The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (2024)

If you’re confused by all the buzzwordy hype around 2024’s Microsoft Surface Laptop 7, we don’t blame you. Microsoft’s latest flagship is at the forefront of a new range of “Copilot+” computers, which sport unique processors inside and are engineered to deliver a bunch of AI tools that the company hopes you’ll use to be creative and get work done. But that has little to do with what makes this machine great.

What really matters is that the new Surface Laptop takes everything we loved about its predecessor — namely a superb keyboard, a vivid display and reliable performance — and makes it even better with a range of quality-of-life improvements and nearly the best battery life we’ve ever gotten out of a notebook. After years of the Surface Laptop being a runner-up for the title of best laptop and best Windows laptop, this excellent refinement finally sees Microsoft ready to take the throne.

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows notebooks you can buy, with great performance, an excellent keyboard and some of the longest battery life of any PC we've tested.

What I liked about it

A familiar but meaningfully improved design

When I first unboxed the new Surface Laptop 7, I found it nearly indistinguishable from the Surface Laptop 5 I reviewed a couple years ago, which isn’t all bad since I dug that machine a lot. But after a few days with Microsoft’s latest notebook, I was pleased to discover a number of subtle but meaningful tweaks that address some of my biggest issues with 2022’s system.

This is the sleekest version of a historically beautiful laptop, with slim edges that are now more uniform and MacBook-like than those of the chunkier-looking Laptop 5. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the 2024 Surface Laptop is a good margin smaller and nearly a pound lighter than the competing Dell XPS 14. The dated, thick display bezels that I’ve called out in previous reviews have been significantly shaved down, resulting in a more seamless-looking screen that gives you more overall real estate.

I’m just bummed that I got the boring ol’ Black model, because the 13.8-inch Surface Laptop also comes in a gorgeous Sapphire blue and Dune beige that look great from a distance (there’s also a silvery Platinum option, if you must). I’ll continue to give Microsoft props for offering their flagship laptop in fun color options, even if those who go for the 15-inch model are, unfortunately, limited to just Platinum and Black.

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (3)

As someone with lots of legacy computer gear, I’ve long appreciated the fact that the Surface Laptop still offers a USB-A port, but I didn’t love that it came at the expense of being limited to a lone USB-C port for newer accessories. Microsoft must have heard my complaining, because now you get two proper USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports that can support fast charging, data transfer and multiple external displays in addition to that same USB-A port for your old stuff. There’s also a proprietary Surface Connect port that attaches magnetically and keeps your USB-C ports free for accessories, just like the MacBook Air’s MagSafe connector. And if you prefer analog audio, you’ve still got a trusty headphone jack.

One thing that hasn’t changed a bit from the previous Surface Laptop is the keyboard — and that’s great news. Microsoft’s snappy keys were a joy to bounce my fingers on, allowing me to send countless Slack messages and toil on this very review for hours on end in maximum comfort.

Great performance for the basics

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (4)

One of the big stories around this year’s Surface lineup is their Qualcomm Snapdragon X processors, which are essentially a supercharged and AI-optimized version of the Arm chips we’ve seen on lower-cost laptops, and not the more proven and versatile Intel processors you’ll find on the majority of Windows laptops. After being underwhelmed by Surface Pro 9 5G (which also has a Qualcomm-based processor), I had my concerns about coming back to Arm on the Surface Laptop 7. And then I started using the thing.

My review unit — which came loaded with the higher-end X Elite chip — was a delight to use as my main work machine, running smoothly and responding speedily even as I jumped between a video call, Discord and Slack chats, and well over a dozen browser tabs. Multitasking was especially snappy; I was able to split the screen between as many as four apps in an instant and continued to enjoy stutter-free performance as I set up multiple desktops that each had their own sets of programs fired up.

The Surface Laptop 7 continued to hold up well on our benchmark tests, even beating the MacBook Air M3 (also running on an Arm processor) by a small margin on the Geekbench 6 multi-core test that gauges intensive multitasking chops while more or less tying the Dell XPS 14 and its high-end Intel Core Ultra 7 processor. It underperformed the competition slightly on the single-core test for more basic tasks, but none of those numbers hindered the reliable real-world performance I enjoyed while logging in every day to check my email and stay on top of work messages.

