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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: No laptop can do what it can do, even MacBook Pro

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Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

3.5 / 5

Good

pros and cons

Pros

  • Beautiful, innovative design
  • Excellent performance thanks to improved specs
  • Plenty of ports
  • Trackpad and keyboard feel great
Cons

  • Even thicker and heavier than previous generation
  • Battery life is underwhelming
  • Webcam isn’t very sharp

You don’t need to do much to figure out whether you’re using the Surface Laptop Studio from Microsoft: just flex the top half of the screen and see what happens. If the bottom half pops off a few magnets and lets you dock it right above the trackpad, you’ve got a Surface Laptop Studio on your hands.

That’s been the biggest selling point of Microsoft’s high-end laptop series since its inception in 2021. Now, the company is back with a new version — aptly named the Surface Laptop Studio 2 — that maintains a similar design and approach while packing in the upgrades that the first version was in need of.

Also: I demoed Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio 2 and was left all kinds of jealous

That generally revolves around performance, which was a bit lacking in the first model. Microsoft has done good work to get performance up to a more acceptable level at this price point, while also throwing in a few nice-to-have features and — for the first time in a Windows computer — an Intel-branded neural processing unit for AI.

I’ve been using the Surface Laptop Studio 2 for just under a week, and I can confidently say it’s a solid performer, better than what we got with the original Studio.

Specifications

Dimensions

12.72 x 9.06 x 0.86 inches

Display

14.4-inch PixelSense Flow touchscreen with 120Hz refresh rate

Processor

13th Gen Intel Core i7-13700H with INtel Gen3 Movidius 3700VC VPU AI Accelerator

Graphics

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050/4060, Nvidia RTX 2000 Ada, or Intel Iris Xe Graphics

Memory and storage

Up to 64GB LPDDR5x RAM and up to 2TB of SSD

Battery and charging

Up to 19 hours of typical device usage

Ports and connections

2x USB-C with USB4/Thunderbolt 4, USB-A 3.1, MicroSDXC card reader, 3.5mm headphone jack, Surface Connect port

Price

Starting at $1,999


A much-needed performance upgrade

Inside my review unit, Microsoft includes the 13th-generation Intel Core i7 H-series processor, which is an upgrade over the 11th-generation chips in the previous generation. Those chips were able to handle most people’s workflows, which primarily involved a lot of creator-focused tools and apps being used for hours on end. After all, this laptop is primarily designed for creators to make their jobs easier, and with the new model, that experience gets even better.

Also: The latest Windows 11 update is rolling out now. Here’s what’s new

In day-to-day usage, the i7-13700H chip kicks out great performance that’s reliable across both everyday tasks and heavier workloads. I ran some Cinebench benchmarks to see how it ranked, and it translated to basically what I expected: yet another high-end Intel processor with great but not amazing performance. It ranked behind a lot of Intel’s gaming chips, AMD’s Ryzen 7 series, and — of course — Apple’s M series processors, which continue to dominate the industry.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 on a table

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

That being said, it’s a fine chip. It’s definitely not going to blow you away with its performance, but it’s certainly more than enough to justify the price tag of the Studio 2, which is huge deal since the original Studio’s processor was notably underwhelming.

Of course, it’s not just the processor that’s been improved. Microsoft upgraded the graphics with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 4050, 4060, and 2000 ADA discrete graphics. My review unit came with the RTX 4060, which can be summed up as a solid GPU for mid-range gaming laptops. That might be a bit uninspiring if you want to use the Studio 2 for gaming, but for creatives who need a steady GPU for photo and video editing, the 4060 is a noble powerhouse.

Also: My 7 favorite Microsoft PowerToys: Utilities every Windows PC user should try

I edited a number of photos in Photoshop, and it felt as smooth as my M1 Pro-powered MacBook. Sifting through complex layers and gradients, I did experience a few stutters waiting for my photos to render, but overall, it was a smooth experience. Does it feel like you’re using a $3,000+ laptop? That’s up for debate, but it’s still plenty capable if you’re a creator who needs to get things done.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 running Windows Copilot

Running Microsoft Copilot on the Windows 11 machine.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

You get a choice of 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of LPDDR5x RAM, the latter of which was loaded into my unit, along with up to 2TB of storage (I got the 1TB model). The extra RAM certainly helps to keep things running smoothly, even when they’ve been in the background for hours. If you’re going to buy this laptop, I highly recommend getting at least 32GB of RAM so you power through more tasks simultaneously — 16GB will only take you so far, especially if you plan to keep the laptop for an extended period of time.

The other new piece of silicon under the hood is Intel’s Neural Processing Unit, a first for Windows laptops. Microsoft talked about using this chip to power all the AI stuff in Windows 11, including Copilot, the generative AI assistant that lives in your taskbar. Using Copilot on the Studio 2, it feels well-optimized and quick to generate responses, whether to sort through my documents in File Explorer or write a three-paragraph history of Taylor Swift’s album releases. However, it didn’t feel much different than other laptops I have on deck loaded with the preview version of Microsoft’s Copilot update for Windows 11. Over time, I’m sure the NPU will help speed things up, but right now it’s not doing much.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 webcam

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

The Intel NPU also powers Microsoft’s Windows Studio effects, which help to improve the quality of video and audio during calls. This includes keeping your head centered in the frame as you move around, blurring the background, maintaining eye contact with adaptive corrections to your eyes, and minimizing background noise. All of these features worked well in my testing, and made for a more enjoyable video chatting experience. You’ll just have to live with a sub-par webcam: while the field of view is nice and wide for automatic framing, the Full HD resolution doesn’t feel very sharp and generally looks blurry, even in good lighting.

