For years, Microsoft's most powerful Surface has been the detachable Surface Book. That had limits to its power, including its processor, which always had to live behind the tablet screen. But Microsoft is shedding its limitations with the Surface Laptop Studio, its most powerful, most flexible Surface yet.
Unlike the Surface Book (which a Microsoft representative told me the Laptop Studio will replace in the lineup), the Laptop Studio's display is built on a two-step hinge hinge that lets it work as a laptop; fold forward into "Stage mode" to hide the keyboard and focus on the screen; and fold further into "Studio mode," making it a drawing or writing canvas.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-11300H or i7-11370H (Tiger Lake H35)|
|Graphics||Core i5: Intel Iris Xe|
|Core i7: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti (4GB)|
|Commercial: Nvidia RTX A2000 (4GB)|
|Display||14.4-inch, 2400 x 1600, 3:2 PixelSense Flow touch screen with up to 120 Hz refresh rate|
|Storage||Up to 2TB SSD|
|RAM||16GB or 32GB LPDDR4x|
|Webcam||1080p, Windows Hello|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 6, 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.1|
|Ports||2x USB 4.0 with Thunderbolt 4, Surface Connect, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Release Date||October 5, 2021|
That, in a way, makes the Surface Laptop Studio a portable version of Microsoft's Surface Studio desktops, which have screens on hinges that let them drop down into drawing tables. We've seen similar designs before in the HP Elite Folio and some of Acer's ConceptD Ezel laptops. Microsoft's primary hinge goes from 0 - 135 degrees, while the secondary hinge goes up to 180 degrees, letting you flip the screen all the way around.
When you move the screen forward using what Microsoft calls its "dynamic woven hinge," tablet mode automatically takes hold. The Windows 11 taskbar provides larger touchpoints, as do compatible Windows apps.
With all of the main components in the base, the Surface Laptop Studio gets more powerful components. Interestingly, Microsoft didn't opt for 45W chips here, but is utilizing Intel's Tiger Lake H35 parts, including the Intel Core i5-113300H and Core i7-11370H.
Core i5 models will use integrated graphics, while those with Core i7 will be bumped up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti. You can configure it with up to 32GB of LPDDR4x memory and up to a 2TB SSD. Microsoft says the storage is replaceable, but just like previous Surfaces, it technically is limiting that to Microsoft-authorized repair personnel.
The 14.4-inch, 3:2 display has a resolution of 2400 x 1600 and can go up to 120 Hz (it comes out of the box at 60 Hz, but this can be changed in Windows 11). Windows, I'm told, should run at full 120 Hz, and of course games and any creative apps that support it can, too. In theory, this will make inking feel far more intuitive with Surface Slim Pen 2. A Microsoft rep told me that in some apps, like the Office suite, which wouldn't benefit from the full 120 Hz, that the system may throttle it back to 30 or 40 Hz to preserve battery life. Microsoft uses a new custom processor, which it calls G6, to enable the new screen capabilities. The 14-inch screen also splits the difference between the two Surface Book sizes: 13 and 15 inches.
While the Surface Laptop Studio keeps the same great Surface keyboard (this one with 1.3mm of travel) we've seen on past machines, there's a change to the touchpad. It now uses haptic feedback, like Apple's MacBooks, so it doesn’t actually click. The benefit here is that you can click anywhere on the touchpad, and settings in Windows 11 will let you change the pressure and sound of the click.
Another big deal: Microsoft is finally getting on board with Thunderbolt 4. There are two USB 4.0 ports with Thunderbolt 4 on the left side of the device, while the right side has a headphone jack and the proprietary Surface Connect port. I would like to see a few more ports on something that's ostensibly a creator's device. A Surface dock or other dongle may be an important add-on here.
The Laptop Studio is compatible with Microsoft's new $129.99 Surface Slim Pen 2, a version of the stylus we had previously seen with the Surface Pro X. This version has a small haptic motor that provides physical feedback. When I went hands-on with the Laptop Studio, I was surprised how much it felt more like writing on paper than on a screen, though sometimes the feedback was slightly too strong. I got to try the new pen in Excel, Word and Adobe Fresco - it had the most noticeable impact in the latter.
That pen attaches magnetically under the lip of the wrist wrest when you're not using it. It also charges when attached, so it should almost always be ready to go. The original Surface Slim Pen will also fit and charge there. Older Surface Pens used batteries, and it's unclear if they'd fit in that slim gap.
Microsoft is selling the laptop with Windows 11 Home and Windows 11 Pro, though curiously, Windows 10 Pro is also listed on the spec sheet. It's unclear if that's exclusively for business customers.
We'll have more to say about the Surface Laptop Studio once we're able to test it. It will start at $1,599.99 and is available for pre-order now. It will release on October 5 in the US and in 47 other markets in early 2022.