Microsoft Signature PC’s are/ were the ultimate in Windows PC goodness. They were sold directly from Microsoft, may or may not be Microsoft or third-party branded, and must have the following criteria
- Lack of pre-installed bloatware
- More efficient battery consumption
- Include Windows Defender for virus protection
I’ve been searching all day. I can’t find anything on Microsoft’s US site about Signature PC’s or Signature Edition PC’s anymore. I think they’re no longer a thing. Even Microsoft’s Surface-branded laptops and computers come with some crappy games that I uninstall as the very FIRST thing to do after completing setup and getting access to the desktop.
In case you have forgotten Microsoft… nobody wants crapware on their computers. NO ONE. Marketing deals be damned…! No one is going to play those games, look at those ads, use that utility, look at those ads… It’s real simple – just stop with the crapware.
However, I will tell you that if you’re looking for something that is close to this, then a Microsoft Surface PC/Device, is likely the best way to make this happen. While you aren’t going to get a completely clean install like you would on a now, non-existent Signature PC, without doing a custom, clean install on your machine by yourself, a Surface device is likely as close as you’re going to get.
Meant as a replacement for Microsoft’s Surface Book line, the Surface Laptop Studio is the latest thing to hit the block. It’s got a new design, new hardware, advanced graphics, and a high refresh rate on its built-in display that’s supposed to make inking and drawing a dream.
I’m in the process of pulling together a full review of the Surface Laptop Studio, but let’s stop and take a quick look at my first impressions of the device.
Casing and Build Quality
The device is solid. It’s heavy and feels extremely well built. It has a magnesium and aluminum enclosure that appears somewhat frosted or brushed, except for the reflective Windows, Surface logo on the bottom third of the lid of the laptop, just below the hinge for the front, folding display.
The laptop is overly thick, with a bottom unit that has a 1/4 inch or so, “lip” that goes around the bottom of the laptop. This recession provides just enough space for the Microsoft Slim Pen 2 to sit under the front “lip” of the keyboard and display, providing for the perfect spot to charge and store the Pen when not in use.
It’s interesting that the width of this lip is the exact width of the Slim Pen 2, AND its interesting that this lip extends around the entire device, as opposed to creating some kind of built-in cradle or charger for the Pen, like in the new Surface Pro 8 Signature Keyboard.
The device is thick. It’s about two to three times thicker than I would have expected it to be. From a portability perspective, this isn’t a huge issue, but it does impact the device’s weight. As I mentioned before, the device is heavier than I would have imagined at 3.83lbs (1,742.9 grams) for the i5 models, and 4.00lbs (1,820.2 grams) for the i7 models.
Screen & Display
Overall, this is a decently built device. However, there are a couple of issues with the hinge and display on the device that concerns me a bit. The display tilts forward when you tilt the bottom forward and swivel the top backwards. It’s very easy to do this when you’re trying to open the display and angle it back, especially if you grab the display near the top and not “below the fold.” However, grabbing the device “below the fold” isn’t natural when trying to raise it.
The display in and of itself is a GREAT display. It’s clear, clean, and fluid. With its 120Hz refresh rate and its Flow Display it’s very easy to look at and provides for a great viewing experience. It’s about time a Windows machine had a great display like this. This is the best and perfect kind of display to do inking and drawing on.
If there is an issue with the Surface Laptop Studio, then it’s likely going to be here with the display – the biggest draw to the device. I’ve been using the device as consistently as I can over the past month and I have the following to offer on the SLS and its unique display and hinge.
The biggest issue I have with the unit overall is the display hinge and its ability to tilt forward. I know a lot of folks are saying that THIS is the one sole reason to get the device – its unique screen tilting mechanism. However, it’s not easy to work with.
The hinge is stiff. It’s not easy to lift the screen from the clamshell position if you lift it from the top of the display. When you do this, the bottom of the display has a tendency to fly forward, rotating 180 degrees so that the bottom of the screen is facing straight up. As I mentioned, the best way to open the device is to lift the display open as you would with any other laptop; and then grabbing the device “below the fold,” and fully opening the device.
Pen and Inking
This is by far the BEST Windows device I’ve ever written digital ink notes on.
This is in NO small part due to the display specs that come with the device:
- Screen: 14.4”2 PixelSense™ Flow Display
- Refresh rate: up to 120Hz
- Resolution: 2400 x 1600 (201 PPI)
- Aspect ratio: 3:2
- Contrast ratio: 1500:1
- Touch: 10-point multi-touch
- Dolby Vision® support
All of this, coupled with the Slim Pen 2 provides for a flowing, fluid, absolutely non-ink lagging writing and drawing experience. It’s like writing on a piece of paper with a fountain or ballpoint pen. It’s what digital inking is supposed to be.
This makes taking notes during a meeting a hell of a lot easier than it used to be with other Surface PC’s and OneNote. On other Surface Devices (Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2-3, Surface Pro 6, and Surface Books 1-3), digital inking in OneNote lagged, and lagged BADLY. Sometimes, I could be nearly one to two sentences ahead of the ink drawing itself on the screen.
