Big thanks Microsoft Singapore for providing the review unit for this review.
As usual, my review is from the perspective of a visual content creator, someone who writes a lot, does graphic design, edits photos and videos daily.
The main upgrade in the Surface Laptop 2 is the jump from dual core processors to the quad core Intel Core i5-8250U (1.6Ghz - 3.4Ghz) processors. The improvement with processor intensive tasks is significant.
Here are the specifications for the unit I received:
- 13.5-inch IPS screen
- Intel Core i5-8250U (1.6Ghz - 3.4Ghz)
- 8GB RAM
- 256GB SSD storage
- Intel UHD Graphics 620
- 1.25 kg
Those are the available configurations and the respective prices.
The prices in Singapore dollars are:
- Intel i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage - S$1,378
- Intel i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage - S$1,608
- Intel i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage - S$2,126
- Intel i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB storage - S$3,268
For graphic design and photo editing, please get the model with at least 256GB storage. After formatting, the actual capacity are as follows
128GB = 119GB
256GB = 238GB
512GB = 476GB
1TB = 0.9TB
After installing all the software you need, with the 128GB model, you may be left with only 100GB actual storage. And the Surface Laptop doesn't have the microSD card reader like the Surface Pro 6 so you cannot expand your storage capacity in the future.
Most people I think should be fine with the Intel i5, 8GB RAM 256GB storage model. The local price of S$1,608 is very competitive compared to the LG Gram 13.3 or the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro. The Surface Laptop 2 will be the option I will consider very seriously if I'm in the market for a 13-14-inch laptop. The new quad processors make it really worth the money this time over the previous model.
Design and build quality
The full metal body feels sturdy. Design looks clean and sleek. The available colours are Platinum, Black and Burgundy.
The laptop is thin and very portable. It's thinnest in front and thicker towards the back. The Intel i5 model weighs 1.25kg while the i7 model weighs 1.28kg. The weight feels right. Each time I pick it up, it just feels good. When placed on the table, the four rubber feet beneath cushions against the tabletop.
The only ports available at the USB 3 type A, mini DisplayPort and 3.5mm audio jack. On the other side is the Surface port for charging the laptop. I really wish Microsoft would start including USB type C ports, and maybe even the microSD card reader or SD card reader. Those ports add versatility, especially the USB type C, which can be used for charging, connecting to an external monitor, and if there's Thunderbolt 3, connect to an external GPU.
Personally, I still use many devices that use the USB 3 and I'm also using the DisplayPort so I can't really complain much. It's a laptop that fits into my current setup at home.
The Alcantara material on the keyboard is really nice to rest your hand on. It has this really nice velvety cloth like texture.
Typing experience on the Surface Laptop is excellent, easily 5 out of 5 for me. Just for comparison, I would rate the butterfly keys on the 2016-2019 Macbook Pros a 3/5.
There's backlight for these keys too.
Colours on the 13.5-inch glossy screen are vibrant. I've colour calibrated the screen and got a readout of 92% sRGB which is lower than my Surface Pro 6's 99% sRGB. I repeated the calibration and got similar results. 92% sRGB colour gamut support is still pretty good for most general purpose design work, unless you're working for print in that case you may probably want to connect to an external AdobeRGB monitor.
The resolution is 2256 × 1504 which is a 3:2 aspect ratio. When screen size is small, a 3:2 or 16:10 aspect ratio is prefer over the wider 16:9. The extra vertical resolution benefits certain software. Eg. With video editing, you can see more layers of the timeline, with web pages you can see more of the page, and with photo editing unless you take 16:9 photos, the photo will make better use of the screen and fill it up nicely.
The screen supports touch and the Surface Pen. You can take short notes but it would be awkward to spend too much time writing on it because it's after all a laptop screen and it wobbles while you write.
The downside of the screen is, it's very reflective. So if you're working outdoors, or indoors with lights over and behind you, expect strong reflections. Brightness is adequate but I find myself using 75% to 100% brightness most of the time.
The Microsoft Surface Pen is not included. This is a nice accessory to have but it's really optional. It's good for the occasional writing.
