As part of its usual autumn laptop refresh, Acer is announcing a host of new Chromebook today that'll roll out in the coming months. There are four models being refreshed today: the Chromebook Spin 514, Chromebook 515, Chromebook 514, and Chromebook Spin 314. That's a lot of product names, but Spin devices can flip around with a 360-degree hinge, and the last two digits denote the screen size. That should hopefully ground you as we go through these new models.
Most interesting is probably the Spin 514 (pictured above), which combines a 14-inch 1080p touchscreen that has minimal bezels with Intel's 11th-generation Core i3, i5 or i7 processors. This laptop has no fans, which means these probably aren't the highest-powered versions of Intel's chips, but they should still provide solid performance for Chrome OS. Acer also put some focus on the webcam, a wise choice given how we're all still stuck on videos calls for the foreseeable future. It's a 1080p camera with a blue glass filter and new noise-reduction technology to remove things like light flares. We'll have to see how this works in practice, but given how many laptops have entirely mediocre webcams, any improvements here will be welcome.
Other specs include up to 16GB of RAM, up to 512GB of storage, Intel Iris X graphics and 10 hours of battery life. The Spin 514 weighs in at 3 pounds, so it's not going to be the lightest thing to use in tablet mode, but otherwise it sounds like it'll be a very good Chromebook — it also simply looks nice and well-built, at least as far as I can tell from these images. And Acer has a solid track record of making very good Chromebooks, so hopefully that'll continue here. The Spin 514 is expected to arrive in the US in January and starts at $700.
Acer's Chromebook 515 (which comes in consumer and enterprise editions) has similar specs to the Spin 514, though it has a larger 15.6-inch display. Given the large size, this laptop isn't a convertible, which is probably a smart move. For a 15-inch laptop, though, it's pretty light — only 3.75 pounds. It comes with the same 11th-generation processor options as the Spin 514, though it also has a budget Pentium Gold option (paired with Intel's UHD graphics rather than the Iris X). The Chromebook 515 will initially be available in Europe this month for €499; the Enterprise version will come to the US in January 2022 starting at $640.
Acer has a few less expensive Chromebooks coming out, as well. The Chromebook Spin 314 starts at $500 and arrives in the US in November. For that price, you'll get a 14-inch screen with an unfortunate 1,366 x 768 resolution, which is pretty unacceptable in the year 2021. It also features budget processors in the form of Intel's Pentium Gold or two Celeron options and has a 360-degree hinge, as the name implies. More intriguing is the Chromebook 514, which pairs a 14-inch, 1080p display with MediaTek's 8-core Kompanio 828 processor and 8GB of RAM. We haven't tested a MediaTek Chromebook in a while, so we can't say for sure how it'll perform yet. But Acer is promising 15 hours of battery life, and the laptop weighs less than 3 pounds, so it does have some potential as a budget Chromebook (the 514 will cost $400 when it is released in December).
Apple's MacBook Air M1 combines power and portability into a sleek package, making it one of the best laptops we've tried for most people. It normally starts at $999, but Amazon has, once again, knocked the price down to $850. That's for the 256GB model, but the 512GB model is also $150 off, bringing it down to $1,099. We've seen this discount come and go pretty quickly over the past couple of months, so now's a good time to grab the laptop if you've wanted to upgrade to a daily driver.
The Air M1 earned a score of 94 from us when it came out about one year ago, thanks in part to its thin-and-light design, lovely Retina display, comfortable keyboard and trackpad and impressive performance. The former comes from Apple's M1 chipset and you'll immediately notice the performance gains if you're coming from an older MacBook. The laptop wakes almost instantly when you open the lid, native apps run smoothly and the machine is, on the whole, quite responsive. The GPU performance is better as well — while we still wouldn't run intense games on the Air M1, it can handle Apple Arcade titles and even Fortnite easily.
We also appreciate how quiet the MacBook Air M1 is because it lacks a fan inside. You won't hear constant whirring when you're putting the laptop through its paces, and you'll be able to do so for up to 16 hours since the machine has an excellent battery life. The biggest hassles you'll deal with on the Air M1 are its paltry 720p webcam and its two USB-C ports, the latter of which means you'll be living the dongle life for a little while longer. But if you can deal with those minor infractions, you'll still get a solid laptop that can go with you almost anywhere in the MacBook Air M1.
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Those on the hunt for the next gaming laptop should check out the discounts on Razer Blade machines that Amazon has right now. Most notable among them is the 2020 Razer Blade Stealth, which is down to a record low of $1,400. That's $600 off its normal price and, given that one of our biggest complaints about the laptop was its high price tag, a great deal if you're looking for a powerful gaming machine in an ultra-portable shell.
We were impressed by the Blade Stealth's versatility — it's a gaming laptop that's powerful enough to run Overwatch in 1080p 70fps, but light enough to slip into a backpack and take to a coffee shop to do some work. It has a sleek yet sturdy design and weighs just three pounds, which is much lighter than most gaming machines. The particular model on sale has a 10th-generation Core i7 processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. All of that should provide plenty of power in most situations, and the package is made better by the 13-inch 4K touchscreen that comes with it. Depending on how you use it, you should get around eight hours of battery life with the Stealth, too.
A few other 2020 models are on sale at Amazon, and they appear to be different sales than those available on Razer's own site right now. There's the Razer Blade Pro 17, which is $900 off and down to a record-low of $2,300. That's for a model with a 10th-gen Core i7 octa-core processor, NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super Max-Q graphics, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 17.3-inch 1080p display with a 300Hz refresh rate. The Razer Blade 15 Advanced with 10th-gen Core i7 octa-core processor, RTX 2070 Super Max-Q graphics, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 15.6-inch 1080p 300Hz display is down to just under $1,800 as well. We have seen it drop lower in the past, but that's still a good deal at over $800 off.
Razer is joining many PC makers by unveiling new Windows 11 systems, although the biggest news may have more to do with prices than the computers themselves. To begin with, the Razer Book now has a regular starting price of $1,000 as a company store exclusive. You'll still get the familiar 11th-gen Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage, but you no longer have to wait for the 13.4-inch machine to go on sale if $1,200 is too extravagant.
Higher-spec Razer Book models are also better values than their outgoing models, at least at official prices. A jump to $1,500 gives you a touchscreen, a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD (previously $1,600), while it now takes 'just' $1,800 to buy a 4K touch variant that now includes 1TB of storage on top of the existing Core i7 and 16GB of RAM.
There's also a slight update for heavy-duty gamers. The Blade 15 Advanced now comes in new configurations that mate a 240Hz QHD screen and a 11th-gen Core i7 with faster GeForce RTX 3070 and 3080 graphics choices. They won't be cheap, of course. The 'base' starts at $2,700 with the RTX 3070, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD, while the all-out $3,100 model leaps to the RTX 3080 and 32GB of RAM.
