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Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review

I’ve always wanted to own Microsoft Surface Book. It has always been to me like the best version of what many companies have tried to make: a device that acts as a laptop and a tablet. Even today, Surface Book 3 is the only product that gives you a full tablet and laptop in one package. That’s why the Surface Book 3 ($2,299 to start, reviewed at $2,799) is a powerful device, even though not much has changed in the past few years since the release of the Surface Book 2. This is our Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review.

Last updated on August 7, 2020 5:41 am
$1,749.99
$2,299.99
in stock
7 new from $2,099.99
1 used from $1,749.99
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Last updated on August 7, 2020 5:41 am

What once prevented me from buying a Surface Book, its extremely high price remains a problem. The 15-inch Microsoft Surface Book 3 starts at $2,229 and goes way beyond $3,000 if you’ve configured it to your liking. Besides, its unique form factor has its limitations; The Surface Book 3 is thick and heavy, and other systems surpass its performance.

But if budget isn’t a problem and you want a laptop-tablet in one device, Surface Book 3 is unmatched. It’s a capable machine with a beautiful display, high-quality design, and a very comfortable keyboard. The battery life is also a bright spot as long as you’re in laptop mode. And while it’s not the fastest, Surface Book 3’s discreet Nvidia GPU gives content creators and gamers a boost.

Specifications

Microsoft Surface Book 3
Price:$2,799
CPU:Intel Core i7-1065G7
RAM:32 GB
Storage:512GB PCIe SSD
Display:15-inch, 3240 x 2160-pixel
GPU:Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
VRAM4GB
Battery life:11:10 hours (laptop); 3:25 hours (tablet)
Size: 13.5 x 9.9 x 0.90-inches
Weight: 4.2-pounds

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Design

Surface Book 3 looks as if it has been cut out of a concrete slab. Matte-grey magnesium covers the chassis and has a subtle texture that feels like paper when you slide your fingers over it. Microsoft has adopted the same mentality as Apple and has opted for a simple, modest design. That’s why the only eye-catching element on Surface Book 3 is a reflective Microsoft logo in the center of the lid. If you look closely, you’ll see some slight curves at the edges of the lid, and there’s a notch at the front to help you lift it.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review

Otherwise, the deck, keyboard, and tablet are all smooth, solid grey surfaces, while the touchpad has a silvery hue. I don’t mind the simple looks. The Surface Book 3 looks stylish, feels first-class, and matches the design language of Surface products. Surface Book 3 also does a great job of resisting fingerprints, which is a rare feature of a laptop. I wish Microsoft had modernized a few things. There’s still an unsightly gap between the lid and the deck when the laptop is closed, and the edges around the screen are thick.

If those frames had been cut a bit, Microsoft could have reduced the overall size of the machine as well. As with the previous models, the distinctive feature of Surface Book 3 is the removable screen. At the touch of a button, you can detach the 15-inch panel and use it as a discreet tablet.

This means that, unlike most laptops, the Microsoft Surface Book 3’s components are located inside the lid and not in the lower part. The tablet is disconnected with a firm jerk and reattaches when you align the connectors and plugs with the connectors on the deck. Removing the tablet is a two-hand operation — one holds the deck down while the other pulls up. The display has some weight, so you need to flex those muscles when removing the tablet.

Connecting the tablet and deck is what Microsoft calls a “dynamic pivot point of the support. This is the 3rd generation of this laptop, and the hinge still leaves an unpleasing gap between the top and keyboard when the laptop is closed. It’s a bit awkward, and it leaves the keyboard exposed to debris when you put the Surface Book 3 in your bag. It also wobbles when you tap the touch screen, undermining an otherwise rugged laptop.

A single USB-C port isn’t good enough for a 15-inch laptop designed for content makers. Worse, Microsoft’s bizarre security anxiety means this isn’t even a Thunderbolt 3 input. If you get past that disappointment, there are two USB 3.1 ports and an SD card slot on the left side of the laptop. Look to the right, and you’ll find the single USB-C port next to a Surface Connect port. There is another Surface Connect port on the bottom of the Surface Book and a headphone jack in the upper right corner. It’s a trifle, but using wired headphones in laptop mode is tricky because the wire runs from the top edge of the screen.

Another problem with the accordion hinge is that it extends the laptop’s deck. Factor in the thick bezels and the 4.3-pound Microsoft Surface Book 3 is 13.5 x 9.9 x 0.9-inches, which is thicker than the Dell XPS 15 (14.1 x 9.3 x 0.7-inches, 4. 2-pounds), the Lenovo Yoga C940 (14.4 x 9.4 x 0.8-inches, 4.4-pounds), the Apple MacBook Pro (14.1 x 9.7 x 0.6-inches, 4.3-pounds) and the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13.4 x 9.6 x 0.6-inches, 3.4-pounds).

