Microsoft just unveiled the Surface Laptop, available for preorder on Tuesday at $999, that's aimed squarely at stealing customers away from Apple's newest MacBooks.
But the Surface Laptop, expected to be fully released on June 15, will likely stand out from anything made by Apple. It sports a 13.5-inch screen, 14.5-hour battery life (or so Microsoft promises), a clamshell body, and a keyboard covered in Alcantara fabric, the same material used for premium Surface Pro covers.
At the very least, the Surface Laptop won't look much like any other computer out there.
It's available in four colors, has a touchscreen, and supports the Surface Pen stylus. It comes in Intel i5 and i7 seventh-generation processor configurations, putting it on a par with other high-performance laptops.
Microsoft hardware chief Panos Panay said at an event on Tuesday that this laptop was born from students' need for a laptop — not a tablet, like Microsoft's Surface Pro, or a laptop-tablet hybrid, like the Surface Book.
The one thing to know is that the Surface Laptop is the poster child for Windows 10 S, a new version of the operating system that Microsoft says is more streamlined and secure — and offers better performance and battery life — than the standard Windows 10.
The trade-off for those perks is that Windows 10 S won't let you install any software that's not from the Windows Store app market, which means that, at the very least, you wouldn't be able to install the Google Chrome web browser.
If you're not down with that, Microsoft will let you switch any Windows 10 S computer, including the Surface Laptop, to the regular Windows 10 Pro for a one-time $49 fee — less if you're on a tablet or something else with a smaller screen. But if you do that, Microsoft says, it can't guarantee you'll get the improved battery life and performance.
At first blush, the Surface Laptop appears to fill an important gap in Microsoft's homebuilt hardware lineup, as it looks to go toe-to-toe with Apple and its premium Mac devices. Microsoft is pitching the Surface Laptop as perfect for college students — in line with the educational focus of its event on Tuesday in New York City.
If the Surface Pro 4 is Microsoft's MacBook Air alternative and the Surface Studio is up against the iMac, then the Surface Book laptop is its MacBook Pro competitor — and its $999 price tag makes it a slightly cheaper alternative to the $1,299 MacBook.
Microsoft's Surface business seems to be struggling, as evidenced by a 26% revenue decline in the most recent quarter. Still, Microsoft has always said that a big reason it bothers with the Surface hardware lineup in the first place is to draw attention away from competitors like Apple while paving the way for Windows 10. The Surface Laptop is just another salvo in that strategy.