Of all the devices that I get excited about buying (a new instant camera, the latest smartphone, waterproof speakers for the beach), a laptop usually ranks pretty low. To me, a computer is always more of a necessity purchase than a fun new gadget or stylish accessory that I want to show off. But Microsoft's brand new Surface Laptop, announced at the company's New York event today, May 2, is seriously challenging my preconceived notions.
The Surface Laptop is not a traditional personal computer. Although the basic form is the same, the materials, colors, and touch screen set it apart from the competition. Case in point: Most laptops are made using plastics and metals; the Surface Laptop has an exterior aluminum body to protect it from the elements, but its trademark feature is a fabric-covered keyboard. Microsoft uses the luxury material alcantara, which is extremely soft to touch — it feels like suede — and wears well with age.
Applying fabric to a laptop is no easy task. "Fabric is such an unpredictable material," says Rachael Bell, a senior designer of Microsoft devices. "It's usually used in the fashion or furniture industries, where it's draped, formed, and supposed to conform to flexible shapes. When you put it on a laptop, you need to think about it in a different way."
Bell compares the Surface Laptop's production process to that of a Balenciaga or Saint Laurent handbag. "We took inspiration from how they produced high-end luxury products and had to think about how we could reproduce that same level of craftsmanship on a larger scale."
A machine cuts every piece of alcantara to fit each chassis, the laptop's base frame. Then, a camera and laser fit the fabric around each individual key on the keyboard. Finally, the edges are handprinted to make sure that every edge is seamlessly color-matched to the rest of the computer.
The Surface Laptop comes in four colors: Platinum, Graphite Gold, Cobalt Blue, and Burgundy. It's the more unexpected blue and burgundy that stand out, thanks to the combination of fabric and aluminum, which gives the colors more depth. "It's like when you look at a cloud," Bell says. "On one level, it might look white, but when you look at the shadows, that's when the richness comes to the surface."
As for other specs, the laptop has a 13.5-inch screen, making it slightly larger than the smaller of Apple's two MacBook Pros. However, the Surface Laptop is lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, weighing in at 2.76 pounds compared to 3.02 pounds. It's also insanely thin and Microsoft promises 14.5 hours of battery life. Oddly enough, pricing for the luxury Surface Laptop will begin at $999 — cheaper than the regular MacBook Pro, which starts at $1499.
While $999 is still an investment, it's more affordable than many laptops — and quite a fair share of designer handbags. But don't worry; this one comes with a protective, water-repellent coating, so you don't have to panic should you spill a bit of water on it. Cue the collective sigh of relief.
We'll have to get our hands on a review unit before we can determine if what's on the inside — how the laptop works — is as good as what's on the outside.