Fast, Recommendable and All-round Impressive

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Fast, Recommendable and All-round Impressive

I’ll begin this review by admitting that in the three weeks that I’ve had the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 with me, I have hardly been able to put it down. In fact, it has seamlessly fit into being my primary work laptop, replacing my trusty, 2017 Apple MacBook Air that I otherwise use as a daily driver. I write a lot everyday, and given that I do most of my writing without looking at the keyboard (and sometimes, even without looking at the screen), I need a laptop’s ergonomics to be absolutely pitch perfect. Over time, I’ve found a very, very select few laptops being able to do this. The Surface Laptop 4 fit the bill from day one.

But it’s not just one thing that has made me like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4. There’s enough firepower inside the slim and carefully built chassis — an 11th gen Intel Core i7 chip, 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 512GB SSD make it as good a configuration as you’d expect ultrabooks to feature. There is a wonderful display with a responsive touch panel that’s seamless to use, and the entire laptop looks thoughtfully crafted and built with a lot of care. We have the 15-inch, Platinum colour variant for review, and despite its apparent size (it takes a while to get used to if you’ve been using a 13-inch laptop for a while), the Surface Laptop 4 still feels light. Is it, then, the ultimate 15-inch Windows ultrabook that would be worth breaking the bank over? Here’s your lowdown.

Design and build quality: Minimal approach for the (near) win

Ever since Microsoft unveiled its first Surface devices, it was clear that the company wasn’t exactly very bad at designing things. Given the innumerable quirks of certain aspects of Windows’ design, you wouldn’t have been punished for thinking it was. However, Microsoft seemed to have hit a new gear altogether when it took the wraps off its shiny new Windows 11 OS, and the Surface Laptop 4 is testament to this very new gear. It is minimal, and yet, it is one of the best looking 15-inch Windows laptops in my opinion.

Almost everything about the Surface Laptop 4 feels well thought out, and yet, kept as simple as things could humanly be. Personally, I hate congested keyboard layouts that end up looking too busy (partially why I’ve never loved Dell’s keyboards), and the first time you look at the Surface Laptop 4’s keyboard layout, the visual ergonomics are striking. There’s not a lot going on at any point with it — in fact, there’s absolutely nothing going on at any point. Yet, Microsoft has somehow managed to pull off not having under-designed a laptop that sits at the premium end of the ultrabook spectrum.

All three I/O ports of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 — one USB-A, one USB-C and one 3.5mm, are lined up to the left, and are super easy to access. The charging port is still the proprietary Surface Connect, and is to the right. When the laptop’s lid is closed, it sits absolutely flush, and there’s not a single undulation on the aluminium surface. Yet, you can still feel which side the laptop’s lid is by feeling the crease on the edge, hence easing how you’d open the laptop in a dark room. The Microsoft logo on top is shiny aluminium, and is the only sign of bling on the matte laptop body with the dark grey keys and trackpad.

Yet, there are quirks aplenty. For one, and this is the most obvious criticism — the Surface Laptop 4 doesn’t have enough ports, whichever way you look at things. If you work on plenty of offline stuff, or need to hook up an HDMI, you’ll need a dongle. Second, the lid of the laptop has no crease to ease it open, and it takes a touch too much pressure on fingertips to open a laptop that otherwise has Apple’s level of ergonomic excellence. The keyboard is lovely (more on this later), but I absolutely hate the fact that it does not have a right Control key. Finally, the Surface Connect port is annoying as ever — no magnetic snap-on, detaches too easily and far from being ergonomic.

Perhaps all of these (minus the lack of ports) are minute observations, but you will notice them for sure. In a laptop that’s built this close to perfection, anomalies become even more apparent.

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Performance: Ample for everything it’s meant

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 comes in AMD and Intel variants, and the one we’ve had with us is the latter. It is the top configuration in the lineup, with a retail price of Rs 1,77,499 in India. For this price, we get an 11th generation Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor, paired with 16GB LPDDR4X memory and a 512GB SSD. While this is an undoubtedly expensive proposition, it provides ample performance in terms of all the tasks that an ultrabook user may require.

For reference, we could multitask seamlessly with two browser windows open (with 15 tabs on each), along with a Microsoft Teams video conference call in the background, and 50GB AVCHD of video files being transferred from an external HDD to the laptop’s internal SSD as well. There is ample memory for you to load live preview thumbnails of old video files as you scroll in the internal storage, and on overall terms, the Surface Laptop 4 is not short on power.

Despite not being a gaming device, if you want the occasional stress-buster, it would be more than up to the task. The Surface Laptop 4 can play Asphalt 9 without many hiccups for the most part even on battery power, and without any stutters at all when plugged in. The 60Hz display is amply smooth thanks to the excellent performance on offer here, and due to the fluid performance, multitask gestures also work as they were ideally meant to in Windows 10.

There are a couple of instances where you’d feel that you may have indeed seen better performing laptops than the Surface Laptop 4, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. There are a couple of instances where there are unexplained stutters, but for the most part, these glitches are far and few. For absolutely all of your work needs and some light-hearted gaming and basic video production, the Surface Laptop 4 has plenty of power on offer for everything that it is meant to do.