Keyboard and TouchPad

The keyboard looks undersized on the wide deck of Surface Book 3, but it’s surprisingly comfortable to type on. The keys are spunky, and they make quite a bit of travel considering how thin the deck is. Each keystroke has an excellent firmness, which is rewarded with a tactile bump. Microsoft could have used the extra space to spread out the keys more, but my fingers never felt tight when I wrote this review.

Microsoft has chosen a transparent font that does not contrast well with the silver keys. This could be problematic for hunters and detectives who need visual aids. Fortunately, the keys have 3 levels of backlighting, the best of which is quite bright. There is no “switch displays” hotkey on the Surface Book 3, so you should use the Windows + P key instead.

There is so much space on the deck of Surface Book 3, and yet the 4.1 x 2.7-inch touchpad is no bigger than what you would find on a 13-inch laptop. The case is that the smallest 13-inch laptop, the XPS 13, has a 4.4 x 2.6-inch touchpad. I hope Microsoft expands the Surface of the next model because apart from the size, it works well. The touchpad had no problem tracking my fast swipes or Windows 10 gestures, like pinch-to-zoom or three-finger swipe to switch windows.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Display

This is the same 15-inch display that was used on Surface Book 2, and it’s a good one. The 3240 x 2160 resolution means you get a very sharp picture, and the 3:2 aspect ratio is excellent for surfing the web or writing reports. It doesn’t replace going to a theater, but your favorite movies and shows will look vivid and detailed on the Surface Book. In the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984, the Gal Gadot’s metal armor glistened a bright red, like a sports car with fresh paint.

That dense layer of pixels captures a sharp image that I could see “Casio” on a watch Gal Gadot gifts to Chris Pine’s character. The retro shades throughout the trailer were punchy, and the screen was bright enough to distract me from the reflections bouncing off the shiny finish.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review

I’m surprised that our colorimeter only clocked the Surface Book 3 screen to 101% of the sRGB color gamut. Content creators might be disappointed with that color coverage because the XPS 15 (115%), Yoga C940 (105%), Surface Laptop 3 (105%), and 16-inch MacBook Pro (114%) displays are all more vibrant. The premium laptop category average is 121%.

The Surface Book 3 screen has regained some ground as we tested its brightness. The screen has reached an impressive 402 nits, making it brighter than the panels on the XPS 15 (371 nits), Surface Laptop 3 (366 nits), and the average premium laptop (368 nits). The Lenovo Yoga C940 (432 nits) and Apple MacBook Pro (429 nits) screens are brighter.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Audio

Because the Surface Book 3 needs to function as a full tablet, the speakers are on the lid instead of the deck. Fortunately, the design limitation doesn’t come at the expense of sound quality. The dual speakers, located on either side of the screen, produce a clear, balanced sound.

The speakers kept up with the hectic pace of Jessie Reyez’s debut album “Before Love Came to Kill Us” as it switched from one genre to another. Her delicate vocals in ballads like “Love in the Dark” were tender and fluent, while the speakers captured her grittiness in explicit tracks like “Dope.” In the last song, the heavy bass notes that accompanied her rapping were not heard on the Surface Book, but there was enough weight to give the aggressive track the energy it needed.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Graphics

The Surface Book 3, with its Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q GPU (4GB of VRAM), offers better performance than the previous Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card, even though it doesn’t have the latest RTX chip we were hoping for. For content creators, designers, or engineers who need even more oomph, Microsoft now offers a Quadro option with a Quadro RTX 3000 GPU. Surface Book 3 has proven in our benchmarks that it can play many demanding games at high frame rates.

The Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti drove the Sid Meier’s Civilization VI: Gathering Storm benchmark (1080p, Very High) at 63 fps (frames per second) and was well above our 30fps threshold when we increased the resolution to 4K. It did an excellent job on the more demanding Shadow of the Tomb Raider test, playing the action-adventure at 55fps at 1080p at the highest settings. In this case, 4K was way too much for the Surface Book, which hit only 20fps.

Microsoft’s shape-shifting system crushed the Dell XPS 15 (27 fps) on the GTA V test and played the game with a smooth 55fps at Very High at 1080p.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Performance

Surface Book 3 performed well in my tests, but the price-quality ratio is a problem. That’s because Surface Book 3 relies on Intel Core U-Series chips (15W) instead of the more robust 45W H-series processors in XPS 15 and MacBook Pro. For most users, Surface Book 3’s Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU offers much power, especially when paired with 32GB of RAM. There wasn’t a single delay after loading 25 tabs into the new Edge browser and playing four 1080p YouTube videos while streaming a few Twitch feeds.

