Surface Laptop Studio 2 review: Does it beat the MacBook Pro like Microsoft claims?

The Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 is reminiscent of the HP Elite Folio laptop I reviewed in 2021. Both feature a snazzy display that can be pulled forward, landing on top of the deck between the keyboard and the touchpad.

It is angled in such a way that it looks like a digital easel, allowing you to sketch and take notes in a comfortable manner. 

It was HP that adopted the pull-forward design before Microsoft with the HP Spectre Folio, and later, the Redmond-based tech giant followed suit with the first-generation Surface Laptop Studio.

This time, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is packed with updated internals and a new NPU chip (the first Intel neural-processing unit in a Windows laptop), allowing the machine to tackle AI tasks its predecessor couldn’t manage.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 price and specs

The Surface Laptop Studio 2 I have has the following specs:

My review unit has a price tag of $3,299. However, the cheapest Surface Laptop Studio 2 is $1,999, offering a 13th Gen Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of SSD storage, and Intel Iris Xe graphics. If you look at Microsoft’s website, you can look at all the other available configurations. 

What I love about the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

It goes without saying that the Surface Laptop Studio 2’s pull-forward design is one of its greatest selling points. The lid has a hinge that runs along its center. Grab either side of the display and pull it toward yourself until it naturally settles in between the spacebar and touchpad with a magnetic snap. During this mode, you will not have access to the keyboard.

The digital easel mode is fun

It took me some time to finally “get” how to properly transform the laptop to this posture, but I got the hang of it after playing with it a couple times.

You may be wondering, “When would I ever need to use this mode?” This position is greatest for digital artists who feel more comfortable drawing on a screen that has the angle of a traditional easel. You can also use this posture to watch films and shows on your favorite streaming websites.

With a 2,400 x 1,600-pixel display, which hovers somewhere between full HD and 4K, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is a visual treat. It also sports a 3:2 aspect ratio, making it taller than a traditional 16:10 panel.

Top-of-the-line build quality

If the Surface Laptop Studio 2 were a fictional character, it’d be Optimus Prime. It is one burly, brawny, sturdily built machine.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon/Mashable

What’s unique about this laptop is that it has a dual-level base. The underside appears to be dedicated for cooling and thermals with all the vents. After all, with all the powerful internals inside, it’s going to need a way to “exhale” all of that hot air. The upper level is where you’ll find a rounded-edge deck. On it, you’ll find an island-style keyboard and a smooth-as-butter touchpad. 

It’s worth noting that Microsoft used aluminum for the current generation of the Surface Laptop Studio (its predecessor used magnesium). Consequently, the new Surface Laptop Studio 2 is slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor, but not by much.

AI-boosted webcam

You can see the effects of the new NPU taking place with the built-in 1080p webcam. Called “Windows Studio effects,” the webcam keeps you in frame, whether you pan left or right. It can also apply a background-blur effect, too. There’s also an “eye contact” feature that makes it seem like you’re staring at the camera – even when you’re looking at the screen.

You can access all of these features in Settings > Bluetooth & devices > Cameras > Surface Camera Front.

Divine-sounding speakers

I fired up Spotify and launched Tate McRae’s “greedy.” The heavenly audio that emanated from the Surface Studio 2’s quad speakers was hypnotizing. The well-balanced sound sounded as smooth as Sunday morning.

What I dislike about the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

While you can most certainly bring the Surface Laptop Studio 2 with you during a work commute or a trip, it might not be pleasant lugging this chunky boy around.

Just leave it on your desk

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 on a table

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon/Mashable

It weighs a minimum of 4.18 pounds, so if you’re looking for a laptop that’s portable and lightweight, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 isn’t for you. This is a machine that needs to be stationed on a desk. 

The Surface Slim Pen 2 should ship with the Surface Laptop Studio 2

The Surface Laptop Studio 2’s ability to transform into a digital easel and a tablet makes it an artist’s playground. With users spending at least $2,000 on this laptop, it’d be nice if the Surface Slim Pen 2, priced separately at $129.99, was bundled with this 14.4-inch laptop. It just feels like scribbling and sketching is a natural part of the Surface Laptop Studio 2 experience, so the laptop feels a little naked with the stylus not being included.

It doesn’t beat MacBook Pro in Blender

At the Microsoft Surface event in late September, the Redmond-based tech giant made a bold claim that the Surface Laptop Studio 2 can run a Blender task faster than the M2 Pro MacBook Pro. Now, we don’t usually use the Blender benchmark, but to put Microsoft’s claims to the test, we had to do it this one time.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon/Mashable

On the Blender benchmark, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 delivered a score of 149. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it did not beat the M2 Pro chip inside my 14-inch MacBook Pro; it notched a score of 194.30.

On Geekbench 6, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 has a multi-core score of 9,613, beating the M2 Pro chip’s 12,429 score. Perhaps Microsoft meant to say that the Surface Laptop Studio 2 rivals the M2 chip (the processor found inside the new-ish 15-inch MacBook Air)? But even then, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 doesn’t beat the M2 chip’s multi-core score.

For what it’s worth, we also tested the Surface Laptop Studio 2’s Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 GPU in 3DMark Time Spy. We got a score of 8,517. We also ran the Cyberpunk 2077 benchmark and kept it at its default settings (2,400 x 1600, High). It averaged 26 frames per second.

What’s just okay about the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2?

There are some aspects of laptops that fall into a gray area – I neither love ‘em nor hate ‘em. In the case of the Surface Laptop Studio 2, I’m indifferent to its tablet mode.

Unwieldy tablet mode

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon/Mashable

Aside from its striking, eye-catching digital easel posture, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 can also transform into tablet mode, but I find this posture to be quite bulky. It won’t be an issue if you’re leaving it on your desk and sketching away. However, don’t think it can replace your iPad as some sort of e-reader – it’s just too unwieldy.

Right-clicking felt strange out of the box

On the Surface Laptop Studio 2, I felt as if I needed to click the furthest right side of the trackpad to get it to register a “right click.” However, I quickly fixed this issue by increasing the click sensitivity in the Surface app. On the plus side, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 has an new adaptive touch feature for differently abled users. I experimented with it myself, and by toggling it on via the Surface app, I could use the touchpad with my fist or my elbow, for example.

Thick bezels

I’m not a fan of the thick frame around the 14.4-inch display, but I can get used to it.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 battery life

On the PCMark 10 battery life benchmark, with brightness turned to the max, the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 lasted 7 hours and 46 minutes, which isn’t half bad for a touchscreen laptop with a discrete GPU.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 webcam

The Surface Laptop Studio 2’s 1080p webcam isn’t all that great. My brown complexion looks more gray and ghostly on this shooter.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 webcam photo

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 webcam photo
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon/Mashable

Final thoughts

This laptop is for professional artists who’d benefit from using a display that tilts in an easel-like position for sketching and drawing. If they want, they can also transform the laptop into a tablet. 

After all, there are very few laptops on the market with discrete GPUs that can convert into three modes: clamshell, tablet and easel. As such, if you’re a pro artist who needs a powerful laptop with stylus support, the Surface Laptop Studio 2 is ideal. 

I’d also recommend this laptop for differently abled users who could take full advantage of the Surface Laptop Studio 2’s adaptive touch trackpad feature.

However, if you don’t fit into that niche, it’s difficult to justify getting this laptop over something like the beastly 14-inch MacBook Pro or another similarly priced gaming rig.


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