Review: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Microsoft's latest premium laptop has earned its place on the top shelf of the competitive 13-inch notebook market.

By Peter Wells, December 18 2019
Review: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 is the latest member of a steadily-increasing hardware line from the tech colossus, and aims to do for the conventional laptop landscape what the Surface Pro series has done for the tablet or 2-in-1 market.

For the most part, it succeeds: Windows road warriors now have another contender to line up against the best premium notebooks in the 13-inch space, although the lack of 4G/LTE connectivity will see the Surface Laptop 3 crossed off a few lists.

The Surface Laptop 3 brings plenty of style to the business travel notebook space.
The Surface Laptop 3 brings plenty of style to the business travel notebook space.

While the Surface Laptop 3 looks largely identical to its second-gen predecessor – and it's a luxurious, high-end look – the inclusion of Intel's 10th Generation processors provides peak performance when needed, while idling during less-demanding tasks to preserve battery life.

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 is available in 13-inch and 15-inch models.
Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 is available in 13-inch and 15-inch models.

If you use the Surface Laptop 3 for typical business tasks, you should comfortably make it through the day on a single charge. When testing the laptop with my standard set of tools – Microsoft's Office suite, the battery-friendly Edge Web browser and Spotify – I was seeing around 10 hours of battery life, give or take an hour.

However, editing large Photoshop files or doing extensive online and cloud-based work with Google’s memory-leaking Chrome browser meant vastly decreased battery life. A single hour using Chrome saw the Surface Laptop 3’s battery drop by 20%, although that's not uncommon with any modern laptop.

Remember when laptops were thick, heavy and rather ugly slabs? How things have changed...
Remember when laptops were thick, heavy and rather ugly slabs? How things have changed...

Thankfully, the Surface Laptop 3 supports fast charging so you can get to around 80% battery life with 40 minutes hooked up to a handy AC socket: perfect for a quick top-up between meetings or during a short stopover.

One welcome addition to the Surface Laptop 3 is a USB-C port, alongside the still-popular USB-A socket, so you can hit the road with fewer connection dongles to weight you down. And while the Surface Laptop 3 still includes Microsoft’s proprietary Surface charger, you can also charge it via USB-C – although only the special Surface port lets you do fast-charging.

The Surface Laptop 3's thin wedge-shaped design now includes a USB-C port.
The Surface Laptop 3's thin wedge-shaped design now includes a USB-C port.

The front-facing camera uses Windows Hello to unlock the device by scanning your face, and it's lightning fast: the laptop is ready to use in the time it takes to open the lid.

At the risk of nit-picking, the Surface Laptop 3 is a little difficult to open one-handed, as the magnets holding down the screen are quite strong and the top panel is so thin that there's not much to grip. But this is a very small complaint for an otherwise flawless design.

Available in a range of colours, the Surface Laptop 3 has an elegant premium look.
Available in a range of colours, the Surface Laptop 3 has an elegant premium look.

The keyboard is quiet and comfortable to type on, with a decent amount of travel for each key press and a good deal of spacing between keys to limit accidental keystrokes.

Microsoft has worked hard to make the Surface brand synonymous with great design, beginning with some bold choices such as the Alcantara finish of the original Surface.

The soft suede-like Alcantara finish ages gracefully, but it's not for everyone.
The soft suede-like Alcantara finish ages gracefully, but it's not for everyone.

A durable material with a suede-like feel, Alcantara is most commonly found on the dashboards of luxury cars. It was a decision which concerned some prospective buyers over how well (or not) the material would age, but after two years using a first-generation Surface Laptop, I can report that Alcantara ages gracefully, with a little wear making it slightly smoother, just as a leather jacket might age.

Available in a range of colours, the Surface Laptop 3 has an elegant premium look.
Available in a range of colours, the Surface Laptop 3 has an elegant premium look.

But if you'd prefer your notebook in a more traditional finish, the Surface Laptop 3 is available with three aluminium cases (platinum, sleek matte black and a subtle 'sandstone' gold) alongside the platinum and 'cobalt blue' Alcantara. The matte black model is a standout choice and thankfully doesn't hold onto fingerprints.

Despite its premium look and feel, the Surface Laptop 3 has mid-range pricing. At $1,399 the base model comes with a meagre 128GB of SSD storage, so unless you live and work completely in the cloud I'd recommend the 256GB $1,699 machine at a minimum.

Peter Wells

Peter Wells is a Melbourne-based technology journalist.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

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Question for you Peter...

I'm retiring a 10yo MacBook Pro 13" and have been only considering the newest MacBook Air 13" - I'm not particularly wedded to Mac as there's nothing I do on it that I can't do on a Windows machine - 95% of my work is either web-based apps like CRM, Slack, Zoom, or MS Office.

Would you consider the Surface Laptop 3 to be a worthy alternative?


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