From www.cnet.com

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7

Pros

  • Beautiful, durable design
  • Class-leading battery life
  • Strong performance
  • Awesome and accurate haptic touchpad

Cons

  • No OLED option
  • Upgrades get costly and don’t include dedicated GPU
  • Your Arm-on-Windows compatibility mileage may vary

The Surface Laptop has always seemed like an unremarkable, overlooked sibling to the Surface Pro, Microsoft’s favored child who gets more gifts and attention. And while the latest Surface Pro 11 received a new OLED display option to go with its more versatile detachable design and pen support compared to the clamshell Laptop, the latest earned its place as a rightful co-headliner next to the Surface Pro 11 for Microsoft’s Copilot Plus PC launch. Earlier Arm-on-Windows efforts were plagued by lackluster performance and limited compatibility, with many x86 apps unable to run on an Arm-based system. But performance has improved, and so has compatibility.

Available in 13.8-inch and 15-inch sizes, the Surface Laptop 7 is based on a Qualcomm Snapdragon X processor. We received the smaller unit with upgrades from the baseline $1,000 model that include the 12-core Snapdragon X Elite chip, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. These upgrades don’t come cheap — they double the starting price — but our test unit offers strong overall performance along with luxuriously long battery life that rivals that of a MacBook. And it boasts a sleek look and solid build that’s every bit as luxe as a MacBook Air’s.

Before taking the Windows-on-Arm plunge, however, you’ll need to make sure that any of your mission-critical Windows apps are compatible (or will be soon) with the Qualcomm’s Arm-based chip or at least run smoothly through Microsoft’s Prism emulator. And you must accept the fact that a discrete GPU is not among the Surface Laptop 7’s upgrade options, which limits its appeal for content creation and gaming. It offers about as much gaming prowess as a MacBook Air, which is to say not much. 

Should compatibility check out for your specific needs and the integrated Adreno GPU suffice for your workflow, then you’ll find the Surface Laptop 7 to be a well-rounded, well-built ultraportable with unbeatable battery life. And you don’t necessarily need to spend $2,000; one of the lower-priced configurations should meet the needs of most people.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7

Price as reviewed$2,000
Display size/resolution13.8-inch 2304×1536 HDR LCD
CPU3.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite X1E-80-100
Memory32GB LPDDR5-8448 (soldered)
GraphicsQualcomm Adreno 741 integrated GPU
Storage1TB SSD
Ports2 x USB4, 1 x USB-A
NetworkingQualcomm FastConnect 7800 Wi-Fi 7, Bluetooth 5.4
Operating systemWindows 11 Home (24H2)
Weight2.96 lb (1.34 kg)

The Surface Laptop 7 starts at $1,000 for a 10-core Snapdragon X Plus CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. It’s available only in the silver platinum color. The other three color choices — black, dune and sapphire — become available with the 512GB SSD that bumps the price to $1,200. 

Each of the 13.8-inch models feature an LCD with a squarish 3:2 aspect ratio and an unusual 2,304×1,536-pixel resolution powered by Qualcomm’s integrated Adreno GPU. The 15-inch model starts at $1,399 for a Snapdragon X Elite, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

The Surface Laptop 7 starts at £1,049 in the UK and AU$1,899 in Australia.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 on a table next to a river
Matt Elliott/CNET

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 performance

Our test system has the fit and finish befitting of its premium price, and CPU performance is strong, but $2,000 is still a lot to spend for a laptop without a dedicated GPU. On the whole, the Surface Laptop 7 felt fast during general Windows use and offers a phone-like ability to sleep and wake immediately. 

It’s in the catbird seat for battery life; the first Windows laptop we’ve tested with a runtime that’s in the same ballpark as a MacBook. In fact, it’s the longest running 13- or 14-inch laptop to ever pass through CNET Labs. It ran for nearly 20 hours on our YouTube streaming battery drain test — 19 hours and 50 minutes to be exact. That’s 93 minutes longer than the M3 MacBook Air. The only laptop with better battery life is the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which has room for a larger battery and ran for just over 21 hours on the same test.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 Review: A MacBook Air Rival Arrives

Watch this: Surface Copilot Plus PCs Live Up to the Hype (and They’re Beautiful Devices, Too)

One difference between the Surface Laptop 7 and the MacBook Air is the cooling system. Namely, the Surface Laptop 7 uses cooling fans, and the MacBook Air is completely fanless and silent. The Surface Laptop 7 operated in silence most of the time I used it, with the fans kicking in only under heavy load. And even then, the fans spun quietly. The bottom of the laptop did get warm after using it for long stretches with it resting on my laptop or chest, but it never reached a point where it was uncomfortable or affected performance.

