Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-Inch): Excellent Choice
PC Magazine|May 2021
The 15-inch version of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 offers one of the most refined computing experiences of any Windows laptop. With two color options and excellent build quality, it’s a standout big-screen notebook.
TOM BRANT

New for 2021, processor options from both AMD and Intel make this fourth-generation laptop’s performance even better. The Surface Laptop 4 now clinches an Editors’ Choice award as our top pick among premium 15-inch models. It’s ideal for general-purpose computing on a big screen.

THE BREAD-AND-BUTTER SURFACE

The Surface Laptop and the Surface Laptop Go are the youngest members of Microsoft’s Surface family of Windows devices, but they’ve quickly become the bread and butter. All of the other Surfaces (the Surface Pro, the Surface Go, and the Surface Book) are futuristic 2-in-1 detachable machines. The Surface Laptop 4 is, as its name suggests, a straight-up clamshell-style laptop. Its screen doesn’t rotate or detach, and it’s not a gaming powerhouse. Still, with a snazzy design and a keyboard and touchpad far more comfortable than most detachable laptops offer, it’s an excellent example of a classic laptop.

Like its predecessors, the Surface Laptop 4 is available in two screen sizes. The 15-inch version reviewed here complements a smaller 13-inch model, which starts at $999 and is also updated for 2021 with new AMD and Intel processors. The 13-inch starting configuration has an AMD Ryzen 5 4680U mobile CPU, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. CPU options include an Intel Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1185G7, as well as RAM and storage upticks (up to 32GB of memory, and up to 1TB of solid-state storage).

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-Inch)

PROS

Lightweight and stylish. Sunny, razor-sharp screen with 3:2 aspect ratio. Comfortable touchpad. Excellent performance from AMD Ryzen 7. Intel Core i7 models available, too.

CONS

Few configuration options. Can’t get a version with a discrete GPU. Only two USB ports.

BOTTOM LINE

A new AMD Ryzen 7 processor brings significant performance improvements to the 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 4, making it an excellent choice for general-purpose computing on a big screen.

The 15-inch version starts at $1,299 with a Ryzen 7 4980U, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. Our review unit has a roomier 512GB SSD for a $200 premium. A Core i7 version is also available, though the option for a discrete GPU on either platform is not. All versions of the new laptop use integrated Iris Xe (Intel) or Radeon (AMD) graphics.

The expanded configuration options are a welcome departure from the Surface Laptop 3, which doesn’t have all processor options available for both screen sizes. Plenty of enthusiasts considering the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 already have a preference for AMD or Intel chips—if that’s you, it’s nice that Microsoft lets you choose. While many laptop OEMs use both AMD and Intel processors in their designs, it’s relatively rare to see the exact same model with a choice of Ryzen or Core processors.

SURFACE LAPTOP ‘COLOR’ OPTIONS: GRAY OR BLACK

The new configuration options are the only significant difference between the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 and its third-generation predecessor. Physically, the laptops are essentially identical, which is mostly a good thing. The most noteworthy design element is the 3:2 screen orientation, a signature Surface feature that adds space for viewing more of a vertical document, such as a web page, at the expense of horizontal space for watching a movie. More and more, laptops are starting to ditch 16:9 or 16:10 widescreen displays and revert to this once-common screen ratio.

The squared-off shape of the Surface Laptop 4’s display makes the rest of the laptop appear elegantly proportioned, with less empty space on the sides of the keyboard deck compared with a widescreen laptop like the 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro. Both the MacBook Pro and the Dell XPS 15 stick with 16:9 orientations. They’re also both significantly heavier than the Surface Laptop 4, which measures 0.58 by 13.4 by 9.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.4 pounds. The XPS 15 is 0.71 by 13.6 by 9.1 inches and 4.5 pounds. The 16-inch MacBook Pro measures 0.64 by 14.1 by 9.7 inches and weighs 4.3 pounds, though it provides an additional inch of screen real estate.

The Surface Laptop 4 scores significant points for slimming down, but it’s far from the smallest or lightest big-screen laptop. The LG Gram 17 offers an even bigger screen than the Surface Laptop 4 and tips the scales at under 3 pounds, a more impressive achievement.

The 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 offers only gray or black options, lacking the Sandstone and Ice Blue offered on the 13-inch model—but any color choice is welcome at all in this category. The XPS 15 also offers a choice of colors, but the MacBook Pro and most other competitors do not.

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