If we learned anything from last year's Surface Book 3, it's that Microsoft's wild detachable tablet design wasn't long for this world. There was just no way to compete with other powerful notebooks when it required shoving full Windows PC, complete with a power-hungry CPU, into a large slate. Enter the Surface Laptop Studio, a new stab at building a powerful Surface notebook.
While it looks like a typical PC at first, a unique hinge allows you to pull the screen forward over the keyboard. And if you pull it all the way down, it turns into an easel, like a miniaturized version of the Surface Studio all-in-one. While I'm sure some Microsoft fans may miss the sheer weirdness of the Surface Book's design, the Laptop Studio is clearly more functional for typical users. I've yet to meet any Surface Book owners who actually use it in tablet mode very often — even flipping the screen around becomes a chore eventually.
The Laptop Studio clearly has plenty of quirks of its own, too. Its lower half almost looks like two PCs stacked on top of each other, with an odd tiered design. And if its screen flexibility looks familiar, it may be because it takes a few cues from HP's leather-clad Folio. That PC also let you pull out the screen and turn it into a tablet. It's a design I'm surprised more computer makers haven't adopted, as it seems more genuinely useful than convertibles with screens that fold a full 360-degrees.
And just like the new Surface Pro 8, the Laptop Studio's 14.4-inch touchscreen is a step above most displays, thanks to its fast 120Hz refresh rate and Dolby Vision HDR support. Having a high refresh rate will make scrolling and just about any screen movement look smoother, but crucially it also makes scribbling with the Surface Slim Pen 2 more like writing on actual paper. The Laptop Studio also has a convenient storage and charging slot for that stylus below its screen (but of course, you'll have to buy it separately).
Surprisingly, Microsoft still held back a bit when it came to power. The Surface Laptop Studio features Intel's quad-core 11th-gen H35 processors, which were originally intended for ultraportable gaming notebooks. Those 35-watt chips will certainly be an upgrade over the Book 3's 10th-gen hardware, but you'd think Microsoft would take this new model as a chance to spread its wings and cram in a six or eight-core CPU.
I'd wager the company felt compelled to deliver something that was relatively light — the Core i5 Laptop Studio weighs 3.8 pounds, while the Core i7 model weighs 4 pounds. Personally, I wouldn't mind something a bit heavier if it meant fitting in a better processor. And it's not as if there aren't plenty of Surface options for people who care more about portability.
You'll get Intel Iris Xe graphics with the Core i5 Surface Laptop Studio, whereas the i7 model comes with NVIDIA's RTX 3050 Ti with 4GB of GDDR6 memory. We've asked Microsoft to confirm the exact power usage of that GPU, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's the same 45-watt version that's in Dell's new XPS 15. From my testing, it's still faster than the Book 3's GTX 1660 Ti, but it would easily get smoked by a full-powered RTX 3050 Ti in a gaming system.
The Surface Laptop Studio starts at $1,600 and is available for pre-order today. It'll be on sale with the rest of the Surface lineup on October 5th.
Follow all of the news from Microsoft's fall Surface event right here.