Beautiful stylus-enabled touchscreen
Incredible keyboard and trackpad
Configuration options are limited
Battery life shorter than advertised
We loved the Surface Laptop 3 when it came out last year, and the Surface Laptop 4 feels like a modest update to the Surface Laptop 3, adding newer processors with little to no changes otherwise. Unless you tend to push your laptop’s performance, the new Surface will stay snappy thanks to the CPU upgrade. And the same sharp, tall screen, incredible keyboard, smooth trackpad, and the suede-like Alcantara fabric interior make it a unique experience that’s hard to forget.
However, it’s not as feature-rich as other top Windows laptops, like the 2-in-1 HP Spectre 14, and it’s not as good of a value as the M1 MacBook Air. The Air handily destroys the Surface Laptop 4’s processor and battery life performance, but the Surface Laptop 4 is still a great new laptop for Windows enthusiasts.
About the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
We reviewed the 13.5-inch Intel version of the Surface Laptop 4. The 13.5-inch AMD Ryzen edition only comes with 256GB of storage, but the 15-inch Ryzen laptop comes with either 256GB or 512GB. The Intel versions start at 512GB of storage and go up to 1TB if you get the Core i7 with 32GB of RAM.
- Processor: Intel Core i7-1185G7 (AMD Ryzen 5 4680U, Intel Core i5-1135G7 also available)
- Memory: 16GB RAM (8GB and 32GB RAM also available)
- Storage: 512GB SSD (256GB and 1TB SSD also available)
- Display: 13.5” 2256p x 1504p Pixelsense Display with Surface Pen compatibility
- Ports: 1x USB-C; 1 x USB-A; 3.5mm headphone jack
- Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Integrated graphics
- Wireless / Connectivity: Intel Wireless-AX 201 (Wi-Fi 6); Bluetooth 5.0
- Battery: 47.4 Whr battery
- Weight: 2.79 lbs
- Dimensions: 12.1” x 8.8” x 0.57”
- Warranty: 1 Year Limited Warranty
What we like
Attention to detail
Everything about this laptop was carefully laid out. The Surface Laptop 4’s keyboard area can be outfitted with a silky Alcantara finish, or a classic aluminum finish to match the rest of the elegant body. It feels very solid and durable, and it’s comfortable to use. The lid opens easily, and the wrist rest gently slopes to help you avoid pressing the laptop’s bottom edge into your arms (a problem MacBooks still have). Overall, it’s very similar to the Surface Laptop 3.
The Surface Laptop 4 also has all the same ports and power adapter as its previous generation. Port-wise, there’s one USB-C port, one USB-A port, and a 3.5mm audio jack. You will definitely need a dongle or docking station if you’re a peripherals enthusiast, but at least you can choose whether you want to use USB-C or the older USB-A.
There’s an extra USB port on the power brick if you want to charge your phone. The power port itself is magnetic, so you won’t have to worry about breaking the power cord or ripping the laptop off the table should you trip on it. Not even the new M1 MacBook Pro comes equipped with a magnetic power port.
Components are pushed to the limit
Laptops are sometimes held back by performance tweaks manufacturers use to extend battery life or keep temps down. Thankfully, that’s not the case with the Surface Laptop 4, which performed above average for its specs. We tested the model with an Intel Core i7-1185G7 and 16GB of RAM, and it scored 4873 in the Geekbench 5 multicore test, 1143 in the Geekbench 5 single core test, and 5187 in the Cinebench R24 multicore test. (Both benchmark tests measure the speed of the processor. The higher the number, the faster the laptop is performing any task.)
These scores were slightly higher than those of other laptops with the Core i7-1185G7 processor—like the Lenovo Yoga 9i we tested earlier this year—but in line with other Intel Surface Laptop 4 scores, even the AMD Ryzen 7 4980U version. It’s one of the faster, low-power processors available for laptops that has enough performance to multitask while keeping battery life high. Opening dozens of tabs in Chrome while running a couple programs like Spotify and Slack were not an issue.
When we look at graphics capabilities, the Surface Laptop 4 is impressive for a laptop with integrated graphics. It scored 8.5% higher than similar laptops in 3DMark (a benchmark program that measures graphics performance) with a score of 5164 points. While it doesn’t come close to what a good gaming laptop can score, it’s one of the highest scores we’ve seen on a laptop with integrated graphics due to Intel’s Iris Xe.
When Shadow of the Tomb Raider ran on its highest 1080p graphics settings, the Surface Laptop 4 produced an average of 21 frames per second during runtime, which is more than what AMD's integrated graphics can achieve at the same settings. If you want to play less demanding games like Fortnite or Rocket League every once in a while, you should be able to run these games with no issue, although not at the highest graphical settings.
Writer-approved keyboard and trackpad
Perhaps the Surface Laptop 4’s greatest strength greatest strength is its user experience. The keyboard is one of the best laptop keyboards I’ve ever used, with an actuation force that’s neither too heavy nor too light—just enough to avoid pressing the wrong key, but light enough to keep my fingers from getting fatigued. The spacing and depth are also perfect, letting my fingers travel across the keyboard with ease. The trackpad is just as satisfying with an exceptionally large surface area for any-sized fingers to scroll and resize whatever is on the screen.
The Surface Laptop 4’s 2256p x 1504p screen is not your standard screen, boasting a resolution higher than 1080p without going all the way to 4K. This lets the screen be crisp and clear without wasting processor power. More importantly, this is a beautiful screen, bright, clear, and fairly vibrant.
