Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 offers strong performance, impressive audio, a comfy keyboard and good battery life in a sleek (if slightly dated) design
Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop 4 is more evolution than revolution, packing improved components into the same slim, lightweight chassis the Surface Laptop product line is known for. Microsoft hasn’t tried to sell it as anything else, instead promising that this latest Surface Laptop lasts longer and packs more power under the hood than its predecessors.
After spending many hours with this laptop, it’s clear those promises are true, though our test results leave plenty of room to quibble with Microsoft’s marketing. But it’s been nearly two years since the 2019 launch of the Surface Laptop 3, and in that time competing manufacturers like Dell and Apple have pushed the limits of how slim, beautiful and powerful an ultraportable can be.
CPU: 11th-Gen Intel Core i7-1185G7 (Core i5 also available)RAM: 16GB (8GB, 32GB also available)Display: 13.5-inch touch-screen, 2256 x 1504 (201 PPI)Storage: 512GB SSD (256GB, 1TB also available)Ports: 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, Surface Connect port, headphone jackBattery life: 10:46 (tested, web surfing) | Up to 17 hours (Microsoft’s claim)Wireless: Wi-Fi 6/Bluetooth 5.0Dimensions: 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inchesWeight: 2.79 poundsPrice: $1,699 as configured, $999 (13.5-inch) | $1,299 (15-inch) starting
So while the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is unquestionably the best Surface Laptop yet, the question of whether it’s the best laptop for you is a little trickier to answer. Read on for our full Surface Laptop 4 review, which should (hopefully) help you solve that question.
Editor’s Note: Microsoft unveiled a bumper crop of new
-ready Surface devices at its September 2021 Surface event, including a new device bearing the Surface Laptop name: the Surface Studio-like
Surface Laptop Studio
, which has a cool hinged display. Check out our full
Microsoft Surface event recap
for all the details.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Price and release date
Available as of April 15th in the US and April 27th in the UK, a new Surface Laptop 4 ordered from Microsoft will cost you at least $999 for the 13.5-inch model and $1,299 for the 15-inch. Those entry-level models ship with AMD Ryzen 5/7 4000-series chips, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
If you need more power you can configure the Surface Laptop 4 with beefier innards, potentially paying as much as $2,299 and $2,399 (respectively) for the two models if you kit them out with the top-tier components. Unlike its predecessors, both sizes of the Surface Laptop 4 can be configured with your choice of an Intel 11th Gen Core i5/i7 CPU or an AMD Ryzen 5/7 4000-series processor, though the 15-inch model is limited to the higher-end Core i7/Ryzen 7 chips.
Our 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 4 review unit arrived decked in Microsoft’s new (to the Surface Laptop) Ice Blue color scheme with a Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD, a configuration which retails for $1,699.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Design
The latest Surface Laptop hews close to the minimalist design of its predecessors, which is both welcome and a little underwhelming; I would have liked to see Microsoft attempt a more radical change with the Surface Laptop’s design, but for now you’ll have to look inside to see what’s new.
That said, I’ve always loved the slick, clean lines of the Surface devices, and the new Surface Laptop 4 offers more of the same. In terms of dimensions its identical to the Surface Laptop 3, weighing in at 2.8 pounds and measuring just 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches. That makes the Surface Laptop 4 not quite as small as the M1 MacBook Air (12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches, 2.8 pounds) or the Dell XPS 13 (11.7 x 8.2 x 0.5 inches, 2.9 pounds), but it’s plenty slim enough to slide into a backpack or briefcase and promptly forget about.
It’s a little harder to forget about the thick bezels surrounding the Surface Laptop 4’s 3:2 display. They just aren’t very attractive, and when I wasn’t focusing in on specific tasks I caught myself staring at the black bars around the screen, wishing they were smaller so I could have a bit more screen space to play with.
The Dell XPS 13’s incredibly slim bezels make it easy to see how much of a difference this kind of engineering work makes, and it would be nice to see Microsoft do the same for its flagship laptop. That said, it is nice how sturdy the screen feels under your fingers, and I felt zero qualms about briskly tapping and swiping my way through Windows without worrying I’d accidentally knock the screen back.
This is the first time Microsoft has offered a Surface Laptop in the Ice Blue color scheme previously seen on Microsoft Surface Pro tablets, and in person it’s a very nice, understated shade of pale metallic blue. It’s so subtle that I would have been hard-pressed to tell you it was blue unless we set it down alongside a bunch of other gray and silver laptops, at which point the Surface Laptop 4 clearly stands out from the crowd. I also appreciate the relative subtlety of the reflective Microsoft logo on the lid; it’s eye-catching but less garish than a lot of the manufacturer logos emblazoned on contemporary laptops.
The Alcantara lining the keyboard of the Ice Blue and Platinum 13.5-inch models is a nice touch that makes resting your wrists on the deck of the laptop feel a bit more comfortable. It’s a small difference, but one that I noticed every time I switched back to typing on an all-metal laptop. The feel of fabric beneath my wrists was just nicer, though the thought of trying to get a stain out of it heightened my already significant fear of eating or drinking while working.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Ports
The port selection on Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 is pretty simple, for better and for worse. The right side sports a Surface Connector for charging purposes, while on the left you’ll find a USB-A port, a USB-C port, and a headphone jack.