Gorgeous hardware and a unique screen

All of this power is wrapped in what can only be described as a gorgeous design. The Surface Laptop Studio 2 is one of the most premium-feeling Windows laptops I’ve used, with a strong resemblance to that of Apple’s MacBook Pro line and the silver aluminum to prove it. This generation is a bit thicker and heavier than the last one, weighing in at 4.37 pounds with Nvidia’s graphics card. That’s a difference of 0.37 pounds compared to the older model, so get ready for a shoulder exercise when carrying this thing around in your backpack.

Also: Can Microsoft recover from the collapse of its Surface business?

Microsoft still includes a 14.4-inch PixelSense Flow display with its excellent 3:2 aspect ratio, 2400 x 1600 resolution, and 120Hz refresh rate. It was a great screen on the original model, and it continues to be just as good on the latest generation. It’s bright, colorful, sharp, and perfect for scrolling thanks to the taller aspect ratio. I absolutely love it.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 folded

The Surface Laptop Studio 2 in stage mode.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

And of course, it still does Microsoft’s neat trick of bending downward and extending past the keyboard, giving you the ability to easily sketch, annotate, or sign whatever’s on your screen with ease. When you dock the display below the space bar, Windows 11 switches to a touch-friendly interface with larger iconography, turning it into a propped-up tablet of sorts.

It opens a realm of possibilities for creatives who want more precise control over their video timelines, photo edits, or sketches. Microsoft sells the Surface Slim Pen 2 to pair with the screen, which docks below the trackpad magnetically to recharge. I didn’t get to test it for this review, but other members of the ZDNET team love it for its comfortability and low latency.

Also: It’s official: No more free Windows 10 upgrades

Speaking of comfortability, the keyboard on the Surface Laptop Studio 2 might be one of my favorites. It has 1.3 millimeters of travel and plenty of satisfying bounce, which helps to make it very comfortable to use for long periods of time. Part of me wishes the keys were slightly curved at the top instead of being totally flat, but that’s just a personal preference.

The trackpad is a little different, and so are the ports

Below the keyboard is a new trackpad from Microsoft. It’s a trackpad that doesn’t physically move but offers haptic feedback whenever you press down on it. Compared to my MacBook Pro (which has the greatest trackpad known to man), this trackpad is excellent. It’s responsive, fluid, and delivers the same level of feedback no matter where you click.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 trackpad

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

It’s also what Microsoft calls the “most inclusive” trackpad ever thanks to Adaptive Touch, which increases the sensitivity of the trackpad and lets you use your knuckle, palm, or other body part to control the cursor. It’s a great feature and an important addition as Microsoft continues to push for a more ability-inclusive product lineup.

Also: Microsoft is testing an AI-powered image creator for Windows 11 Paint

In addition, there are more ports on the Surface Laptop Studio 2, including a USB-A port and a microSD card slot. They sit alongside the dual Thunderbolt 4 ports, Surface Connector, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. I would’ve liked to see a full-size SD card reader as well, but any extra IO is welcome in my book.

Battery life is…fine

Microsoft says it improved the battery life on the Surface Laptop Studio 2, but it’s not very noticeable. I didn’t run any endless 4K video loops or scroll a webpage until it died, but I did use the machine for my everyday workload on a full charge, and all I got was just under six hours of use. This was after writing the copy for a variety of reviews and news pieces in Google Chrome, playing Spotify, using Photoshop and Lightroom occasionally, and watching YouTube.

ZDNET’s buying advice

With its $1,999 starting price (which only gets higher if you pick up an Nvidia GPU to actually work through creative projects), the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is an interesting choice. You’ll find similarly-specced laptops like the Dell XPS 15 or Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra for hundreds less, both of which also get you a thinner and lighter design for portability.

That being said, no laptop can do what the Studio 2 can and flex the screen down to be used as a writing canvas/tablet. The unique form factor, coupled with its beefier specs, will prove to be worth it for some creatives who want the most control out of their laptop. And while those who need to work in 8K video timelines or create complex Photoshops will want to look elsewhere (namely the latest MacBook Pros), everyone else will be just fine with what the Surface Laptop Studio 2 offers.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

ZDNET RECOMMENDS

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Microsoft delivers a solid experience with the Studio 2, one that’s still as unique as it was the first time around.

View at Microsoft

Alternatives to consider

The MacBook Pro on a table.

BEST LAPTOP ALTERNATIVE

Apple MacBook Pro (14-inch, M2 Pro)

Apple’s smaller-sized MacBook Pro packs a capable M2 Pro chipset in an all-aluminum form factor that’s tried and true.

View at Amazon

Dell XPS 15 by the window

BEST WINDOWS ALTERNATIVE

Dell XPS 15

When it comes to displays, Dell’s ultraportable is not as flexible as the Surface Laptop Studio 2, but the XPS still bears a timeless design with all the power a creative would need to get work done.

View at Dell

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