Microsoft Surface Laptop review: A great notebook with one small flaw

The back-to-school shopping season is just around the corner, and Microsoft (MSFT) is hoping its new Surface Laptop will be the computer you or your child brings to the classroom.

Starting at $999, the Surface Laptop is Microsoft’s attempt to fight back against the growing popularity of Google’s (GOOGGOOGL) low-cost Chromebooks and Apple’s (AAPL) own MacBook line. It’s a beautiful, lightweight device and packs a powerful battery.

The Surface Laptop also marks the debut of Microsoft’s new Windows 10 S operating system, a more security- and performance-minded variant of Windows 10. Unfortunately, to get those features, you also have to sacrifice some of your independence when it comes to what you can put on your own computer.

The Microsoft Surface laptop.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop is one of the best on the market.

You’ve gone soft on us

The Surface Laptop follows the same design language as Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Surface Book. But unlike its stablemates which are only available in “platinum,” the Laptop is available in blue, red and gold, as well.

The colors aren’t the only new addition to the Surface Laptop, though. Microsoft has also covered the notebook’s keyboard deck with the same Alcantara fabric found on its Surface Pro Signature Type Cover. Seeing fabric on a laptop is certainly jarring at first, but it actually makes for a more comfortable typing experience than the Surface Book and MacBook’s traditional keyboard decks.

Microsoft's Surface Laptop sports Alcantara.
Microsoft has covered the Surface Laptop in Alcantara fabric.

Naturally, the first question everyone, including me, asks when seeing the fabric, though is: “What happens if you spill something on it?”

Microsoft says as long as you wipe down your Surface Laptop it should be completely fine. Alcantara, as Microsoft will remind you, is the same fabric used in high-end luxury cars. It’s basically a more durable, synthetic version of suede, so you shouldn’t have to worry about damaging it with a few drops of coffee here and there.

The Surface Laptop's soft Alcantara.
The Laptop’s Alcantara is incredible soft.

Screen envy

Microsoft’s Surface products have some of the most attractive displays on the market, so it only makes sense that the Surface Laptop would sport a similarly beautiful panel. At 13.5 inches, the laptop’s touch screen is slightly larger than the MacBook Air’s 13.3-inch non-touch panel, and offers a higher resolution of 2256 x 1504 pixels versus the Air’s 1440 x 900 pixels.

The standard MacBook, on the other hand, has a gorgeous 12-inch Retina HD panel with a 2304 x 1440 resolution. The MacBook Pro, meanwhile, gets a 13.3-inch Retina HD screen with a 2560 x 1600 resolution.

Windows 10 S

Here’s where things get a little tricky for the Surface Laptop. Instead of loading the Surface Laptop with Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro, Microsoft ships the Surface Laptop with a new version of its operating system called Windows 10 S.

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