Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio hands-on: one weird, powerful computer

The Surface Laptop Studio
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

Alongside the new Surface Pro 8, Microsoft is introducing an all-new computer: the Surface Laptop Studio. It’s the successor to the Surface Book 3, but instead of featuring a detachable screen, it has one that flips into tablet mode. Where other 2-in-1s usually just go for a 360-degree hinge that flips the screen to the back, Microsoft’s system has it settling in on top of the keyboard.

The Laptop Studio starts at $1,599.99, which is a premium price for what Microsoft is clearly positioning as a premium device. While it looks just like a MacBook when it’s in laptop mode, that comparison is mostly down to it being a very well-made device with a silver, aluminum body. Once you start moving the screen, it becomes another kind of device entirely.

It’s a clever design that Microsoft has implemented somewhat more elegantly than we’ve seen on other laptops. Only somewhat, though: unlike the desktop Surface Studio that inspired it, the Laptop Studio can’t hold its screen up at any angle when it’s out of laptop mode. It can’t float out over the keyboard. You can only set it into three modes: laptop, flat as a tablet, or up in a kind of tent mode, leaving the trackpad visible. There are magnets in the laptop that help guide the screen into place.

Folding the Surface Laptop Studio into tablet mode.
GIF: Vjeran Pavic

None of that is especially weird, nor is Microsoft’s positioning of the Surface Laptop Studio somewhere in between major powerhouse gaming laptops and thin-and-lights. I’ll get into specs below, but they’re in line with what you’d expect the successor to the Surface Book 3 to have.

What’s weird is the plinth.

Perhaps “pedestal” is a better word. See, if you look at the Laptop Studio from above, it looks for all the world like a MacBook, right on down to the oversized trackpad that uses haptics instead of physical clicks to register your clicks. (One difference, I suppose, is that Microsoft made a good keyboard on the first try with the Laptop Studio.)

The Surface Laptop Studio looks exactly like a MacBook before you move the screen into a new mode or see the bottom.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
The laptop is thicker than it first appears.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
Behold, the plinth!
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

But sitting underneath the standard-looking laptop part is a rectangular base that is narrower than the laptop itself. It is part of how the Laptop Studio kicks out heat, out of the sides of that plinth. It means that from the angle you usually see it, the laptop looks thinner than it actually is and like it’s floating a half inch or so above the table.

One thing the inset plinth does is make space to store the new Surface Slim Pen 2. It can magnetically click in under the trackpad portion and charge there. The $129.99 Pen has a more tapered, sharper tip and also has some haptics. When you begin drawing on the screen, the pen attempts to mimic the drag you’d feel on paper. In my very short time with it, it didn’t feel very realistic, just a little vibration at the start of the pen stroke. However, there’s time for developers to update their apps with better support.

The Surface Laptop Studio in “Stage” mode.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
Laptop mode on the Surface Laptop Studio.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
Tablet or “Studio” mode.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The screen is very nice. It’s a 14.4-inch touchscreen in a 3:2 aspect ratio — 2400 x 1600 pixels (201 PPI). It can reach a 120Hz refresh rate and of course works with Surface Pens. Bezels around it are on the small side, and there’s a Windows Hello camera for logging in at the top — and Microsoft says it’s better at recognizing faces so they’re lit properly for videoconferencing. There are four speakers in the body of the laptop with support for Dolby Atmos. I heard them get quite loud with very nice stereo separation but not a ton of bass.

Maybe more important to creatives is that Microsoft has finally begun supporting Thunderbolt on its Surface devices this year. The Surface Laptop Studio has two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports opposite the Surface connector and headphone jack. Sadly, there is no SD card slot.

The Laptop Studio can have either an 11th Gen Core i5 or Core i7 processor (specifically, the 35-watt i5-11300H or i7-11370H) and can either feature integrated Xe graphics or an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti laptop GPU with 4GB of GDDR6 RAM. You can get 16 or 32GB of LDDR4x RAM and storage ranges from 256GB to 2TB. (Enterprise customers can spec an NVIDIA RTX A2000 laptop GPU with 4GB GDDR6 GPU RAM.)

Those specs are another indication that this computer is part of the Surface Book’s lineage, aimed more at creators than gamers. Microsoft has put a lot of power in here, but directed at coders and creatives.

We’ll review the Surface Laptop Studio as soon as we can with an eye toward whether it makes sense for that kind of user — and also to see if we can get used to the plinth. Sometimes polarizing designs end up feeling iconic and sometimes they just end up looking weird. If nothing else, Microsoft deserves credit for taking that risk in the first place.


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Comments

That’s really cool. Really cool. I want one….

