I tried Microsoft's new Surface Laptop Copilot+ PC and it beat my MacBook Air in 3 ways

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

It’s been roughly 20 hours since I received the Microsoft Surface Laptop, unraveled it from all its unboxing glory, and put it on my desk in place of my trusty M3 MacBook Air. This morning, I practically flew through my usual apps and services like any other day — only this time, on a Windows PC instead of a Mac. 

Perhaps it’s the fact that the Surface Laptop line has always had more of a “MacBook for Windows users” aesthetic with its aluminum unibody design. Perhaps it’s the fact that this year’s Surface Laptop and MacBook Air both come in 13 and 15-inch sizes. Perhaps it’s the AI skill gap… for now.

Also: Every Copilot+ PC Microsoft just announced to take on Apple’s M3 MacBooks

No matter the case, this scenario is basically the dream for Microsoft and its latest Copilot+ PC initiative, which standardizes a new wave of computers that offer enhanced, on-device AI capabilities (with an NPU that must run at least 40 TOPS), improved battery life and efficiency, and ultraportable designs. 

You’ll hear and see more about these branded laptops over the coming weeks, months, and maybe years. But for now, here are three ways the Surface Laptop has already made switching over from a MacBook Air more beneficial than I expected.

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1. More seamless on-device AI features 

Microsoft Surface Laptop NPU

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I’ve yet to integrate any AI tools into my daily workflow, partly because the best chatbots and task services available require me to navigate to them (read: typing in a URL, sign up for an account, or both) and not the other way around. That little bit of friction in the user journey, paired with past experiences of AI hallucinations, has kept me on the fence over the past two years.

That’s why I was quite delighted by the current batch of AI features available on the Surface Laptop, most of which are seamlessly integrated across common apps like Microsoft Word, Paint, and Teams. Instead of forcing the services onto me through pop-ups and automatic behaviors, the AI services for cleaning up text documents, generating images, and applying video filters are always just a click away.

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Having a dedicated Copilot key certainly adds to this burdenless experience. As I’ve been relearning Windows shortcuts and multitasking tricks and also figuring out what apps, benchmarking services, and games are actually supported on the ARM platform (spoiler: there still aren’t enough to mindlessly download whatever), it’s been helpful to have an assistant that’s accessible via keyboard, voice, and the taskbar. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of these new Copilot+ AI features is that they operate on-device — based on local data, providing more private, secure, and faster processing capabilities. To everyday users, this may not be as significant. But if keeping your personal data protected (and away from any remote cloud servers) is a priority, you’ll feel a little better using the AI features on these new Copilot+ PCs.

2. Windows Hello feels faster than ever

Microsoft Surface Laptop Copilot

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One thing I always do when testing any laptop, phone, or tablet is see how fast the device wakes up and unlocks via facial recognition. If the device, like a Macbook Air or Pro, doesn’t support facial recognition, I’ll evaluate the speed based on the fingerprint sensor.

Also: I just ordered the cheapest Surface Pro option – why I (probably) won’t regret it

Comparing my M3 MacBook Air with the Surface Laptop is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but since setting up Windows Hello — which leverages the laptop’s infrared (IR) camera and front-facing camera — I feel like I’m experiencing a new level of convenience. It’s that much faster than waiting for the laptop to boot, and then tapping in my password or fingerprint. 

The best part is that Windows Hello automatically triggers when I lift the laptop lid open, and it’s able to scan my face even in dimmer environments thanks to the IR camera.

3. Touchscreen support

Microsoft Surface Laptop

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

I know. Much like Windows Hello, touchscreen support has always been a key advantage that Microsoft Surface Laptops (and other Windows PCs) have had over MacBooks, but the feature makes a notable difference in the context of a Copilot+ PC.

Also: I demoed every new AI feature coming to Copilot+ PCs, and I’m nearly sold on the hype

For example, the new Cocreator tool in Paint requires you to both write a prompt for image generation and draw a base sketch for Copilot to work with. Normally, I’d struggle with drawing circles and straight lines on a trackpad, but I didn’t have to on the Surface Laptop. Instead, I just pulled the laptop closer and began sketching with my finger. 

While I’ve always found touchscreen functionality to be more beneficial on larger screens, using the smaller 13.8-inch Surface Laptop feels more like a 2-in-1 tablet. When my typing space is confined, like on a bus, plane, or crowded cafe, being able to simply reach my hand over and tap, swipe, and drag elements on the screen is very helpful and intuitive.