Microsoft’s Surface lineup is crowded, but the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 (starting at $799, reviewed at $1,299) remains a decent option for anyone who wants a high-performance portable system that doesn’t flip, twist, or loosens. The few changes made to the latter model are enough to elevate it above previous versions. First of all, the clamshell device has been updated with 10th generation Intel CPUs, which provide faster computing and graphics performance. This is our Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Review.
The Surface Laptop 3 comes in an all-metal chassis with new color options (similar to what the 15-inch Surface Laptop offers), and the new USB-C port is a feature we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. We’re still hoping for the Thunderbolt 3 port and thinner display bezels, and Microsoft’s blatant pricing structure calls into question the value of Surface Laptop 3. Still, the 13.5-inch is one of the best laptops for business users or anyone who wants a sleek, high-quality system.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Review – Design
The Surface Laptop 3 is available with a metal or Alcantara fabric cover. Once you have chosen the desired material, you can choose from the colors black, cobalt, platinum, and sandstone. I’m glad Microsoft sent us the sandstone gold finish because the blush is beautiful. Our Surface Laptop 3 looked like something to be pulled out of a Gucci bag by someone with a rose gold Shinola watch. Surface Laptop 3 is a stylish notebook with modern design and high-quality materials.
Do I miss the plush Alcantara fabric? Of course, but I don’t have to worry about stains or wear and tear with the new aluminum option. There are some similarities between the designs of Surface Laptop 3 and MacBook Air. Those similarities have always existed, but the new all-metal design of Surface Laptop 3 emphasizes them. Like MacBook Air, Surface Laptop has a sleek, minimalist aesthetic featured by smooth curves and clean surfaces.
The sandstone Surface Laptop 3 closely resembles the new golden MacBook Air. Still, I’d much rather have the matching taupe keyboard of the Surface than the ugly black keyboard of the MacBook. I’m also a fan of Microsoft’s stylish logo. Microsoft has made Surface Laptop 3 a priority, but not at the expense of the function. The company made it simple to replace the laptop’s SSD, although technically, this drive still can’t be replaced by the user.
You may not expect a large number of ports from a 13-inch laptop, but the choice of Surface Laptop 3 is minimal. On the left side of the notebook, you will find a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a USB Type-C port, and a headphone/mic connector. On the right side, there is a magnetic Surface Connect port for charging or connecting to the Surface Dock.
Keyboard and TouchPad
Apple, Dell, and others have switched to low-profile key switches to cut tenths of an inch off the chassis of their laptop. Microsoft did not do that – and I hope that never happens. My fingers have jumped effortlessly from one key to other thanks to the bounce buttons of Surface Laptop 3, which surprisingly made a decent journey. Surface Laptop 3’s keyboard has a soft-touch surface and a quiet, satisfying click, and is a respite for anyone suffering from Apple’s stiff, loud butterfly keys.
But even if you compare this keyboard to Apple’s keyboards, the butterfly or scissors, it would do a disservice. Instead, the Surface Laptop 3 keyboard offers a typing experience closer to that of the brilliant ThinkPad keyboard. The 4.5 x 3-inch glass touchpad’s soft-touch coating feels plush against my fingers as I efficiently performed Windows 10 gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom and three-finger swipe to switch windows, on the Surface Laptop 3.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Review – Display
Microsoft has one for the Best displays on its Surface devices yet, and the Laptop 3’s 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1540 resolution panel is no exception. The touch screen is bright and vibrant, and the 3:2 aspect ratio is growing with me. It’s not a 4K, but the Surface Laptop 3’s screen is so detailed that the serial numbers of the small armored plates could be seen on the front of a car when I watched a trailer of the upcoming Fast & Furious 9 movie.
Those iconic British double-decker buses were an aptly punchy shade of scarlet, and the blue flames firing from Vin Diesel’s car were the color of blueberry cotton candy in that ridiculous flying-car scene. Microsoft has yet to put a bad screen on its Surface devices, and the 13.5-inch, 2256 x 1540 Laptop 3 resolution panel is no exception. The touch screen is bright and vibrant, and the 3:2 aspect ratio is growing with me.
It’s not a 4K, but the Surface Laptop 3’s screen is so detailed that the serial numbers of the small armored plates could be seen on the front of a car when I watched a trailer for the upcoming Fast & Furious 9 movie. Those iconic British double-decker buses were an aptly punchy shade of scarlet, and the blue flames firing from Vin Diesel’s car were the color of blueberry cotton candy in that ridiculous flying-car scene.
According to our colorimeter, the Surface Laptop’s display covers 3 121% of the sRGB color gamut, making it about as vibrant as the average luxury laptop (122%). The Surface display is more colorful than the Dell XPS 13 (111%, 4K) and HP Spectre x360 13 (109%, 1080p) panels, but not as vibrant as the Apple MacBook Pro display (163%).
