimates laptops running on integrated graphics, scoring almost twice as much as the Surface Laptop 4, for instance. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, a demanding big-budget game released in the past few years, ran at 46 frames per second (fps) on its highest 1080p graphics settings, eclipsing the Surface Laptop 4’s framerate of 21fps—if you want to play the occasional game or two, the Surface Laptop Studio is more than capable.
The form factor is more a hindrance than a help
The Surface Laptop Studio is a bulky laptop with a bizarre shape. The laptop bottom has a small platform, leaving the keyboard and mouse layer to hover about a quarter-inch above your desk. It does not affect the laptop’s stability on tables, especially in laptop mode, but the grooves between the two platforms can be uncomfortable against bare legs. It’s a little cumbersome to use on your lap, especially in tablet mode, where the gap makes it more difficult to hold the computer and manipulate it by touch alone.
For the lid, Microsoft deviated from the Surface Book design. While the Surface Book display detaches from the bottom half of the laptop, the Surface Laptop Studio’s display is not removable. Instead, it has a hinge on the bottom half that pops the display forward. The display can sit right above the trackpad at about a 60-degree angle, or you can pull it completely forward so it lays flat atop the keyboard and trackpad.
While it’s an interesting design that assures you won’t accidentally press the keyboard (many 2-in-1s bend the display backward, leaving the keyboard exposed), the hinge that attaches the display to the laptop is concerningly flimsy. It has a fabric-like texture, and it flexes easily when you move the display—the screen bends if you wobble it. This is also the first generation of the Surface Laptop Studio, so we will have to wait and see if this display holds up to everyday use.
The stylus is not included
Considering the steep price of the Surface Laptop Studio, it’s a shame the laptop does not come with a Surface Pen stylus included. Without a stylus, the experience feels limited. In tablet mode, the laptop is too bulky to make a comfortable tablet. It does not provide a better 2-in-1 experience than cheaper laptops like the HP Envy or the Dell XPS 13.
However, it should be noted that the Surface Laptop Studio’s stylus response is second to none, given that the Surface Slim Pen 2 and the Surface Laptop Studio are from the same line of products.
Should you buy it?
No, its lackluster performance and high price tag overshadow the highlights
The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio isn’t a bad laptop per sé. Its phenomenal display is responsive, bright, colorful, and comfortable to use on its own or with a stylus. Its keyboard and trackpad are also a joy to use, and it has great battery life. But for anywhere between $1,399 to $2,899, it does not offer enough value over cheaper 2-in-1 and tablet competitors with equally-wonderful displays, keyboards, and trackpads along with better performance and sleeker form factors.
The performance of the Surface Laptop Studio is disappointing for the price. We tested one of the priciest versions, and while its graphics performance does outperform most 2-in-1s and ultrabooks with integrated graphics, its general performance did not deliver the content creation production we expect from a laptop this expensive. The MacBook Pro 14 decimates the Surface Laptop Studio for about the same price, but it does lack a stylus-compatible touch screen.
Among 2-in-1s, the MSI Summit E13 Flip offers comparable performance for a much lower price-tag, as will the Dell XPS 9310. For an excellent drawing or note-taking experience, the iPad Pro or iPad Air coupled with a stylus are about as powerful as the Surface Laptop Studio, and they offer better battery life, seamless integration, and cost much less.
If the Surface Laptop Studio’s $2,899 model cost $1,899, this would be a tougher call. Its fiercest competitors retail between $1,000 to $1,900, leaving the Surface Laptop Studio stranded above the standard 2-in-1 price range. While the laptop is a bit too bulky for easy portability, it does offer better performance than many Windows 2-in-1s and meets the needs of stylus users. However, we simply can’t recommend it when you can get a similar experience from other significantly cheaper options.