Framework Laptop review: Let the laptop disruption begin

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Even the best laptops are only meant to last about four or five years. Warranties expire, components get old, damage occurs, and much of it is not repairable.

There itself Framework Laptop obstructs the criteria. It comes with a screwdriver included in the box, and all kinds of customizing, updating, and repairs are highly encouraged. The one piece of technology that doesn’t run out of steam in a couple of product cycles? Now, there’s a novel idea.

For a starting price of $999, you get a premium, Windows laptop that looks and works like no other. But the Framework philosophy is really what you’re paying for – and that’s what makes the Framework Laptop unlike any I’ve used.

jump to: Design | port and expandability | Keyboard and Touchpad | performance | Webcam and Speakers | performance | Battery Life | our take

design

Framework laptop from behind, showing the logo on the lid.

On the surface, Framework laptops are as common laptops as they come. It’s a basic silver laptop that looks like a cheap version of a MacBook—not unlike countless Windows laptops and Chromebooks.

It’s not exactly a compliment, but it probably has its share of blending points. The idea of ​​a Framework Laptop to look and function like any other laptop seems important — especially if it’s trying to demonstrate how easy it would be for other laptops to take a similar approach to modularity. That doesn’t mean I certainly don’t appreciate the more original design.

Most laptop manufacturers claim that reducing upgradability is a necessary trade-off for portability, build quality, and system integrity. It’s true we’re talking about Apple with its MacBook or Dell with its XPS 13.

But for the most part, Framework Laptop proves them to be mere excuses. It’s 0.62 inches thick and 2.9 pounds—not a chunky laptop at all. No, it’s not quite as small as the XPS 13 or the Surface Laptop 4, but it’s pretty close in size to the MacBook Pro 13-inch. Laptops like the Razer Blade Stealth 13 or the Asus ROG Flex X13 have pushed the performance limits of 13-inch laptops, stuffing discrete graphics cards into similar physical dimensions.

Framework Laptop unlocked, showing 3:2 display.

Build quality is a major area where framework laptops have to sacrifice. Not that it’s made poorly, but it certainly isn’t made from a single block of machined aluminum either. Because the keyboard cover, bezel, and ports can all be removed, they each offer additional panels that can potentially undermine the overall integrity of the structure. The lid has some twist, as does the keyboard deck and hinge. I also noticed a clicking sound that sometimes occurs when quickly opening and closing the laptop 180 degrees.

But then, these things are not unheard of in a laptop at this price. This is a miss in many midrange or premium laptops that may not look right. The Framework Laptop fits into that category as well, except there are some valid reasons for its slightly less premium build quality.

Do I wish I could give up these plastic bezels? Absolutely. With such a bright screen, the option of just glass bezels would have been great.

Port and Expansion Capacity

Port is the easiest way the framework provides the modularity advantage of laptops. It feels a little awkward when you pull the Framework Laptop out of the box, with its four exposed Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, two on either side of the laptop.

The framework then allows you to choose whatever port you want. You’ll want at least one USB-C port for charging, but from there, it’s up to you. You might want HDMI or even full DisplayPort for your monitor connection. Maybe you want three USB-A ports for all your accessories and peripherals. Or maybe you want to toss all these “expansion cards” in a bag and use them as adapters when you need them.

This is the kind of thing that gadget-heads will love. But it is more than just a novelty. It also makes for a fairly versatile setup that no other laptop can replicate without the use of a dongle, adapter, or hub. Swapping out expansion cards is as easy as plugging in a dongle and can be done without powering down the system.

I was disappointed when I saw that a full-size SD card slot was not included as an expansion card. Instead the framework went with a micro-SD slot, which is far less useful. But if the plans for the framework turn out as described, many more options could be sold or included in the future.

But the port is only the first step. The entire system is built around the idea of ​​easy access to the internal components. Most laptops provide access through a removable bottom lid, but the framework provides access from above via a laptop keyboard. Using the included screwdriver, simply loosen the bottom five fasteners and remove the magnetic input cover.

Framework laptop's removable internals.