The Surface Book 3 relies on the Ice Lake chips, so its computer performance can’t keep up with laptops using Lake Comet processors or H-Series chips. We also proved this in our benchmarks when the Surface Book 3 nicked a 3,831 on the Geekbench 5.0 test. That’s not only less than Surface Laptop 3 (4,883), Lenovo Yoga C940 (5,530), Dell XPS 15 (6,174), and the Apple MacBook Pro (7,201) achieved, but it doesn’t even reach the average (4,224).

We then instructed Surface Book 3 to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution using the Handbrake app. This happened in 21 minutes and 31 seconds, which is much slower than the Dell XPS 15 (10:15), Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (17:18), Lenovo Yoga C940 (11:11), and the Apple MacBook Pro (8:00). The category average is 18 minutes and 35 seconds for premium laptops.

In the past, we beat Microsoft for using slow storage drives in its expensive laptops. This time, the 512GB PCIe SSD in Surface Book 3 is his saving power. The drive duplicated 5GB of multimedia data in 6 seconds at a transfer rate of 862.6 megabytes per second. The Dell XPS 15 (221.3 MBps), Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (508.9 MBps), Lenovo Yoga C940 (463 MBps) could not maintain the same tempo. The average of the premium laptop is 426.6 MBps.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Battery Life

Surface Book 3 has excellent battery life. The laptop lasted 11 hours and 10 minutes on our battery test, surfing the web continuously over Wi-Fi at 150 nits. The Surface Laptop 3 (9:32), the Yoga C940 (8:46), and the MacBook Pro (10:55) went even further, but the XPS 15 (11:53) didn’t make it. Tablet mode is another story. As a tablet, Surface Book 3 only gets 3 hours and 25 minutes of battery life. That inadequate runtime is not surprising considering the powerful components and high-resolution touchscreen.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Heat

The lower part of Surface Book 3 remains cool because all parts are in the tablet section. This works well because the parts you touch with your fingers – the touchpad (74 degrees Fahrenheit) and the keyboard (76 degrees) – stayed well below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees. The tablet got a bit warm when we played a 1080p YouTube video, but even the hottest part, the Microsoft logo on the back, was heated to just 91 degrees.

Price and Configuration Options

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review

If you’re reading this review, you’re probably considering buying Surface Book 3. My advice to you? Start saving now. The Microsoft Surface Book 3 comes in 13-inch and 15-inch models, starting at $1,599 and $2,299, respectively. We reviewed the 15-inch model today. The base model comes with an Intel’s Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB of SSD, and an Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q GPU. Our review unit costs $2,799 and has raised the bar with 32GB RAM and a 512GB SSD.

On the top-model, there is a $3,399 version with a Core i7 CPU, 32GB RAM, and a 2TB SSD. And if you want to go for the broke (literally), you can get a similar configuration with a 1TB SSD and Nvidia’s Quadro RTX 3000 GPU with Max-Q for $3,699.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 Review: Conclusion

I started this review by admitting that the Surface Book used to be my dream laptop. That shine has faded over the years, and Microsoft hasn’t done much to give this unique 2-in-1 a new shine. And while it’s the only device that offers a real laptop and tablet in one package, there are limitations to each of its shapes. Owning a Surface Book 3 is not the same as owning a Microsoft Surface Pro 7 or the Surface Laptop 3. As a laptop, the Surface Book 3 is quite thicker and heavier than the Surface Laptop 3. And in tablet mode, there’s no kickstand for viewing content, so you’re stuck on an unmanageable 15-inch screen.

Despite these issues, some of which are inherent to the bold form factor, Surface Book 3 is still a device I’d like to own. It has a beautiful display, a first-class design, sturdy, discreet graphics, and an incredibly comfortable keyboard. Battery life is also great, but in laptop mode, and the speakers produce excellent audio quality. Indeed, other laptops deliver in the same areas, but none of them offer the same usefulness as Surface Book 3.

If you don’t need a tablet, you’ll probably find better options. The Dell XPS 15 is more powerful, smaller, and longer-lasting. The Apple MacBook Pro 16 is another excellent choice for power users when the expensive price isn’t an issue. Consider the Intel version of Surface Laptop 3, which offers the same performance as Surface Book 3 and an even slimmer design.

8 Total Score
Our Verdict

Microsoft's Surface Book 3 is not really an extensive upgrade, but it remains the best solution for those who need a tablet and laptop in one device.

PROS
  • High-res bright display
  • Premium and attractive look
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Long battery life (in laptop mode)
  • Reliable IR camera
CONS
  • Thick and heavy
  • Not the best performance
  • No Thunderbolt 3 and only one USB-C
  • Expensive
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