The Microsoft Laptop SE is the most affordable Microsoft Surface device to date, with a starting price of $250. But the 11.6 inch thin and light notebook isn’t meant for the general public – instead it’s Microsoft’s answer to Chromebooks, featuring entry-level specs and shipping with Microsoft’s Windows 11 SE operating system, a new simplified version of Windows that’s optimized for student and classroom use.

First introduced in November, Microsoft says the Surface Laptop SE is now available for schools to purchase from authorized Microsoft resellers. But it’s not the only option: Microsoft has announced that a number of computers from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo are also now available with Windows 11 SE.

Windows 11 SE is a new simplified version of Windows designed to offer long battery life, enhanced security and streamlined performance for entry-level devices, and simple deployment and management features for school administrators.

It’s also what Microsoft calls a cloud-first operating system. While Windows 11 SE has Microsoft 365 apps including Office pre-installed and ready to use with or without an internet connection, when you are connected to the internet your data will automatically be synchronized to OneDrive so it’s backed up and available on other devices.

Microsoft says we can expect Windows 11 SE devices from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Dynabook, Fujitsu, and other companies early next year, including models with Intel or AMD processors.

But as first-party hardware, the Surface Laptop SE gives us a pretty good idea of what kind of hardware to expect… and it’s pretty similar to Chromebook hardware in a lot of ways.

Surface Laptop SE specs
Display11.6 inches
1366 x 768 pixels
LCD
ProcessorIntel Celeron N4020 dual-core
Intel Celeron N4120 quad-core
RAM4GB DDR4
8GB DDR4
Storage64GB eMMC
128GB eMMC
Ports1 x USB Type-C
1 x USB Type-A
1 x 3.5mm audio
1 x DC power input
Camera1MP front-facing
Audio2W stereo speakers
Single digital mic
3.5mm audio
WirelessWiFi 5
Bluetooth 5.0
SensorHall-effect sensor
Battery“Up to 16 hours of typical device usage”
SecurityTPM 2.0
MaterialsPlastic case
Dimensions11.17″ x 7.6″ x 0.7″
Weight2.45 pounds

As for Windows 11 SE, it’s a little different from previous attempts by Microsoft to offer a streamlined (and limited) version of Windows, like Windows RT or Windows in S Mode.

But also unlike those operating systems, Windows 11 SE won’t be offered on consumer hardware. At all. It’s a special edition operating system designed specifically for computers sold in the education space – an area where Microsoft has been steadily losing ground to Google’s Chrome OS in recent years.

Also unlike those operating systems, users won’t be limited to running apps from the Microsoft Store. Microsoft says Windows 11 SE does support Win32 and Universal Windows Platform apps, but only a limited selection. And there is no Microsoft Store for Windows 11 SE.

Educators will be able to install some third-party apps like Zoom for video conferencing or Chrome for use as an alternative to Edge as a web browser. But it’s up to IT administrators to determine which apps will be loaded, students cannot install third-party Win32 or Microsoft Store apps.

Microsoft says that a curated set of third-party apps that fall within six categories will be supported, and anything outside of those categories cannot be installed:

  • Content filtering apps
  • Test-taking solutions
  • Accessibility apps
  • Effective classroom communication apps
  • Essential diagnostics, management, connectivity, and supportability apps
  • Web browsers

 

For the most part, Windows 11 SE looks like Windows 11, including the new Start Menu and taskbar experience. But it’s simplified in a few key ways – there are no widgets, and apps launch in full-screen mode by default, and there are few options in Snap Layouts – you can place two apps side-by-side so that each takes up half the screen or one takes up two thirds of the screen and the other uses the remaining space, but that’s about it.

One thing you won’t find on Windows 11 SE laptops? High-end specs. Microsoft notes that the operating system is designed for systems with 8GB of RAM or less and 128GB of storage or less.

Microsoft notes that it’s not going out of its way to restrict sales of Windows 11 SE devices to education customers only, but given that the operating system is designed with this market in mind, the company doesn’t expect retail stores to carry computers loaded with Windows 11 SE.

That said, Microsoft notes that devices that ship with Windows 11 SE should be capable of running the full Windows 11 operating system, so if you happen to get your hands on a cheap laptop like the Surface Laptop SE and find the software experience limiting, the company says you can purchase a license for the version of Windows you want to use, wipe the data on your device and then install Windows 11 Home or Pro.

Just don’t expect it to run all that well on hardware with specs like a Celeron N4020 processor and as little as 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

This article was originally published November 9, 2021 and last update January 18, 2021. 

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  1. I wonder if these devices will be locked to windows or if Linux will eventually find its way onto many of them. If they don’t sell they could end up being blown out at incredible prices.

  2. These 11 inch HD 16:9 screens have to stop. They are garbage. They should be at at least FHD and 16:10. Lenovo 10w has a good screen, makes the laptop smaller too compared to bezel-less 13 inch laptops.

    1. 16:9 is still great for media consumption. For a classroom, I think this is perfectly adequate.

  3. Sounds like yet-another spin on the cheap notebook idea, the last of which gave us HP’s original Stream line and other Atom-powered netbooks. Fine by me, they still have ways to go to beat Chromebooks – they’re everywhere in the education field.

  4. If they practically give them away to schools like Google did with Chromebooks, then I can see them displacing the Chromebook’s dominance in the education space.

    Then the kids would “upgrade” to Windows notebooks when they become adults. Although, I haven’t read much about kids sticking with Chromebooks outside of primary/secondary schooling.

    1. I’m in higher ed and my daughter is an elementary school teacher and we both use chromebooks. These Windows 11 SE notebooks are non-starters. The only way they’d get a foothold is if Microsoft were to provide financial incentives (ie. bribes) to school administrators.

      1. And you would be completely wrong. They do everything Chromebooks can do, and with a nearly 10% cost savings per device since there is no nearly $40 Chrome Device License to pay. Also, they can run actual programs, (though limited) and not just browser or Android apps.

  5. FTA: but you most likely won’t be able to just buy one. Instead they’ll be sold to schools.

    Ok, I’ll wait for one to hit my local pawnshop in 3… 2… 1…

  6. I really love the practical design of it, function over form. It’s like Dieter Rams designed a laptop.

    Hopefully we’re seeing the death of the old false-thin edges that only offer minimal IO ports. The “Macbook Air copycat generation” of laptops was not my cup of tea.

    The boxy/thick edges are exactly what I want to start seeing from other brands. Apple has already done this too with their new Macbook Pros, combined with the return of some useful IO ports.

    I hope Microsoft considers making a version for general consumers. Perhaps they could put the guts of the Surface Go 3 into it, and charge a price similar to the Surface Go 3.

    1. If they were to make a version for general consumers they should at least move to the Jasper Lake line and hopefully they should offer an SSD (as an option, at least). Honestly I feel bad for the kids using these things in the 64GB version, it’s really too little to run an OS that takes almost 30 GB by itself and will make backups of system files after a major update… 128GB should be the defacto minimum requirement for running Windows 10/11.

      1. I have two Asus Vivobooks with a Celeron N4000 processor. One has 2GB RAM/32GB eMMC, the other 4GB Ram/64 GB eMMC.

        The 2GB model is indeed a bit small, but the 4GB model is fine for students. I have 30GB free out of the 64… and that is WITH MS Office and other software installed.