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Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 review: Success at last

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Ever since Apple’s MacBooks switched to the company’s homegrown M-series chips, Windows users have wondered when a similar revolution would happen to their machines. To Microsoft’s credit, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Way back in 2012, the company released the with an Arm-based processor, which is the same architecture used in Apple’s silicon. Unfortunately, a tiny app library, sluggish performance and limited software compatibility made using one full-time kind of frustrating. Then in 2017, Microsoft renewed its efforts with . This led to systems like the , which sported gorgeous hardware that was once again marred by lackluster processing power and spotty software support.

But as the old adage goes: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And after more than a decade of starts and stumbles, Microsoft has done it. By combining the powerful Oryon cores in Qualcomm’s and with its new , Microsoft has turned the Surface Laptop 7 (and its sibling, the ) into a nearly ideal productivity machine.

Engadget

While some apps still need extra support to run on Windows on Arm, the Surface Laptop 7 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chip have combined to create a nearly ideal platform for everyday productivity.

Pros

  • Slick design
  • Excellent battery life
  • Good performance
  • Bright display
  • Powerful Prism emulator
  • Responsive haptic touchpad
Cons

  • Some apps and games still don’t play nicely with Arm-based chips
  • No OLED display option

$1,300 at Microsoft

While the Surface Laptop 7 (or 7th Edition as Microsoft likes to call it) features fancy new silicon inside, not much has changed on the outside. But I’m not complaining. It has a sleek all-aluminum chassis with clean, minimalist lines, but doesn’t look like a MacBook. Microsoft has also made a few small tweaks like the addition of rounded corners on its display, a new haptic touchpad (similar to what’s on the ) and a dedicated key for Copilot (more on that later).

Like before, the Surface Laptop 7 is available in two sizes. The smaller one features a slightly larger 13.8-inch display than before (up from 13.5) while the bigger model has stayed pat at 15 inches. There are also two USB 4 Type-C slots, one USB-A 3.1 jack, a microSD card reader and Microsoft’s magnetic Surface Connect port. So nothing unusual, but more than enough connectivity to handle most situations. And with the 13-inch model weighing just under three pounds (2.96 lb) and the 15-inch option coming in at 3.6 pounds, both versions won’t add much extra heft to your bag.

Between Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite chip and Microsoft's Prism emulator, the Surface Laptop 7 represents a major breakthrough for Arm-based Windows laptops. Between Qualcomm's Snapdragon X Elite chip and Microsoft's Prism emulator, the Surface Laptop 7 represents a major breakthrough for Arm-based Windows laptops.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

As for the display itself, the 15-inch PixelSense LCD display on our Surface Laptop 7 review unit is top-notch. On top of its 120Hz refresh rate, it’s been color-calibrated to deliver accurate hues while also offering great brightness (over 600 nits on a full white screen) and 10-point touch support. It’s even covered by Gorilla Glass 5 to prevent scratches and abrasion. I just wish there was the option to upgrade to an OLED panel like you can on the Surface Pro 11.

The most impressive thing about the Surface Laptop 7 is just how normal it feels. It’s super responsive, has instant wake times and just generally feels extremely speedy. But the best part is that you often can’t even tell the difference between running native Arm software or when the laptop is using Microsoft’s Prism emulator in the background to seamlessly translate apps originally designed for x86 chips. It’s really that smooth.

In benchmarks, the Snapdragon X Elite chip delivers on Qualcomm’s lofty performance claims. For example, in Geekbench 6, the Surface Laptop 7 posted multicore scores of 14,400, which is higher than a similarly equipped with an Intel Core Ultra 7 155H chip (11,920). In fact, the X Elite in the Surface even managed to top the Core Ultra 9 CPU inside an , which maxed out at 12,798.

The right side of the Surface Laptop 7 features Microsoft's magnetic Surface Connect port and a microSD card reader. The right side of the Surface Laptop 7 features Microsoft's magnetic Surface Connect port and a microSD card reader.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

However, it’s important to note that the performance of the X Elite chip is based on how much juice it gets. On the 15-inch Surface Laptop 7, Microsoft allocates up to 30 watts to the processor. But on the smaller 13-inch model, it caps out at 20 watts, so while it should still be pretty fast, you will get better performance on the larger option. And though the Surface Laptop 7 isn’t fanless like a MacBook Air, even under load the notebook rarely got above a whisper quiet.

Finally, while most tools and apps just kind of work regardless of what architecture they were designed for, with Windows PCs still relatively early in the transition (at least this go around) to Arm-based systems, there are a handful of major apps that need a bit more time. Some of the big ones are Adobe products like Illustrator and InDesign, , while updated versions of After Effects and Premier Pro might not arrive until closer to the end of 2024.

