The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 isn’t revolutionary in any single way, but what it does it does without fuss and with surprisingly strong performance at times. Getting to live and work with the laptop over a period of two weeks, I’ve used it for remote meetings, processing photos, doing image work and indeed writing this very review.
It’s been superseded by the upgraded Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio, which boasts increased performance for digital content creation, and more flexible design (and a higher price tag), but the Surface Laptop 4 might still remain our choice for writers and budding pros from the Surface roster.
For more options for great Windows laptops for writers, you can take a look at our guides for the best Windows laptops or the best laptops for writers.
CPUs: Intel Core i5/i7 or AMD Ryzen 5/7
Graphics: 2256 x 1504 / 2496 x 1664 (201 PPI)
Screen: 10-point multitouch 13.5”/15” PixelSense Display
Storage: 256GB-1TB SSD
ports: 1 x USB-C, 1 x USB-A, 3.5mm headphone jack, 1 x Surface Connect port
Size: 13.5”: 308mm x 223mm x 14.5mm / 15”: 339.5mm x 244mm x 14.7mm
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Design and display
The Surface Laptop 4 is designed to reassure you with its traditional, tried-and-tested appearance. In the matte black version we had for review, it almost feels like a nice little throwback to the 1990s IBM laptops – all that’s missing is the little red cursor nub in the middle of the keyboard. But unlike that unwieldy brick, and despite its sturdy appearance, the Surface Laptop 4 feels light and portable. The smooth matte surface has just enough grip for you not to constantly worry about the computer slipping out of my hands as it’s lifted or lugged around.
With the compact form, the keyboard looks like it may feel tight, but the keys feel nicely tactile and the trackpad is responsive and easy to get to grips with, so extended bouts of typing and writing feel really comfortable.
This model has two display options: a 15-inch PixelSense or a 13.5-inch one, which is the display we had for our test. Both are 10-point touchscreens, with max resolution of 2256 x 1504 pixels for the smaller unit and 2496 x 1664 pixels for the larger. HD streaming video looks really nice and sharp, which makes up for the relatively small screen size, and the high PPI allows for nicely detailed Photoshop and graphic design work. Blacks look reassuringly black and contrast is nice and clear with the brightness ramped up.
Using the touchscreen feels nice and responsive, and although you’ll never get the same accuracy here as with a dedicated graphics tablet, I could well see the Surface Laptop 4 coming in useful for visual design students or people who would like to use the touchscreen to perform simple graphics work. Obviously a stylus is needed here to prevent turning your screen into fingerprint city, but even using my stubby, clumsy fingers, the robust build quality and the great stability of the monitor hinge means it stayed put in my desired position, so I didn’t have to constantly adjust the screen back into place.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Features
As a Microsoft-made laptop, it’s no surprise to find that Office apps perform extremely slickly on here. Word processing is a breeze, and the 3:2 screen ratio is ideal for spreadsheet work and presentation prep. It’s clearly made with writers in mind, and caters brilliantly to them.
Apart from the touchscreen, and the accompanying table mode, there aren’t too many bells and whistles on this laptop. There is the Windows Hello face authentication feature, which works well and managed to easily unlock the laptop for me both with and without my glasses, while staying locked when faced with my child’s mug, however similar to me it might be some days…
And that relatively lean package may be no bad thing, as Microsoft has focused on doing the basics really well here. The webcam is a 720p HD f2.0 camera, and while those aren’t exactly dizzying specs, they form the core of one of the laptop’s best features; video conferencing. I used the webcam for VCs and team meetings, with several cameras and screens loading without any lag on the laptop’s behalf, and benchmark testing confirmed it reached its advertised 60 FPS frame rate without a hitch. It performed well in various different lighting situations and the built-in mic picked up all speech, even from across the room.
The Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Atmos 7 work really well in a professional setting too, rendering speech on Zoom calls clearly enough to make video-conferencing effortless.
Where it falls down slightly is in its lack of ports, with only one USB-C and one USB-A port, along with plugging into power using the magnetic Surface Connect port. There is a headphone jack, thank the gods, but if you want to do something like podcasting where you might need to plug more than one USB-C device into the laptop, or attach an HDMI monitor, you’ll have to get a dock , which would be an extra expense to the £1,260 that our review unit comes in at.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Performance
Our review unit was powered by a quad-core 2.42GHz Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor with a 64-bit operating system running Windows 11. We had the 8GB RAM, and while that’s not a huge number in today’s world, the 512GB SSD helps with its instant booting capabilities. Most programs opened swiftly, and Cinebench testing put it slightly ahead of some Intel Core i7 units in its multi-core test.
It’s not fast enough to be a go-to gaming laptop, nor will it be anyone’s favorite game-development machine or a high-capacity video processing powerhouse, but if you need to do occasional or regular light Photoshop or Lightroom work, it will do just fine.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Benchmark scores
Cinebench: Single core: 1232; Multi core: 3978
Geek Bench 5: Single core: 1264; Multi core: 4737
PC Mark 10: 3924 (Essentials: 7580; Productivity: 5173; Digital Content Creation: 4185)
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Battery life
Microsoft claims up to 17 hours of battery life for our review unit running on the Intel Core processor, and up to 19 hours with the AMD Ryzen processor. Our video streaming test yielded a very decent 13 hours and 42 minutes out of the Surface Laptop 4, which should get you through almost two whole seasons of Ice Road Rescue before having to hunt for an outlet.
Charging up was fairly swift too, where I saw it go from empty to around 70% in about two hours while working on it.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Price
You can configure the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 with up to 32GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD running on the Intel Core i7 and pay upwards of £2,300 for it, but with its screen optimized mostly for writers, students and pros doing less demanding visual work, it won’t ever become your go-to gaming kit, or a main graphic machine. The lower-spec model, costing from around £1,200 to £1,350 depending on your preferred design options, offers the best value for money here.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4: Should you buy it?
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is a well-made laptop, robust but highly portable, so would be a great option for professional writers, or students who want a range of capabilities including light graphics or visual work. Video-conferencing is a particular strength, making it a solid option for a hybrid worker who needs to travel and communicate remotely on a regular basis, even when they might not see a power outlet for a few hours. And for Surface fans, this is among their very best.
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