The screen’s extra features also make the Surface Laptop 4 a prime choice for getting work done. Its 3:2 screen ratio offers a more vertical approach if you like to run apps or tabs in split screen. It also comes equipped with a very responsive touch screen that’s compatible with the Surface Pen. If you’re a note taker or artist, you will get a lot of use out of the screen’s pressure sensitivity. You may have some trouble with the smooth glass surface of the screen, but getting a varied stroke from your pen is certainly possible.
It would have been nice to cover more than 70% of DCI-P3 color gamut, but with 93% of the sRGB gamut, only HDR enthusiasts would even notice the difference. Otherwise, streaming video on this thing is great.
The speakers have a great soundstage that sells the illusion of surround sound. The sound itself is bright, bringing voices to the forefront without ignoring the rest. It’s not especially suited to music listening as a result of the voice focus, but again, is just right for watching movies especially with the lovely display.
What we don’t like
It’s almost identical to the Surface Laptop 3
While it’s not necessarily bad to keep the old look, it is bad when the flaws get passed down. Like the Surface Laptop 3, the Surface Laptop 4 has a rather inefficient use of space: the bezels are chunkier than the MacBook Air and Pro, and there’s a lot of blank space around the trackpad and keyboard. It makes me wish Microsoft used that space to shrink the bezels for an even bigger screen. HP and Dell have lately done a great job of maximizing that screen to body ratio—the HP Spectre 14t and Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 are gorgeous examples—and it’s time for everyone else to catch up.
The Surface Laptop 4 would have really stood out as a MacBook alternative if it were a 2-in-1 or convertible. Microsoft also makes the Surface Pro, a tablet with a detachable keyboard, but adding a true 2-in-1 form factor to the Surface Laptop 4 would have made it a dream for those who’d like to regularly use the Surface Pen. Would it bump the cost of production? Sure, but there are plenty of other 2-in-1s that cost around the same as the Surface Laptop 4 with about the same performance and battery life.
The configuration options are annoyingly strict
Microsoft is selling AMD versions of its Surface Laptop 4, which is amazing—test scores across several benchmarks suggest both the Ryzen 5 and 15-inch Ryzen 7 versions are faster than the Intel version we tested—but they’re tied to tiny 256GB SSDs. This is fine for those who save their docs to the cloud, but it’s a nuisance for those who regularly install large programs or files. Upgrading the SSD locks you into pricier Intel processors by default, and the cost jumps between 256GB and 512GB are big as a result.
If you configure a similar MacBook Air, the Air is usually cheaper, and you have more flexibility in your combination of SSD and RAM. We really enjoyed our high-end Intel Core i7 model, but we’re left wondering if the performance on the much cheaper Intel Core i5 models is good enough for most, especially when the M1 MacBooks are so damn fast for the same price.
Battery life is much lower than advertised
If you need a laptop you can take on the road, then the Surface Laptop 4’s battery should last long enough for you to leave the power cord in your bag. When we ran our battery test on the laptop, it died after cycling through pages in Google Chrome for eight hours and five minutes with battery saver settings disabled and the screen brightness set to 50% brightness. That's definitely enough to get through a long work or school day away from a power outlet, but it’s nowhere close to the up to 17 hours of battery life Microsoft claims this laptop can get. Some reviews pegged the battery life at over 10 hours, while others measured between five and six.
The Surface Laptop 4 seems incredibly reliant on every little battery saving feature in Windows 10: having the battery saver kick in at least 10%; selecting Balanced Mode in the Power options; lowering the screen brightness when the battery saver kicks in; going deep into the Power Options and setting a specific percentage levels for the Critical Battery Action. TL;DR: the battery lasts long if you turn everything down, and everyone tolerates different levels of compromise.
Should you buy it?
Yes, it’s one of the most well-made Windows laptops
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is a well-rounded laptop: it has a long battery life, a fast processor, a sturdy aluminum body, a phenomenal user experience, and a great screen. It does not lead the pack in any of these areas, but it also does not fail anywhere. It consistently meets and exceeds expectations. While it’s definitely pricey, it’s a laptop that will please a wide variety of users.
Our biggest gripe with the Surface Laptop 4 is its configuration options, which put potential buyers in the tough spot of choosing between a good processor with too little storage or a great processor that’s overpriced. The MacBook Air is more competitively priced for a similar configuration (it’s $100 cheaper for the 512GB configuration, for instance), and it has a 12-hour battery life and one of, if not the, fastest processors in the laptop space, at least for right now. If you’re okay with MacOS, the MacBook Air is the obvious choice. However, if you really like (or need) Windows, then the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 will give you most of what the Air has to offer. If you want a 2-in-1 or a second alternative, the HP Spectre 14t is another great Windows laptop with excellent performance, ergonomics, and a nine hour battery life.
We’re overall impressed with the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4. It didn’t manage to best its greatest rival, the MacBook Air, for performance, battery life, or value, but it gets close. It’s one of the best Windows-based laptops on performance alone, and when you factor in its excellent keyboard, trackpad, screen, and stellar appearance, it’s a phenomenal choice for many users.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Adrien is a staff writer for Reviewed, mainly focused on reviewing laptops and other consumer tech. During his free time, he's usually wandering around Hyrule.
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