The sleek, ultraportable design of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 features a matte black aluminium body
The sleek, ultraportable design of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 features a matte black aluminium body

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 review: A supremely smooth statement of intent

Using the same materials found in space craft and sports cars, Microsoft's latest laptop is a genuine adversary to Apple

Anthony Cuthbertson
Friday 17 May 2019 12:56
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In a small office in central London, a man from Microsoft stares at me through thick-rimmed glasses and lays his fingertips on a black rectangle that sits on the table separating us. "You may have seen a black laptop before," he says, with a disconcerting sincerity, "but you've never seen a black laptop like this before."

Lifting the lid of the computer, he invites me to touch it. "Go ahead," he says. "Stroke it." I do as I'm told and run my fingers along the soft surface of the palm rest. "That's Alcantara cloth," he continues. "Usually you'd find it in luxury cars. It's absolutely stunning."

Sure enough, it feels more suited to being something you'd sit on than cover an electronic device with, and even the smell is more like a new car than a laptop. Researching it later I learn Alcantara has been used in everything from Formula 1 race cars to space ships, and the fact Microsoft has decided to use it in its latest laptop is a supremely smooth statement of intent in a high-end hardware category typically dominated by Apple.

The Alcantara material on the palm rests is designed for 'maximised typing comfort'

The man from Microsoft - Simon Lambert, devices category lead for Surface - takes 10 minutes just to talk me through the design decisions that went into creating the Surface Laptop 2. For starters, there are no visible screws on its exterior and no bumpers on the edge of the screen to protect it when you close it. ("Why would you need them when you've got Alcantara cloth to cushion it?")

For a high-performance laptop with an impressive 14.5-hour battery life, it is also absurdly thin. I use the smallest flagship smartphone on the market - the Sony Xperia XZ1 - and at its thinnest point the Surface Laptop 2 is the same depth: less than 1 cm thick. As it thickens out towards the base of the screen, it adds less than half a centimetre. Yet despite the slim profile, it feels incredibly sturdy and is able to offer a typing experience rarely found in the so-called Ultrabook category of laptops.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 is less than 1.5cm at its widest point

The most obvious comparison in terms of size and design would be the now-ancient MacBook Air, but in terms of internal specs it would be more appropriate to put it up against this year's 13-inch MacBook Pro. It features the same 8GB or 16GB of RAM, together with an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 - depending on the version you choose.

Beyond specs, Microsoft is also able to put itself alongside both Apple and Google in combining their own hardware with their own software, meaning the Laptop 2 is built with Windows 10 in mind.

The Surface Laptop 2 comes less than a year and a half after Microsoft unveiled the first Surface Laptop, which the Redmond-based firm described at the time as "50 per cent faster" than the MacBook Pro. This time, Lambert tells me the Surface Laptop 2 is 85 per cent faster than its predecessor.

The Surface Laptop 2 features a 13.5" touchscreen display

Lambert explains that the attention to detail goes right down to the travel of the keys on the keyboard, which punch down 1.5mm - a full 1 mm more than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. For someone who types words for a living, this kind of thought is appreciated. With the Alcantara cloth cushioning the heels of my hands, and the thick clunk of the keys making each letter from my fingertips feel purposeful, even writing these words for this review feels good.

Backlit keys also help to improve the typing experience, but it is not just light that emanates from the keyboard. The OmniSonic speakers mean sound plays straight out from between the keys, offering both a rich and loud sound that once again belies the delicate size of the Surface Laptop 2.

The generous size of the palm rests means that there has inevitably been a compromise with the size of the trackpad. Moving the mouse around the screen felt cumbersome and took some getting used to - a burden that is addressed to some extent by the inclusion of a touchscreen. This proves particularly useful when flicking through Netflix or scrolling down webpages.

If you're looking for further downsides, the other obvious one is the lack of ports. Beyond holes for a power cable and a single USB drive, there is only a Mini Display Port, meaning anything else like an HDMI cable will require a dongle - proving that Microsoft is able to borrow both the bad and the good from Apple.

But overall, the Surface Laptop 2 is a powerful combination of performance, design and battery life, that is able to fulfil even the most fawning of plaudits gushed by Lambert. "With the best hardware combined with the best software," he tells me, with genuine adulation, "this black laptop is the only black laptop that will let you do more, achieve more, and dream more."

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