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Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review

The 15-inch AMD-powered Surface Laptop 4 offers good performance, great audio and respectable battery life

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

Microsoft's 15-inch AMD-powered Surface Laptop 4 offers good performance, great audio, and respectable battery life in a slim, unobtrusive design.

For

  • Great speakers
  • Respectable battery life
  • Good keyboard
  • Big 3:2 display is great for getting work done

Against

  • Needs more ports and a better webcam
  • Unsightly thick bezels
  • Underwhelming file transfer speeds
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD): Specs

CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4980U (4680U also available)
RAM: 16GB (8GB, 32GB also available)
Display: 15-inch touchscreen, 2496 x 1664 (201 PPI) Storage: 512GB SSD (256GB, 1TB also available)
Ports: 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, Surface Connect port, headphone jack
Battery life: 12:04 (tested, web surfing) | Up to 17.5 hours (Microsoft's claim)
Wireless: Wi-Fi 6/Bluetooth 5.0
Dimensions: 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.58 inches
Weight: 3.4 pounds
Price: $1,699 as configured, $999 (13.5-inch) | $1,299 (15-inch) starting

With the Surface Laptop 4 Microsoft has delivered a straightforward Windows laptop that's advertised to last longer and deliver more power than its predecessors, while maintaining the Surface Laptop line's sleek — though somewhat dated — design.

In our 13-inch Surface Laptop 4 review, I found a great deal to like about Microsoft's latest laptop, though our independent testing poked some holes in the company's marketing claims. Now I've had some time to review the 15-inch model sporting one of AMD's Ryzen 7 4000 series CPUs, and while it has some notable flaws (as you'll read in the following 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 review), I think it's a solid investment if you need a productivity-focused laptop for getting work done on the go. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Price and availability

  • Starts at $999 for 13-inch, $1,299 for 15-inch
  • Our unit with AMD Ryzen 7 4980U/16GB/512GB is $1,699

The Surface Laptop 4 went on sale in the US and the UK in April, and if you order one directly from Microsoft you can expect to pay at least $999 for the 13.5-inch model and $1,299 for the 15-inch. Those entry-level models ship with AMD Ryzen 5/7 4000-series chips, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. 

Those in need of more power can beef up the Surface Laptop 4 by paying for more powerful components, potentially as much as $2,299 and $2,399 (respectively) for the two models if you kit them out with the top-tier ingredients. Unlike the preceding Surface Laptops, both sizes of the Surface Laptop 4 can be configured with your choice of an Intel 11th Gen Core i5/i7 CPU or an AMD Ryzen 5/7 4000-series processor, though the 15-inch model is limited to the higher-end Core i7/Ryzen 7 chips.

Our 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 review unit arrived packing an AMD Ryzen 7 4980U CPU, 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD, a configuration which retails for $1,699. Our review unit came in matte black, but you can also get the 15-inch in platinum if you choose.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Design

  • Thick bezels are distracting
  • Thinner and lighter than many 15-inch laptops

Microsoft’s latest Surface Laptop has a sleek, simple design that’s right in line with the minimalist design of earlier Surface devices. Personally I would’ve liked to see Microsoft attempt something a little more interesting with this new model, but what’s here is svelte and professional.

I’d also have loved to see a little less bezel framing my screen whenever I looked at it. On the matte black model we reviewed, the thick black bezels on all sides are nigh-invisible when the display is off, but once you power it on, it can be hard not to notice the black bars framing your screen. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the thin, nearly nonexistent bezels on contemporary notebooks of similar size like the Dell XPS 15 (2020) and 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019), but given that this is a flagship laptop from one of the biggest computing companies on the planet, it’d be nice to see Microsoft catch up to the competition.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review

(Image credit: Future)

The 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 clocks in at 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.58 inches and weighs 3.4 pounds, meaning it's effectively identical to (okay, it’s 0.02 inches thinner than) the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3. That also means it's lighter and thinner than a lot of laptops of comparable size, including the Dell XPS 15 (2020) and the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019).

