Microsoft competes with Chromebooks with a normal laptop

The Surface Laptop runs Microsoft's new Windows 10 S, which only runs Windows Stores apps but has great battery life.

May 10, 2017

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The Surface Laptop runs Microsoft's new Windows 10 S, which only runs Windows Stores apps but has great battery life.

The Surface Laptop adopts the same Alcantara fabric used on the Surface Pro 4 Signature Type Cover. (Source: Microsoft)

Given that Chromebooks have recently become an important part of the PC market, it seems appropriate that Microsoft would choose now to go after this product category with a new Surface Laptop. The Surface Laptop runs Windows 10 S, a version of the OS that can only run apps from the Windows App Store. This is supposedly because Microsoft is targeting students with this device, although like Google's premium Chromebook Pixel, the Surface Laptop has some high-end specifications and a price to match.

This stripped-down version of Windows 10 is already inviting comparisons to Windows RT, the failed version of Windows that launched the Surface line of products. Microsoft clearly believes it has addressed those failings. Its Universal Windows Platform allows for programs that are more universal. It has even made it easy for developers to convert win32 programs to UWP, although it's still essentially the old program housed in a new shell. This is good news for people who use Evernote, for example, since the UWP app is in the Windows store. It's still not a very touch-friendly interface, though. That would require a larger overhaul of the program.

The Surface Laptop is meant to be the best-of-the-best when it comes to Windows 10 S hardware. It starts at $999 for a laptop with a Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM. It has a touch screen and works with the Surface Pen and other peripherals, but it's otherwise an expensive product for the hardware. It doesn't have a USB Type-C port, opting instead for a single USB 3.0 Type-A port, Mini DisplayPort, headphone jack and the same magnetic charging port as on other Surface products.

The Surface Laptop price tops out at $2,199. This model has a Core i7, 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM. Cheaper laptops running Windows 10 S will be available from other companies, though, starting at $189. This puts it directly in competition with the more affordable Chromebooks that have become so popular.

The main advantage Windows 10 S has over Chrome OS is its utility. Right now it has an app store that works without bugs. It’s also not as power hungry as Windows 10 Pro, giving the Surface Laptop an advertised 14 hours on a single charge. Windows 10 S users can easily upgrade to Windows 10Pro for an extra $49 if they want, though. The upgrade is free for one year for students and teachers and until the end of 2017 for Surface Laptop owners.

Google is still working on bringing Android apps to Chromebooks. Although the Play Store is already on some Chromebooks, the experience so far has been said to be quite buggy. There's also a barrier to entry for manufacturers of official Chromebooks. It's possible that manufacturers in China will find it easier to install Windows 10 S and make budget laptops that way, as they're already doing with Windows 10. That might be Microsoft's real advantage in the budget laptop race.

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