Microsoft’s next Surface device is the company’s latest and most direct attempt to compete with Chromebooks in schools. The $250 Surface Laptop SE is a low-end, 11.6-inch laptop made for easy browsing, document editing, and remote learning. The Surface Laptop SE runs on Windows 11 SE, a cloud-focused version of the operating system that retains the basic look and feel of Windows 11, but allows school IT administrators to control which apps are installed and most files and user settings. stored in the cloud. then on the device.
The specs on the Surface Laptop SE aren’t very inspiring, and I have my doubts about whether the processor is enough for Zooms in the classroom with dozens of students in it. But the hardware is also about what you’d expect from comparably priced Chromebooks; the machine has a dual-core Intel Celeron N4020 or quad-core Celeron N4120 processor, integrated graphics, 4 or 8 GB of RAM and 64 or 128 GB of storage. It weighs 2.45 pounds and has a USB-A port, a USB-C port, a headphone jack and its own power jack. A netbook-esque 11.6-inch 1366×768 display, a 720p webcam, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity round out the key specs. This is all largely consistent with leaks from late last month.
One detail that Microsoft provided more information about was recoverability. While recent Surface devices have taken advantage of user-replaceable storage and a few other parts, the Surface Laptop SE is meant to be easy to repair. According to Microsoft, “vital components such as the display, battery, keyboard and even motherboard can be easily repaired on site, saving IT administrators and schools time and money.”
The Surface Laptop SE includes Windows 11 SE, Microsoft’s latest attempt at a stripped-down version of Windows to compete with Chrome OS. Not to be confused with Windows 11 in S mode – which is still a thing and can easily be switched to a regular Windows 11 installation – Windows 11 SE is meant to be run strictly in schools on hardware controlled by school administrators. Microsoft says it’s tuned to work better on low-end devices like the Laptop SE, and it’s removing a handful of features included in a standard Windows 11 installation to create a more streamlined, distraction-free experience. The version of Microsoft Edge in Windows 11 SE will also be configured to run Chrome extensions by default, to ease the transition for schools that currently rely on ChromeOS extensions.
Administrators have exclusive control over which apps are installed and run on Windows 11 SE laptops through Microsoft Intune for Education. And as with Chrome OS, user profiles and files are associated with user accounts and stored in the cloud by default, although Microsoft Office and other apps can use local storage when offline and upload to OneDrive when internet connection is restored. And unlike Windows in S mode, Windows 11 can run third-party apps “including Zoom and Chrome” rather than being limited to offerings from the Microsoft Store.
The Surface Laptop SE won’t be the only laptop with Windows 11 SE. Microsoft has teamed up with the usual suspects to deliver comparable low-end, inexpensive laptops under the auspices of Windows 11 SE, including HP, Dell, Lenovo, Dynabook, Acer, Asus, and others. These devices start as low as $219 and cover a wider range of processor types and screen resolutions and sizes; they will be launched throughout the remainder of 2021 and into 2022.
Ars Technica may earn compensation through affiliate programs for sales of links on this post.