Display: The annoyance of the ambience sensor

The 15-inch PixelSense display is a familiar 3:2 aspect ratio panel, which does not feel awkward any longer. In fact, it’s comfortable to view because it falls perfectly within proximal vision range — something that typical 16:9 displays cannot offer since they’d require you to pan your eyes. In terms of the overall colours that this display produces, there probably are very few in the market that can match the overall quality.

4K content via Netflix and YouTube look crisp, with just a hint of added saturation for a slight sense of vibrance upon default display colour balance. Add to that sharp and accurate touch response, and the Surface Laptop 4 display is one of the best around. You wouldn’t mind that it’s not a convertible, and over time, I’ve become convinced that the taller aspect ratio is the right way to go if you want a laptop display that’s larger than 13 inches.

And yet, there is one pet peeve that may be a unit specific issue, but I just cannot be sure of it. The ambience sensor on the Surface Laptop 4 is erroneous to the point where manual brightness adjustments are randomly overridden by it, meaning that you’d end up adjusting the display’s brightness levels close to a hundred times every day. The issue becomes even more annoying in darker ambiences, such as when you’re up responding to an urgent email late at night. At such times, based on the webpage you load, the display will continue to make micro brightness adjustments. It’s something that can certainly be fixed with a software patch, and we can’t wait for it to come soon enough.

The only other qualm that you can have are the unusually thick bezels on the Surface Laptop 4. They are way too thick by modern laptop standards, and while they won’t bother you on everyday terms, they’re undoubtedly ungainly for a laptop that looks this good.

Keyboard, trackpad and speakers: A heavy-duty writer’s dream

There are no two ways about it here — the keyboard here is absolutely excellent. I’m particularly finicky about my keyboards, and the Surface Laptop 4 presents a near perfect key pitch and travel for a comfortable typing experience. The entire keyboard is within your reach with the palms rested in typical laptop stance, making swift, spontaneous and error free typing absolutely seamless. The keys depress just enough for your fingertips to feel the feedback, but not too far to make you feel typing fatigue too soon.

For reference, with my 5,000 words per day average work schedule, the Surface Laptop 4 keyboard gives me no room to complain about. It is very familiar to the old Apple keyboard (not the new generation Butterfly or Butterfly-Scissor hybrid switches), and there’s no reason why you won’t love it. The only quirk I found is the keyboard backlight, which feels a bit too weak. However, it certainly gets the job more than done — even though its peak backlight brightness still feels dim to me.

The trackpad is large, responsive, and accurate. The smooth scrolling surface aids inertial scrolls, and on overall terms, there isn’t much to complain about. The Omnisonic speakers that sit behind the keyboard, meanwhile, are fairly impressive for laptop speakers. It gets Dolby Atmos support, and on overall terms, offers a nicely uniform listening experience. The sound has reasonable depth, even though it tapers into a shallower sound as the bass gets deeper. For watching movies with a companion when outdoors, the Surface Laptop 4 Omnisonic speakers are more than good enough.

Battery life: Bordering on excellent

The battery life of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 has improved significantly over its previous generation, and a full charge cycle can last a fairly heavy day’s workload for close to 12 hours. This also includes an hour of streaming 4K video content and 30 minutes of light gaming, making the Surface Laptop 4 the ultrabook to buy if you’re preparing to go back to the office. However, I sincerely wish Microsoft replaces the Surface Connect port, or at least improves it.

The charger attachment detaches way too easily, and isn’t particularly easy to attach, either. Thankfully, charging it for a little over an hour gives you plenty of juice to last through an entire day of presentations, more browser tabs than you can count and video conferences, ticking off an essential checklist item for ultrabooks.

Conclusion: An impressive ultrabook that’s certainly recommendable

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 has competitors in India such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the HP Spectre, the Dell XPS 15 (review) and the top-spec Asus ZenBook as well. Of these, the HP Spectre has an 11th gen Core i7 configuration on offer in India, but comes with a smaller, 13-inch display. The XPS 15, which matches the Surface for screen size, still sells with 10th gen Intel chips, although its 11th gen successor has been announced globally and should come to India soon. Upon launch, it would likely be more expensive than the Surface Laptop 4 — its 10th gen variant costs Rs 1.99 lakh on the Dell India site right now.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a 14-inch display, but even if you make do with that, the variant that matches the Surface Laptop 4 for specifications presently costs Rs 1.99 lakh on the Lenovo India store — same as the XPS 15, and a solid Rs 21,000 more than what Microsoft’s asking for. The Asus ZenBook 15 UX534, which is the final rival in this list, offers a 10th gen Core i7 chip but with an Nvidia GTX 1650 Max-Q — at Rs 2.14 lakh on Amazon India right now.

Everything considered, it is safe to say that the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is not overpriced in comparison to what’s on offer around it at the moment. It offers smooth and fluid performance, a fantastic keyboard and good battery life, ticking most checkboxes that you’d want of your premium ultrabook. If you’re looking for a super premium Windows laptop for your work, you can hardly go wrong with it. The impressive, minimal design language is an added boon.

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