Like many mainstream Windows laptops, the Surface Laptop 7 can play games — so long as you keep your expectations low and graphics settings modest. Running our Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark (1080p gameplay with the graphics cranked all the way up), Microsoft’s notebook chugged along at 18 frames per second. That’s well below the 30 fps minimum we consider playable but also the kind of result we’d expect when playing a souped-up blockbuster on a non-gaming notebook.

You’ll still be able to run a handful of top PC games with the settings turned down, and lower-lift titles like Rocket League performed smoothly.That said, not all games play nice with Arm-based systems like this one. While Qualcomm has been dropping regular updates to make more titles compatible and optimized, you’ll want to do a bit of research on your go-to games before relying on the Surface Laptop 7 as a portable gaming PC.

Stellar battery life

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (5)

Surviving a whopping 17 hours and 55 minutes on our looping 4K video test, the Surface Laptop 7 is one of the longest-lasting laptops we’ve ever tested. That runtime nearly doubles what we got from the Dell XPS 14 and the M3 MacBook Air, the latter of which perform well in real-world use but historically struggles on our endurance benchmark. It also beats out the new Surface Pro’s 13 hours and 13 minutes by a good margin.

In fact, the Surface Laptop would be our new battery life champ — if it wasn’t dethroned by the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7x and its amazing 19 hour and 25 minutes. Lenovo’s latest laptop is also part of this new class of Snapdragon X computers, proving that Microsoft’s claims of significantly improved battery life for the Copilot+ range aren’t complete hyperbole.

The Surface Laptop’s real-world endurance was more of a mixed bag; after starting my workday at 9 a.m. and putting it through a heavy load that included tons of open apps, over an hour of video calling and some PC gaming, I got a low-battery warning by 3 p.m. At the same time, I would go days without having to recharge the machine during more casual on and off use. You should keep a charger handy if you plan on doing lots of creative work or playing games, but know that this new Surface Laptop is generally built to last.

Same good display and speakers (and a much better webcam)

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (6)

The Surface Laptop’s very good display hasn’t changed much for 2024, other than the fact that you now get even more of it. Thanks to those slimmer screen bezels, the smaller version of the Surface Laptop enjoys a nice display bump from 13.5 to 13.8 inches, bringing it closer in size to rivals like the Dell XPS 14 and 14-inch MacBook Pro M3 without the extra heft.

Otherwise, this laptop’s 2304 x 1536 panel is largely how I remember it from 2022, which meant gorgeous blues and greens (and no shortage of fine detail) when I watched an 8K nature video and enough contrast to make text pop nicely while I spent all day writing reviews and sending Slack messages. This year’s display also enjoys a refresh rate bump from 60Hz to 120Hz — that’s a key advantage over the MacBook Air line and meant even smoother scrolling as I juggled all sorts of web pages and documents.

The Surface Laptop continues to stand out with its unique 3:2 screen ratio that gives you some extra vertical real estate for, say, scrolling down websites or sorting through spreadsheets. As someone who mostly lives in MacBook land these days, I also appreciated having a touch screen for those times when it’s easier to just swipe. I’m a bit jealous that my colleague Henry T. Casey got to test the 2024 Microsoft Surface Pro and its superior OLED screen, but the Surface Laptop continues to offer a great display for working and kicking back alike.

The notebook’s Dolby Atmos-equipped speakers are similarly solid, allowing the bright, bouncy pop-punk riffs of Super American’s “Manager Haircut” to slice through with satisfying oomph. Chappell Roan’s “Good Luck, Babe” pumped out of the Surface Laptop in all its pop megahit glory, as the Midwest princess’s soaring vocals came through super clear over the old-school synths. This laptop isn’t going to replace a proper set of speakers — mostly due to a lack of bass — but it’s perfectly reliable for background music, on-the-go binge sessions and video calls.

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (7)

Speaking of which, the Surface Laptop finally has a good webcam! Microsoft upgraded its notebook’s shooter from a measly 720p to proper full HD, resulting in colorful, detailed shots that captured my face in all its stubbly, mustached detail. You even get a handy auto-framing feature that keeps you in the shot as you move around (think Apple’s Center Stage), as well as Windows Hello facial-recognition support for hands-free logins — something you still can’t get on a MacBook. Those who take their YouTube or Twitch content seriously should consider one of the best webcams, but for everyone else, the Surface Laptop 7 gets you more than enough camera for your daily Zoom chats.