The Snapdragon Elite X processor proves to be a worthy rival to Intel’s Core Ultra and Apple’s M3 CPUs. On Geekbench 6, the Surface Laptop 7 outpaced other Windows laptops with the Core Ultra 7 155H and the M3 MacBook Air. Its single-core performance on Cinebench 2024 was unable to match the M3 Air’s; it lost that battle but won the multicore war, with 12 cores compared to 8 for the M3. (The single core performance does seem to imply that the Snapdragon X Plus won’t outperform the M3, though.)

We were unable to run our standard 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited benchmark. The likely culprit is a beta display driver — we will update this review with that benchmark result if we find a way to resolve this issue. We believe its score will fall in line with the similarly configured Surface Pro 11’s, which was on par with that of Core Ultra 7 laptops using integrated Intel Arc graphics  — around 6,000 — but a step or two behind the M3 MacBook Air’s score of more than 8,000.

The Wild Life Extreme test runs natively on Arm, but the Time Spy test must use the Prism emulator. And you can see the penalty you pay for emulation in the Time Spy chart below. Along with the Surface Pro 11, the Surface Laptop 7’s score was roughly half that of laptops with Intel Arc graphics.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 in profile
Matt Elliott/CNET

Microsoft is not pushing the Copilot Plus PCs as gaming machines, but we wanted to see how the integrated Adreno GPU did with 3D gaming. Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t compatible, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider averaged only 20 frames per second at 1080p using Highest settings. The relatively lightweight Hades 2 was playable, but the Surface Laptop 7 is better equipped for cloud gaming until more games are compatible with Auto SR.

NPU performance proved to be strong. The Surface Laptop 7’s Hexagon NPU integrated in its Snapdragon processor was faster than the current Core Ultra’s NPU and a couple mobile GPUs on Procyon’s AI Computer Vision benchmark that tests for the integer math proficiency required to qualify for Microsoft’s Copilot Plus program. We’ve yet to run this test on AMD’s Ryzen 8000 series, and its Strix Point Ryzen AI 300 series will be here soon along with Intel’s Lunar Lake CPUs. These next-gen chips could leapfrog the current Snapdragon’s performance, but for now, the Snapdragon Elite X is in a good spot in terms of CPU and NPU capability. 

Arm-on-Window app compatibility and AI features

There are many apps at launch that run natively on the Arm-based Surface Laptop 7, including four I use regularly: Chrome, Slack, Spotify and Zoom. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom run natively, and Adobe lists Illustrator and Indesign as arriving later this month. The timing for Premiere Pro and After Effects is less clear — the release of those is described only as “soon.”

Also coming at a later date is the delayed Windows Recall, the headlining AI feature of Microsoft’s Copilot Plus PC launch. Recall was meant to show off the power of the NPU, using this separate chip to track everything you do on your computer without bogging down the CPU or GPU so you could return to something you were working on or shopping for previously with a natural language query. The feature was shelved after an outcry of privacy concerns.

Most of the other AI tools included on the Surface Laptop 7 are more fun to use than actually useful. There’s a new Image Creator tool in the Photos and Paint apps that lets you use text prompts to create images in various styles — anime, oil painting, watercolor, and so on. I’m not sure why it’s offered in both apps, but I was surprised to find the results in Paint to be a little better and more on point. The Restyle tool in the Photos app offers similar effects that let you tweak your existing photos, and the Creativity slider is fun to move around to vary the intensity of the AI hallucination. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 Copilot key
Matt Elliott/CNET

We’ve seen Windows Studio Effects before, starting with Intel Core Ultra laptops. These are AI-assisted effects you can use with the webcam to blur the background and automatically frame your face as you move to keep you in the middle of the picture. The Surface Laptop 7 adds two new effects: Portrait Light and Creative filters. Neither is all that impressive. The Portrait Light effect is so subtle that it’s hardly noticeable, and the Creative filters don’t live up to their billing as Illustrated, Water color or Animated. Each effect is subtle, and each style is similar to the others. All three just apply some smoothing to the image that isn’t useful for work calls or that interesting when chatting with friends or family. The automatic framing and background blur effects are still the only two Windows Studio Effects worth using.