The Surface Laptop 3 screen reached 348 nits in brightness, overshadowing the Spectre x360 screen (287 nits) and again coming close to the category average (354 nits). The Dell XPS 13 (382 nits) and Apple MacBook Pro (441 nits) 13-inch displays are brighter than Surface Laptop 3.
I was worried about the placement of Surface Laptop 3’s speakers, hidden under the keyboard, but my doubts vanished the moment Billie Eilish’s smooth, clear, and loud voice filled our lab. The slow, rhythmic drums in the Grammy Award-winning artist song “Idontwannaobeyouanymore” touched with surprising depth, and the guitar was well defined, even at maximum volume. Changing tracks, the strange pops, claps, and arcade sound in Glass Animals’ “Season 2 Episode 3” were nicely separated, and Dave Bayley’s voice was clear and progressive.
By choosing Ice Lake chips instead of Comet Lake, Microsoft opted for a boost in graphics over maximum computer performance. You still want discrete graphics for playing modern games at high settings, but the Intel Iris Plus integrated GPU in Surface Laptop 3 is suitable for casual gaming. The Surface Laptop 3 played Dirt 3 (high settings, 1080p) at 47 frames per second, which corresponds to the pace of the HP Spectre x360 13 and exceeds the result of the XPS 13 (34 fps). As for the overall test, 30 fps is the minimum for a frustration-free game.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Review – Performance
I loaded 27 Microsoft Edge tabs on Surface Laptop 3 and was never slowed down by delays or chokes. Armed with an Intel’s Core i7-1065G7 CPU and 16GB RAM, the Surface Laptop 3 quickly loaded three 1080p YouTube videos, and I even saw Reverse2k win a round of Fortnite on Ninja’s Mixer stream with all those tabs in the background. There was a slight delay in loading the last few tabs into another batch of 10, but it didn’t bother me much.
We saw mixed results of the Surface Laptop 3 in our benchmark tests. The laptop scored a 19,078 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test, with the Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-10710U) outperforming. The 10th Gen Ice Lake processor in Surface Laptop 3 helped it to beat the MacBook Pro (17,366, Intel’s 8th Gen Core i5), the Spectre x360 13 (18,404, Intel’s Core i7-1065G7) and premium laptop average (16,559).
Microsoft must have gotten the memo about his slow hard drives. The 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD in our device duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 9.4 seconds for a speed of 541.4 megabytes per second. That’s faster than storage on previous Surface devices and the Spectre x360 13 (318.1 MBps), although the XPS 13 (727 MBps) or MacBook Pro (1,220 MBps, 128GB SSD) or the premium laptop average (580.56 MBps) still doesn’t deliver The Best results.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Review – Battery Life
The battery life of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is significant but has a record size. The laptop lasted 9 hours and 17 minutes with our battery test, surfing the web continuously over Wi-Fi at 150 nits. That time is above the average of the premium laptop (8:39), and the result of the 4K XPS 13 (7:59), but the 13-inch MacBook Pro (10:48) survived the Surface Laptop 3 for an hour and a half. The Spectre x360 13 may have a 1080p screen, but that laptop’s 13-hour and 20-minute runtime is simply ridiculous.
Overheating is not a problem on Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3. After a 15 minute, 1080p video, Surface Laptop 3 reached a peak at only 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which are well below our comfort threshold zone of 95 degrees. The maximum temp was clocked near the hinge. The rest of the laptop was even cooler, with the touchpad only reaching 81 degrees and the center of the keyboard warming up to 86 degrees.
Price and Configuration Options
The Base Surface Laptop 3 (only available in platinum) with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 128GB SSD is currently for sale for $799. Another $200 will give you to a 256GB SSD and expand your color options to sandstone gold, cobalt blue, and black. For $1,299, you can get our review unit with an Intel’s Core i7-1065G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. Doubling the storage to 512GB increases the price to $1,699. There is a configuration with an Intel’s Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD that comes for $2,099, or $350 more than a 4K XPS 13 with similar specifications.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Review – Conclusion
Surface Laptop 3 is no revelation, but the new 10th generation CPU and all-metal finish make it a worthy successor to one of last year’s best portable laptops. These improvements combine with everything we loved about the previous versions, including a sharp, vibrant 13.5-inch display (with a 3:2 aspect ratio); healthy battery life; and a comfortable keyboard.
There are some noticeable changes that Microsoft could make to Surface Laptop 3 to enhance the next model. That includes shortening the screen bezels and adding a full Thunderbolt 3 port, not just USB Type-C port. Microsoft’s pricing is also appalling, with storage upgrades costing as much as $400. That’s why the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre x360 13 better value than Surface Laptop 3.
Still, Surface Laptop 3 is your best option if you want to combine sophisticated hardware with pure Windows software.
Microsoft's Surface Laptop combines a sophisticated, first-class design with fast performance, making it one for the Best portable laptops available.
- Elegant, premium design
- Sharp, vivid display
- Good performance
- Decent battery life
- Comfortable keyboard
- No Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Thick display bezels