It’s nice to see a classic USB-A on a modern machine like this, and combining it with a USB-C gives this laptop a nice bit of flexibility when it comes to external devices. But this USB-C port doesn’t support Thunderbolt 4, which is a bummer for anyone investing in heavy-duty external accessories like GPUs or high-capacity drives. And while a part of me likes a slim, simple chassis without a lot of funky holes in it, I also really love it when a laptop manufacturer works a little SD card reader or a stylus cubby into the sides of their device.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Display
The 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1504-pixel screen of the Surface Laptop 4 has its charms, especially if you’re doing a lot of reading, editing, or anything that benefits from having the extra vertical space afforded by its 3:2 display ratio.
But when I switched out of productivity mode and started streaming some TV and movies on the laptop, I was a little disappointed by how dull and washed-out some scenes looked. Sometimes bright colors were vibrant enough to pop off the screen, as was the case with the bright orange explosions of Bad Boys 2 or Stormfront’s brilliant purple lightning discharges in The Boys. But in dark scenes or settings with lots of muted blues and greens the colors seemed to fade and blend into each other, making it difficult to pick out detail.
I also noticed my reflection a lot more often than I’m used to when working on a laptop, even with the screen’s brightness cranked all the way up. In the absence of hard testing data I’m leery of telling you that the Surface Laptop 4’s screen is definitely more reflective than most, but it sure seems that way. This didn’t cause any problems for me (other than stoking that unique form of self-loathing invoked by catching sight of yourself staring slack-jawed at a screen) but it’s worth noting if you plan to regularly use the device under bright lights or direct sunlight.
Under testing with our colorimeter the Surface Laptop 4’s screen produced 108.3% of the sRGB spectrum, which is a bit better than the 104.5% its 15-inch predecessor produced in the same test. That’s right in line with the cheaper Thinkpad 14s Yoga (at 108%) and better than competition like the Dell XPS 13 (97.9%), though it still can’t match the screens on the M1 MacBook Air (114.3%) and MacBook Pro (110.6%).
The screen gets reasonably bright, hitting an average of 348.6 nits of brightness when tested with our light gun. That’s decent, ahead of the Lenovo Thinkpad 14s Yoga (313 nits) but just a bit behind both the Intel and AMD variants of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 (which achieved 366 and 380 nits, respectively), and way behind the Dell XPS 13 (469 nits).
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Keyboard and touchpad
Typing on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 feels more comfortable than most laptops I’ve worked on, thanks in large part to the nicely-sized keys and the Alcantara material around the keyboard. The keys feel satisfying to type on, with 1.3mm of travel and a nice click to them which helped me avoid bottoming out while typing quickly.
The 4.5 x 3-inch glass touchpad beneath the keys is also quite nice to use, feeling comfortably close to the keyboard while still affording my big dumb sausage fingers plenty of room to move. Both it and the laptop’s touchscreen felt very responsive to the touch, and I had no trouble using gesture commands on either surface.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Audio
The big talking point around the Surface Laptop 4’s speakers is the addition of Dolby Atmos technology, which Microsoft claims helps the laptop deliver richer, more spatially accurate sound by pumping it out from beneath the keyboard and bouncing it off the screen.
I’m no audiophile, but even I can tell you that the speakers on the Surface Laptop 4 make music and movies sound very nice. Bass-heavy tracks like Massive Attack’s “Angel” still have a kick to them, and while watching the trailer for Godzilla vs. Kong I caught myself glancing down to make sure the laptop wasn’t actually vibrating in time with the bass drops.
But the Surface Laptop 4’s speakers really shine with more well-balanced tracks, and when I threw on Muddy Waters’ “Folk Singer” I was delighted by how clearly the vocals rang out across the room without losing any of their warmth. When I walked down the hall or into an adjoining room I could still hear Waters’ beautiful voice perfectly, and if I didn’t already know I’d never have guessed the music was being piped out of someone’s laptop.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Performance
Unless your job involves playing Cyberpunk 2077 with the settings cranked up, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 can handle pretty much anything you’d throw at it in the course of an average workday. Our review unit’s 16GB of RAM and 11th Gen Intel i7 CPU gave it enough pep to handily tackle as many basic tasks as I could subject it to, including 20+ tabs spread across four Chrome windows arrayed in such a way that I could watch two 4K YouTube videos, a Twitch stream, and keep an eye on my Spotify playlist while writing this review.
The Surface Laptop 4 we reviewed put up a decent score of 4,829 in our Geekbench 5 performance test, which is good but not great when stacked up against similarly-priced competitors like the Dell XPS 13 (which earned 5,254 in the same test) or even cheaper Windows notebooks like Lenovo’s convertible (4,885).
