However, compared to other top-end laptops on the market now, the Surface’s performance is pretty middle-of-the-road. Using the older Ryzen 4000 series chips is a strike against it now that the Ryzen 5000 series is out. I’ve been testing several laptops with the latest Ryzen chips, and they are faster across the board and get better battery life.
Where the Surface wins most of the time is design, build quality, and the screen. I love the 3:2 ratio. It gives you more vertical screen real estate, which means less scrolling so you can focus on what you’re reading. The native resolution of 2,496 x 1,664 pixels isn’t 4K-sharp like the Dell XPS 15, but it’s considerably better than the “Full HD” 1080p screens found in many 15-inch laptops. In terms of pixel density, it’s very close to “Quad HD” (2,560 x 1,440 pixels but on a 16:9 display).
It’s plenty sharp, with nice crisp text and excellent colors. The Ryzen-powered 15-inch version also uses AMD’s FreeSync technology, which allows for on-the-fly screen refresh rate adjustments, resulting in very smooth animations and almost no jerky movements. This is a feature you often find on gaming machines, but it’s rare on consumer-oriented devices. It might sound like a small thing, but after using the Surface Laptop 4 for a week, it was painful to go back to displays without it.
Another big win for the Surface Laptop 4 is battery life. Previous models struggled to get through a full day of work, but this one has no trouble. In our standard battery drain test (looping a locally stored 1080p video at 75 percent brightness), I managed 9.25 hours, which is one of the best results out there for a 15-inch machine. In real-world use, it managed even better, clocking out at just under 11 hours in most cases.
The weak point here is the keyboard. It feels strangely spread out. The keys are spongy and seem to lack the fast rebound of competitors like the Dell XPS 15. I’m also miffed at the lack of a right control key. I hardly ever see this complaint mentioned anywhere, so I’m possibly the only person using this key. (It’s possible to map the little menu key to control using third-party software, so this isn’t a deal breaker.) The trackpad, as with previous Surface Laptops, is the best non-Apple trackpad I’ve ever used.
If you want a 15-inch laptop for the extra screen real estate it affords, and don’t have big plans—you’re not editing video or gaming—the Surface Laptop 4 is a solid choice. For most, the base $1,299 version with the Ryzen 7, 8 gigabytes of RAM, and 256-GB SSD is more than enough for watching Netflix, editing documents, and browsing the web. What sets it apart from similarly priced, and certainly cheaper, laptops is the build quality.
But if you’re looking for a portable video editing workstation, gaming rig, or other performance-intensive tasks, there are better options available, like the Dell XPS 15.