The matte black paint job makes the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 somehow both subtle and imposing. From a distance it looks like a normal laptop, but when you get up close and see it next the gray and silver casings of most computers there’s a real richness and depth to the black that I didn’t expect. The Microsoft logo is embossed in reflective silver on the back of the screen, and when you look down into it you can see yourself staring back.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Ports

  • USB-A, USB-C and headphone jack
  • No Thunderbolt 4

Like its predecessor and its smaller sibling, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 only sports four ports: 1 USB-C, 1 USB-A, a headphone jack and a Surface Connector port for charging. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review

(Image credit: Future)

That’s enough to let you hook up a mouse and keyboard, plus some headphones for getting work done at the coffee shop (though please don’t be the person who breaks out a mechanical keyboard at the coffee shop), but it’s far from generous. I would have loved to see a Thunderbolt 4 option, or even a microSD card reader built into the side, but no dice.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review

(Image credit: Future)

It’s disappointing to see Microsoft unable or unwilling to find room for more ports in the Surface Laptop 4, especially on the larger 15-inch chassis; we said the same thing about the Surface Laptop 3, making Microsoft’s continued, almost Apple-like refusal to afford customers more options even more frustrating.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Display

  • 3:2 aspect ratio really shines on the 15-inch screen, great for productivity
  • Too reflective, even at maximum brightness

Surface Laptops are known for the distinctive 3:2 aspect ratio of their displays, and on the big 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 that gives you a lot of vertical screen space to play with. The 15-inch, 2496 x 1664 screen is great for reading and working with documents, and if writing and editing was all I did on this display it would be nigh-unbeatable.

But when the work was done and it was time to relax, some flaws came into view. The 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 has a very glossy screen, just like its smaller sibling, and while using it I kept catching sight of myself and my surroundings reflected in the display. This is far from a deal-breaker but it is distracting, especially when you’re trying to get engrossed in a movie or TV show.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review

As you can see, even at maximum brightness the screen of the Surface Laptop 4 is so glossy as to be nigh-unusable in a bright or backlit room. (Image credit: Future)

Whatever you’re watching should look pretty good on the larger Surface Laptop 4, and in my experience, reds and yellows pop out especially well. While watching Dredd, the reds and golds came through clear and vibrant, as did all the neon signs and yellow-green lighting filling the film’s dull grey and green interiors. However, I had a harder time picking out detail in background elements that were dark blue or green and lacked significant red/yellow tones, like the landscapes and cityscapes that commonly crop up in The Boys.

In our lab testing, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 display was able to achieve 109.8% of the sRGB color spectrum, better than both its predecessor (the Intel-equipped Surface Laptop 3 produced 104.5%) and the smaller 13-inch Surface Laptop 4 (108.3%). However, this Surface Laptop model pales in comparison to similarly-sized competing laptops like the XPS 15 (2020) and the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019), which delivered 132.2% and 113.9%, respectively.

Our light gun tests revealed the screen can hit an average brightness level of 334.4 nits, which is reasonable and plenty bright enough for daily use, but far from impressive. It’s outclassed by both the smaller Surface Laptop 4 (which averaged 348.6 nits) and the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, the Intel and AMD versions of which achieved 366 and 380 nits, respectively. Meanwhile, the gorgeous screens of the Dell XPS 15 (2020) and 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) blow the Surface Laptop 4 out of the water in terms of brightness, delivering 434.2 nits and 429 nits of brightness (respectively).

The touchscreen on the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 feels accurate and responsive. I never had a problem tapping and swiping my way around Windows, though fingerprints seem to show up especially well on the laptop's glossy screen.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Keyboard and touchpad

  • Smooth and accurate touchpad
  • Keyboard is plenty comfortable enough, but it could be bigger

Typing on the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 feels good, and I was able to reliably hit my average words per minute in typing tests using the laptop’s keyboard. The keys afford you enough travel to know you’ve activated one before you bottom out, and there’s plenty of room surrounding the keyboard for you to rest your hands and wrists on the deck.

