Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 hands-on: Making my MacBook jealous

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

June Wan/ZDNET

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio 2 is really unlike any other laptop on the market right now. The screen is held up by a tiltable hinge that lets it switch from what I’ll call “regular laptop mode” to stage mode (the display is angled like the image above) to studio mode (the display is laid flat, screen-side up, like a tablet).

The closest thing I can think of is, well, the previous Laptop Studio model, which fields the same shape-shifting form factor. But after today, if you’re the customer for Microsoft’s screen-tilting Surface device, then your eyes will be all over the latest model, not the old.

Also: Everything Microsoft announced at its Surface and AI event today

That’s a good deal, because, unlike the predecessor, the new Surface Laptop Studio 2 features an improved 13th Gen Intel Core H-class processor, NVIDIA’s latest RTX 4050/4060 GPUs, and an Intel NPU on Windows for video calling optimizations (which never hurts to have). 

Every Microsoft expert on the demo floor made it clear to me that gaming and content creation workflows are still the focus of the Studio laptop, so the changes under the hood make sense. 

The big question that I had (and still have) is how effectively Microsoft can manage the heat that’s generated from the more intensive workloads. One of the issues with the previous model was battery life, and I don’t see this year’s “up to 18 hours of typical device usage” doing significantly better. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

The Laptop Studio 2 has the same 14.4-inch PixelSense Flow touchscreen as the previous model.

June Wan/ZDNET

A spokesperson tells me that the Laptop Studio 2 has “an improved ventilation system”, and the aforementioned Intel NPU should take some of the workloads off of the CPU and GPU when running AI-related applications. We’ll see how the device handles different use cases with further testing.

Also: Best laptop docking stations to upgrade your WFH setup

More importantly, the Laptop Studio 2 is expensive. With a new starting price of $1,999 (the previous version started at $1,599 but with lesser specs), the Surface is clearly positioned to be a MacBook Pro competitor, and only pro users will have an easy time finding ways to justify the purchase. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

A spread of all the Laptop Studio 2’s components.

June Wan/ZDNET

I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the Surface and MacBook as I handled the cool-touch aluminum framing and swiped around on the larger-than-normal touchpad during my hour-ish hands-on period, and that’s a good thing.

Also: Lenovo’s new ThinkBook Plus is the most interesting 2-in-1 laptop I’ve used all year

Speaking of which, Microsoft says one of the more significant external changes to the Laptop Studio is within the touchpad. With a wider sensitivity range and haptic feedback, the company created a mousing experience that every type of user can use, including those with disabilities. I didn’t notice any setbacks to the usability of the touchpad when scrolling, tapping, and clicking through various Copilot demos on the laptop, so the upgrade is a win in my book.

And finally, the Laptop Studio 2 now has a USB-A and microSD card reader on top of the existing dual USB-C (Thunderbolt 4), 3.5mm headphone jack, and Surface Connect charging port on the previous model. That’s a big win for creators who seek additional storage space and/or often transfer photos and videos from their cameras. I just wish it was a full-sized SD card slot, as most of my professional gear uses that instead of microSD.

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