The Surface Laptop 7 features a new haptic touchpad that's very accurate and responsive. The Surface Laptop 7 features a new haptic touchpad that's very accurate and responsive.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Microsoft has never said that the Surface Laptop 7 is a gaming machine. But given (Electronics Software Association) showing that 65 percent of Americans play some form of video game on a weekly basis, the laptop’s fragging abilities are probably worth a mention. Unfortunately, while the Snapdragon X Elite chip boasts decent benchmarks, a lot of titles that might otherwise be good fits for the Laptop 7 simply don’t run. A number of these are competitive games like Fortnite and League of Legends, which feature anti-cheat protocols that haven’t been updated to work on Arm-based chips. It’s doubly frustrating because in the case of LoL, the game installs normally and doesn’t display any warnings aside from Riot’s Vanguard system asking you to reboot your system before launching the game. But no matter how many times you do, the game never boots up.

That said, it’s not a completely lost cause. I’ve found that casual 2D titles like Into the Breach and Vampire Survivor run smoothly, so you still have some options. And if you want to play more demanding titles, there’s always streaming services like Xbox Cloud Gaming and NVIDIA GeForce Now, which by nature aren’t affected by architecture or OS limitations.

One of the big selling points for this new breed of was supposed to be Microsoft’s built-in AI features. But in reality, they’re more like occasionally useful bonuses. The tool with the most potential is Recall, which takes screenshots of your desktop so that AI can help you find things later. Unfortunately, due to concerns about its security, the feature will initially only be available to before it’s officially released sometime in the future.

The Image Creator tool in the Photos app is one of Microsoft's new AI-powered Copilot+ features. The Image Creator tool in the Photos app is one of Microsoft's new AI-powered Copilot+ features.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Meanwhile, other Copilot+ AI tools feel rather limited in scope. The Image Creator button in the Photos app lets you generate pictures based on word prompts and it largely delivers. But results still aren’t as detailed or realistic as what you get from more powerful cloud-based services like Midjourney. But hey, it’s free. To make things more confusing, in Paint, there’s another button also labeled Image Creator, but it’s actually an entirely different feature with a limited number of uses and results that aren’t quite as good as the similarly named option in Photos.

Ultimately, the most useful AI features are Live Captions and the Restyle Image tool in Photos. The former uses AI to creatively edit or transform existing shots, allowing you to change the style of a picture into something that looks like anime or an impressionistic painting, while the letter provides real-time translation for videos, podcasts and more. And even though Microsoft’s captions could be a touch more accurate, it’s generally good enough for you to get the gist of whatever you’re watching or listening to.

The left side of the Surface Laptop 7 features two USB4 ports (which also support charging) and a single USB-A 3.1 slot and a 3.5mm audio jack. The left side of the Surface Laptop 7 features two USB4 ports (which also support charging) and a single USB-A 3.1 slot and a 3.5mm audio jack.

In case you don’t feel like using’s Microsoft’s included power adapter, the Surface Laptop 7’s USB4 ports also support charging. (Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

Even though emulating apps meant for x86 processors might use a little more juice, the Surface Laptop 7 has more than enough battery life to go around. Though our usual rundown test hasn’t been updated for Arm-based chips yet, when I streamed a 1080p video over Wi-Fi, the device lasted 17 hours and 38 minutes, which is several hours more than I typically get from some similarly equipped Intel and AMD-powered rivals. And in general use, it often felt like the Laptop 7 fared even better, frequently finishing a day with around 50 percent charge.

Another advantage of the Snapdragon X chips is that there’s almost zero battery drain when the system is asleep, which I attribute to Qualcomm’s experience in making efficient smartphone processors. I noticed that the Surface Laptop 7 would lose just one or two percent of battery overnight, which gives you the confidence to leave it unplugged for days at a time.

For charging, you can either use the magnetic Surface Connect port with the included power brick. But another bonus is that the Surface Laptop 7 also supports charging via USB-C, so if you want to travel light and use a universal adapter to keep this and a bunch of other gadgets topped up, you totally can.

The Surface Laptop 7 features a sleek chassis made from recycled aluminum. The Surface Laptop 7 features a sleek chassis made from recycled aluminum.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

While the road here was beset with bumps and potholes, the Surface Laptop 7 has arrived ready to compete. And it isn’t just a great rival to the MacBook Air, it’s paving a new road ahead for Windows PCs. It’s fast, quiet, has excellent battery life and plays nicely with most of your apps. Sure, a few major programs still need additional support and you may run into issues when trying to play games or installing niche software. And when you spec it up, it can get a bit pricey too. The 15-inch model starts at $1,300, but our review unit with a Snapdragon X Elite chip, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD goes for $2,100. Still, for general productivity, the Surface Laptop 7 and its Snapdragon X Elite chip are a revelation and a revolutionary step forward for Windows as we know it.



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