Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – an early comparison

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Surface Laptop

Introduction – Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4

Finally, we have an all new ‘Surface’ hardware from Microsoft. (Remember, ‘Surface’ is a brand). If you were expecting a ground breaking product from them, you might be in a bit of a disappointment. The initial impression of the Surface Laptop is rather mundane. You get the feeling that you’ve seen this before.

But does it propose any kind of value to the table, especially compared to the existing Surface (and competing) devices?

Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – Dimension & Weight

Here’s the physical specs of the Surface Pro 4:

  • Width: 11.50-inch (29.1cm)
  • Depth: 7.93-inch (20.14cm)
  • Thickness: 0.33-inch (8.4mm)
  • Weight: 1.73lb (786g)

And here are the physical specs of the new Surface Laptop:

  • Width: 12.13-inch (30.8cm)
  • Depth: 8.79-inch (22.33cm)
  • Thickness: 0.57-inch (14.48mm)
  • Weight: 2.76lb (1.25kg)

Physically, the Surface Laptop is bigger in all dimension, especially the thickness. But this isn’t a fair comparison since the Surface Laptop includes the keyboard in the thickness metrics.

The Surface Pro 4 keyboard measures 0.19-inch (4.65mm). So when the keyboard is attached, the whole package measures 0.51-inch (13.1mm) thick. It’s closer, but still thinner.

Similarly, with the keyboard, the Surface Pro 4 weighs 2.37lb (1.08kg). The Surface Pro 4 remains significantly lighter.

Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – Display

Size – The surface Pro 4 features a 12.3-inch display, while the Surface Laptop features a 13.5-inch display. The Surface Laptop clearly wins here. Both are touch enabled screens.

Resolution –  The Surface Pro 4 features a display with 2736 x 1824 resolution. The Surface Laptop only does 2256 x 1504. Consequently, the pixel density of the Surface Pro 4 is 267 while the Surface Laptop is only 201. Some users won’t like this move, especially those who likes to use tiny fonts.

Aspect Ratio – Both feature an identical 3:2 aspect ratio. It’s a nice ratio for productivity use. I don’t like those wide but short screens. You tend to run out of vertical space very quickly in those screens.

Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – Processor

The Surface Pro 4 offered 3 levels of processors – Core-M-i3, Core-i5 and Core i7. The Surface Laptop only offers two levels – Core-i5 and Core-i7. But this time, those are 7th generation processors (Kaby Lake).

Much has been discussed already on the differences between the Kaby Lake and the 6th generation processor (Skylake) but here are some of the notable benefits:

  • GPU is significantly more powerful.
  • Much better 4K streaming capability while using less battery (up to 2.6 times less power consumption while 4K streaming)
  • Faster clock frequencies and higher turbo speeds, which could only lead to a faster overall experience. Since the Kaby Lake architecture didn’t change it’s core architecture, IPC (instruction per cycle) hasn’t changed. This is one of the few remaining options to increase the overall speed during such refresh cycles.
  • USB 3.1 Gen 2 support which offers more bandwidth. Thunderbolt 3.0 is also offered if the motherboard supports them.
  • More encoding and decoding flexibilities which offloads work from the main processing unit, while processing them faster.

Basically, you can think of Kaky Lake as an optimized version of Skylake (6th gen).

Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – GPU

The GPUs have been updated – the names have changed from HD5xx to HD6xx. The non-i7 version gets HD620 instead of HD520. The i7 versions also receives an upgrade – Iris 540 to Iris Plus 640. (Read this article for more on the Iris – it will surprise you)

Here are the numbers using the Passmark G3D benchmark:

  • Surface Pro 4 with i5 (HD520): 763
  • Surface Pro 4 with i7 (Iris 540):1373
  • “Average” with HD620: 942
  • “Average” with Iris Plus 640: 1444

For the 6xx GPUs, “average” machine numbers are used because we don’t currently have numbers available for soon to be released Surface Laptop, just yet.

For a generic 3D benchmark test, the new set of GPUs only show minor improvements. But there is a good chance that less power is burned performing the same set of tasks.

A separate extensive article on performance comparison will be published once the hardware becomes officially available.

Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – Keyboard

It has the typical chiclet keyboard with 1.5mm travel. In case you were wondering, the Surface Pro 4 has 1.4mm travel. If you do end up feeling the difference, it’s not because of the travel distance. You can safely bet that it won’t bounce like the Surface Pro 4’s keyboard.

The Surface Laptop advertises its keyboard something like this:

“Alcantara fabric surface laser-cut around the keys”

Whatever that is, it is supposed to cut light leakage down to zero around the keyboard.

Also, it is supposed to be warm to the touch. Nice.

Interesting. Probably not practical though. I can already imagine dirt staining all over the place with that kind of material. The Surface Pro 4 once offered the same material for its keyboard and many users complained about this.

Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – Battery

Officially, the Surface Pro 4 is quoted to have “up to” 9 hours of battery life. The new Surface Laptop claims “up to” 14.5 hours. That’s quite a difference!

In actual numbers, the Surface Pro 4 features 38.2Wh battery. The Surface Laptop battery capacity is unfortunately unknown for now. The Kaby Lake processor should save some power consumption, so my guess is that the actual battery capacity only received a minor bump.

Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – Value

Microsoft says the Surface Laptop represents the value end of the family.

Currently, you can pre-order the Surface Laptop (Core i5 with 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD) for $999US. Similarly equiped Surface Pro 4 currently goes for $850US.

A maxed out version of Surface Laptop (Core i7 with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD) can be reserved for $2199US. Similarly equiped Surface Pro 4 can be had for $2100US today.

In both cases though, the keyboard isn’t included in the Surface Pro 4 package. So the net price differences are negligible.

Value? May be not.

Accessories

The Surface Laptop promises to work with the same pen that works with the Surface Pro 4. The Surface Dial is supposed to work on this device as well, although I still have a hard time seeing such devices work on small screens.

I’m sure someone with more imagination than myself will come up with something useful.

Windows 10 S

Yes, this topic is going to be controversial.

Windows 10 S is a variation of Windows 10 that promises faster boot time (including faster sleep-wake-up time) and better security. This, I assume, is achieved by pre-screening apps you can install in their App Store so that the apps can play nicely within this restriction.

It sure sounds like a massive restriction though. Remember, many of the popular applications are currently not sold through Microsoft’s App Store. The Windows platform has been less restrictive in this sense since day 1.

I believe this is the right direction though in the long run, but it will take time.

For now, you can easily go back to the standard Windows 10. You can “upgrade” to the regular flavour Windows 10 for free. You have until the end of 2017 to do this. Unfortunately, non Surface Laptop users will still have to pay $49 to upgrade.

Sounds like a reasonable plan.

Missing in action – USB-C

That’s right. No USB-C port here. The Surface Laptop features couple of ports – USB, Mini Display Port, and a headphone jack (a normal looking one).

It is even more strange that the USB-C didn’t make it here, since the early prototype leak had one built in. So what happened?

Apparently, Microsoft doesn’t think the USB-C is ready for prime time yet.

I disagree!

They could have easily removed most of these ports and offer couple of USB-Cs instead. I would have liked to see the Surface Laptop being charged through a USB-C port.

At least, they kept the same charger as the ones used by the Surface Pro 4 and the Surface Book. If you have one of these, you can continue to use them as spares.

Surface Laptop vs Surface Pro 4 – Conclusion

So what is the conclusion? Well, I think they produced a polished ultraportable, built by Microsoft, sold at not so exorbitant price.

I understand that the Surface Laptop needs to exist. Many users don’t want the fancy 2-in-1 or detachable tablet design and pay extra for them while making some sacrifices to get there.

Microsoft even said in the past that they will build one.

It’s looking more like a competitor to ChromeBooks, IMO, especially when used with Windows 10 S, albeit an expensive one. Remember, ChromeBooks can now run Android Apps. Not for everyone but could be great for some users.

The Surface Laptop will ship starting on June 15. You can pre-order it here if you are a resident of USA.

So where is Surface Pro 5?

This is what Microsoft’s CEO said this time around:

“If people don’t want to buy our Pro 4 at this time, that’s OK.

What I’m super, super sure of is that the people using a Pro 4 have a product that’s going to be competitive for five years.

When it’s meaningful and the change is right, we’ll put it on market”

I’m slightly confused on the second sentence. Does that mean the next model will become competitive for the following 5 years? Or the current Surface Pro 4 is so good that it will be competitive for another 3.5 years?

And then he drops this:

“You’ll see that same meaningful impact when Pro 5, or Pro Next hits the market.

There’s no such thing as a Pro 5

Oh well.

Oh, and in case you were wondering why the Surface Laptop is only being compared against an arguably a different class device, another article is coming soon that will compare against the Surface Book.

Stay tuned.


4 COMMENTS

  1. I’m guessing that the battery on the Surface laptop is in the 50Wh range.
    Really disappointed that theres no Type-C port on it, though.

    As far as the laptop goes, I don’t think it’s meant to become a device that gets sold a lot, unlike the SP4. It’s a benchmark to show what can be done hardware-wise and have a direct answer to the Macbook Air / Macbook Pro 13.

    It’s more of a showroom device to get people interested in the much cheaper partner devices running Windows 10 S to get those into as many schools and other educational facilities as possible.

  2. I have a feeling that this will become popular… More for students and less premium users. For non power users, I think the restrictions could even benefit them.

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