Surface Laptop 3 is a new beginning for the traditional Microsoft laptop series. This year, a more substantial, 15-inch model debuts with a metal-coated chassis and AMD processors. What has not changed is the attractive appearance and remarkable portability of the Surface Laptop 3. As such, this sleek device is one of the slimmest and lightest 15-inch laptops I have ever seen, and yet it has retained the beautiful design of its predecessors. So, here is our Surface Laptop 3 Review.
Surface Laptop 3 – Design
Microsoft has cast a spell that has stretched the Surface Laptop 3 into a 15-inch machine without making it thicker than its 13.5-inch predecessors. The result of this trick is an ultra-portable laptop with a large screen. The Surface Laptop 3 has the refined aesthetics of its Surface siblings but now comes in a fully metal version. I liked the metal finish more than I expected.
However, much I have come to love the warm, welcoming Alcantara material, I cannot deny that the black metal model that I have assessed has a certain refined elegance. I went back and forth about which material I would choose, but in the end, I limited it to the beautiful Cobalt Blue Alcantara or Sandstone metal that I saw at the Microsoft event.
When I was nitpicking, the minimalist design of the Surface Laptop 3 looks somewhat spartan on such a big laptop. A small, glossy Microsoft logo reflects against a matte, black lid, but is swallowed by the dead space around it. And Microsoft did not benefit from the extra cover real estate; there are no talking speakers or a fingerprint sensor (although the touchpad is spacious). I also wish that the sides were shortened as they are on most modern laptops.
USB-C has finally arrived on the Surface Laptop, but we still cannot reach the limited number of ports. On the left side of the Surface Laptop 3, there is a USB 3.1 Type-A port, a USB-C port, and a headphone jack. That USB-C port is excellent for charging newer devices, connecting to external monitors, and transferring data, but it’s not the fastest Thunderbolt 3 variant (which is an Intel technology). The only connection on the right side of the Surface Laptop is the Surface Connect port for charging via a magnetic power cable (just like Apple’s retired MagSafe) and for connection to the Surface dock. I like how the magnets click together, but I wouldn’t mind if Microsoft switched to the ubiquitous USB-C input for charging.
Surface Laptop 3 – Keyboard and TouchPad
In many ways, the Surface Laptop 3 keyboard feels like a refined version of Apple’s doomed butterfly-style keyboard. The keyboard is also shallow, but the flat keys in the Chiclet style feel more comfortable thanks to their spicy feedback and the low operating force required. By replacing the numeric keypad with large, well-placed keys, even people with large hands should feel comfortable typing on the Surface Laptop 3.
These are small things, but I also like that the illuminated keys have three levels of brightness and that the Fn and Caps lock keys have LED indicators that light up when they are turned on. Still, I prefer the softer keys on the Surface Laptop 2 and the excellent keyboard of the 15-inch Specter x360, which offers deeper travel.
Large, fast, and responsive, the 4.5 x 3-inch Precision touchpad on the Surface Laptop is as good as you would expect from Microsoft. My fingertips appreciated the large size and comfortable, soft-touch surface of the touchpad, and I had no problems with Windows 10 gestures, such as pinch to zoom and three-finger swipe, to switch between windows.
Surface Laptop 3 – Display
The Surface Laptop 3 has a beautiful 15-inch touchscreen (not the standard 15.6 inches) with a resolution of 2496 x 1664 and an aspect ratio of 3:2. If you are used to the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, 3:2 screens are longer but narrower (more square), making them ideal for viewing documents and websites. Videos are a bit shorter (expect black bars at the top and bottom), but that didn’t trouble me when I was watching movie trailers.
On the other hand, I was probably too focused on the sharp, bright, and colorful panel of the Surface Laptop 3 to notice. The screen of the Surface Laptop 3 is so bright that I could see the freckles on Rey’s nose in a large photo of her standing in the middle of the desert when I saw a trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. When she turned on her light sword, the beautiful blue glow contrasted nicely with the muted brown sand.
The high-res panel even caught blood-red sparks flashing in the air when Kylo Ren reassembled his stealthy black helmet. My reflection stared back at me while I saw the clip on the glossy panel of the laptop, but the screen offers excellent viewing angles and accurate tones. Although it may not be a 2-in-1 laptop, the Surface Laptop 3 does have a touchscreen. I was able to scroll web pages down and even sketch a horrible (not the fault of the screen) sketch of an elephant in Paint 3D without any problems.
If you prefer to use a stylus, the latest Surface Laptop supports the Surface pen from Microsoft ($ 99). The surface of the Surface Laptop 3 is excellent, even if it did not meet our benchmarks. According to our colorimeter, the Surface Laptop 3 screen covers 101% of the sRGB color range, making it less vibrant than the panels on the 4K XPS 15 (210%), MacBook Pro (114%) and 1080p ThinkPad X1 Carbon (109) %). It also fell below the category average (131%).
With a peak of 380 nits, the screen of the Surface Laptop is much brighter, but it is dimmer than the screens on the Dell XPS 15 (4K, 418 nits) and the 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro (403 nits). The 1080p display option on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (336 nits) and the premium laptop average (346 nits) were not that brighter.