What I didn’t like about it

No OLED display option and some color limits

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (8)

One of the few things holding the Surface Laptop back from being a near-perfect notebook is the lack of an OLED option. The deep blacks and rich colors you get from an OLED panel make things pop in a way that even the best LCD displays can’t, and once you’ve used one — like we have on several notebooks including the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 and Dell XPS 14 — it’s hard to go back.

This omission is especially puzzling considering that the new Surface Pro (which is a very similar system but in tablet form) does offer an OLED screen. Sure, laptops with these extra-gorgeous displays can be expensive — an OLED Dell XPS 14 will set you back at least $1,500 — but I’d happily pay extra for one.

Also, this is a much smaller nitpick, but I’m disappointed that the Surface Laptop 7’s most attractive colors (Sapphire and Dune) are limited to the smaller 13.8-inch model. Sure, you could argue that most folks are going to buy this size, but Apple offers the same suite of four colors for both its 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air. Big-screen laptop fans deserve some fun too!

Windows 11 still has its quirks — as does the Arm platform

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (9)

I found Windows 11 to be a nicer, cleaner refresh of Microsoft’s signature operating system when I first reviewed it back in 2021. That’s still largely the case, but after being mostly a Mac guy in the time since, I’m finding Windows a bit harder to use in 2024, and the quirks of the new Copilot+ PC platform can make things a little complicated.

While I mostly had a fine time using Windows 11 on the Surface Laptop (its multitasking features still have macOS beat, at least until the new Sequoia update drops this fall), I found myself more distracted than usual by the bottom left portion of the taskbar. This is where you’ll see information pulled from your Widgets tab, which is itself stuffed with a bunch of bloat you might not want by default. I don’t really need to be alerted to traffic updates, stocks, sports scores and tabloidy news stories that I didn’t ask for, but alas, there they were.

The Widgets tab can be customized and many of these views can be disabled, but I’d rather them be off to begin with so I can pull in just the stuff I actually want — like the weather or updates on the sports teams I actually follow. Between this and the system’s constant begging for you to use Microsoft Edge anytime you use a different browser, there’s a junky, spammy quality to Windows 11 that makes Mac machines feel more inviting by comparison.

Much like we saw when Macs made the switch to Apple silicon in 2020, the Surface Laptop 7’s move away from Intel comes with some growing pains that may or may not affect you. While a good deal of the apps you probably need will run natively — including Chrome, Zoom, Slack and the full Microsoft Office 365 suite — there are plenty of others that will be emulated via Microsoft’s Prism technology (just like Apple does on the Mac with Rosetta). I didn’t run into many compatibility issues during my time with the Surface Laptop, but you’ll want to keep an eye on the list of Windows on Arm optimized apps before buying a Snapdragon-based laptop.

The AI stuff just isn’t for me

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (10)

One of Microsoft’s main selling points for this new range of Copilot+ PCs is their wealth of on-device AI features, which promise to offer instant assistance with everything from creating images to captioning and translating videos. These perks mostly work as advertised in my testing — I just don’t see myself ever really needing them.

Pressing the Surface Laptop 7 keyboard’s Copilot button will summon Microsoft’s assistant, which you can ask to do just about anything the same way you would with, say, ChatGPT. When I asked it what the best laptop was, it sent me a fairly solid list of five options pulled from various review websites, including ours, and, most critically, cited and linked to all its sources. It did a fine, quick job creating Dall-E images based on my goofy prompts and gave me some decent advice and a handy list of articles and videos when I asked for some good stretches to do before playing basketball. Copilot currently supports a handful of third-party plugins, so you can ask Instacart for dinner ideas before ordering the proper groceries or hit up Kayak for travel planning.

This stuff is all fine, but I’m not sure I personally need a dedicated app for what’s essentially a glorified search engine. I also don’t see why Copilot has its own keyboard button, particularly when that spot could have been used for a right Ctrl key that I’ve always wished Surface devices had.

