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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (2021) review: A missed opportunity

By Kenny Yeo - 10 Jul 2021

Introduction

Note: This review was first published on 25 June 2021.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 looks just like its predecessor.

Spec bump Surface Laptop

Don’t fix what ain’t broken. Last year’s Surface Laptop 3 was one of the most portable and aesthetically pleasing Windows notebooks you could buy. So for 2021, Microsoft has wisely decided to leave its design untouched and instead upgrade only the internals.

The latest generation Surface Laptop 4 still comes in two sizes: 13.5 and 15 inches. The model we are looking at today is the 15-inch one. The design is, as I mentioned, unchanged. The footprint and thickness (14.7mm) is the same, and so is the weight (1.54kg). It’s one of the most portable 15-inch notebooks available now. Build quality remains faultless. The edges are immaculately finished and the aluminium body feels immovable.

The display is mostly excellent, if only it got brighter.

The 15-inch touchscreen PixelSense display has a 3:2 aspect ratio. Unusual it may be but newcomers will soon find that the extra vertical space offered by this aspect ratio is beneficial for viewing documents and spreadsheets. The downside, however, is that there are unsightly thick black bars when watching videos in full-screen. 

The display itself is quite excellent. It’s mighty sharp. A resolution of 2496 x 1664 pixels gives us a pixel density count of around 200 pixels per inch. Colours look great too – vibrant, punchy, and natural-looking. Viewing angles are also good, but because of its glossy finish, glare and reflections could be a problem. My only complaint is that the display doesn’t get quite bright enough for my taste.

The ports are unchanged which means the USB-C port still doesn't support Thunderbolt.

Ports are unchanged and that’s a massive disappointment. The only ports on offer are the same single USB-A and USB-C ports, and they both only support the old USB 3.2 Gen 1 standard. That means transfer speeds of just 5Gbps. Opposite the USB ports is a Surface Connect port, but it’s practically useless unless you have a Surface Dock. Really what Microsoft should have done is update the USB-C port to include Thunderbolt support. 

Fortunately, there are big changes inside. The Surface Laptop 4 comes with a choice of either Intel’s latest 11th generation Tiger Lake processors or AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series mobile processors.

The finish and amount of memory and storage varies but broadly speaking, customers of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 will be able to choose configurations that feature either the Intel Core i7-1185G7 or Ryzen 7 Microsoft Surface Edition (Ryzen 7 4980U). The Intel processor comes with Intel's new Iris Xe integrated graphics while the AMD processor comes with AMD's Radeon RX Vega 8 integrated graphics.

Here are the configurations available:

Surface Laptop 4 configurations
Processor Memory Storage Finish Price
AMD Ryzen 7 Surface Edition 8GB 256GB SSD Platinum S$1,949
AMD Ryzen 7 Surface Edition 8GB 512GB SSD Platinum, Matte Black S$2,199
AMD Ryzen 7 Surface Edition 16GB 512GB SSD Matte Black S$2,399
Intel Core i7-1185G7 16GB 512GB SSD Platinum, Matte Black S$2,599


The unit I'm testing is the top-of-the-line Ryzen 7 version with 16GB of memory and a 512GB SSD. It costs S$2,399.

The trackpad is super accurate and responsive. The keyboard is also mostly pleasant to type on.

The keyboard and trackpad are also unaltered and that’s no bad thing. The decision to forego a numpad should be applauded because that gives us larger and better positioned keys. In my opinion, there’s no point on insisting on a numpad if it compromises the rest of the typing experience. Key feel is decent. There’s a distinct point at which it actuates and it doesn’t feel mushy, but there isn’t much in the way of actual travel. The trackpad is quite large but it looks like it could have been larger. Just look at the amount of space around it. But it is super responsive and accurate – easily a step up on other Windows notebooks.

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7.5
  • Design 8.5
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7.5
  • Value 7
  • Mobility 8
The Good
Sleek design and light weight
Outstanding build quality
Great display
Excellent battery life
First-class trackpad
The Bad
Outdated AMD processor
No Thunderbolt support
Display a tad too dim
Pricey
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