Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is the third-generation of the traditional laptop design from Microsoft
When Microsoft introduced its Surface hardware line, it seemed the last thing on its mind was to build a conventional laptop. At the time, the Redmond-based company – traditionally known for its software, not its hardware prowess – was singing the praises of its tablet-cum-laptop form-factor. Dubbed Surface, Microsoft claimed the device would enable users to power through an Excel spreadsheet at their desks, before unclipping the keyboard (sold separately) to watch a movie or play some games on the way home, just like you would with like an iPad.
Of course, Microsoft’s vision of the convertible form-factor is still going strong – the Surface Pro is now in its seventh generation – but the firm has since expanded its portfolio to include a pretty conventional laptop. And we couldn’t be happier. There’s no fancy tricks to be found here. Unlike the Surface Book, you aren’t able to triumphantly tear-off the screen to use it as a tablet (and thank goodness for that, since that design quirk means the screen is so stuffed with batteries it often overbalances the Surface Book on your lap), and there’s no detachable keyboard or stylus stuck to the side of the screen. It’s just a laptop. Thankfully, it’s a pretty bloody good one.
The one slightly unusual flair from previous generations of the Surface Laptop –- the soft Alcantara finish around the keyboard to stop your palms having to rest on unwelcoming cool aluminium as you start work in the morning – has been erased from half of the colour options, including the sleekest of them all, the Matte Black.
Surface Laptop 3 doesn’t rely on gimmicks and certainly doesn’t try to sell you on some untested vision of the future of computing. It’s a solid laptop that runs Windows 10 like a beaut’. And that’s really not damning with faint praise. Honestly, it’s the only thing we ever really wanted the Microsoft Surface team to make.
ALTERNATIVES TO SURFACE LAPTOP 3
Unlike the first iteration of the Surface Laptop, the Alcantara isn’t on all colour finishes
Surface Laptop 3 review: Design
From the outside, it’s clear Microsoft has taken a generous pinch of inspiration from Sir Jony Ive and co. at Apple. But this isn’t a simple MacBook clone, Microsoft has added some nice touches of its own. For example, the chassis has a pleasant angular design that curves inwards around the ports on the side to make the whole laptop feel a little daintier. Unlike Apple, which is now all-in with USB-C on every one of its notebooks, Microsoft includes a USB-A as well as a USB-C and headphone port.
That means you’re future-proofed, but don’t have to buy a truckload of dongles for all the accessories and flash drives you already own – the best of both worlds.
Hidden beneath the keyboard is a reworked speaker system that boasts an “omnisonic” design powered by Dolby Audio. As far as we can tell, that’s all marketing mumbo-jumbo because the speakers sound fine. But that’s it, just fine. If you’re planning to listen to music while you work, you’ll still want a UE Boom 2 to hand.
Microsoft is also sticking with its trusty magnetic Surface Connector, which quickly detaches when it’s pulled – so your £999 laptop won’t find itself hurtingly to the floor the next time you trip over the charging cable. The charger itself is a little cumbersome and inexplicable bulky compared to USB-C, but we’ll forgive it all that as it’s now capable of fast-charging the Surface Laptop 3.
Don’t believe the marketing hype, the speakers are pretty standard laptop speakers – nothing more
The keyboard is one of the best things about the Surface Laptop 3, it’s a pleasure to type on
Surface Laptop 3 review: Fast-Charging, Battery Life
Fast-charging is a truly brilliant feature.
While we’ve all become accustomed to quickly topping-up our phones and tablets, the same cannot be said of laptops. If you’re thinking of buying a new notebook before University, or a new job that means you’ll be on the road for large chunks of the day – fast-charging is exactly the sort of feature that will put a smile on your face each time you use it.
Microsoft says you can refuel the Laptop 3 to 80 percent in under an hour and that fits with our tests. However, being able to quickly top-up 50 percent of your battery life in the 20 minutes or so before an important meeting is the true killer feature here. Not having to plan ahead around battery life is something we missed instantly when our review unit had to be sent back.
Battery life is pretty great across the board on the Laptop 3. Streaming a 1080p video over Wi-Fi for four-and-a-half hours at full brightness resulted in a drop from 100 to 20 percent power. That bodes really well if you plan to use this laptop to catch-up with the latest must-binge box set on Netflix in bed, or on your next train journey.
When it comes to work, dropping the screen brightness a little means you can easily plough through a days worth of word processing, emailing and the like without sweating it too much. However, anyone planning to do some serious photo crunching or video editing should probably pack the Surface Connector before heading out to work in your local hipster-friendly coffee shop.
