Microsoft Surface Laptop Review: Plush, Premium Design In A Competitive Category

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Microsoft Surface Laptop: Software and User Experience

The Surface Laptop’s default software configuration may disappoint some users. It ships with Windows 10 S, which only allows app installations from the Windows Store. It didn’t take us very long to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to install our benchmark suite or Adobe Creative Cloud. We understand the security benefits of limiting app installations to the Windows Store, but after many decades of using Windows and enjoying the flexibility of installing anything we wanted, the limitations of Windows 10 S makes the Surface Laptop feel more like an iPad than a full-on Windows machine.

Fortunately, upgrading to Windows 10 Pro is a click away. Microsoft offers a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for Surface Laptop owners. We advise immediately upgrading to Windows 10 Pro as soon as you get the Surface Laptop, otherwise you can’t even install Chrome or Steam.

Smile for the camera

Microsoft integrates a Windows Hello compatible IR camera that uses your face to sign into Windows, saving you the trouble of entering a password or PIN code. The camera was accurate and provided a seamless face-detection experience. It didn’t have troubles detecting my face whether I had my glasses on or changed my hair color.

Windows Hello

We found the experience pleasant and left it enabled during our time with the Surface Laptop. The Surface Laptop’s IR camera works more reliably than the Tobii Eye Tracker-based system in the Alienware 17 we evaluated last summer.

Dolby Premium Audio

Microsoft hides a pair of Omnisonic speakers beneath the Surface Laptop’s keyboard. The omnidirectional speakers aren’t anything special on their own – they sound somewhat muffled and dull for music and video. Dolby Audio Premium is the special sauce that transforms the Omnisonic speakers into something much better for daily use.

Dolby

The audio processing improves clarity and quality throughout the frequency range for a fuller sound, but the most notable improvement is with imaging. The muffled audio without Dolby Audio enabled placed the sound stage beneath the keyboard, which wasn't ideal. Enabling Dolby Audio raises the sound stage to the middle of the screen area and creates a wider sound stage.

Loudness isn’t an issue with the Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio enabled either. The speakers get loud enough to fill a room and they don’t distort at max volume either. However, you lose some clarity at max volume. We found the volume comfortable at around the 40-50-percent mark for watching TV shows on Netflix.

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