All the new Windows 11 PCs are available to order today. Existing Razer systems (including those still on sale) can upgrade to Windows 11 as well, although you'll want to check the compatibility list before you pick up an older model.
While Chromebooks are meant to be an affordable alternative to standard laptops, you could easily drop hundreds on a fancy Chrome OS devices. Out of all of the Chromebooks we've tried, Lenovo's Flex 5 hits a sweet spot that most people will appreciate thanks to its solid performance, convertible design and attractive price tag. But today you can get the machine for even less thanks to a one-day sale on Amazon — the online retailer has the laptop for $300, or $130 off its normal price and a new record-low.
The specs on the Flex 5 are good even at its normal $430 price tag, but they're made even better by this sale price. The laptop has a 13-inch 1080p touchscreen along with a 10th-gen Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Getting a Core i3 Chromebook for $300 is a great deal, and the memory and storage numbers are pretty standard for midrange Chrome OS devices. We'd never recommend a standard laptop with 4GB of RAM, but Chrome OS does more with less. One of the reasons why we named the Flex 5 our favorite Chromebook is that it performed well even with just 4GB of RAM. As far as storage goes, as long as you're not installing a bunch of Android apps or downloading your entire Netflix library, 64GB should serve you well.
We also appreciate the Flex 5's convertible design, allowing you to use it as a tablet if you wish. The laptop isn't the slimmest, measuring 0.66-inches thick and weighing about three pounds, but it does include two USB-C ports and a USB-A port, which is a more modern selection compared to those on other affordable Chromebooks. Lenovo did a good job packing a lot of value into the Flex 5 Chromebook — it's rare to find this combination of features at such a reasonable price point, and now that it's $130 less then usual, it's a no-brainer for anyone looking for a new Chrome OS laptop.
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When a device reaches its eighth generation, it can be easy to assume you’re getting more of the same: faster chips, a thinner, lighter design and some aesthetic tweaks. But, in the case of , which arrives today alongside Windows 11, you’re getting the biggest redesign the tablet has seen in years. And actually, it’s heavier than .
In exchange for a 15 percent weight gain, you get up to 52 percent better battery life and Thunderbolt 4 support, plus a larger display with skinnier bezels and a 120Hz refresh rate — something rarely seen outside gaming machines. It looks different, too, taking style cues from the ARM-based . Other upgrades include newer 11th-gen Core i5 and i7 processors and a slightly higher-resolution rear camera.
On paper, it addresses two of our three main complaints about the Pro 7 (the detachable keyboard is still sold separately, though). But before we declare the Pro 8 a slam dunk, it’s worth noting that the starting price , up significantly from $749 on the Surface Pro 7. (Microsoft both eliminated its lowest-end sku for non-business customers and raised the price for its remaining configurations.) Given that, it’s worth considering whether the improvements are worth the price hike — and how the Pro 8 compares to traditional laptops now that it costs just as much.
Microsoft has always offered lovely displays on its Surface devices. Even with the original Surface, which debuted in 2012, the bright, high-res, low-glare panel was a standout on an otherwise confused seeming device. The Surface Pro 8 is no exception. The touchscreen here is 11 percent larger than before — 13 inches, up from 12.3 — with a 2,880 x 1,920 resolution that’s nearly 11 percent sharper than the Pro 7. It’s also 12.5 percent brighter, according to Microsoft. (OK, that’s the last time I’ll use the word “percent” for a while.)
In short, it’s bright, colorful and I never struggled with the viewing angles, regardless of where I was sitting in the house or how much sun was streaming in from outside. On a roof deck, however, the 450-nit screen didn’t feel quite bright enough at max settings — something to keep in mind if you intend to use this on the go.
Most important is the 120Hz refresh rate. This is a relatively new addition to the world of notebooks. Even so, it’s already something of a meme for reviewers like us to say something like “you don’t know what you’re missing until you experience it.” I’m annoyed to say that is 100 percent true. So, here’s me repeating a tired cliche: You will likely be happy with the 60Hz mode that’s enabled by default, but once you switch to 120Hz in the settings, you won’t want to revert back.
I noticed the difference immediately, even with the sort of mundane tasks I do hundreds of times a day: launching apps and minimizing windows. It all happens faster. It’s worth noting, however, you’re unlikely to notice much of a difference in movie playback, as Microsoft did some software work specifically to lower the refresh rate for that use case.
That bigger display comes at the expense of the surrounding bezels, which: good riddance. This is, of course, not a new design tactic. For years, laptop makers have been trimming the fat around their screens. Microsoft did this with the and, sure enough, the Surface Pro 8 looks a lot like the X. Its enclosure is aluminum, while the Pro 7’s was a magnesium alloy, but the effect is similar. This is a good thing, considering the dated design was one of only a few complaints in our Surface Pro 7 review.
In addition to having a larger screen, the Pro 8 is also heavier: 1.96 pounds without the keyboard, up from 1.7. (The keyboard adds 0.62 pounds.) Of course, “heavy” is a relative term. I would be less inclined than ever to use the detached tablet the way I would my smartphone. But my shoulder bag feels appreciably lighter now that I’ve swapped in the roughly two-pound Pro 8 for my three-pound MacBook Pro. Even the power brick is lighter.
Besides — and I can’t emphasize this enough — the Surface Pro 8 isn’t a mobile device. It looks and acts like a laptop, even if the keyboard folio isn’t included. It has a thin railroad track of vents along the top and sides, a necessity given the Core i5/i7 processor inside.
Meanwhile, the two USB-C ports now support Thunderbolt 4. Users have been requesting this for a while, and it means that people can now plug in high-speed drives, multiple 4K displays and eGPUs.
The built-in kickstand also suggests Microsoft knows people are going to spend more time docking the device than holding it. The kickstand in this year’s model is at once gorgeous and slightly annoying. The weighty aluminum helps the Pro 8 feel like the high-end device it is. Even the “snap” it makes when you pop it into place somehow sounds premium. On the other hand, even after using the Pro 8 for a few days, I still find the kickstand awkward to pull out; the narrow divots make it tough to grab onto.
Once you get it open, though, you’ll enjoy flexible viewing angles and a sturdy design that makes it comfortable to use the Pro 8 in your lap. I even used it on my outstretched legs while propped up in bed, though I don’t necessarily recommend that for extended use.
Finishing up our hardware tour, the rear camera now shoots at 10 megapixels, up from 8MP, and can record in 4K. The images are… fine. But certainly not worth the embarrassment of shooting photos in public with a 13-inch tablet, nor the inconvenience of having to hold a two-pound device steady. Just use your smartphone.
I’m more impressed by the webcam, the same 5-megapixel/1080p sensor used in the Pro 7+ and Pro X. It’s just so much more capable in mixed lighting than my MacBook Pro. A coworker who I regularly see on video calls remarked on the “night and day” difference from my normal setup. Not only was the image sharper, but it did a better job lighting my face.
To test the Surface Pro is also to test its accessories. And this year, it also meant getting acquainted with Windows 11, which is available for everyone .