Our review unit’s 512GB SSD performed well enough when we tasked it with duplicating 25GB of multimedia files, transferring them at a decent clip of 562.73 MBps. That’s faster than the 508.9 MBps that the 15-inch Intel-powered Surface Laptop 3 delivered in our testing last year, but still slower than contemporary competitors like the Dell XPS 13 (806 MBps) or the Thinkbook 14s Yoga (886.35 MBps).
If you’re looking to do some video editing, the Surface Laptop 4 is up to the task (especially when kitted out with 16GB of RAM) but far from the fastest laptop on the block. In our Handbrake video editing test our review unit took about 17 minutes to convert a 4K video to 1080p, which is faster than the 17 minutes 18 seconds it took the 15-inch Intel-equipped Surface Laptop 3 to do the same test last year. It’s also a bit better than the Dell XPS 13 (which took about 18 minutes), though of course it falls far short of the sub-10-minute marks delivered by Apple’s M1-equipped MacBook Air (which took 9 minutes and 15 seconds) and MacBook Pro (7 minutes 44 seconds) models.
As far as games go, our testing suggests you should calibrate your expectations to the level of a nice work laptop: you should be able to play many games at acceptable frame rates, especially if they’re older or less graphically demanding, but don’t expect to enjoy running any game with minimum required specs that include a discrete GPU.
In our performance tests our Surface Laptop 4 review unit delivered an average of 30.46 frames per second playing Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm at 1080p, though that dropped down to a 27.9 fps average when we boosted the resolution up to the native 1504p.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Webcam
There’s not much to say about the 720p webcam built into the top of the Surface Laptop 4’s screen, save that I wish it was a little more exciting. A bump up to 1080p would have been a welcome change (especially amidst our current pandemic-provoked preponderance of Zoom meetings) that really helped set this latest Surface Laptop apart from its predecessors, all of which have sported 720p webcams above the display.
That said, the Surface Laptop 4’s webcam is completely adequate for all your video chatting needs, and the image quality is decent if you’re looking to take some laptop selfies.
As far as the much-touted Windows Hello biometric authentication goes, logging in via your face seems speedier than ever. I had some trouble getting the camera array to recognize me while setting the laptop up for facial recognition (perhaps it’s my fault for leaving my glasses on) but once I got it squared away, the Windows Hello login proved so speedy that if I was allowed to blink during the process, I’d have missed it.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Battery life
Battery life is one of the big selling points for this latest Surface Laptop, and with good reason; its predecessors have impressed us with their elegant designs and beautiful screens, but they’ve often fallen short of the competition when it comes to how long they last on a single charge.
This time around Microsoft claims the AMD-equipped 13.5 Surface Laptop 4 can last up to 19 hours on a charge, while the Intel variant we reviewed is advertised as lasting up to 17 hours.
Dear reader, we wanted to believe. The Surface Laptop 4 is a beautiful machine, and it truly does last quite a while on a single charge; I was able to unplug and get through a 9-hour workday of intermittent writing and editing while listening to music, watching videos, and never once worrying that the battery would give out on me.
But as good as it is, the Surface Laptop 4’s battery life doesn’t quite live up to the hype. In our lab tests — which are based on active, continuous web browsing — the Intel-based 13.5-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 lasted a little less than 11 hours (10:46:23, to be specific).
That’s a nice improvement over the 9 hours 32 minutes the Intel-based Surface Laptop 3 lasted in our tests, but it still falls short of the competition. The latest Dell XPS 13 was able to last longer (11:07) in our tests than the Surface Laptop 4 with a similar hardware configuration, for example, and of course if you’re willing to walk on the macOS side the MacBook Air M1 delivered an unbeatable 14 hours and 41 minutes in our battery tests.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Heat
In the course of this review our Surface Laptop 4 review unit rarely got noticeably warm, no matter how many tabs I had open or how many videos I tried to stream. The only time it got hot enough to cause discomfort was when I tried to play graphically demanding games like IO Interactive’s Hitman 2; on medium to low settings the 2018 game pushed the laptop hard, and as it stuttered between 15 to 40 frames per second the fans kicked in and I felt the bottom of the laptop get noticeably warm in my lap.
In our heat tests (which involve streaming 15 minutes of HD video) our heat gun found the underside hit an average temperature of 90 degrees, topping out at 92.5 near the center (roughly straight down from where the F5 key sits). The deck of the laptop proved much cooler, measuring just 80 degrees on the touchpad.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Verdict
The Surface Laptop 4 improves on the Surface Laptop 3 in many ways, offering Windows fans a bloatware-free ultraportable with premium components packed inside a beautiful, lightweight chassis.
While I’d have liked to see Microsoft attempt some more significant changes to the Surface Laptop formula, the excellent speakers, improved battery life, and under-the-hood upgrades make the Surface Laptop 4 one of the best Windows laptops you can buy — and a serious contender for a spot among the best laptops on the market.
We already have a laundry list of changes we’d like to see in a sequel (thinner bezels, a better webcam, Thunderbolt 4 support and more ports in general), but the Surface Laptop 4’s tall screen, comfortable keyboard and svelte, sturdy design make it a great choice for anyone looking to get work done around the house or out at the coffee shop.
Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. He currently serves as a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.