Microsoft Surface Laptop SE review
Whether the student in your life is back in the classroom or continuing to learn remotely, having a good laptop for homework is more important than ever. The $249 Surface SE Laptop is the latest attempt to offer just that, distilling Microsoft’s flagship laptop into a more compact, affordable, and streamlined package designed for K-8 students to pick up easily.
The SE laptop does a lot of good, with a decent enough screen, decent performance and a student-friendly version of Windows 11 in a compact design that’s perfect for commuting to class. But given its limited availability and narrow focus as a device that educators can buy for their classrooms, it’s not the ideal choice for someone who wants to both do homework and jump into after school digital hangouts.
Wondering if Surface Laptop SE makes sense for the student in your life? We worked there for a week. Here are our thoughts.
What we like
A compact and lightweight design
“Wow, this thing is adorable.” That was my first thought when unboxing the Surface Laptop SE, which is a more compact and basic version of Microsoft’s excellent Surface Laptop series. The laptop’s all-white design is simple and sleek, and it feels sturdy for a mostly plastic machine. I particularly like how lightweight this 11-inch laptop is at just 2.45 pounds – perfect for tossing in a bag on the way to school or quickly dragging between rooms when it’s time for homework. And while the keyboard isn’t quite as fast as the more expensive Surface Laptop 4, I ultimately felt comfortable typing on it for hours.
Normally I wouldn’t rent a laptop for only having two ports, but the Surface Laptop SE has just the right connections for most young students. You get a USB-C port (ideal for modern accessories and storage drives) and a USB-A port to connect to the vast majority of mice, keyboards and webcams you may have at home or on the go. classroom. Most high-end laptops have long since ditched USB-A, but it’s a great port for legacy accessories, and especially useful on a laptop meant for school. There’s also a headphone jack for jumping into a Zoom class or watching a presentation with minimal distraction.
Screen, speakers and performance are just good enough
The Surface Laptop SE’s 11.6-inch LCD isn’t going to wow anyone with its low 1366 x 768 resolution – especially with those huge bezels – but it’s more than serviceable considering the purpose and price of the device. ‘laptop. 8K nature video looked decently detailed on Microsoft’s small screen, and the oranges and greens of various wildlife and foliage were vibrant enough. The SE laptop’s downward-firing stereo speakers were sufficient, producing sound that wasn’t very loud but clear enough for me to enjoy my daily music playlist or hear my coworkers during of a video call.
The same can be said for the performance of the Laptop SE, which is well suited to a machine designed for light school work. The SE’s Intel Celeron N4120 processor isn’t designed to handle heavy multitasking or heavy video editing, and even during basic use I noticed some sluggishness and stutters when jumping between Google tabs Chrome or switching applications in multitasking mode. But the Laptop SE was largely reliable for my daily routine of writing in Google Docs, checking email and messaging Slack, and those looking for something to do homework or skip learning sessions. remote should be perfect.
Windows 11 SE has its advantages
Surface Laptop SE runs Windows 11 SE, a streamlined version of Windows 11 designed to eliminate distractions while being easier to use for young students. For example, the Windows Start menu only displays up to four recommended apps at a time, so as not to overwhelm students with choices. Many apps open in full-screen mode by default to give students the best possible viewing experience, and since not all kids are expert multitaskers (and also because the SE laptop’s screen is tiny), the Windows Snap feature only lets you split the screen between up to two apps at once. My Microsoft Student Laptop review unit came preloaded with Microsoft Office essentials like Word and PowerPoint along with a few extras like Minecraft: Education Edition and Zoom, all of which seem useful for a young user logging into the classroom every day.
Windows 11 SE is definitely not the operating system for me — Due to strict permissions in place on my device, I was unable to download third-party apps that I use daily, including Slack, Spotify, and Discord (although I was able to use these services on a web browser). While this is embarrassing to me, it makes perfect sense for the educator (or parent) who wants to restrict what their students can download in order to minimize distractions and protect young users from potentially inappropriate or harmful content.
Only IT admins can download apps to the Surface Laptop SE, and the laptop is designed to get automatic updates outside of school hours through Microsoft’s Intune for Education. It’s also designed to be easily repairable, with a bottom panel that you can remove to replace components after removing a handful of screws with a screwdriver. So while the Laptop SE is certainly not designed for typical personal use, educators looking for something they can easily manage for their students may find a lot to like about Microsoft’s student laptop.
What we didn’t like
Webcam and battery life aren’t great
I wasn’t expecting a great webcam from a $249 laptop (hell, even the cameras on some models over $1000 are bad), but given the prevalence of remote learning, I have to call the SE laptop’s puny 1-megapixel shooter. While I was on a video call without complaining, the photos I captured on the Microsoft laptop were extremely pixelated and blown out. It’ll do the job for basic recordings, but if you or your student want to sound as clear as possible during virtual sessions, you’re better off hooking up one of our picks for the best webcams.
Microsoft promises up to 16 hours of battery life on the Surface Laptop SE, but the laptop fell well short in my testing. This affordable laptop ran after about six hours of typical daily use, which included jumping between a few dozen Chrome tabs and a 30-minute video call, the latter of which seemed to be very hard on the system’s battery. That might be enough to get younger students through a full school day, but for everyone else I’d recommend keeping the charger handy when you’re on the road.
This is not your typical cheap laptop
The Surface Laptop SE and its unique version of Windows are ideal for a controlled classroom, but it’s definitely not a laptop you’ll buy off the shelf for a kid. In fact, you can’t — the only way to buy this laptop is to contact a Microsoft Education specialist or get in touch with a Microsoft Authorized Reseller and determine the number of units you will need for your school.
Those who want something that can be easily bought for an individual and used for both schoolwork and personal play are better off with a Chromebook like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet or a full-fledged Windows machine like the Surface Go 3. Even better, both the devices double as tablets for drawing and taking notes.
At the end of the line
If you are in a very specific niche, the Surface SE Laptop is for educators looking for an affordable laptop set for their classroom. There’s a lot to like about this student-focused laptop. Its screen, performance, and keyboard are perfect for K-8 students, and it offers a streamlined version of Windows 11 that offers full, uncompromising versions of apps like Word and PowerPoint (rather than web versions you’ll need to use on a Chromebook).
But unless you’re buying in bulk for a business, the Surface Laptop SE isn’t for you, and there are plenty of worthy options under $300 for those who want to buy the college student of their lives. reliable all-round work and play machine. If you’re fine with using mostly Google services and Android apps, the $299 Lenovo Chromebook Duo is one of the best Chromebooks we’ve tested. And if you’re willing to pay a little more for a full-fledged, unrestricted Windows experience with better battery life and better camera quality, the $399 Surface Go 3 will serve you better.
How it compares to other budget laptops we’ve tested
|Display||11.6-inch 1366 x 768 LCD display||10.5-inch 1920 x 1280 PixelSense touchscreen||10.1 inch 1920 x 1200 IPS touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Celeron N4020 / N4120||Intel Pentium Gold 6500Y / Intel Core i3-10100&||MediaTek Helio P60T|
|Ports||USB-C, USB-A, headphone jack||USB-C, MicroSDXC card reader, Surface Connect, headphone jack||USB-C|
|Dimensions||11.17 x 7.6 x 0.7 inches; 2.45 pounds||9.65 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches; 1.2 pounds||9.64 x 6.66 x 0.71 inches; 2.03 pounds|
|Software||Windows 11SE||Windows 11 Home (S mode)||Chromium operating system|
|webcam||1 megapixel 720p||5-megapixel 1080p front camera with Windows Hello; 8-megapixel rear camera||2 megapixel front camera; 8-megapixel rear camera|