As part of its reviewer package, Microsoft included the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard () and the new , which , and promises lower latency, a sharper tip and improved precision. That pen docks inside a charging cradle on the Signature Keyboard, which was also designed to be used with .
Like earlier Surface keyboards, the Signature is covered in Microsoft’s soft Alcantara material, which feels like either suede or felt, depending on how I touch it. All told, there are two ways to use the keyboard: you can allow it to lie flat on your desk, with the pen cradle exposed above the Function row. Or, you can fold up the pen-dock piece so that it magnetically attaches to the tablet’s lower bezel. This lifts the keyboard at a more ergonomic angle.
There are pros and cons to each method: I find the ergonomic lift more comfortable, but felt distracted by the flimsiness of the panel under my furious typing. On the other hand, as insubstantial as the panel feels, the buttons themselves are spacious and springy. The wobble might sometimes annoy me, but I rarely miss when touch-typing on this.
The trackpad, meanwhile, is decently sized. Two-finger scrolling feels smooth. (And thanks to the screen’s relatively tall 3:2 aspect ratio, I do slightly less of that on webpages.) For extended use, I preferred using a Bluetooth mouse (in this case, the $30 that Microsoft included with my Surface Pro 8 loaner). But you don’t need a standalone mouse, especially if you’re on the go.
For whatever quibbles I have about the keyboard (including the fact that it’s sold separately), I love the Slim Pen 2. The haptic motor is a small but delightful touch, vibrating when you flip over the pen to erase something. I used the pen to write in Windows 11 text entry fields and Windows mostly recognized my sloppy handwriting. In the Microsoft Store I had to try twice to get it to decipher “Evernote”; it initially thought I typed “everyone.” But other than that it generally understood what I was trying to write.
Aside from Evernote, I tried the pen in other apps including OneNote and the , the latter of which I found particularly enjoyable. (What can I say? I’m a sucker for rainbow and glitter pens.) I also sometimes found myself just scrolling with the pen, even though it’s just as easy to use my fingers. By the end of my testing period, I felt about the Slim Pen 2 the way I did in : Most people don’t need a stylus, but they’re more fun to use than you might think.
In both laptop and tablet mode, I felt charmed by Windows 11. The OS makes a good first impression with a fast and efficient setup, including the Windows Hello facial recognition enrollment process, which only took a few seconds. I admittedly felt disoriented seeing the center-aligned Taskbar, but you can move it back to its proper place on the left.
Additionally, I appreciated the redesigned Microsoft Store, where it was easy for me to quickly find and download all of my favorites. And in tablet mode, the elements get subtly larger when you unplug the keyboard, making it easier to select what you want using a combination of finger taps and the large on-screen keyboard.
Perhaps most impressive of all is the feature that allows you to hover over a window’s maximize icon to see different layout options, including half-and-half, a two-to-one ratio and a couple types of quadrants. It’s just so much more convenient than dragging a window toward the side of the screen, hoping it snaps into place and then tinkering (using a possibly finicky touchpad) to get the window sized the way you want. Frankly, I always found the split-view experience kludgy across Windows, macOS and iPadOS, but with this change I think Microsoft clearly has the more elegant solution.
Performance and battery life
3DMark Night Raid
ATTO disk speeds (top read/write)
Microsoft Surface Pro 8 (Intel Core i7-1185G7, Intel Iris Xe graphics)
2.25 GB/s / 1.47 GB/s
Microsoft Surface Pro 7 (Intel i5-1035G4, Intel Iris Pro graphics)
1.79 GB/s / 750.71 MB/s
Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360, 15-inch (Intel Core i7-1165G7, Intel Iris Xe graphics)
For the record, I did not test the entry-level $1,100 model but rather, a more expensive $1,900 configuration with a quad-core 3GHz Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
Though the benchmarks indicate a laptop whose performance equals or slightly trails other Core i5/i7 machines with integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, for all intents and purposes it felt like a fast machine in everyday use. As I said, too, all of this mundane stuff feels that much zippier when you switch to 120Hz mode.
As for battery life, Microsoft claims the Surface Pro 8 can last up to 16 hours on a charge, up from 10.5 on the last generation. Battery performance was one of my colleague Cherlynn Low’s main complaints about the Pro 7; it actually performed worse than the model that preceded it. I’m happy to report that the battery life here is much improved: I logged 13 hours and six minutes in our standard test, up from seven hours and 50 minutes on the Pro 7. That was with the default 60Hz screen refresh rate, of course; with the 120Hz option enabled, the machine lasted seven hours and 36 minutes under the same conditions.
It’s worth noting that, while Engadget has tested laptops this year that lasted even longer in the same battery test (think: , ), those systems either packed a less-powerful ARM processor or were significantly larger and heavier. Considering the Surface Pro 8’s chip and relatively light weight, the battery life is pretty good.
The Surface Pro 8 starts at $1,100 with a quad-core Core i5-1135G7 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The base-model Surface Pro 7 cost $749, but that was with a Core i3 chip and half the RAM, just four gigs. (If you don’t mind aging, lower-powered hardware and would rather save money, Microsoft sells the for with a Core i3 CPU.)
Even with that caveat about the discontinued Core i3 sku, if you wanted a Core i5 machine last year with 8GB of memory and 128 gigs of storage, the price was $900 then, not $1,100. So, while calling it a $350 price hike feels imprecise, it’s definitely a $200 increase even if you stick to direct comparisons.
But I digress. If you’re happy with the Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM on this year’s base model but want more storage, you can buy an otherwise identical machine with a 256GB or 512GB SSD for $1,200 or $1,400, respectively. A Core i5 machine with 16GB of RAM costs $1,400 with 256GB of storage.
Meanwhile, the least expensive Core i7 model costs $1,600. (That, too, has 16GB of RAM and a 256GB drive.) From there, you can step up to Core i7 with 512GB of storage ($1,900) or a terabyte ($2,200). If you really wanted, you could have Core i7, a 1TB SSD and 32GB of RAM, all for a cool $2,600. Oh, and you’d still have to pay extra if you wanted the keyboard and pen.
There’s also an LTE-equipped model. Just know that that variant maxes out at 512GB of storage and won’t be available until “a later date.” They will start at $1,100 with a Core i3 processor.
To recap, the with the $180 keyboard costs $1,280, and let’s be real: You definitely want the keyboard. That puts it squarely in ultraportable-laptop territory.
Perhaps its most obvious competitor is the , a longtime that we described as “tweaked to near perfection” in our most recent review. It currently starts at $967 on Dell’s website with a Core i3 processor. You can get a Core i5 machine with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $1,170, whereas the Surface Pro 8 costs $1,100 with 128GB of storage and no keyboard. However, a touchscreen brings the XPS 13 to $1,269, which is similar to what the Surface Pro 8 costs with the keyboard. At that point, it depends on your priorities: You get a more optimal typing experience with the XPS 13, but pen support and more flexibility with the Surface Pro 8.