In fact, there’s so much room that I wish Microsoft had found a way to make the keyboard a little bigger. Admittedly I have larger hands than the average person, but a larger keyboard on a laptop like this might have helped reduce cramping and hand strain for many. Instead, you’ve got a lot of clean metal flanking the keyboard and touchpad.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review

(Image credit: Future)

The touchpad itself is so reliable and easy to use that I never thought twice about it, which seems like exactly what you want out of an input device. Tapping and scrolling always felt natural, and the device reliably picked up all the Windows gestures I cared to use.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Audio

  • Loud, sharp sound for a laptop
  • Small size belies the strong bass

This latest edition of the Surface Laptop features integrated Dolby Atmos technology and a design which is intended to deliver deeper, richer sound by emitting it from beneath the keyboard and bouncing it off the screen. 

I can’t tell you for sure how effective that design is, but I can say that music and sound effects sound great coming out of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4. The drums and vocals of the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” were crisp and clear when pumping out of the laptop’s speakers, and I could pick them out easily even when I walked down the hallway and put two rooms’ worth of distance between me and the device. 

Bill Withers’ vocals on “Ain’t No Sunshine” sounded as warm as they ought to, and the drums on Massive Attack’s “Angel” sound loud and punchy coming through the Surface Laptop 4’s speakers. Anecdotally, I think music — especially bass-heavy tracks -- sound a bit better coming out of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 compared to the 13-inch, which could be a matter of taste or simply a matter of the 15-inch being larger.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Performance

  • Very solid performance from AMD Ryzen 7 CPU and 16GB of RAM
  • Respectable graphics performance can handle many mid-range games
  • SSD's file transfer speed significantly behind Dell XPS 15 and 16-inch MacBook Pro

The 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 we reviewed arrived packing an AMD Ryzen 7 Microsoft Surface Edition CPU and 16GB of RAM, giving it more than enough power to tackle as many basic tasks as you can throw at it. It also delivered decent performance when gaming, running less demanding games (like Fights in Tight Spaces and Disco Elysium) with no trouble and hitting a respectable 20 to 30 frames per second in more graphically demanding games like Battletech. 

You won’t be playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or Cyberpunk 2077 at anything approaching a decent framerate on this laptop, but most PC games that are a few years old and/or not terribly graphically intensive should run reasonably well.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review

(Image credit: Future)

Let’s talk raw numbers: the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 we reviewed earned a very good score of 6,748 in our Geekbench 5 performance test, outperforming the 10th Gen Intel Core i7-powered XPS 15 (6,174) but falling just a bit short of the 9th Gen Core i9-powered 16-inch MacBook Pro (7,250). That’s still some great performance out of the AMD Ryzen 7 CPU, and with 16GB of RAM, it should be more than capable of handling as many simultaneous windows, documents, browser tabs, and multimedia apps you care to run at any one time.

However, the onboard 512GB SSD wasn’t terribly speedy in our file transfer tests, which measure how quickly a drive can duplicate 25GB of multimedia files. The 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 transferred them at a rate of 372.49 MBps, which is better than the 287.2 MBps of its predecessor but still quite a bit below the 500 MBps average we usually see in premium laptops of this size. The 512GB SSD in the Dell XPS 15 (2020) put up a transfer rate of 708.9 MBps, for example, and it’s a bit disappointing to see Microsoft hasn’t been able to significantly improve the Surface Laptop’s SSD speeds.