Surface Laptop 3 – Audio
Microsoft hid the Surface Laptop 3 speakers under the keyboard in what looks like an Apple-inspired step to careful priority over form. And yet the sound does not suffer. The vocals in Post Malone and “Sunflower” by Swae Lee were surprisingly clear, and I even felt the low thud of the drums opening the song. The speakers were loud enough to fill my small office room and had enough oomph to give From Garden Lakes ‘Garden Bed’ toe-ticking energy. To provide you with an idea of how loud the loudspeakers are, I have comfortably listened to this song with a 40% volume with my TV broadcast after season MLB in the background.
Surface Laptop 3 – Graphics
The Ryzen 5 3580U CPU in our review unit is linked to integrated Vega 9 graphics. Although you would not expect the performance of a discrete graphics card, we found that the Surface Laptop 3 outperforms laptops that rely on the integrated graphics card from Intel. On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 scored a 100,522, which scores best what the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (81,350; Intel UHD 620) and the average premium laptop (91,331) have posted, but is by no means close by from what the XPS 15 (177,158) and the discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card.
We saw comparable results on our real-world gaming test; the Surface Laptop played the Dirt 3 racing game at a smooth 56 frames per second. Floating past the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (31 fps), the Surface Laptop 3 fell behind the category average (62 fps) and was wrapped by the MacBook Pro (120 fps, AMD Radeon Pro Vega 20) and the XPS 15 (80 fps) )).
Surface Laptop 3 – Performance
Microsoft surprised us by equipping the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 with an adapted AMD processor. AMD’s mobile chips usually do not perform as well as their Intel counterparts, and therefore they are rare in premium laptops. Still, we were hopeful that a partnership between Microsoft and AMD would produce a competitive CPU. In some ways, it did that, but in others, it was lacking.
The 15-watt Ryzen 5 3580U combined with 16 GB RAM was not very convincing in my field tests. Although I didn’t have too many problems loading 15 Google Chrome tabs, of which four were playing 1080p videos, I noticed a short hitch when switching pages. These subtle falterings in performance were of minor importance and did not affect most people who need work or stream videos.
Things get a little ugly here. The Surface Laptop 3 scored an 11,612 on the general performance test of Geekbench 4.3, which was received well below the MacBook Pro (31,012; Core i9-9980HK) and XPS 15 (28,882; Core i9-9980HK). That is expected because of the Intel H-series CPUs with a higher wattage in those laptops; however, the Surface Laptop 3 also does not meet the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (16,649; Intel’s Core i5-8265U) and the ultraportable category average (16,069).
Microsoft has again equipped one of its premium devices with a slow SSD. The Surface Laptop 3 took 18 seconds for pedestrians, at a speed of 282.7 megabytes per second, to duplicate 4.97 GB of multimedia files. The blistering SSD in the MacBook Pro (2610.8 MBps; 4 TB PCIe SSD) is faster, while the storage stations in the XPS 15 (508.9 MBps, 1 TB PCIe SSD), the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (424.1 MBps, 256 GB PCIe SSD) and the average premium laptop (510.2 MBps) are also much faster.
Surface Laptop 3 – Heat
You don’t have to worry about overheating issues with the Surface Laptop. After the laptop played a 15-minute 1080p YouTube video, the bottom only reached 92 degrees Fahrenheit, while the middle of the keyboard (91 degrees) and the touchpad ( 83 degrees) were well below from our comfort threshold of 95 degrees. The only area that you should not touch is the bottom left at the hinge, which is heated to 97 degrees.
Surface Laptop 3 – Battery Life
The Surface Laptop lasted 8 hours during our battery test, during which we regularly surf the internet via WiFi with a brightness of 150 nits. Although that is not a bad result, a few hours of extra juice would have brought the Surface Laptop 3 in line with the 15-inch MacBook Pro (10:20). The ThinkPad X1 Carbon (9:30) also lasted longer than the Surface Laptop 3, and even the Dell XPS 15 (8:07) with a 4K OLED screen stays charged longer. The average premium laptop has a slightly longer running time of 8 hours and 14 minutes.
Surface Laptop 3 – Conclusion
I like Surface Laptop 3. I don’t like it as much as I had hoped. With an attractive, lightweight chassis and a beautiful 15-inch screen, the Surface Laptop successfully bridges the gap between ultra-portable laptops and laptops with large displays. Unfortunately, the laptop is frustratingly lacking in other ways: the performance and battery life are impressive, there are few ports and upgrading storage, and RAM increases the price exponentially.
If you want a portable laptop but don’t need a 15-inch screen, consider the XPS 13 and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, both of which offer faster performance and longer battery life than the latest Surface Laptop. If you don’t worry about portability, choose the XPS 15 or the MacBook Pro. Only the Acer Swift 5 offers the portability and screen stability as the Surface Laptop 3, but it doesn’t feel as premium as other laptops that we have mentioned.
As you may have noticed, each of these options forces you to compromise. That is where the Surface Laptop 3 finds its niche because nothing resembles anything else like an ultra-portable laptop with a large screen.
Surface Laptop 3 Review Rating – 7.7/10
The 15-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is an attractive ultra-portable laptop with a large screen but has some flaws.
- Slim, lightweight chassis
- Attractive metal design
- A bright, vivid 15-inch display
- Loud, clear speakers
- Mediocre battery life
- Underwhelming performance
- Slow, expensive SSD
- Limited ports