Another easy comparison: . It’s a with a Core i5 CPU, Iris Xe graphics, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $900. In our review we awarded it a high score of 94 and listed barely any cons, one of which was the webcam.
It’s also worth comparing the Surface Pro 8 to the most similarly specced Apple products, though my thesis about the Pro 8 is that the likeliest shoppers are already committed Windows users. If you want a proper laptop, the best comparison is the 2.8-pound with Apple’s M1 chip, which costs $1,000 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. (Versus $1,380 for the Surface Pro 8 and keyboard with the same amount of memory and storage.) Obviously, there’s no touchscreen, though.
Perhaps the better comparison is the , which starts at $799 with 128GB of storage and a smaller 11-inch screen. (The 12.9-inch model starts at $1,099). Like the Surface Pro, it doesn’t come with a keyboard or stylus (in this case, the similarly priced $129 Apple Pencil). Apple’s first-party costs $299, but you can pay less if you choose a third-party brand. Brydge, for instance, lists its between $150 and $170 depending on the size of the iPad Pro.
All of this is to say that if you opted for the smaller 11-inch model and went with Apple’s own keyboard, you’d be paying a similar total price as you would for the Surface Pro 8 and keyboard. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is more similar in size to the Pro 8 but is more expensive once you factor in the keyboard.
More than hardware, the choice there comes down to the user experience. iPadOS will feel more familiar to iOS and macOS users, and it has a better selection of touch-specific apps, but it just isn’t as good at multitasking as Windows 11.
The Surface Pro is incrementally better in its eighth generation, with a fast-refreshing screen, much-requested Thunderbolt 4 support and a return to long battery life. But it’s also more expensive than ever, with a $350 higher starting price that effectively wipes out any price advantage it once had over premium ultraportable laptops. The pricier the Surface Pro gets, the more caveats I have to append to my recommendation.
The pen-on-tablet experience is lovely, but the most persuasive reason for me to recommend the Surface Pro is the 120Hz display. It truly makes a difference in everyday use. Microsoft needs to do a better job communicating the benefits to would-be buyers, though. I understand why it’s disabled out of the box (battery life, duh), but how will average users find it if they’re not in the know? And as of this writing, the 120Hz refresh rate doesn’t get a prominent mention on Microsoft’s product page.
Meanwhile, as good as the typing experience and battery life are, they’re not necessarily superior to a comparably priced notebook. If you only have money for one high-end laptop-like device, then, the bar seems higher for choosing the Surface Pro over an ultraportable.
Special thanks to senior editor Devindra Hardawar and reviews editor Cherlynn Low.
Yubico's latest have another layer of security: fingerprint readers. The YubiKey Bio Series is the company's first lineup with built-in biometric authentication for passwordless and second-factor logins.
You can use the keys on desktop platforms that support WebAuthn, including Windows, macOS, Chrome OS and Linux operating systems and Chromium-based browsers including Edge and Chrome. With the Yubico Authenticator for Desktop app, users can add and remove fingerprints. If, for some reason, you can't use the fingerprint reader, you can enter a PIN instead.
YubiKey Bio devices support FIDO2/WebAuthn and U2F protocols, as well as the YubiEnterprise subscription service. You'll be able to use the same key for a variety of operating systems and desktop devices. It'll work with any app or service that supports FIDO protocols, including Citrix Workspace, GitHub, IBM Security Verify and Microsoft 365.
opted for a three-chip architecture, which allows it to store fingerprint data separately on a secure element. The company says that provides "enhanced protection from physical attacks."
YubiKey Bio keys are available from Yubico's website in either USB-A or USB-C formats. The USB-A model costs $80 and the USB-C is $85.
Microsoft has been trying to straddle two different worlds with the Surface Go. When it launched in late 2018, Microsoft positioned it as an inexpensive way to get the 2-in-1 Surface experience. Three years later, that’s still true: The Surface Go 3, which Microsoft unveiled in late September, is an exceedingly well-built tablet, with a lovely screen and strong kickstand. For a device that starts at $400, it feels great.
But the full truth of the Surface Go 3 is a little more complicated. You need to shell out at least another $100 for a keyboard. And, seeing as Windows still doesn’t offer a great tablet experience you need the keyboard. Not to mention the basic $400 Surface Go 3 is underpowered – so by the time you’re buying a keyboard and bumping up the processor, storage and RAM, you’re spending as much money as you might on a full-fledged laptop with a larger display and more powerful internals.
Our review unit came with a 10th-generation Intel Core i3-10100Y processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. But that configuration costs $630, not including the $130 Alcantara-clad Type Cover and $100 Surface pen Microsoft sent along as well. It’s a fairly capable machine despite its tiny size, making it a potentially great travel companion. But if you’re going to spend $860 for the kit that I’m testing, you should know exactly what you want to do with it that you can’t do with a standard laptop.
When we reviewed the Surface Go 2 last spring, we noted that it was nearly identical to the first version, with the notable exception of a larger screen. This time out, I’m pretty sure the external hardware is completely identical. The Surface Go 3 is the exact same size and weight as its predecessor, and the display is the same 10.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 touchscreen as before.
That’s not a knock on the hardware, though, as the Surface Go 3 is a wonderfully designed and constructed device. I haven’t used previous Surface devices extensively, but Microsoft’s reputation for thoughtful hardware is well deserved. The screen is bright, sharp and colorful, with great viewing angles. I also very much appreciate the taller 3:2 aspect ratio – a 16:9 panel here would feel very cramped for vertical space.
I’m also a big fan of the infinitely adjustable kickstand. I’m no visual artist, but the way you can push it nearly all the way around to prop up the tablet for drawing is a brilliant design decision, and the way the Surface Pen magnetically snaps to the side for easy access is very handy. It really makes me wish I could draw, but alas.
As before, the Surface Go 3 only has a few ports and buttons. There’s a USB-C port on one side as well as a headphone jack and Microsoft’s proprietary charging port. The good news is you can use the USB-C port for faster charging (as well as any other peripherals you have) and use the cables you probably already have instead of the slower charger. Up top, there’s a power button and volume rocker; an 8-megapixel camera stares out from the back of the tablet. Two stereo speakers flank the display, and there’s a 5-megapixel front-facing camera with a 1080p resolution for video calls. It also works with Windows Hello for face unlock. Finally, under the kickstand you’ll find a Micro SDXC card reader, but you really have to go searching for it.
Every time Microsoft releases new Surface tablets, questions follow about whether Windows is actually a viable platform for touchscreen use. With Windows 11, the answer is still “not really.” But purely on the strength of its hardware, the Surface Go 3 is a lovely tablet. The 3:2 aspect ratio makes it work well when holding it in either portrait or landscape mode. And at 1.2 pounds it’s a little heavier than an iPad, but not so much so that you’ll get tired of holding it.
