With Surface Laptop 4 and Accessories, Microsoft Goes All-In on Working From Home-news

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Five years ago, Microsoft’s freshest products were niche PCs (the Surface Studio) and expensive, groundbreaking peripherals (the Surface Dial), designed to get digital artists’ creative juices flowing. 

How times have changed. Redmond’s spring Surface lineup, unveiled on Tuesday, is a bet that the COVID-19-induced work-from-home era is here to stay. There’s nothing as out-there as the Surface Dial. Instead, the company has unveiled a bevy of new workaday peripherals—three headsets, a USB-C speaker for conference-call audio, and a 1080p webcam—along with an updated $1,000 Surface Laptop 4. 

The new laptop, available in either 13-inch or 15-inch screen sizes, is essentially the same physical device as the Surface Laptop 3 that it replaces. This is a good thing, because it means the USB Type-A ports aren’t going anywhere, despite their disappearance from competing laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and the Apple MacBook Air. Microsoft notes that it’s intentionally not messing with success, since its product research shows that many consumers choose the Surface Laptop specifically because it has USB Type-A and headphone ports. 

The major improvements to the Surface Laptop in the fourth generation are updated internal components, including the option for Microsoft Surface Edition processors from AMD, based on the Ryzen 4000 family. 

Credit: Microsoft

The new AMD Ryzen chips will be available on both the 13-inch or 15-inch models, and so will Intel 11th Generation Core processors. The 13-inch starting configuration has a Ryzen 5 4680U mobile CPU, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. CPU options include an Intel Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1185G7, as well as RAM and storage upticks (up to 32GB of memory, and up to 1TB of solid-state storage). Meanwhile, the 15-inch version starts at $1,299 with a Ryzen 7 4980U, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. A Core i7 version is also available, though the option for a discrete GPU is not. All versions of the new laptop use integrated Iris Xe or Radeon graphics.

The expanded configuration options are a welcome departure from the Surface Laptop 3, which does not have all processor options available for both screen sizes.

Both generations of Surface laptops are sleek machines with multiple color choices and a unique fabric option that covers a portion of the laptop’s base surrounding the keyboard and touchpad. As such, the devices are mostly sealed shut, although the Surface Laptop 4 does have a user-replaceable SSD. 


AMD Ryzen and Intel Core Inside

While AMD fans might bemoan that the Surface Laptop 4 doesn’t have the latest Ryzen 5000 series processors, the Ryzen 4000 series performance is already excellent. Microsoft claims that overall performance is up 70% from the previous Surface Laptop 3. On some configurations and workflows, the Surface Laptop 4 is twice as fast as its predecessor. Part of this claim is based on the new 32GB memory ceiling, up from 16GB in the Surface Laptop 3. 

Battery life is improved, too, according to the company. The 13-inch Surface Laptop 4 is rated for 19 hours of time away from a power outlet, up from its predecessor’s 11.5 hours. Microsoft measures battery life in a fairly realistic model of a typical workday. The company’s test includes both standby time as well a web browsing test accessing eight popular websites over multiple open tabs, and a productivity test that makes use of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 Family from above

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft notes that all configurations of the new laptop will be available to both commercial customers and the general public. Previously, you could order the Intel-powered 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 only from Microsoft’s dedicated online storefront for businesses. And early adopters who order a Surface Laptop 4 between now and April 15 (when the device begins shipping) will get a free pair of Surface Earbuds thrown in. The Earbuds retail for $200. 

Profile view of Microsoft Surface Laptop

Credit: Microsoft

Plus Means Business

The Surface Earbuds are nice enough, earning 3 out of 5 stars when we tested them in January. But serious videoconferencing and music listening will likely be better with the new Surface Headphones 2+ for Business. The headphones are the second Microsoft product to get the “+” treatment, following the launch of the Surface Pro 7+ for Business in January. The headline feature of the new headphones is a dedicated Microsoft Teams button. In addition, the Surface Headphones 2+ battery is rated to last for up to 15 hours of voice calling time, and that includes the use of up to 13 levels of adjustable noise cancellation. Meanwhile, the USB dongle for the wireless headphones has an LED indicator to show when the microphone is muted, which could help you avoid those time-wasting “Um, you’re on mute!” situations.

At $300, the Surface Headphones 2+ aren’t exactly a casual buy. Videoconferencing on a tighter budget is still possible with the Microsoft Modern Headset, available in a USB version for $50 or a wireless version for $100. 

Microsoft Speaker

Credit: Microsoft

Meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to have a work-from-home setup that’s private enough to not require headphones, you might be interested in the new Microsoft Modern Webcam and USB-C Speaker (pictured above). They’re small reminders of the conference room A/V setups that many office-bound workers left behind at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The webcam offers 1080p video resolution (better than the Surface Laptop 4’s 720p camera) as well as a 78-degree field of view, support for HDR, and an integrated privacy shutter. 

At $70, the webcam is on the expensive side. Still, given the extreme shortages of name-brand webcams during the early part of the pandemic in 2020, it could be worth a splurge when it goes on sale in June. 

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