Don’t worry, if you like the soft-touch of the Alcantara finish, Microsoft still sells it on some models
Surface Laptop 3 review: Keyboard
Elsewhere, the keyboard is pretty solid. There’s a smidgen more travel than Apple’s ill-fated Butterfly-mechanism keys (which are now being slowly phased out of the history books, starting with the 16-inch MacBook Pro launched last year) but bizarrely, the Surface Laptop keys make a similar hollow sound when you’re clacking away. It’s a nice keyboard to type on, but for our money, the Surface Book offers a slightly better experience.
The trackpad is pretty good as well, although it can’t hold a candle to the trackpad on Apple notebooks. Not only is the Surface Laptop trackpad less precise and little jittery at times, it still uses the old-fashioned springboard mechanism, which means the top portion of the square cannot click. It’s an issue Apple solved years ago by implementing the same multi-touch technology found on its iPhone series, why Microsoft can’t do the same is a little baffling.
Surface Laptop 3 review: Touchscreen, Windows 10
If you don’t fancy tapping on the trackpad, you’re more than welcome to tap on the display itself.
Yes, like all Surface-branded devices before it, there’s a touchscreen to be found here. The 13.5” PixelSense Display, which sports a very respectable resolution of 2256 x 1504 pixels (201 PPI), is perfectly responsive to your swipes and taps. That said, we’re still not sold on the idea of swiping around Windows 10.
Huge swathes of the operating system still seem to be designed for a mouse pointer – with tiny touch targets to navigate File Explorer sub-menus and the like. Coupled with the annoying bounce of the screen on its hinge every time you tap to select something, there’s little Microsoft has done here to change our mind. That said, it’s nice to have the option. And the Surface Laptop 3 is compatible with the latest and greatest Surface Pen, which does offer a much more precise point.
Windows 10 runs well on the Laptop 3, as you’d expect. The operating system is still a nice compromise between the flashy Tiles of Windows 8 and the traditional Start Menu of Windows 7. There have been a bevy of bugs in the last few updates, but Microsoft is pushing out regular updates to quash the issues.
The Laptop 3 is the first generation to ship in 13-inch and 15-inch models
Surface Laptop 3 review: Specs, Price
Surface Laptop 3 is pretty fast, thanks to the 8GB of RAM on the entry-level model (this can be bumped-up to 16GB) coupled with the latest 10th generation Intel i5 processor.
There’s no tricks or quirks to be found here. It’s just a laptop. Thankfully, it’s a pretty bloody good one
According to a quick Geekbench 5 test on our review unit, the new Surface Laptop 3 stands toe-to-toe with the 2018 MacBook Air redesign in a single-core score (831 vs 832), but blows Apple’s notebook out of the water with its multi-core (2892 vs 1728).
It’s worth noting that in our experience Windows laptops tends not to age quite as gracefully as their Apple counterparts, with new versions of macOS not clogging up the gears in quite the same way as Windows. That said, Microsoft is always making improvements and tweaks to its operating system, so it’s possible the Surface Laptop will endure better.
And when it comes to cost, Microsoft has taken some inspiration from Apple, too. Surface Laptop 3 starts from £999, and rises to £2,349. That’s not cheap, but given the impressive specs and stunning design, it seems about right. Microsoft offers education discounts and Black Friday deals too, so keep an eye out for deals.
Surface Laptop 3 review: Verdict
- Pros – Brilliant Display, Great Keyboard, Windows 10 Runs Beautifully, Fast-Charging Is Amazing, Stylish Hardware
- Cons – Still Not Sold On Using The Touchscreen, Trackpad Can Be A Bit Twitchy
Surface Laptop 3 is an impressive piece of kit. On paper, it’s the most boring hardware that Microsoft makes – no fancy tricks, no new form-factor – but it’s also the one we’d actually recommend to anyone looking for a new notebook. Windows 10 runs well on the hardware, the screen is stunning, and the battery life should comfortably keep you powered-up all day.
Granted, the touchscreen is a little pointless and the trackpad isn’t industry-leading by any stretch of the imagination. But the keyboard is solid and it’s a beautiful notebook that can stand toe-to-toe with recent hardware from arch-rival Apple. Students get an education discount too, so if you don’t want a MacBook Air, this should be your University laptop. Trust us, you’ll thank us the first time that fast-charging saves you from turning up to a lecture minutes after rolling out of bed with a dead battery.