The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 is a premium thin and light notebook. It’s available in a smaller 13.5” Intel configuration, or a larger 15” AMD Ryzen based option which is what I’ve got here, though I do have the cheaper of the two AMD options.
Interestingly the smaller Intel based model seems to have faster memory and WiFi. It’s available in different colours and finishing, I’ve got the black one which is all metal. It feels how you’d expect a premium laptop to, so quite nice and there aren’t any sharp corners or edges.
Microsoft lists the weight at 1.54kg which is what I’m getting. With the small 65w power brick and cables for charging the total package rises to 1.8kg or 4lb. It’s on the thinner side when compared to many other options and feels quite portable.
The side bezels are 1.2cm, so a bit thicker than some alternatives but not huge. The Surface Laptop 3 uses a 3 by 2 touchscreen, which means there’s a bit more vertical space compared to a standard 16 by 9 screen and the resolution ends up being somewhat close to 1440p.
The touch screen seemed quite responsive when just drawing with my finger, it didn’t come with the surface pen but you can buy that separately. I’ve measured colour gamut with the Spyder 5, and got 95% of sRGB, 67% of NTSC, 72% of AdobeRGB, and 71% of DCI-P3.
At full brightness I measured the panel at 403 nits in the center with a 910:1 contrast ratio, so some fair results. There was basically no backlight bleed in this worst case, but this will vary between laptops and panels.
There’s almost no flex to the screen when intentionally trying to move it, the metal lid feels extremely sturdy. There was some chassis flex when pushing down hard, but for the most part it felt quite sturdy and I thought it felt solid during normal use.
The laptop can easily be opened up with one finger, despite feeling a little more back heavy it felt fine sitting on my lap. It also turns on automatically when you open the lid, which makes sense, chances are if you’re opening it up you want to use it.
By default closing the lid will put it to sleep, and when you open the lid it resumes from sleep extremely quickly. If you combine this with Windows Hello, it pretty much wakes up and logs you straight in, as the 720p camera is above the screen in the center.
The camera looks pretty average, but the audio sounds pretty decent. The keyboard has white backlighting which illuminates all keys and secondary key functions, and brightness can be adjusted between three levels or turned off with the F1 shortcut key.
I liked typing on the keyboard, the travel feels a bit low but the presses felt nice and clicky, here’s how it sounds to give you an idea of what to expect. I like that the function key locks on or off, so you don’t have to hold it down if you want to use the F keys up the top.
The only thing I didn’t personally like apart from the small arrow keys was the power button near the back space, but you can change the default action in Windows so that a mispress doesn’t automatically put the machine to sleep.
The glass precision touchpad was awesome. It clicks down anywhere, and the click just feels great. The overall size was good, and it just felt accurate and nice to use. Fingerprints show up on the matte black interior and lid, but as a smooth surface they’re easier to clean, and this shouldn’t be an issue with the alcantara finish.
The touchscreen shows fingerprints too due to the glossy finish, but again easy to clean. On the left from the back there’s a USB Type-A port, Type-C port, no Thunderbolt but you can optionally charge it over Type-C, and 3.
5mm audio combo jack. That’s basically all there is, if you want more you’ll need to look into getting a dock. On the right we’ve just got the power connector towards the back. The power adapter can connect either way, and it uses magnets, so if you accidentally trip over the cable it easily comes out without taking the machine with it.
There’s nothing going on over on the back or front, both are just clean. Underneath is clean too, literally nothing other than some rubber feet in the corners which did a good job of reducing movement when in use on a desk.
To get inside you need to take out the feet, remove the screws underneath, then pull the keyboard deck off being mindful of the cable attaching the keyboard to the chassis. I haven’t been able to do this as I didn’t feel comfortable with the feet removal, it felt like it was going to be a destructive process.
Inside all you get access to in the way of upgrades is the M.2 SSD. The speakers are below the keyboard and sound above average with some bass. They don’t get quite as loud as many others I’ve tested, but I think most people would prefer quality over loudness.
Unfortunately the latencymon results weren’t looking ideal. The 15 inch Surface Laptop 3 is powered by a 46wh battery, and despite the smaller size compared to others, it’s still able to last for over 6 hours in the YouTube playback test with keyboard lighting off, background apps closed and screen at 50% brightness.
At idle it was cool to the touch, for context most laptops I test are 30 degrees on the exterior at idle. With a CPU and GPU workload, a game in this case, it gets to around 40 and was only a bit warm to the touch, not bad at all, let’s have a listen to fan noise.
It was completely silent at idle, and even when under load the fan doesn’t get too loud at all. The internals were sitting at around 60 degrees worst case, so not bad. The Ryzen 5 processor in my unit is a special edition for the surface laptop.
It’s based on AMD’s older Zen+, so not as good as the new Ryzen 4000 options, but should have better graphical performance compared to the 3500U it’s based on. In cinebench processor performance was on the lower side in single core, and the multicore score was near other thin and light notebooks.
Basically a thinner machine like this will typically have lower performance compared to cheaper but larger options like some of those gaming laptops. Although not a gaming laptop by any means, I thought it would be interesting to see what this hardware can do in some less demanding titles for those that want to kick back at the end of the day.
There’s no discrete GPU, just the integrated Vega 9 graphics. Dota 2 was tested playing in the middle lane, and at 1080p I was still able to play a full game at max settings. It was a bit choppy at times, but lower settings of course does better.
CS:GO was tested with the Ulletical FPS benchmark, this time I’ve used a lower 720p resolution and max settings was close to 60 FPS, so light gaming should be possible. It would be interesting to see the gains with a surface laptop using the newer Ryzen 4000, as that introduces significant improvements over this Zen+ solution both in processing and graphical power.
At the very least, it’s interesting to see Ryzen making its way into more premium laptops. I’ve used Crystal Disk Mark to test the 512gb SSD, and the speeds were alright, not super fast but definitely decent.
For updated pricing check the links in the description, as prices will change over time. At the time of recording, in the US we’re looking at $1600 USD for the configuration I’ve tested here. You can save $300 with half the memory, but it’s soldered and not user upgradeable so you’ll have to decide how much you need from the start.
With lower specs the 15 inch config currently starts at $900 USD, but the smaller 13” Intel based option seems to go for less. Meanwhile here in Australia the exact configuration I’ve looked at is $2800 AUD, but again there are cheaper and more expensive options.
I think the Surface Laptop 3 is going to be a great option for those that need a portable machine for work use. Content creators and gamers will probably want to look elsewhere for something with more powerful discrete graphics, but for other less resource heavy tasks it’s got a lot of well implemented features on offer.
The touch screen works well and looks good, and the 3:2 aspect ratio gives you more vertical screen real estate. The touchpad was awesome, keyboard was good, and overall the build quality felt great. I liked the smooth clean metal finish and the whole thing just feels well built.
The battery life was decent given the smaller size when compared against others I’ve tested, and you can optionally charge with Type-C or the dedicated port on the right. As a smaller and thinner device though, there’s not much in the way of port selection.
You could of course use a dock, but it’s a bit unfortunate that there’s no Thunderbolt included. I was actually considering the smaller 13 inch model late last year when I was looking for a new smaller laptop for travel.
It was a bit more expensive than what I was personally looking for, but if you’re willing to pay the price I think you’ll be pretty happy with the experience on offer with the surface laptop 3. Let me know what you thought about Microsoft’s surface laptop 3 down in the comments.
I’ll be checking out their Surface Book 3 soon as well, so if you’re new to the channel then make sure you’re subscribed for that as well as future tech reviews like this one.