We typically recommend Surface buyers use the device with some kind of keyboard, so nearly all my time testing the Go 3 was with Microsoft’s Type Cover attached. It’s unchanged from last year’s version, but that’s OK because Microsoft’s Surface keyboards are surprisingly good. Given the Go’s small size, it felt a bit cramped at first, but after giving my hands a little time to adjust it wasn’t an issue.
The keys have decent travel and feel very solid, despite the Type Cover’s extremely thin design, and the magnets that attach it to the Go are very strong. The touchpad is fine given its rather small size, but – like the keyboard – it's not something I want to use for hours on end. When I was using the Go 3 at my desk for extended work sessions, I preferred using a Bluetooth mouse.
The Type Cover weighs just over half a pound, so the tablet plus its keyboard cover is a good bit less than two pounds total. While the overall design hasn’t changed, the Surface Go 3 and its keyboard cover are still a very compact and well-designed set. There aren’t many devices that can provide the full Windows experience in such a portable package.
Unfortunately, as with the prior Surface Go models, you’re trading portability for performance. The Core i3 powering the $630 Go 3 that I’ve been testing is enough for basic tasks, but if you try and push things too much you’re going to be disappointed. My workflow is fairly modest: I mostly live in a browser (I used Edge for this review), and I also run apps including Trello, Slack, Todoist and Spotify. I also wrote this review in Word, to get the full Windows experience. Usually, the Surface Go 3 kept up with these tasks, but I had occasional music stutters and tabs often had to be reloaded if I navigated away from them for more than a minute or two.
Occasionally, things got worse. The Surface Go 3 mostly ran Adobe Lightroom fine, but moving through the interface definitely required patience as UI elements and photos took a while to load. And if I had it open along with any other programs, things slowed down significantly. Browser tabs were more likely to reload, and opening or switching between other apps took a lot longer. Lightroom performance itself was not terrible, though exporting an edited RAW file to a JPG took long enough that I did most of my photo editing and exporting for this review on my MacBook Pro. Exporting a single image probably took about 10 seconds, compared to a second or two on my Mac.
I’m sure you’ll be shocked to know that being on a video call also led to serious performance issues. When I was on a Google Meet call with some co-workers, switching that and Slack was painfully slow, and Slack had to refresh entirely as if I just opened it. While we’re at it, Slack performance was mediocre on this machine; jumping between different channels and conversations led to noticeable delays. (I’m willing to put some of the blame on Google and particularly Slack, because Slack's Windows app is not good. But not all of it.) That sums up the Surface Go 3 experience pretty well — I often just had to wait a lot for things to catch up.
Running our usual suite of Windows benchmarks confirmed my impressions – indeed, according to Geekbench 5 and PCMark10, the new Core i3 processor is nearly identical to the m3 that it replaces. This just highlights that Intel still doesn’t have a great solution for smaller devices. Apple’s $330 iPad, which I just reviewed, hit 1,336 (single-core) / 3,349 (multi-core) on Geekbench 5, compared to the 859/1,450 I got running it on the Surface Go 3.
GeekBench 5 CPU
PC Mark 10
3DMark (Night Raid)
ATTO (Top reads/writes)
Microsoft Surface Go 3 (Core i3-10100Y, Intel UHD)
859 / 1,450
1.65 GB/s / 808 MB/s
Microsoft Surface Go 2 (Core m3-8100Y, Intel UHD)
800 / 1,590
1.6 GB/s / 265 MB/s
Acer Aspire 5 (Intel Core i3-1115G4, Intel UHD)
1,316 / 2,583
2.26 GB/s / 893 MB/s
Lenovo Flex 5 14 (AMD Ryzen 3 4300U, AMD Radeon)
730 / 1,879
1.40 GB/s / 925 MB/s
The battery situation also leaves something to be desired. I got about five hours using the Surface Go 3 during normal use doing my normal work routine — not awful, but given how low-powered the processor is, I expected more. It also makes the Go’s portability less useful, because if you can’t be away from a charger for a full work day, what’s the point of having such a small device? The device did last quite a long time in a lower-power test. The Go 3 lasted almost 11 hours while playing back HD video, which matches up with Microsoft's estimates for 11 hours.
The Surface Go 3 isn't the fastest to charge, either. I had the device plugged in while running some benchmarks, and it took a whopping three hours to charge from 50 percent to 100 percent using the included charger. I was pushing the system pretty hard during that time, but even when I was doing less intense work, it took a good long while to charge. When the Go 3 was asleep, it still took about two hours to fully charge it up from 20 percent.
Benchmarks don’t tell the entire story, but they should give you a good idea of what to expect with the Surface Go 3. I could see the Go 3 making sense as a second computer, a companion to a more powerful Windows desktop for travel. If I was still commuting, I’d be happy to use the Go 3 on my hour-long train ride to go through email, do a little writing and manage all my to-dos. I could also see it being a good companion for running around at events like CES or E3. But I’d probably get tired of writing on that tiny screen.
But $630 plus another $100 minimum for the Type Cover is a lot of money for a device that feels rather slow and rather cramped. For that kind of money you could certainly get a more capable Windows laptop. Apple’s iPad is also a great option for a secondary computing device, and has the benefit of an OS that was built with tablets in mind; it’s also far more responsive than the Surface Go 3, and there are plenty of keyboard covers out there for getting real work done.
The value calculus does change if you’re a visual artist, I think. I have zero drawing ability, so the Surface Pen isn’t terribly useful for me. But it’s a very good stylus, and I could see artists who like to use Windows appreciating the Go 3 as a portable drawing tool that can also be a full-fledged computer when you need it. But once again, an iPad probably has better app support for artists who prefer a stylus.
Probably the biggest issue with the Surface Go 3 is that nothing has significantly changed since Microsoft released the Go 2 almost a year and a half ago. The design is still good, but performance and battery life are essentially unchanged, despite the new chip. I can’t recommend that anyone get a Surface Go 3 with the Pentium Gold processor; it feels like the low-end model exists only so Microsoft can say it sells a $400 tablet.
Just like its predecessors, the Surface Go 3 can be a pretty useful tiny Windows device, though you’re paying a premium for the portability. And the price for performance ration is seriously out of whack. If you’re a Windows fan, it'a decent option as a secondary device for casual work and for when you want something extremely portable. There aren’t a lot of comparable Windows devices out there, and the hardware’s design and built quality remains outstanding. Just make sure you buy the Type Cover, don’t expect much from tablet mode and be patient if you’re running a lot of apps.
The Surface Laptop Studio proves that Microsoft has learned from the mistakes of the Surface Book — well, most of them. Instead of over-engineering a way to have a detachable screen on a powerful notebook, the Laptop Studio's display simply tilts forward. Press it down even further, and it turns into an angled digital easel, similar to its larger sibling, the Surface Studio. That hinged screen isn't entirely unique — we've also seen similar implementations on the HP Spectre Folio and Acer's ConceptD 7— but it's still distinctive enough to justify a spot in the Surface family.
