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7.9

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Like


  • The flexible screen positioning remains a terrific design

  • Very nice touchpad with customizable haptic feedback

Don’t like


  • Expensive

  • Has fallen behind competitors in many ways

  • Pen is extra-cost option

Still targeted at creators and gamers like the original Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio from 2021, the Laptop Studio 2 has as its distinguishing feature a three-position, 120Hz, 14-inch display. In addition to using its standard clamshell, typing-oriented position, you can pull it out to angle over the keyboard for activities like gaming using a controller and video streaming or lay it down on the keyboard at a very, very slight angle for tablet tasks like drawing or handwriting. 

But for its second generation, it relies too much on dubiously helpful software tricks in the latest Windows update and some typical generation-over-generation hardware refreshes to make it seem like a must-have rather than a maybe-want-to-have. And at hard-to-swallow prices, to boot.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2, display open and on, trackpad showing

Lori Grunin/CNET

Prices start at $2,000 (£2,069, AU$3,519) with a Core i7-13700H processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB solid-state drive and integrated graphics. Bumping to discrete graphics, a GeForce RTX 4050 adds $400 (total $2,400). Beyond that, prices rise to $2,800 for 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, $3,300 for 64GB of RAM and an RTX 4060, and $3,700 for a 2TB SSD. The commercial model with the Nvidia RTX 2000 (the workstation equivalent of the RTX 4060), a 1TB SSD and 32GB of RAM, goes for $3,600.

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Watch this: First Look: Microsoft Surface Studio 2 and Surface Go 3 Laptops

That’s a lot: the base model with only integrated graphics and a 512GB SSD for $2,000? That’s the same price as the entry-level MacBook Pro 14, which gets a lot more performance and battery life out of similar components. The hinge design on the SLS2, which makes it so flexible to use, remains its biggest draw, but as time goes on and more alternatives (like two-in-ones and three-in-ones) improve, it becomes less and less attractive in the absence of major upgrades.

Specifications

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2
Price as reviewed $3,300 (£3,369, AU$5,729)
Display 14.2-inch, 2,400×1,600 pixels, 120Hz, 203ppi, 500 nits SDR, 650 nits HDR
PC CPU 2.9GHz Intel Core i7-13700H
PC Memory 64GB 5,200 MHz LPDDR5x (soldered)
Graphics 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060
Storage 1TB NVMe SSD, microSD card slot
Ports 2x USB-C/Thunderbolt 4, 1x USB-A, 1x combo audio
Networking Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX210, Bluetooth 5.3
Operating system Windows 11 Home (22H2)
Weight 2 kg (4.4 pounds)

And sorry, but having to add another $130 for the meh Surface Slim Pen 2? Insult, meet injury. The SLS2 will still work with any MPP 2-compatible stylus, at least, which is good. I already had a Slim Pen 2 that I used for testing, and it reminded me how I didn’t much like the rubbery feel, flat shape and so-so customizability.

A lot of my impressions carry over from the original model. I still like the display positioning better than in a typical two-in-one; it feels a lot less awkward to pull it down — even though it does require two hands — than to rotate the screen all the way around to put it in tablet mode, which I can never seem to do gracefully. But I still miss the ability to position it at any angle as you could with some now-unavailable designs like the Acer Concept D Ezel models: specifically, the ability to let it hover over the keyboard so you can still get to the keyboard, or to be able to change the angle. Those designs are also easier to maneuver single-handed. (Sadly, though, laptops with those designs seem to no longer be available.) Nothing has changed here, including the fat screen bezels that help minimize touch accidents.

The laptop is also relatively heavy given its components and has an odd two-tier design; the bottom tier is dedicated to circulating and venting the hot air flowing across the CPU and GPU. And it still runs pretty warm when plugged in, with warm air venting at your hands on either side and somewhat hot palm rests. 

You can charge it via one of the two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports, which is nice, since the proprietary, magnetically attaching power cords always pull out when I least want them to. And Microsoft has updated the ports, adding a USB-A connection and microSD card slot.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2, view of the Micro SD slot

Say “hi!” to the new microSD card slot.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Because Microsoft hasn’t changed much, the laptop still suffers from the lack of upgradability, at least for consumers (businesses are another story). Individuals can’t upgrade the RAM, and SSD upgrades can only be done at an authorized service center. 

New features in Windows 11 can’t carry it

One of Microsoft’s big marketing points for its AI-boosted features in the SLS2 are Windows’ Studio Effects automation for videoconferencing — in this case, autoframing, Eye Contact (to make people think you’re engaged in the conversation) and background blur. The SLS2 is the first laptop to includes Intel’s Movidius AI-acceleration chip; at least for now, the Studio Effects are the only features that it works for.

The 1080p webcam itself isn’t terrific. Even in bright light it had some visual artifacts, such as noise reduction on my face (in general, noise reduction results in a weird mix of graininess and smoothing). White balance was fine, but the exposure seemed to be based on the entire room rather than just my face, so it was on the acceptable side of bright (to compensate for the more shadowy areas behind me) but with an unattractive hot spot on my forehead.