When you’re not poking around the Copilot app, you can use the Surface Laptop’s AI chops in Microsoft Paint to create images from scratch (Image Creator) or turn your doodles into more refined AI art (Cocreator). This stuff worked well for generating some amusing images of French bulldogs in basketball jerseys, but as someone not big on AI artwork outside of some occasional meme usage, I don’t see myself coming back for this.

Another Copilot-optimized feature is Live Captions, which is a much more useful perk that can caption or translate any audio coming from your computer in real time. This worked well for adding some instant captions to a YouTube video in English, but when I had it translate a clip of NBA MVP Nicola Jokić speaking in Serbian, the English text was hard to make sense of. Beyond that, Copilot computers get you extras like filters and portrait lighting for video calls and promise better performance for creating content in third-party apps like CapCut and Camo, which all seem like nice-to-haves rather than something you go out and buy a laptop for.

We’d also be remiss not to mention Recall, the controversial feature that essentially was, well, recalled over privacy concerns. It sounds helpful in theory: Instead of hunting down an elusive document or web page, you can simply use conversational language to find what you were doing at a specific time. But the fact that it essentially takes regular screenshots of your PC activity raised some alarms. The feature will now be rolled out as a completely optional beta at some point this year, with a range of promised security protections in place.

Overall, the Surface Laptop 7’s AI features don’t really hurt the notebook; they just don’t add much value for me either.

How it compares

Processor

Snapdragon X Plus / Snapdragon X Elite

Snapdragon X Plus / Snapdragon X Elite

Apple M3

Intel Core Ultra 7

Memory

16GB / 32GB / 64GB

16GB / 32GB (OLED model only)

8GB / 16GB / 24GB

16GB / 32GB / 64GB

Storage

256GB / 512GB / 1TB

256GB / 512GB (standard) 512GB/1TB (OLED model)

256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB

512GB / 1TB / 2TB / 4TB

Display

13.8-in., 2304 x 1536 PixelSense Flow touch display

13-in., 2880 x 1920 PixelSense Flow display, OLED optional

13.6-in., 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display

14.5-in., 1920 x 1200 non-touch / 3200 x 2000 OLED touch display

Camera

1080p Surface Studio Camera

Quad HD Surface Studio Camera

1080p FaceTime HD camera

1080p camera

Ports

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), USB-A, headphone jack, Surface Connect port

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), Surface Pro Keyboard port, Surface Connect port

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (2), headphone jack, MagSafe charging port

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (3), headphone jack

Size and weight

11.85 x 8.67 x 0.69 in., 2.96 lbs.

11.3 x 8.2 x 0.37 in., 1.97 lbs.

12 x 8.5 x 0.4 in., 2.7 lbs.

12.6 x 8.5 x 0.7 in., from 3.7 lbs.

Colors

Sapphire, Dune, Black, Platinum

Sapphire, Dune, Black, Platinum

Silver, Starlight, Space Gray, Midnight

Platinum, Graphite

Price From $1,000 From $995 From $1,099 From $1,200

Bottom line

Once a beautiful but slightly outdated contender, the Surface Laptop finally has the modern niceties it needs to compete with the best. Whereas rivals like the Dell XPS 14 decided to fix what wasn’t broken with a radical (and somewhat unfriendly) redesign, the Surface Laptop 7 makes a ton of smart tweaks that all combine for a notebook that feels great to use for long days of work and quick bursts of play.

The Surface Laptop’s AI features — which you’ll be seeing on lots of mainstream Windows notebooks going forward — are very take it or leave it, and the move to a new architecture means that Microsoft will probably be fixing a range of compatibility quirks for years to come. The system’s new Surface Pro counterpart is worth considering for its OLED screen and detachable versatility, as is the Dell XPS 14 for its superior gaming prowess. But if you just want a great Windows laptop for around $1,000, it’s hard to do much better than this one.

The new Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 is one of the best Windows laptops I’ve ever used | CNN Underscored (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Last Updated:

Views: 5583

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Cheryll Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-12-23

Address: 4653 O'Kon Hill, Lake Juanstad, AR 65469

Phone: +494124489301

Job: Marketing Representative

Hobby: Reading, Ice skating, Foraging, BASE jumping, Hiking, Skateboarding, Kayaking

Introduction: My name is Cheryll Lueilwitz, I am a sparkling, clean, super, lucky, joyous, outstanding, lucky person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.