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A touch of class: Microsoft unveils the premium Surface Laptop, priced from $999

The surprise was spoiled a few hours before Microsoft's education-focused event today in New York City, but now, the company has officially announced the latest addition to its Surface family of devices. Microsoft's Panos Panay said today that the key to hardware design is making the product itself 'blend into the background', so that creativity can come to the fore.

"Students," Panay said, "are asking for a laptop. They're asking for a Surface Laptop." He said that "it's beautiful, because it's personal. It's beautiful because of who you are."

As rumored, the new Surface Laptop has a 'conventional' notebook form factor, lacking the detachable display of the Surface Book, or the detachable keyboard of the Surface tablet line. Instead, the backlit keyboard, which has keys with 1.5mm downward travel, is permanently attached to the display section, but it's lined with a luxurious Alcantara fabric - an unexpected feature for a device that is supposedly aimed at the education market. Microsoft says that the Alcantara fabric is "incredible durable" and "specially treated to resist spills, stains, and absorption, and wipe clean".

The device features aluminum bodywork and a high-resolution 13.5-inch PixelSense display - the same size as the much higher-end Surface Book, but at a lower resolution; the Surface Book has 3000x2000px, while the Surface Laptop has 2256x1504px. Microsoft said that it has the "thinnest LCD touch module ever on a laptop". In addition to a touchscreen, it also has Surface Pen support - but unlike devices such as Lenovo's Yoga line, there's no way to fold the display all the way back so that it can lie flat against the underside.

The Surface Laptop is the first device to ship with Windows 10 S, which it announced today as a new edition of the OS designed primarily for the education sector. This new SKU will be restricted to running apps installed from the Windows Store; however, if this sounds like the old Windows RT, bear in mind that Windows 10 S will be capable of running Win32 apps, as long as they've been 'converted' for distribution through the Store, using Microsoft's Desktop App Bridge.

Screenshot from a Surface Laptop shown to an audience member at today's event

Key features of the Surface Laptop include:

  • 13.5-inch PixelSense display with 2256x1504px resolution and Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 7th-generation (Kaby Lake) Intel Core i5 and i7 processors
  • 4GB / 8GB / 16GB RAM
  • 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
  • Intel HD Graphics 620 or Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Ambient light sensor
  • 720p webcam
  • Windows Hello facial recognition
  • TPM chip
  • 1 x USB 3.0 Type-A port
  • 1 x Mini DisplayPort
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 308 x 223 x 14.5mm; 1.25kg

Microsoft claimed that it's 50% faster than the i7 MacBook Pro, and slimmer than any Apple MacBook Air or Pro, as well as offering better battery life than any Apple notebook. Notably, Panay said that the Surface Laptop offers up to 14.5 hours of battery life, and promised that it will preserve battery life - with no power drain - when the lid is down.

The Surface Laptop is priced from $999 for the entry-level Core i5 model with 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD and Intel HD Graphics - and that will put it far out of the reach of many schools and universities. Indeed, while it will run Windows 10 S, that pricing will likely make the device an easier sell for those in higher education, as well as consumers and businesses. With that pricing, Microsoft is leaving plenty of room for its hardware partners to sell their Windows 10 S PCs to schools, priced from as little as $189.

The Surface Laptop will be available to pre-order today in the US, with deliveries starting on June 15. It will be available in four colors: Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Graphite Gold, and Platinum. Full details of pricing for each configuration can be found here.

Microsoft is also including a free one-year Office 365 Personal subscription with purchases before October 15, and will provide a free update to Windows 10 Pro for anyone who buys a Surface Laptop before the end of this year.

Editor's note: This article was updated after publishing to correct a minor error: Intel's 7th-generation Core chips are codenamed 'Kaby Lake' - not 'Skylake', which was the name for the 6th-gen chips.

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