I am not very impressed with Studio Effects, but that’s partly because of the webcam. A resolution of 1,920×1,080 pixels sounds sufficient until signal processing starts, at which point the image starts to degrade. These new software-processing algorithms are one of the reasons companies have bumped up the resolution of their webcams, such as the 5-megapixel models we’re increasingly seeing in premium laptops. You may not use the higher resolution as raw pixels, but it gives the system a lot more data to work with when you put it in the effects blender. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2, overhead view of the keyboard

The keyboard and huge haptic touchpad are the same, though the touchpad gets some new capabilities.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Autoframing digitally zooms the image in order to frame you in the center, and it at least works pretty well, though I had to force it to kick in by moving out of frame. Eye Contact reminds me of the faux eyes of Apple’s EyeSight on its Vision Pro XR headset — intended to make you look more involved with the world on the other side, but suffering from just-short-of reality peculiarities. At its worst, it gives you a disturbing thousand-yard stare. And in general, people who make eye contact without ever glancing away look creepier than interested. Since you’re usually looking down into the laptop’s webcam or screen, an algorithm that makes it look like your webcam is at eye level rather than below might be considered at least as useful.

The worst is the background blur, though, which just does a poor job; in its standard mode, at best your hair goes in and out of blur, and the blur edges themselves are too wide, so the overall effect is a distracting mix of in- and out-of-focus hair. You can get the same result, and sometimes better, just using the conferencing software to handle it. Portrait mode provides a slightly more distinct edge on the blur, which looks better, but still not great. (You can probably tell I spend a lot of time in video calls thinking about image quality rather than listening.)

Then there’s Copilot, which hasn’t been able to answer one question I’ve tried to use it for, including prompts to the effect of “What are the display brightness specs for the Surface Laptop Studio 2?” It pointed me to measurements in reviews — including my own, which perplexed me since I hadn’t posted any yet. They were all for the first model.

Microsoft hasn’t changed the touchpad — it’s still the haptic version, just with new software support in the operating system to enable an adaptive touch mode for using the touchpad with body parts other than your fingers. But it doesn’t seem to be in it yet.

These are all likely to get better over time, but they’re not a compelling reason to buy this laptop now. 

Performance

Despite updating the screen to support HDR (it’s the same panel, just the electronics are different to control the brightness and 10-bit math necessary to render it), I’m still not a big fan of the display, which has too small a color gamut for a laptop in its price range and targeting creatives and gamers — only 85% P3 and 78% Adobe RGB — though almost full sRGB coverage like before and calibrated for it.

But for standard definition, I got nearly identical, excellent measurements as before or better, with a peak brightness of about 477, same 2.2 gamma, a white point of between 6,500K and 6,600K, depending upon screen brightness and overall better color accuracy (the default Vivid profile for P3 and sRGB profile for sRGB, both with Delta E less than 2). Contrast has dropped a bit; it’s still good for IPS at around 1,500:1.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 ajar, side view

Hot air blows out the side fans in its two-tier design. But look — a new USB-A port.

Lori Grunin/CNET

The HDR looked like DisplayHDR 400 does in movies and games; in other words, don’t expect much. But I don’t think my measurements for HDR were correct — I really, really hope they aren’t — and I’m waiting to hear back from Microsoft for confirmation and retesting. (All measurements are performed using the most recent version of Portrait Display’s Calman Ultimate software using a Calibrite Display Plus HL. Read more about our monitor testing methodology.)

I still saw more motion blur than you’d see on a gaming laptop, which doesn’t surprise me since it’s the same panel. And if you’re streaming games from the cloud, motion blur will be the least of your artifacts.

A two-in-one with an H-series processor is rare; a lot of them have moved to the lower-power-drawing P series or have fled all the way to ultralow power with the U series. So the SLS2 gets points for trying to be powerful, but it doesn’t seem to be able to stay there. The processor either behaves as if it’s always on battery, with the frequency dropping every time it had a millisecond of idleness. It’s efficient for energy usage, but performance takes a hit. 

And the system seemed to throttle the power when system temperature hit about 70 degrees Celsius. These conspire to keep it behind other laptops that use the same CPU or GPU.

Battery life was inconsistent on our streaming video rundown test, ranging from about six to eight hours. I will continue testing until I either have the source of the inconsistency or consistent results.

Some of the novelty has worn off the Surface Laptop Studio 2, and competitors with just a little less flexibility have improved to compete, at lower prices and with better screens, like the Lenovo Yoga 9i. It’s probably right for some niche users who need the clamshell-to-tablet simplicity of the design.

I had high hopes for this laptop line, but my inner skeptic thinks it’s likely to go the way of its big brother, the Surface Studio 2 Plus, which never made it to a third generation. It remains, still underpowered thanks to lackluster generational updates, haunting Microsoft’s Surface events like a ghost. It still has the 28-inch screen, which works as a showcase for Windows.

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 5,316Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 9,471Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra 12,558Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 12,639Acer Swift X 14 13,225

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 5,784Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 11,223Acer Swift X 14 14,760Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra 15,965Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 17,167

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 (single core)

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 1,082Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 1,296Acer Swift X 14 1,712Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 1,811Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra 1,889

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Shadow of the Tomb Raider gaming test (1080p)

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 44Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 83Acer Swift X 14 87Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Ultra 105Dell Inspiron 16 Plus 7630 109

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (FPS)

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