After reviewing the Surface Book 3 last year, it was clear that Microsoft needed a new strategy. All of the Surface Books were actually tablets that docked into a keyboard base, which housed an additional battery and an optional discrete graphics card. The PC guts were placed entirely behind the Book's screen. That was an ingenious way to make a detachable slate that could take advantage of powerful GPUs, but the tight size constraints severely limited CPU power. It was a design that simply couldn't keep up against other laptops, which could fit much more powerful hardware.
Enter the Surface Laptop Studio, one of the first Windows 11 PCs. At first glance, it looks like a direct MacBook Pro competitor. Even before you see its moving screen, it's evident this isn't your typical notebook. Its bottom half looks like two slightly different-sized tablets stacked together. That gives you thin edges to hold, but a bit more height to fit in beefy specs. At 3.8 to 4 pounds (depending on the chip you get), it's over a half-pound heavier than the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4. It’s clearly not trying to be an ultraportable, but Microsoft is also trying to keep it from feeling like a hefty gaming laptop.
Microsoft’s most intriguing display yet
The Surface Laptop Studio’s 14.4-inch screen is a bit sharper than 1,440p, with a 2,400 by 1,600 resolution. Notably, it's one of the first productivity PC screens with a fast 120Hz refresh rate. That's something Microsoft also brought to the new Surface Pro 8, and it simply makes everything on the display look smoother, no matter if you're scrolling through web pages or jotting down notes with the Surface Slim Pen 2. Typically, high refresh rates have been reserved for gaming laptops (faster action means better headshots, of course), though it's also a marquee feature of Apple's iPad Pro.
In its standard notebook orientation, the Laptop Studio's display fits right alongside the rest of the Surface family, which historically have had some of the best screens on the market. It also features Dolby Vision support, allowing you to enjoy the higher brightness and contrast from HDR videos and games. I've seen countless laptop screens over the years, and while the XPS 15's OLED is still the high bar for me, the Laptop Studio comes very close. Everything looks fantastic, and that high refresh rate leads to less eye strain after hours of web browsing (and working on this review). It makes sense: If the screen can scroll more naturally, your eyes don't have to work extra hard to keep track of everything.
Even though it's surrounded by some chunky bezels — something Microsoft avoided with the Surface Pro 8 — the Laptop Studio's display entranced me. And that's before I started spending time with its flexible modes. You can pull it forward with just two fingers, and it magnetically rests between the keyboard and trackpad. That's useful for binging video, especially if you prefer using the touchpad instead of dirtying your screen. Another plus for the Surface Studio: It has surprisingly powerful speakers, including two subwoofers spitting sound out the sides of the laptop, and two tweeters blasting through the keyboard. They also support Dolby Atmos for (very basic) simulated surround sound.
You can get into easel mode by pulling the Laptop Studio's screen completely forward, where it's angled up slightly for sketching and writing. And while Microsoft hasn't advertised this too much, you can also push the screen backwards so that the keyboard is completely behind it. That could be helpful for stepping through presentations without turning your entire computer around.
That last orientation also gives you a clear view of the Surface Laptop Studio's unique hinge. The area directly underneath the display is covered in a smooth cloth, which also keeps the hinge from making direct contact with the screen. The hinge mechanism feels a bit flimsy at first, until you figure out where the display is supposed to rest for each mode. Microsoft reps tell us that they typically put their hinges through years of testing, so they should last for the lifetime of the laptop. Still, I'd certainly be anxious about putting this laptop in front of a small child. My parental spidey sense can foresee disaster if a kid starts pulling the screen.
A solid Surface Book successor… mostly
The big takeaway after living with the Laptop Studio for around a week: It's so much easier to use than the Surface Book. I don't have to worry about hitting the eject button to release the screen, and placing it in the exact right spot when I want to lock it back in. There's no obscene hinge curve, which always made it difficult to fit the Surface Book into slim bags. And finally, Microsoft can throw more power into a high-end Surface!
Well, sort of. The Laptop Studio is powered by quad-core 11th-gen Intel chips, either the i5-11300H or the i7-11370H. Both are a big step up from the 10th-gen hardware in the Book 3, but it's curious that Microsoft didn't push for six or eight-core CPUs. If Dell can squeeze a six-core chip into the XPS 13, why can't Microsoft make that happen in its flagship Surface notebook? When asked about the power limitation, Microsoft representatives said their research showed a quad-core CPU with discrete graphics (the Laptop Studio can also be equipped with NVIDIA's RTX 3050 Ti) was the best option for their users. But as someone who knows plenty of media professionals and other would-be Laptop Studio customers, I find that hard to believe.
Even if that's the case, it's hard to recommend a system with a quad-core chip when there are so many competitors sporting more power. At least Microsoft is using Intel's beefier H35 chips, which are meant for ultraportable gaming laptops. Our benchmarks show the Laptop Studio is a significant step up from the Book 3 in every benchmark. But it doesn't have a chance against the Razer Blade 14, which can be equipped with an eight-core AMD CPU and NVIDIA RTX 3080 GPU. That's particularly damning when the Blade 14 tops out at $2,800, whereas the comparable Laptop Studio model is $2,700. The only downside for Razer is that its machine comes with 16GB of RAM, instead of the Surface's 32GB.
3DMark Night Raid
ATTO disk speeds (top read/write)
Surface Laptop Studio (Intel Core i7-11350H, NVIDIA RTX 3050 Ti)
It could just be that Microsoft is setting itself up for an even bigger Laptop Studio down the line. The Book 3 came in 13.5- and 15-inch variations, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a future 16-inch studio with even beefier hardware eventually. Perhaps Microsoft is just waiting to see what Apple's next hardware refresh means for the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Ignoring how it competes on a hardware level, the Laptop Studio is a solid performer for everyday computing tasks. It's also fast enough to reach between 90 and 100fps in Overwatch at the Studio's native resolution and ultra graphics settings. That's better than what I saw with the XPS 15 OLED, which could only reach around 70fps in 1,440p with a slightly slower RTX 3050 Ti. For most people, it'll be very capable for media work with some light gaming on the side. Still, I can't help but sigh at some of the benchmarks: how is it only slightly faster than the Surface Pro 8 — a tablet — in Geekbench 5?
I was similarly annoyed by the Surface Laptop Studio's anemic port situation. It only has two USB-C ports alongside the proprietary Surface Connect slot. Thankfully, those USB-C connections also support ThunderBolt 4, so they'll work with high-bandwidth storage devices, external GPUs and let you string together multiple 4K external monitors. Still, it's a shame to see the Book 3's SD card slot go. I suppose Microsoft is just following in Apple's footsteps here with the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but it sure seems like a missed opportunity to outdo their competitor. Also, strangely, while the Surface Pro 8 has an easily accessible NVMe SSD slot for additional storage, there's no secondary SSD slot for the Studio. (Though you could unscrew the bottom of its case and replace its SSD eventually.)
