Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 first look

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 first look

Two weeks ago, Microsoft delivered the Surface Laptop 7 I'd pre-ordered to my home in Pennsylvania. Yesterday, I finally opened the box: We were in Mexico at the time, and we won't return home until then, so I had to wait to see if my expensive new purchase would live up to my expectations.

So far, that has been the case. But I would also like to point out a few negatives, as they were immediately apparent when I first opened the box.

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sl7 ms logo

At first glance, the Surface Laptop 7 is exactly what I expected, a premium knock-off of Apple's iconic MacBook Air that both equals and falls short when compared to its inspiration. I'm reminded of Steve Jobs's dreadful quote about Microsoft having no class, which he sought revenge on when he was at the lowest point of his career in the mid-1990s: The Surface Laptop resembles a MacBook Air from a distance, but the closer you look, the more you notice the lack of attention to detail that Microsoft is famous for.

sl7 vs mba

This won't have a significant impact on usage, but I suspect most people won't even notice such things. But when you pay over $2100 for a laptop, it's all about the details: you expect a premium experience. And here, Microsoft has some work to do.

The most obvious example is the corners of the display. In keeping with the rounded corners of windows and controls in Windows 11, Microsoft and its PC maker partners are selectively introducing similar curves to the corners of laptop display panels. This can be a nice look, although many early attempts are not particularly smooth, with corners having a jagged look to them. In this case, the corners of the Surface Laptop 7's display are very attractively curved. But the curve of the corners of the display doesn't match the curve of the corners of the display lid, partly because the top bezel is larger than the side ones because it houses the webcam and related sensors.

sl7 curves

No problem, right? But compare that curve to the same corner of my MacBook Air. It's perfect, matching the effect Apple uses on the new iPhones and iPads. The bezels are also noticeably smaller on all sides. (Yes, the Air has a notch.)

macbook air curves

And the Air's display lid is thinner than the Surface Laptop's.

sl7 display lid thicker

The second related issue isn't just limited to Microsoft: big PC makers do this too, partly because of Apple used To do this with a previous-generation MacBook Air: While the PC It looks like Thin (and therefore relatively light-looking), especially from a distance, is just a mirage: the Surface Laptop uses a thin bottom surface that hides its true thickness. That is, the PC's base is about an inch shorter on all sides than the keyboard deck, and the Surface Laptop is thicker at the back than the front. With the MacBook Air, it's the same thinness all around, without any thinness. Apple has moved on, but Microsoft is still copying the old design.

thick v air

There's a reason for this: the Surface Laptop, like other Snapdragon X-based Copilot+ PCs, requires active cooling – in other words, a fan – while the more efficient MacBook Air doesn't. And that's why the Air is thinner than the Surface Laptop. Very Thinner: While the Surface Laptop is 0.72 inches thick, the MacBook Air is about half as thick, at just 0.45 inches. It's obvious when you look at them side-by-side, but it's even more obvious when you pick them up: Where the Air is an impossibly light 3.3 pounds, the Surface Laptop is 3.6 pounds. I know that doesn't seem like a huge difference. But it is: The Surface Laptop feels much heavier and denser than the Air. As with the thickness, it's noticeable. In fact, it was the biggest difference. First I realized this when I took it out of its box.

sl7 out of

The Surface Laptop setup experience was… interesting.

Most people know that Microsoft delayed the recall feature, which was supposed to debut as a preview in Surface Laptop and other Copilot+ PCs when they launched on Tuesday, June 18. But that wasn't the original plan: In the week before that, Microsoft quietly tried, but ultimately failed, to address security concerns in the recall, leading to the delay. We'll probably never know what happened that week, but given how Microsoft adapted the Windows 11 setup out-of-box experience (OOBE) to address the changes it was forced to make, I'm curious how it was able to meet this last-minute deadline: There are some big changes.

Some of the changes were made ahead of time and are not related to the recall. While the Windows 11 setup OOBE typically displays as a simple bitmap with a vaguely Windows 11-esque color scheme, the Surface Laptop version has been updated to use an acrylic or mica-style transparent background through which you can see the new rainbow-colored Bloom wallpaper imagery. It's similar to the original but looks nicer.

sl7 oobe translucent

As reported previously, the recall screen in OOBE has been updated, and it is now informational only as the feature is not included in-box and is instead “coming soon.”

sl7 recall coming soon

There was also a new screen in the Restore from Backup OOBE section: I always choose “Set up as a new PC,” and now when you do that it warns you that “You won't be able to restore from your backup later.” This is a confusing message, since you can of course restore from your backup at any time. It's just that you can only do this during Windows setup, so you have to reset the PC to get this option again. In other words, if you proceed past this step, you can't restore the PC from a backup again while using Windows 11. You have to reset it first. (This message strikes me as unnecessarily frightening, especially since Windows Backup does very little to begin with.)