With digital inking and the Slim Pen 2, the pen emits haptic feedback as you use it. The pen’s haptics are supposed to simulate the experience of writing on paper. The vibrations emitted by the pen are very, VERY subtle. If you don’t concentrate on looking for them, you likely won’t recognize them for what they are. It’s an interesting experience.
Typing Experience vs Others
I’ve got a number of different computers here at the home office. I’m not going to count the use of Apple or Dell’s desktop keyboards in this, as both of those offer traditional typing experiences, and that can be gotten anywhere – including your local Walmart – for about $35 bucks. However, I am going to briefly compare the SLS to a few different laptops.
2019/2020 16″ MacBook Pro
The 2019 16″ MacBook Pro does not have the super crappy, Apple butterfly-switch keyboard that the 2016-2018 15″ MacBook Pros do. It has a modified butterfly-switch that doesn’t provide the stiff or “flat” a typing experience of its predecessor. That doesn’t make it a winner however.
Compared to the Surface Laptop Studio, the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro, while better than its own predecessors, isn’t great. Comparatively the SLS offers a much more comfortable typing experience and is far superior.
2015 13″ (Intel) MacBook Air
The 2015 13″ MacBook Air has the classic typing experience of the older keyboard switch mechanism. That is to say, that it’s pretty good. In my opinion, the 2015 13″ MacBook Air provides the classic typing experience.
Thankfully, the Surface Laptop Studio has at least a similar typing experience. It’s firm, but not spongy. It provides a similar course of tactile feedback and key travel. That is to say, while they are similar to the classic Apple typing experience, the Surface Laptop Studio is, I think, better.
2020 M1 MacBook Air
The typing experience on the 2020 13″ M1 MacBook Air is similar to that of the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro. It is a bit of a smaller keyboard experience than the Surface Laptop Studio, which is a bit more comfortable, overall.
Surface Book 3
The Surface Book 3 provides the closest overall typing experience to the Surface Laptop Studio. The Surface Book 3 had the BEST overall typing experience of any Surface branded computer, at least PRIOR to the introduction of the Surface Laptop Studio. These two are VERY close in typing experiences; and while the 2015 13″ MBA may be the classic, the Surface Book 3 is better.
To be honest, it’s a toss up between the SB3 and the SLS. The keyboard experience on both are really very good and if your goal is a Surface device with the best typing experience then you’re gonna have a REALLY difficult time choosing between the Surface Book 3 and the Surface Laptop Studio. However, the SLS, overall, is the better choice for a number of different reasons besides the keyboard.
The Surface Laptop Studio is the latest entry into Microsoft’s Surface line of laptops and convertibles. The device itself is a transition away from the tablet form factor of both the Surface Pro and Surface Book. The screen on the Surface Laptop Studio doesn’t come off the device; and it’s intended to replace the Microsoft Surface Book line of PC’s.
I had a couple of concerns with the Surface Laptop Studio when I first got it to review –
- The angle of the screen as it lays “flat” against the keyboard would provide an undesirable angle for inking, writing and drawing in portrait mode – In reality, the angle isn’t severe at all, and isn’t noticable when writing in Microsoft OneNote (or I suspect inking in any application) at all. The experience is actually very good.
- Digital inking would lag behind the device’s pen when drawing or writing – This has happened to me on every MS Surface Pro and Surface Book I’ve owned (SP 1, SP3, SP6, SB1, SB2, SB3). I was convinced that it would also happen with the SLS. So far it has NOT, and I am very pleasantly surprised by these results. I credit the device’s new processor and 120Hz refresh rate on its display for these results.
In all, I’m very pleased with the Surface Laptop Studio. The device is fast, a pleasure to use and the display is butter smooth. While the hinge in the display and the way it tilts over the keyboard – the fold on the back of the device – is perhaps the weakest point on the device, I’m certain that it won’t be any bigger of a concern than the screen detach system on the Microsoft Surface Book line.
The Slim Pen 2 is much better to work and write with than I thought it would be. I’m very pleased with it, and very much appreciate its ability to dock and charge under the device’s keyboard. Unlike the Surface Pen and its magnetic docking system, the Slim Pen 2 doesn’t fall off the device in your backpack or bag during transport.
While Microsoft doesn’t provide Signature PC’s any longer the Surface line – in all its manifestations – is perhaps the closest you’ll get now, without actually blowing your Windows PC and rebuilding it from an ISO you download from Microsoft.com. In this regard, the Surface line of devices is perhaps one of the best PC’s available, providing the most “pure” Windows experience available.
The Surface Laptop Studio is a first generation device and while its very good, and I can recommend it to anyone looking for a convertable with one of the best typing experiences in town, it can get pricey rather quickly. The device is available from Microsoft’s online store (as well as other popular retailers) and configurations start at $1,599,99. As reviewed, the device had an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and NVIDIA GeForce RTX graphics card. Originally priced at $2099.99, this configuration is on sale for $1899.99 as of this writing.