So that's a few big strikes against the Surface Laptop Studio, at least as a machine meant for creative professionals. Thankfully, Microsoft brought over one of the best aspects of the Book 3: that fabulous keyboard. It's wide, responsive and has some of the most satisfying key travel I've ever felt in a laptop. It's also accompanied by a Precision Haptic touchpad, which has no moving parts, but does a great job of mimicking that click you feel when pressing on a trackpad. That tech isn't new, exactly: Apple has offered it on MacBooks since 2015, but we're only now beginning to see it on PCs, like Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga.
The new Surface Slim Pen 2 — which unfortunately costs an additional $130 — is also the perfect companion to the Laptop Studio's excellent keyboard and trackpad. It's easy to hold and it has a haptic motor of its own, which helps to mimic the feeling of putting pen to paper. That's a thoughtful addition, as the feeling of a stylus nub against glass always felt unnatural to me. The Slim Pen 2, meanwhile, makes me feel like I'm actually writing in a notebook. And unlike the Surface Book, there's a secure spot to store the new stylus right underneath the keyboard. It also wirelessly charges off of the Surface, which is much more convenient than carrying around tiny spare batteries.
Speaking of batteries, the Laptop Studio lasted an admirable 12 hours and 25 minutes with a 120Hz refresh rate during our battery benchmark. When I knocked that down to 60Hz, a must if you ever need to save some energy, it went for 17 hours and 15 minutes. But really, save your eyes whenever possible — just keep 120Hz on.
Here’s the thing: I genuinely like using the Surface Laptop Studio. Its flexible screen is far less frustrating than the Surface Book’s, it has an excellent keyboard and it’s powerful enough to play a few games. But I can’t help but want more, especially after seeing how much the Surface Book line struggled since its inception.
With a starting price of $1,600, the Surface Laptop Studio directly competes with Dell’s XPS 15, the MacBook Pro 16-inch, and the Razer Blade. You’d have to shell out at least $2,100 to get the NVIDIA GPU, which puts it up against far more powerful gaming laptops. So here’s the question: How much is a tilting screen worth to you? If it’s more important than having the best CPU and GPU power around, the Surface Laptop Studio will suit you well. But if you want genuine power for a similar price, just get the Razer Blade 14 already.
What's the point of Windows 11? With Windows 10, Microsoft had to make a big course correction from Windows 8, an ambitious yet flawed attempt at bringing PCs into the touchscreen era. Before that, Windows 7 was meant as a palate cleanser to help us forget about the bloated mess that was Vista. Given that Windows 10 was already pretty polished when it launched, and only got better over time, why the need for a whole new version?
After testing early builds for months, as well as the shipping release this past week (here's how to nab it yourself), it's clear that Microsoft isn't actually trying to fix much with Windows 11. It's basically a fresh coat of paint on top of Windows 10 (and likely a last-ditch attempt at rebranding the defunct Windows 10X.) But the more I use it, the easier it is to see that small design tweaks can go a long way. Windows 10 was laser-focused on productivity; it aimed to make you as efficient as possible. Windows 11 goes a step further: What if being productive was also pleasant and oddly relaxing? Windows, meet mindfulness.
At first glance, Windows 11 may seem like a radical departure from Microsoft's typical desktop template — an aesthetic that hearkens all the way back to Windows 95. The taskbar is still around, but now all of your icons are centered by default. The Start menu is back with a redesigned look featuring pinned and recommended apps (you can also hit All Apps to see everything you've got installed). RIP, Live Tiles — nobody ever used you.
This refreshed look extends throughout Windows 11: App windows now have rounded corners; icons, Windows Explorer and the Settings app look sharper than ever; and even the sound effects have been cleaned up. This is Windows at its most refined. To put it uncharitably, though, it also seems a lot like macOS. But fret not, Windows diehards: You can still shove the entire taskbar back to the left side of the screen. (Editor’s note: Where it belongs.)
Microsoft has also reworked system tray, for better and worse. Hitting the date and time brings up your notifications and calendar, while clicking on the volume or networking icons makes the new action center pop out. It’s similar to the system shortcuts in Windows 10, allowing you to change Wi-Fi networks, enable airplane mode and quickly change your brightness and volume. You can also easily reach some accessibility tweaks, like enabling the magnifier or color filters. Everything looks sleeker than Windows 10, though some options are gone entirely, like the ability to turn Night Lite settings on and off.
Windows 11 also marks a major return for widgets: bite-sized apps that also appeared in Windows 7. You can reach them by hitting the widget button in the taskbar, but frankly, I found them useless. These days, I don’t need a glanceable screen for my calendar, news and mail, not when my smartphone is always within reach.
Less noticeable than the taskbar changes, but still important, is the new Windows Store. It looks cleaner, with a left-hand navigation bar and multiple panes for individual app entries. I'd wager Microsoft just wanted to keep those install and purchase buttons in clear view at all times. Windows 10 is also getting the same Store app eventually, so it's not really an exclusive for the new OS. Eventually, we'll also see Android apps in the Microsoft Store, but it's unclear when that's happening.
Similarly, Windows 11 ships with the latest Xbox app, but that's also available on Windows 10. You'll still want to upgrade for the best overall gaming performance, though, as Windows 11 will be the only way to use Microsoft's DirectStorage technology on PCs. Whenever that does land it should dramatically speed up load times (assuming you have a compatible GPU and SSD) just like the Xbox Series S and X.
Calm from the start... mostly
On a new PC, Windows 11 welcomes you with a series of setup screens that feel like you're flipping through a spa brochure. Log into your Wi-Fi (or plug into Ethernet), enter your Microsoft credentials, and maybe grab a cucumber water while you wait.
As with Windows 10, you can choose to disable advertising IDs, which prevents ad tracking, and opt out of sending diagnostic information to Microsoft. But there aren't many other choices you'll have to make; the setup process basically runs on autopilot until you see the new desktop.
It's worth noting that Microsoft has made setup more restrictive for Windows 11 Home users: Both an internet connection and Microsoft account are required. You won't be able to set up a local user account, or use your computer at all, until you meet those requirements. Windows 11 Pro users won't have that limitation, which is good news for IT professionals and power users. But it could be frustrating for people without reliable internet access of their own.
(As of last year, the FCC said around 14.5 million Americans don't have steady broadband, defined as at least 25Mbps download speeds and 3Mbps uploads. Recent figures from Data Reportal say around 40 percent of the world's population are offline. Microsoft is probably assuming that the majority of its potential customers won't have an issue finding internet, but that goes directly against the company's moves towards increased accessibility.)
I'd expect many consumers will be upgrading their existing Windows 10 systems, rather than setting up a new computer. Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't have a way for me to upgrade my PC with a final Windows 11 release. Based on what I've seen with the latest Windows 11 Insider previews, though, moving to the new OS appears to be very similar to installing a major Windows 10 update. On a Surface Laptop 4 I had lying around, the upgrade process took around 15 minutes after downloading the new OS via Windows update.