sl7 bu warning

At this point, the OOBE turns into a unique new phase that I've never seen before, and it's what Microsoft must have actually been working on between announcing the recall changes that week and then delaying it: It's a new full-screen experience after the OOBE, during which it installs something. This process takes a really long time to complete, about 17 minutes. It starts with a Windows update, during which it rotates through a set of promotional screens with Copilot+ PC features like the Copilot key on the keyboard, Cocreator (in Paint), Image Creator in Photos, Windows Studio Effects (sic), audio and video caption auto-translation, and Recall (“coming soon”). This process took 9 or 10 minutes, so I assume this is just the Patch Tuesday cumulative update that brought Windows 11 24H2 to build 26100.863 (removing the recall).

post oobe

And then the Surface Laptop rebooted and installed the offline part of this “system update”, followed by a firmware update.

sl7 firmware update

Were the on-device SLMs (small language models) also updated? It's not clear. But the offline part of this adventure took about 7 or 8 minutes. As mentioned, the entire wait was about 17 minutes, which is hard to impose on customers who have just bought an expensive new device.

While waiting for this process to complete, I made a few quick observations about the Surface Laptop.

Overall, I really like the PC from a form factor perspective. Apart from the minor issues mentioned above, it's a beautiful, premium laptop. The black color wasn't my first choice – in fact, it wasn't even an option – but I like it.

sl7 angled

There are three USB ports on the left side, a nice improvement from the previous-generation Surface Laptop. In this case, they're a full-size USB-A 3.1 port (which is 5 or 10 Gbps, I'll find out) and two USB4 ports (40 Gbps, DisplayPort 1.4a, charging). There's also a standard 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack, something I missed with the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7x 14 last week.

sl7 ports left

On the right, there's a Surface Connect port for the weirdly retro 65-watt Surface Charger and its magnetic blade connector (still hard to seat correctly, I think) and for some reason a microSDXC card reader. It's unclear what Surface Connect “is” now from a USB perspective, but it at least supports fast charging and it frees up the USB-C port for other uses.

sl7 ports right

The display is interesting. I like that it's 3:2 and that Microsoft has retained that. And while I don't mind whether the panel is multitouch or LCD/IPS (or, as Microsoft calls it, “PixelSense Flow”), I'm less enthused about how glossy it is: During the offline portions of the initial setup described above, it was like looking into a mirror. I imagine it's fine in most indoor situations, but reflections would be a problem. I'd prefer it to just be a matte, non-reflective display.

sl7 reflective

It supports 120Hz, which is unnecessary for me, but it also supports dynamic refresh rate, so I'd leave that on as it won't affect battery life. It also supports adaptive color (on by default, though it doesn't hurt display quality like the Yoga does), HDR and Dolby Vision IQ, and is plenty bright at 600 nits for SDR and HDR content. Overall, mostly good.

sl7 open2

I've always loved Surface keyboards, but it's been a while since I've had one, particularly with the Surface Laptop: I hadn't spent a lot of time using the keyboard until this morning – I'm writing this article on it, of course – and it feels great, with a snappy key feel, three levels of backlighting and no extra or misplaced keys. It's not quiet or quiet, but it's not too loud either. Overall, it feels (and sounds) just fine.

sl7 kb

The touchpad is wonderfully medium-sized (and not huge like the MacBook Air's). It's too early to tell how reliable it is, but I haven't accidentally performed a three-finger gesture once yet, and that doesn't usually happen. If it stays true, it will be one of the best PC touchpads I've ever used.

sl7 deck

When I first set up the Surface Laptop last night, the battery was about 50 percent used — I looked at it but couldn't note the exact number for some reason — so I left it to charge while I went out to dinner and then downloaded a few games from Steam last night. This morning, I continued setting it up, and it went into Energy Saver mode when the battery hit 20 percent. So I plugged it back in. Obviously, it's too early to make any assumptions about battery life, and all this early setup work is non-representative anyway.

sl7 power

Anyone looking for a crapware-free Windows 11 experience should at least consider the Surface: there's a standalone Surface app that's part utility and part adware for Microsoft Complete paid protection and peripheral up-sells, but other than that, it's pretty clean, with the unnecessary Journal and Microsoft Whiteboard apps.

surface app

That being said, it's weird that the Surface Laptop (or any Copilot+ PC) comes with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription promo, since Xbox Game Pass doesn't work with these PCs. Also weird is that it's only a 1-month discount, while most PCs include a 3-month discount.

ultimate offer

And, of course, Windows 11 has Ensitification. This morning, Edge asked me to download the Microsoft Star app, whatever that F is. And OneDrive naturally auto-enabled folder backups after I refused the pop-up banner notification to do so. This bad behavior has never changed.

edge is terrible

And here's the weird thing: the Windows Subsystem for Android was preinstalled. Despite the fact that it has been removed by Microsoft and will soon be removed from Windows 11. It's not clear what it's all about.

sl7 surface connect

I only had a few apps installed before writing this article—iA Writer, Affinity Photo 2, Visual Studio Code, Grammarly, and Notion—but I'll get it fully set up and configured today and then alternate between it and the Yoga Slim over the coming week. So far, performance has been great, and I haven't heard any fan noise except when running games for a short period of time. borderlands 3There is total silence here as I write this.

I like it. Will give more details soon.

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