I couldn’t possibly justify it, but same. Maybe I’ll start saving for the next version lol

Good to know the moving screen only has some set positions and not hovering.

That hopefully means no screen wobble while using the stylus in the "tent" mode, which is very much appreciated. On the Surface Book 2 the stylus isn’t really usable without reversing the screen and folding it flat, which is a hassle when you need to detatch it each time, and clipboard mode doesn’t have the battery life for anything other than short tasks.

It means that if you’re switching between sketching/painting with a stylus and other tasks requiring a mouse and keyboard all day, it gets pretty annoying. I think Microsoft might have a good solution here (although hopefully they’ll figure out how to make it ajustable to several different angles with the next version.)

I actually sketched up a similar concept a few years back. I really love it! Now if MS would only embrace Framework’s mindset…

I tried a floating laptop look to guess the next MacBook that’s not dissimilar to this, but I was going for more of a "big filleted camera bump" kind of thing.


I think it’s worth pointing out unlike typical unibodies, where only the top case is CNC-machined and the bottom is just a sheet that’s pressed, this would require the bottom to be machined as well.

I actually prefer your smoother design here over the hard edges on the SLS’s plinth. It makes it feel like it belongs, rather than being bolted on. It’s a really nice concept.

As for manufacturing, even though this would require machining, it’s probably still simpler than what’s going on with the SLS. It looks like there’s a machined top and bottom part, and then also a pressed base plate.

Was this based on their extendable cooling patent? Really interesting, though I’d be worried about mechanical failure

Do developers and designers use 14inch laptops? I thought they need 16 inch
And what happened to the big Surface Studio? It seems very outdated

Also whatever happened to the Surface Neo?

Depends on what kind of developer I guess. As a Web Dev, myself and everyone I know uses 13" or 14" laptops. I’m using a P14s right now and it’s actually on the big side (and this thing is noticeably heavier). Of course, everyone I know also connects to at least 1 and usually more external monitors when doing heavy work.

Hi! Web dev here who prefers 17" but will take 15" is absolutely necessary. Won’t go near anything smaller.

They use what they’re given, which often happens to be a 16" model. I’d be surprised if many do their work solely on a laptop screen, so the size shouldn’t matter much.

I remember a few years back before Covid, it was rumored that they were planning a Surface Studio monitor (just the monitor for presumably any computer) and that would be a dream if they ever did that. I won’t hold my breath though.

I’d hoped and held out for the Surface Studio Monitor as well. The closest thing I’ve seen since is the Huawei MateView (3:2, 4k display)
https://consumer.huawei.com/en/monitors/mateview

Though not in the US if I remember.

I always wondered why that monitor did not seem to get much press. I looking into buying one for creative work, but the permanent stand is putting me off

Web Developer here and I always went for 13inch laptops… mainly due to the portability and had a surface book (original) for my job when they first came out. I’m currently on my first 15inch laptop and can see the appeal. I’m really surprised by how much of a difference 15 inches make. Saying that I’m definitely going to get one of these though.

A lot of people dock their laptops to bigger screens and keyboards at work and at home and so prefer a smaller size now for portability in between

This thing is so ugly…..wow. I really have to give it to Microsoft, they really know how to make ugly and underperforming products that Apple haters think look good on paper, but suck in practice. I can see this thing performing worse than Macbooks in terms of raw performance and being worthless in terms of usability. It’s so thick and ugly, the pen "feedback" that everyone was lauding in the reveals seems like a total gimmick, the placement is so stupid….I don’t understand how Microsoft can say this is a tool for "business" users with a straight face.

one of the things i hate about the pen placement is the fact that if you forgot to put it back there, you will never know until you try to get it again. being hidden is bad. People will lose it.

It’s not like there’s an invisibility field over it. You should be able to see it quickly at a glance, just like the pen-silos of old.

Yeah out of sight is better imo. As long as it’s secure and doesn’t fall off unexpectedly, that’s a plus. It’s not like I’m any more likely to leave my expensive pen behind at the library/office/coffee shop as I am likely to leave anything else behind. I always do a sweep check anyways.

Hey MiB, I found one of them. How are you gonna "forget" something in the place where it’s meant to be kept. Human brain doesn’t work like that. It’s the first place you would look if you can’t find it.

The MacBook Pro is only 0.27 cm thinner, and it doesn’t have a touchscreen.

There is absolutely no way it is only 0.27 cm thicker than MBP. The thickness compared against the visible ports on the photos makes it clear that it’s about twice the thickness of an 13" MBP.

I am pretty sure Microsoft "forgot" to add the thickness of that ugly bump under the device to the specs that it listed.

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