Live Captions is another new AI tool included with Copilot Plus PCs. It offers real-time captions of any audio that’s playing on the system, and can translate 44 languages into English. It was easy to set up and worked well. It kept pace with foreign-language YouTube videos without lagging. You can’t mute the audio source, but you can use headphones with Live Captions. I was hoping it would provide real-time lyrics to music videos, but it really struggled with picking up the words of someone singing. Perhaps Live Lyrics is a feature I can look forward to in the future.

And, of course, no Copilot Plus PC would be complete without Copilot, Microsoft’s AI assistant. It’s not exclusive to the Copilot Plus PC platform — it can also be found on Intel Core Ultra laptops — but you get it with the Surface Laptop 7, complete with the dedicated Copilot key.

Design and display

The Surface Laptop 7 competes with the MacBook Air not only in performance and battery life, but also supplies a similarly sleek and solid build. It feels like a tiny tank of a laptop — in a good way. The all-metal chassis is very rigid, with softly rounded edges and corners. It’s thin, and the bottom edge tapers near the edges to make it appear even thinner than it is. And yet it’s thin without feeling flimsy. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 keyboard and touchpad
Matt Elliott/CNET

Microsoft thinned out the display bezels from past versions to give this iteration a more modern, compact look while increasing the size of the display from 13.5 to 13.8 inches. At 3 pounds, it’s heavier than the 13.6-inch MacBook Air that weighs 2.7 pounds. It’s still comes in at 0.6 ounces under three pounds and makes an easy travel companion. Plus, the power adapter is compact and weighs less than a half a pound, so the whole package weighs 3.4 pounds. But with its incredible battery life, you can leave the power cord at home most days, and it can be charged via USB-C if you need to.

It felt fast and accurate typing on the Surface Laptop 7. The keys have shallow travel but a firm response. The haptic touchpad is awesome. It lets you click on the entire area of the touchpad and receive the same feel with none of the diving board effect found on mechanical touchpads where clicks are harder to perform near the top and feel too loose near the bottom. 

Images look crisp on the 13.8-inch, 2,304×1,536-pixel LCD display and movement looks smooth with its 120Hz refresh rate. With a dynamic refresh rate, the display can adjust to up to the higher refresh rate for smoothing movement in videos and games, and drop  to 60Hz to extend battery life. The panel supports HDR and proved to be bright for its class, hitting a peak brightness of 569 nits in testing. That’s significantly brighter than the usual LCD panel in the 300- to 400-nit range. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 rounded corners
Matt Elliott/CNET

Apart from its boxy 3:2 aspect ratio that’s taller and narrower than a 16:10 panel of the same size (better for scrolling through long documents and web pages than watching shows and movies that fit better on a wider display), another unusual aspect of the display is the panel has rounded corners to match the rounded corner of the laptop itself. It’s a small touch that adds to the Surface Laptop 7’s good looks, though it can cut the corners of full-screen windows. The edge-to-edge glass protecting the display also helps, giving the entire display a seamless, smooth look. The Surface Laptop 7 also found room for a 1080p webcam in the thin top bezel without needing a notch that intrudes into the display like you get on a MacBook Air.

The Surface Laptop 7’s display supports touch, which is a feature many MacBook fans are still waiting for. The touch response was excellent, but the screen coating is glossier than that of a MacBook’s, which caused some glare and reflections. The display’s brightness helps compensate, but I still wish the finish was a bit less glossy and reflective. 

It’s one of the better mainstream LCD displays I’ve seen, but it’s still not an OLED. Its black levels don’t get as dark as an OLED panel, and it clips highlights, making the brightest areas look flat and lose detail. The Surface Pro 11 offers an OLED upgrade, but there’s one and only one display for the Surface Laptop 7 models. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 ports
Matt Elliott/CNET

The speakers are better suited for Zoom calls than music playback, though the sound is above average compared to its competitors. They get loud at max volume while maintaining clarity, but they lack the bass response needed for full enjoyment of most music.

