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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review: Perfect for students on the go

The Surface Laptop 4 is a lightweight machine with a beautiful design that packs a performance punch, but has shortfalls like a lack of ports.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 box_front view open_Mina Frost
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

We like the Surface Laptop 4 for its design and ergonomics; it’s ideal for someone who’s often on the go. It's also a powerful machine for its size, and that makes it an ideal choice for students. You'll need to splash out on the higher spec options for things like coding or gaming though.

For

  • Lightweight, beautiful design
  • Great battery life
  • Amazing keyboard

Against

  • Alcantara felt stains easily
  • Powerful models are pricey
  • Very few ports

Released in April 2021, the Surface Laptop 4 is the latest in the Surface laptop line, and looks fairly similar to its predecessor. It has the signature sleek Microsoft look, but promises more power and a better battery life. It’s worth keeping in mind that Microsoft has recently released the Microsoft Surface Studio, a higher-performing (and more expensive) lightweight Surface laptop.

Key specs

Screen size: 13.5 inches (15 inches also available)

Weight: 2.8 lbs

Memory: 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB available

Battery life: Up to 19 hours

Storage: 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB available

Processing power: 2.2 GHz

Warranty: 1-year limited hardware warranty

Operating system: Microsoft 11

Display: 3:2 PixelSense touch screen, (resolution: 2256 x 1504)

CPU: AMD Ryzen™ 5 or 7, 10th, or 11th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7 available

Graphics: AMD Radeon™ Graphics

Ports: 1 USB-C, 1 USB-A, 1 audio jack, 1 Surface Connect

After a few weeks of testing and regular use, we were very impressed with the incredible ergonomics and the high performance across everyday tasks. The keyboard in particular is delightful to use, and the display quality is very agreeable. However, the entry-level model that we tested is definitely not the most powerful laptop out there, and might not be the best match for someone looking to do heavy programming work. 

If you’re frequently on the move, however, and looking for a reliable but lightweight machine, the Surface Laptop 4 is an excellent choice. Its price point is very reasonable considering its build and specs, too. As with most laptops, it can be customized to best suit the needs of users, with two different screen sizes, four colors, varying levels of storage and memory, and different CPUs. 

Read our full review to find out whether the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 might be your next laptop!

Surface Laptop 4 review: Design & specs

  • Really lightweight and portable
  • Amazing keyboard lined with Alcantara felt
  • Solid hinge to support the screen

The Surface Laptop 4’s biggest sell is definitely its design. It is incredibly lightweight, coming in at just 2.8 lbs. As such, it’s ideal for someone who commutes or wants to work on the go without packing too heavy. Despite its size, the Surface 4 doesn’t feel like it’s about to crumble in your fingers when you carry it - it has a relative sturdiness that’s quite reassuring.

Aside from the weight, the laptop is really sleek and beautiful. It comes in a choice of four colors: Platinum, Matte Black, Ice Blue, or Sandstone. We tested the Platinum model, which looks very similar to a MacBook Air. 

The Surface Laptop 4 has a smooth aluminum lid with a reflective Microsoft logo in the middle. While it looks neat and beautiful, the recurring theme of this review will be the potential for damage; within a few days of using it, we found that scuff marks and fingerprints were visible on the lid. These can be wiped off with a microfiber cloth, but nonetheless made us worry about the design’s longevity.

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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4_Mina Frost

(Image credit: Future)
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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4_right side view open_Mina Frost

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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4_left side view open_Mina Frost

(Image credit: Future)

The screen itself is thinner than any laptop we’d ever used, clocking in at just 0.6 inches. It also comes supported by really solid hinges, which is handy as it can be used as a touchscreen with a Surface pen (which is sadly not included). The screen doesn’t fold back when trying to write on it with a dedicated pen, unlike a lot of other lightweight laptops. 

We reviewed the 13.5-inch screen model, the smallest one, which felt surprisingly large considering we’d just downgraded from a 15-inch laptop. The 3:2 PixelSense display is high quality, making work all the more agreeable. However, the 2256 x 1504 resolution means watching 16:9 video content is a bit restrictive, as you get black bars on each side of the screen. Aside from that, we’d happily watch a whole series on this laptop (and we did). 

The sound is not best-in-class by any means, but it does the trick for recreational media consumption. The Dolby Atmos soundbars are actually below the keyboard, which feels like a great feat considering how thin the laptop is. If you’re a quality sound aficionado, we’d recommend using headphones for listening to music from this laptop, but it’s just fine for calls and the odd video.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4_side view closed_Mina Frost

(Image credit: Future)

Now, to the star of the show: the keyboard. We were most excited about testing out this feature of the Surface Laptop 4, and we weren’t disappointed. It was designed with writers in mind, and is incredibly comfortable and ergonomic as a result. Despite being a lightweight and thin laptop, the keyboard is really receptive and has a good amount of resistance, meaning it’s perhaps even loud for some people. We happily spent all day typing away on this laptop, great news for coders and writers alike.