From there, you’ll see the internal layout, which is all neatly labeled and removable. The framework went to the extent of including scannable QR codes that will tell you exactly what parts are included and how to install them. It is a true breath of fresh air. Laptop manufacturers tend to underestimate the specific memory, storage, and connectivity being used—and instead you won’t be tinkering. This is not to say that it is completely unheard of today. Many gaming laptops still allow you to add memory or storage. But in a thin and light laptop of this size, it’s becoming increasingly rare.

Removing components on a Framework laptop couldn’t be easier. Connecting via the M.2 slot only requires loosening the fastener, while the RAM slides in easily. The Wi-Fi module is a bit trickier, requiring you to connect the antenna cables correctly. I love that all screws are fastener only, making sure you never lose an important screw. The framework has thought through the smallest details, and it all adds up to a pleasant upgrade experience for both newbies and PC veterans.

Adding storage or RAM is a good way to extend the life of a laptop, but eventually, the processor and graphics will catch up to you. This framework makes the laptop even more special.

Framework laptop's mainboard, which can be removed and replaced.

It should be noted that storage and RAM play nice with third-party parts that you buy and install yourself, the CPU and motherboard will need to be provided by the framework. That is, for now. The CPU and motherboard (or mainboard, as the framework calls it) are proprietary designs that cannot be easily taken apart on their own.

The framework also sells a discounted DIY version, which requires installing these modules yourself. For most people interested in the modularity of framework laptops, the DIY version is an inexpensive way to get exactly that laptop experience.

keyboard and touchpad

Framework laptop's keyboard with 1.5mm of travel.

Coming into this review, I was intrigued about the keyboard touchpad. Those are the kinds of details that can easily be overlooked in laptops that are more focused on user upgrades. I was pleasantly surprised to find how well these inputs hold up.

The keyboard has 1.5mm of travel, which felt heavenly under my fingers. If you are tired of the shallow laptop keyboard direction, the Framework Laptop will provide rest to your weary fingers. This is one of the most comfortable laptop keyboards I’ve used. The layout is familiar, and there’s nothing that requires a steep learning curve.

This is one of the most comfortable laptop keyboards I’ve used.

Backlighting is bright and consistent, with three levels of brightness control. It has become the standard for brightness control, but laptops like the Razer Blade or MacBook Pro offer more fine-grained control.

The touchpad isn’t as good as the keyboard, but it comes close. It’s big and responsive, tracking feels accurate, and the click isn’t too loud. Palm rejection is also good, although there are times when the cursor skips or moves while typing.

The fingerprint reader on the framework laptop, which is built into the power button.

The framework also includes a fingerprint reader on the top of the keyboard deck, built into the power button. It looks a bit off-brand and off-brand, but the fingerprint reader worked well for Windows Hello authentication.

Unfortunately, the Framework laptop doesn’t include an IR camera for facial recognition, so you’ll have to rely on a fingerprint reader for passwordless login.

Display

Framework The laptop's display has a thick bottom chassis.

It would have been easier to go with the older, less forward-thinking display option on a Framework laptop. Instead, it’s another aspect of the device that just doesn’t cover the basics to get by. It has a 2560 x 1403 resolution in a 3:2 aspect ratio, an increasingly popular alternative to 16:9. This means more vertical screen real estate and more room to work and display web pages.

It’s very similar in size and shape to the Surface Laptop 4, which also sports a 3:2 13.5-inch screen. It doesn’t include a touchscreen in any configuration, but I adore this size of laptop. It strikes a balance between portability and screen size, giving you a comfortable place to work without a massive 15-inch laptop. The increased resolution and size are a dream if you’re coming from a 16:9 1080p laptop.

It’s a very bright screen, maxing out at 463 nits.

The display’s image quality isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it excels in a few key areas. First of all, this is a very bright screen. It maxes out at 463 nits, a wealth of brightness that makes it a versatile laptop for working outside, near windows, or under bright fluorescent overhead lights. It’s also a high-contrast screen, with a max of 1090:1 at 100% screen brightness. The result is sharp text and dynamic lighting in videos and movies while reading or typing.

Colors are the weakest aspect of the screen. Taking 76% of the AdobeRGB color space isn’t bad by any means, but it’s a bit behind some of the leaders in the space like the MacBook Pro, Samsung Galaxy Book Pro, and Razer Blade 14.

Color accuracy is also a bit off. My Spyder5 colorimeter has done some…

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