Ports are minimal, with three USB ports — a pair of USB-4 ports and a USB-A port — on the left side and the Surface Connect port for power on the right. I like the magnetic Surface Connect port because it keeps both USB-C ports free when charging the laptop and lessens the chance that I trip over the power cord and yank the laptop off my desk, sending it crashing to the floor. Still, you’ll need to provide your own adapter for HDMI or Ethernet.

With the arrival of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 7, Apple’s MacBook Air finally has some competition from the Windows side of the aisle. The Surface Laptop 7 has the build and looks to compete with the Air, and not only closed the battery-life gap that the Air enjoyed over its Windows competition, but actually surpassed it in runtime. There is little I don’t like about the Surface Laptop 7. At our test system’s price of $2,000, however, I think an OLED should be included.

Because you get the same build, battery life and display with the lower-end models, I think for general use, the $1,200 configuration with the Snapdragon Plus X, 16GB of RAM and 512GB probably provides the best value. And I say, “probably,” because we’ve yet to test a laptop with the X Plus chip, so we can only estimate the drop-off in performance between it and the X Elite. But if it’s marginal, then the $1,200 Surface Laptop 7 is a great buy for home and work use and the perfect alternative for students who want a Windows laptop with MacBook Air style and battery life.

Performance test results

Color measurements

PresetGamut (% coverage)White pointGammaPeak brightness (full screen in nits)Accuracy (DE2K average/max)
Default/Vivid96% P36550K2.25662.36/3.82
sRGB98% sRGB6550K2.25681.33/3.7
HDR98% P36600Kn/a569n/a

Geekbench 6 (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Pro 11 13253Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 13159HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 12897Acer Swift Go 14 (SFG14-72T) 12459Lenovo Slim 7i (14IMH9) 12128Apple MacBook Air 13 (M3) 12063Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 11996

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench 2024 (single-core)

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M3) 141Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 107Microsoft Surface Pro 11 105Lenovo Slim 7i (14IMH9) 103

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench 2024 CPU (multicore)

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 799Microsoft Surface Pro 11 743Lenovo Slim 7i (14IMH9) 628Apple MacBook Air 13 (M3) 541

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Time Spy

Lenovo Slim 7i (14IMH9) 3875Acer Swift Go 14 (SFG14-72T) 3871Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 3842HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 3358Microsoft Surface Pro 11 1825Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 1798

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Procyon AI Computer Vision (integer)

Microsoft Surface Pro 11 (Hexagon NPU, SNPE) 1602Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 (Hexagon NPU, SNPE) 1559HP Omen Transcend 14 (RTX 4060 mobile, TensorRT) 1510Samsung Galaxy Book 4 Ultra (Arc iGPU, OpenVINO) 660Samsung Galaxy Book 4 Ultra (NPU, OpenVINO) 497

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Online streaming battery drain test

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 1190Apple MacBook Air 13 (M3) 1097Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 807Microsoft Surface Pro 11 771Acer Swift Go 14 (SFG14-72T) 760HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 595Lenovo Slim 7i (14IMH9) 580

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

Microsoft Surface Laptop 7Microsoft Windows 11 Home (24H2); Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite; 32GB DDR5 RAM; Qualcomm Adreno 741 Graphics; 1TB SSD
Microsoft Surface Pro 11Microsoft Windows 11 Home (24H2); Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite; 16GB DDR5 RAM; Qualcomm Adreno 741 Graphics; 512GB SSD
Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440Microsoft Windows 11 Home; Intel Core Ultra 7 155H; 16GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Arc Graphics; 1TB SSD
HP Spectre x360 14Microsoft Windows 11 Pro; Intel Core Ultra 7 155H; 32GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Arc Graphics; 2TB SSD
Acer Swift Go 14Microsoft Windows 11 Home; Intel Core Ultra 7 155H; 16GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Arc Graphics; 1TB SSD
Lenovo Slim 7i (14IMH9)Microsoft Windows 11 Home; Intel Core Ultra 7 155H; 32GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Arc Graphics; 1TB SSD
MacBook Air 13 (M3)Apple MacOS Sonoma 14.4; Apple M3 (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU); 16GB unified memory; 512GB SSD

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The post Microsoft Surface Laptop 7 Review: A MacBook Air Rival Arrives first appeared on www.cnet.com

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