Apple boss Tim Cook once said 2-in-1 laptop/tablet devices are akin to putting together “a toaster and a refrigerator.” Cook's point was that trying to combine both would simply not be pleasing to the user in the same way separate devices would be.
But then Microsoft Surface Pro came along and proved you could have a slick device that could be both a tablet and a laptop without comprising on too much. And I’d place a bet that it was the Surface Pro that motivated Apple to provide a keyboard accessory to the iPad Pro 2021 and iPad Air 2020. One only wonders how Apple reacted to the new Surface Laptop Studio debuting at this week's Microsoft Surface event.
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Looking a bit like the love child of a Surface Laptop 4 and an easel, the Surface Laptop Studio didn't turn out to be the Surface Book 4 we had been expecting. But it looks a lot like a laptop the likes of Apple would be too scared to make, not least of all because the Surface Laptop Studio has a whiff of MacBook Pro DNA when used in its traditional laptop orientation.
While there’s no removable tablet section to the Surface Laptop Studio, it does have a form of hinge-meets-arm that lets it be converted into a chunky tablet or a digital easel on which people can sketch drawings or annotate documents using a stylus, like the new Surface Slim Pen 2. Or it can simply be used as a form of secondary display.
Now this isn’t how I’d envision using such a laptop on a daily basis, as I have all the artistic skills of a stale baguette. However, I’m here for the inventiveness of Microsoft, which is seemingly refreshing in the face of the safe events Apple has held of late.
While Apple seems dogged in its determination to not make a touchscreen MacBook, despite there being iOS app support on macOS, Microsoft has seemingly run with the touchscreen concept.
This isn't the first time we’ve seen such a laptop design; the Acer ConceptD Ezel laptop also has such an easel-like screen. But the Surface Laptop Studio is arguably one of the most elegant approaches to making a 2-in-1 device that doesn't have you awkwardly gripping keys when using it as a tablet. And it also shows Microsoft is willing to innovate with laptop design, despite the fact that we’re not lacking in laptop makers that could carry the wacky Windows laptop design on Microsoft’s behalf.
Putting aside the unusual display design, the Surface Laptop Studio also sports both USB-A and USB-C connections, as well as a full-sized SD card reader. The USB-C ports can even be used to support an external graphics card to deliver even more graphics grunt.
That’s a port selection MacBook Pro users can only dream of given their machines are limited to a brace or quartet of USB-C ports. Not that Apple couldn’t add more ports to its MacBooks, but Cupertino seems determined to stick with USB-C only, as if it’s afraid to backtrack.
However, that could all change with the MacBook Pro 2021, which is expected to have more ports, a new design and even a mini-LED display. But as it stands, the company that was once seen to be innovator seems stuck in iterative updates (check our our iPhone 13 review as an example of pure Apple iteration). Meanwhile, Microsoft has moved from a somewhat dull software maker into a company that's now creating truly compelling hardware.
Sure, Microsoft might miss the mark at times, as it did with the Surface Duo, but then it could remedy that with the Surface Duo 2. If nothing else, I applaud Microsoft's tenacity to keep tugging away at the strings of innovation; I hope Apple is paying attention.