The Alcantara felt surrounding the keyboard provides soft support for your wrists and palms, perfectly positioning your hands to type. There is a downside to this feature, as it stains quite easily. As someone who enjoys having coffee while they work, we constantly have a fear of spilling it on the beautiful fabric. The good news is, you can choose to customize your laptop and opt-out of the Alcantara, which could be good if you have kids around.

Perhaps the biggest issue we have with the Surface Laptop 4 is how few ports it has. As a result of it being so thin, there is only one USB-C port, one USB-A, one audio jack, and a Surface Connect port. This is rather limiting if you don’t want to spend extra cash on a Surface Dock, which costs about $240 for the most recent version. Without an additional dock, you can’t plug an HDMI cable into the laptop to use a second screen, for example, and you can only plug in one hard drive at a time.

Surface Laptop 4 review: Performance

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4_keyboard close up_Mina Frost

(Image credit: Future)
  • AMD Ryzen™ 5 4680U Mobile Processor
  • Competent RAM options (we tested 16GB) 
  • Struggled with some of the more demanding tasks we subjected it to

While the Surface Laptop 4 is powerful for a lightweight laptop, it’s not the machine of choice for programming. That’s not to say coders should avoid it at all costs; if you’re frequently on the go and need something comfortable to type on all day, this might well be the laptop for you. 

However, the Surface Laptop 4 did struggle with some of the things we threw at it. It performed well for video streaming and listening to music, and was delightful for emails, writing, and word processing in general. Opening multiple tabs at once was not an issue, nor was writing and streaming at the same time. 

Where the laptop started struggling was handling large files, even text files in Microsoft Word. We had to edit a 50-page document and found that there was significant lag when trying to navigate the file. Similarly, processing large databases and running code proved difficult at times. The fan started working overtime, even during shorter uses, which made us worry about the laptop’s ability to handle certain tasks. Still, we were able to get our work done in the end, including running large files in R. 

If your primary focus is coding or programming, however, we’d prioritize getting a laptop with an H-Series processor or an Intel i7 processor - the entry level Surface Laptop 4 only has a U-Series chip.

In terms of battery life, Microsoft says this laptop can last up to 19 hours in use. While it might not be a full 19 hours, the laptop performed consistently well at any battery level throughout a whole day of use (about 12 hours) and didn’t need a charge until the next morning. This is great news for people hoping to use the laptop for extended periods of time on the go, including for programming.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 box_front view open on box_Mina Frost

(Image credit: Future)

Surface Laptop 4 review: Price

For a recent, lightweight laptop, the Surface Laptop 4 has a very reasonable price. The starting price, which is that of the 13.5-inch model with the AMD Ryzen 5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD, is $899 (£899, AUD $1,599). 

The laptop is completely customizable in terms of specs. You can upgrade to a bigger, 15-inch screen starting at $1,299 (£1,299, AUD $2,199), which will get you an AMD Ryzen 7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. You can go up to a 15-inch display, Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512 SSD for $1,549.99 (£1529.99, AUD $)

The Surface Laptop 4 comes with a 1-year hardware warranty, which is pretty standard for laptops. You can purchase an additional 2-year accidental damage warranty for $149, 3 years for $175.20, and four years for $239.20.

Surface Laptop 4 review: User reviews

The Surface Laptop 4 scores 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon, out of 307 ratings. Positive reviews praise the beautiful design and the good battery life. Some users, however, criticize the absence of ports (only one USB-C port, no SD card reader) and the relatively old processing chips.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 box_Mina Frost

(Image credit: Future)

Should you buy the Surface Laptop 4?

If you’re looking for a stylish, lightweight, and ergonomic laptop, the Surface Laptop 4 might be the perfect choice for you. It’s a really lovely device to use for everyday tasks and work, and can be used on the go for long periods of time thanks to its great battery life. We love the high-quality display and comfortable keyboard, which make the most boring tasks a breeze. 

However, if you’re looking for a powerful machine that can keep up with intensive coding and programming tasks, then you'll need to splash out for one of the top-end Surface Laptop 4 models', and they aren't cheap. 

The entry-level models do have a place though. Being lightweight, comfortable to use, and good value for money, the Surface Laptop 4 is an ideal choice for students looking for a laptop to see them through college.

If this product isn’t for you

If you’re looking for a laptop that packs a bit more punch in terms of performance, you can’t go wrong with the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021). The M1 Pro chip boosts the device’s performance massively, and the beautiful display makes working long hours easy. 

If you’re a student on a limited budget, the Google Pixelbook Go offers a lower price tag ($540 for the lowest specs, $999 for 16GB of RAM and 128 GB storage) and holds its own for tasks like coding or programming.

Mina is the Reviews Editor at Top Ten Reviews. She works with section editors to create accurate, detailed and in-depth reviews to populate buying guides. She has degrees in Linguistics and Investigative Reporting, and is also a freelance writer and editor. When she's not testing kit and agonizing over commas, Mina can be found reading, running, eating good food and drinking wine.