In contrast, video editing should be reasonably efficient on the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4, given that our review unit was able to convert a 4K video to 1080p in 8 minutes 21 seconds, which is faster than the Dell XPS 15 (10:06) but slower than the 8 minutes flat it took the 16-inch MacBook Pro to complete the same task.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Webcam

  • Quick logins via Windows Hello facial recognition
  • 720p webcam delivers decent images, but 1080p would be ideal

This latest Surface Laptop carries on the line’s tradition of sporting 720p webcams built into the bezel above the screen, and there’s not much to say about it except that it’s completely functional. 

However, at this stage in the Surface Laptop’s evolution — and at this late stage in the Zoom call smorgasbord that is the global COVID-19 pandemic — I’d really have liked to see Microsoft find a way to integrate a 1080p webcam into the device. As it stands, you’ll have to spring for one of the best webcams if you want to look your best in a video chat.

The IR sensor alongside the webcam is pretty quick and responsive when it comes time to log into your laptop with your face via Windows Hello biometric authentication. I occasionally had trouble getting it to recognize me if I had my face within 2 feet of the screen, but that’s more of a PEBCAK problem that always worked itself out once I backed a foot or so away.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Battery life

  • 15-inch AMD-powered Surface Laptop 4 lasted 12 hours on our web surfing test
  • Though good, that's still nowhere near near Microsoft's 17.5-hour claim

Microsoft promised this new edition of the Surface Laptop would last longer on battery than its predecessors, up to 17.5 hours on a single charge for the 15-inch AMD Ryzen 7 configuration. After testing that configuration, I can say Microsoft has delivered on the first part of that promise, but fallen short on the latter half. In our battery tests, which put the laptop to work endlessly browsing web pages over Wi-Fi with the screen set to 150 nits’ brightness, the 15-inch AMD-equipped Surface Laptop 4 lasted a little more than 12 hours. 

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review

(Image credit: Future)

That’s still very good battery performance, and it should give you enough juice to get through a full day of use without having to worry about carrying a charger. It’s also significantly better than the prior model, as the 15-inch AMD-equipped Surface Laptop 3 managed to last just eight hours in our battery tests.

The Surface Laptop 4 also outperformed a number of similarly-sized laptops in our battery tests, among them the Dell XPS 15 (2020), which only endured about 8 hours, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019), which managed to last for 10 hours and 55 minutes. However, there are some important caveats to that comparison: the XPS 15 we tested doesn’t have the latest Tiger Lake CPUs, which are more battery-efficient, and it had a gorgeous power-draining 4K display. Meanwhile, the 16-inch MacBook Pro still hasn’t been refreshed with the latest power-sipping Apple Silicon, though that’s expected to happen in the latter half of 2021.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Heat

  • Laptop stays comfortably warm — unless you're playing intense games
  • Quiet fans

In our heat tests (which involve streaming 15 minutes of HD video), our heat gun found the underside of the Surface Laptop 4 hit an average temperature of 94 degrees, topping out at 98 near the center (roughly opposite from the F6 key). 

But while your lap might get warm while doing heavy-duty computing on this machine, your hands should stay cool — in our testing the deck of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 never got hotter than 82.5 degrees.

In my experience, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 gets warm under heavy use — especially while trying to play graphically-demanding games — but it never gets hot enough to be uncomfortable in your lap. I never noticed much fan noise, either.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review: Verdict

The AMD-powered 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 is a potent ultraportable for the productivity-minded, offering good performance and battery life in a slim, bloatware-free package.

The 3:2 display ratio really shines on the 15-inch screen, making it great for working through documents and browsing the web. It's a strong contender for one of the best laptops you can buy if you need to get work done, especially when you factor in the great sound quality, respectable battery life, and decent game performance.

Of course, there's still plenty of room for improvement. I'd love to see a Surface Laptop with thinner bezels, a more diverse selection of ports, and a better webcam. It would have been great to see Microsoft figure out a way to include the latest Ryzen 5000-series mobile CPUs, too. 

Still, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4’s spacious screen, subtle design, and solid combination of performance and longevity ensure it will serve you well while you're working at home or on the go.