You're going to have a tougher time if you own an older PC that doesn't meet Microsoft's hardware requirements. You'll need a compatible Intel, AMD or Qualcomm processor; 4GB of RAM; and at least 64GB of storage. Also, you'll have to enable Secure Boot and TPM 2.0 (Trusted Platform Module), features that should make it harder for spyware and malware to attack your OS. Microsoft's PC Health Check app can help you see if your system is ready for Windows 11.
If you don't meet the upgrade requirements, you can download a Windows 11 ISO and install it manually, a method that bypasses Microsoft's CPU restrictions. Still, you'll need to be savvy enough to create a boot disk and deal with a more complex installation. Another caveat: manual installations may not receive some future Windows Updates, according to The Verge. (It sounds like Microsoft hasn't decided how restrictive it wants to be just yet.)
If you've built your own desktop PC, I'd suggest bracing yourself for additional upgrade complications. Microsoft's Health Check app initially said that my system — powered by an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X processor, an ASROCK motherboard and 32GB of RAM — wasn't compatible with Windows 11. It turned out I needed to enable the AMD TPM 2.0 module and Secure Boot in my BIOS. But once I did all that, my system couldn't boot into my Windows 10 installation.
After a bit of sleuthing, I learned that I needed to convert my Windows 10 installation disk from MBR (Master Boot Record) to GPT (GUID Partition Table). So off I went into the command line to run some strings and pray for my Windows installation's safety. Five sweat-soaked minutes later, I rebooted and saw my trusty Windows login screen. Whew. From there, I was able to proceed with the Windows 11 Update as normal.
I'm sure I'm not the only one with a Windows 10 installation on an MBR disk — that was the standard on older computers — so I'm hoping Microsoft eventually bakes that conversion into the entire Windows 11 setup process. I can't imagine average consumers trying to figure out command line prompts without wanting to throw their PCs out the window.
In use: A new look, new frustrations
Windows 11 is nice to use. Pleasant, even. Windows 10 wasn't ugly, but Windows 11's focus on design leads to a more refined experience at first. I enjoyed having color-matched themes. The new Settings app is a dream; it's actually easy to find things for once! I genuinely love the new automatic window snapping, which lets you shove an app to a particular area of your screen by hovering above the maximize icon. Even better, snapping a few apps together creates a group that you can easily revisit in the taskbar.
That facelift doesn't come at the expense of performance, either. Windows 11 feels just as fast as Windows 10 on all of my test systems. But I'll be more interested to see how it performs on PCs older than five years, which is about the cut-off for Microsoft's upgrade requirements.
As impressed as I am by the design changes, a part of me feels constrained by the new OS. No matter where you place your taskbar icons, for example, you won't be able to see app labels anymore. Microsoft has been pushing an icon-focused taskbar since Windows 7, but you always had the option to turn on labels, so you could see what was in an app window before you clicked on it. Dealing with that loss is the single biggest hurdle I had with Windows 11.
Now it takes me multiple clicks to find a specific Chrome window, or to locate an email I popped out of Gmail. Icons just aren't enough. I can understand why Microsoft took away labels: They make your desktop look chaotic. It's not nearly as zen as a simple line of high-resolution pictures.
But as a Windows user, I'm used to chaos. I was shaped by the instability of Windows 3.11; I learned to tame Windows XP as an IT admin; and I was there at the Windows 8 launch in Spain (an event that seems cursed in retrospect). Even after all of that, I'm still primarily a Windows user. If chaos can make me more productive, I embrace the madness. Sadly, Windows 11 doesn't give me that option. It just wants me to relax, damnit.
To be fair, I have similar issues with macOS. As pretty as it is, finding a specific app window can be frustrating. To mitigate that, I typically rely on Mission Control to establish hot corners that can either show me every open app, windows within a specific program, or the desktop. Windows 11 lets you set up a hot corner in the bottom right of your screen to show the desktop, but you'll have to rely on keyboard shortcuts to see open apps. (I'm still debating whether Alt + Tab or Win + Tab is better.)
After spending so much time with Windows 11, I'm begrudgingly getting the hang of the new taskbar, at least. I'd bet some Windows diehards will be similarly frustrated with the new Start menu, especially if they're used to seeing all of their apps instantly. Personally, I find the focus on shortcuts and recently added files and apps to be more useful. And as of Windows 10, I just hit the Windows key and start typing to search for specific apps. (I'm glad that's still practically instantaneous on the new OS.)
I’ve only dabbled in the Windows 11 touchscreen experience so far, but in general it feels easier to hit specific targets. Microsoft has also made apps more responsive to touch, so it’s being able to quickly expand and maximize windows feels less frustrating. You still won’t mistake Windows 11 for iPadOS, but I never expected Microsoft to go that far. This new OS is simply better for laptops that have touchscreens, and it’s far more usable for hybrid tablets like the Surface Pro.
While I've found Windows 11 pleasant overall, I'll be interested to see how mainstream users react to all of the changes. Some members of Engadget's staff initially found the new design to be ugly (some warmed up to it later), and at least one was grateful I explained how to move the taskbar back to the left. It's tough for Microsoft to make any major changes to Windows without having users throw a fit. (Remember everything that happened around Windows 8?) So I expect the initial reaction isn't going to be welcoming. Let's just say I'm glad I'm no longer in IT support for this transition.
So, who needs Windows 11?
To paraphrase Thanos, Windows 11 is inevitable. It's going to start rolling out to eligible Windows 10 users today, and it will ship with new PCs this Fall. Aside from re-learning the taskbar and Start menu functionality, there's not much of a reason to avoid it. The new Secure Boot requirements will make it a safer OS overall; gamers will eventually get faster loading times; and everyone can appreciate the clean new aesthetic.
It's a step forward, even if it isn't as momentous as Windows 10. It's also hard to ignore the story behind the new OS, which makes Windows 11 feel more like a way for Microsoft to save face after an embarrassing failure. In the fall of 2019, the company announced Windows 10X, an OS variant meant for dual-screened PCs. Those devices, like the intriguing Surface Neo, failed to arrive. (It's unclear if the complex new hardware was the roadblock, or if PC makers were waiting for Windows 10X to be completed.)
In my head, I imagine the frantic meetings around Windows 10X's rocky development like something from The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin. With dual-screened devices a no-show, maybe they could just repurpose that work for traditional laptops, a harried Panos Panay would say. But why even make that a separate version of Windows 10? The PC market is pretty hot right now, perhaps there's a way to capitalize on that? And at some point, someone just said "Why not just go to 11?" A stunned silence. Applause all around.
Not to sound too cynical, but releasing a new OS is an easy way to encourage people to buy new computers. That's particularly true now that we're relying on our PCs more than ever, as many people are still working and doing schoolwork from home. A new version of Windows is no simple thing, and it’ll surely get more headlines and media attention than a mere Windows 10 update. (Stares directly into camera.)