Overall performance feels snappy. The SSD storage is able to boot up the system fast, open and save huge files quickly.
Editing photos on this screen is enjoyable. Edits are responsive and exporting photos is quick.
Below are the timings it took to export 100 RAW 16MP photos, arranged from fast to slow
- Microsoft Surface Studio 2, i7-7820HQ (quad 2.9 - 3.9Ghz): 2min 8s
- Mac Pro 2013, Xeon quad core 3.7Ghz - 3 min 17s
- Macbook Pro 2015, Quad 2.5Ghz - 3min 21s
- Surface Book 2, i7-8650U (1.9 to 4.2 GHz) - 3 min 49s
- Surface Laptop 2, i5-8250U (quad 1.6 to 3.4Ghz) - 4min 12s
- Surface Pro 6, i5-8250U (quad 1.6 to 3.4Ghz) - 4min 18s
- Lenovo Miix 520, i5-8250U (Quad 1.6 - 3.4Ghz) - 4min 40s
- Surface Laptop 2 i5-7200U (2.5-3.1Ghz) - 8min 26
- Surface Book 2, Intel Core i5-7300U (2.6 to 3.5 GHz) - 8min 57s
- Surface Pro 2017, i5-7300U (2.6 to 3.5 GHz) - 12min 24s
When the processor becomes hot, expect throttling. The maximum sustained performance I was able to get was around 2.2Ghz. When it gets really hot, it would even go down to 0.8Ghz. There are fans in the Surface Laptop 2 and they work to cool the processors but they are not magic fans.
Video editing performance has improved significantly. Exporting a 1080P 25FPS video takes two times the amount of time. So if it's a 10 minute video, it would take 20 minutes to export. That's pretty good performance especially when you compare to the previous dual core models which will definitely take more than 40 minutes.
If you do casual video editing occasionally, you will save a lot of time with the new quad core processors. While there's time savings with exporting photos as well, unless you're exporting thousands of photos, that time savings will not be as obvious as when exporting videos.
Doing graphic design work on the Surface Laptop 2 is no problem at all.
Battery life is good. For light work you may get around 7 - 10 hours of battery life. For heavy work such as editing photos and videos, you may see 5 hours of battery life. This battery life is better or comparable to other laptops.
In this video review, I compare the Surface Pro 6 with the Surface Laptop 2 because they have similar specifications.
The main takeaway point is, if need to draw or write for extended periods of time and still want a compact portable system, get the Surface Pro 6. But note that Surface Pro 6 Intel i5 model does not have fans so it will throttle hard, but it's still a huge improvement over the previous model when it comes to processor intensive tasks.
The upgrade to quad core processors is a really nice move, and it's about time too. The improvement in performance for processor intensive tasks is significant, Those tasks now take half the amount of time to complete. 1080P video exporting which is tedious on dual core processors is now so much more manageable. Oh, and Surface Laptop 2 is a looker too with it's beautiful full metal body, rounded corners, vibrant touch screen and Alcantara keyboard surface.
The main downside would be the selection of ports. Include some USB type C ports and the Surface Laptop would be close to being perfect. The other downside is the reflective screen but that's to be expected with glossy screens. Last downside is processors will throttle with heat.
I've been using the Surface Laptop 2 for two weeks for my work, writing, editing photos and videos and it has been a very satisfying experience. Note that this is not a workstation and will not replace desktops systems built specially for visual content creation, but this is a great option for those who want the portability and still do a bit of graphic design and edits.
To conclude, if you're in the market for a 13 to 14 inch laptop, consider the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 seriously. With the first generation, I thought it was rather pricey but this time, I think it's actually kinda worth the money.
Quick list of pros and cons
+ Excellent build quality
+ Excellent typing experience
+ Quad core processors 2x faster than previous dual core model
+ Vibrant high resolution screen
+ Screen has good colours and viewing angles
+ Snappy performance from SSD
+ Nice weight (1.25kg)
+ Stylus is quite accurate for drawing on the screen
+ Good speakers
+ Good battery life
- Limited ports
- Windows 10 S cannot install desktop apps
- Reflective screen
- Processors throttle when they get hot
- Fans work but don't cool the processor sufficiently