Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2 hands-on: More ports and a much-needed spec bump

The exterior design has basically stayed the same, though it's nice to finally see the addition of a microSD card slot.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The Surface Laptop Studio is sort of a unique PC thanks to its innovative hinged display, stylus support and well-rounded specs. In some ways it's the ultimate jack-of-all-trades but master of none system. And now a sequel has arrived sporting a much-needed spec bump and the addition of some long-requested features including a microSD card slot.

Now, some folks may be dismayed to see that the exterior of the just-announced Surface Laptop Studio 2 is largely unchanged. But as someone who's been using the previous model as my main travel notebook for the last couple of years, I'm not that bothered. You still get clean, minimalist lines along with a 14.4-inch 2,400 x 1,600 120Hz PixelSense display that can tilt like an easel. I'm even happy to see little quirks like its two-tiered base return, which keeps the system's vents cleverly hidden and away from the edges of the system while also offering a shelf for Surface Slim Pen 2 to latch onto.

However, along the sides are some very important updates: a new USB-A port and a microSD card slot. This is the first time either of these has been available on this line, and while it might not sound like a big deal, for a system that's geared toward artists and content creators, this change represents a major quality-of-life upgrade. Just being able to quickly transfer photos from a camera to your laptop without needing a cable or an adapter is extremely useful. And with the addition of a USB-A port along with the two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C jacks, there's a good chance you'll be able to leave all your dongles at home without sacrificing connectivity.

There are also some subtle design changes including a new aluminum chassis instead of magnesium like you got on the original. This results in a very slightly thicker body (just 1 or 2mm), a more silvery hue and a smoother finish.

As you can see, Microsoft hasn't messed around much with the new Surface Laptop Studio 2's design (left) when compared to the original.
As you can see, Microsoft hasn't messed around much with the new Surface Laptop Studio 2's design (left) when compared to the original (right). (Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

As for performance, I really like the Surface Laptop Studio 2's updated components. Even at launch, the original felt somewhat underpowered due to a middling quad-core chip despite being billed as Microsoft's most powerful laptop. But now, with support for up to an Intel Core i7-13800H chip, 64GB of RAM, 2TB of storage and an RTX 4060 GPU (or an RTX 2000 card on commercial models), this successor feels like a more well-rounded machine. Sure, it's not as fast as a similarly-priced gaming laptop and it's not quite as thin as a typical 14-inch ultraportable. However, the combination of a high-res touchscreen with pen integration and a spec refresh delivers way more versatility than almost all of its rivals.

One last big change is the addition of Microsoft's Adaptive Touch feature, which brings increased accessibility. The tech uses a new touch algorithm that makes it easier for differently-abled people to mouse around and use the touchpad. And while I might not get a ton of use out of it, I appreciate how simple it is use. All you have to do is open the Surface app and you are immediately presented with options for enabling Adaptive Touch and adjusting things like click sensitivity and double-click speed.

Granted, there aren't a ton of major changes on Surface Laptop Studio 2 aside from refreshed specs and some new ports. But I think that's OK, as this feels like a case of not messing with an already tested and still very innovative design. The main drawback is that with a starting price of $1,999, Microsoft's latest flagship laptop costs a lot more than a typical 14-inch rival. But that may just be the cost for a system that can do a lot of everything.

The Surface Laptop Studio 2 goes on sale on October 3.

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