I loved the original Surface Laptop. I switched to it from a Surface Book when it first debuted in 2017 and instantly fell in love with its elegant design and slim profile. The first Surface Laptop wasn't perfect, however, and the Surface Laptop 2 did little to improve upon the product as a whole. So when Microsoft announced the third-generation Surface Laptop, I was ecstatic.
The Surface Laptop 3 is the first Surface Laptop that has been updated in any meaningful way. Microsoft re-engineered many parts of the product while maintaining the same elegant design. Many of my criticisms around the keyboard material and display size options have been addressed and a slightly revised I/O port selection with USB-C in place of mini-DisplayPort is appreciated.
I've been using the Surface Laptop 3 since it launched in October last year, specifically, the 15-inch variant with an Intel Core i7 processor inside. It's been three months since then, and I wanted to provide an update on how things are going and whether or not the Surface Laptop 3 is worth an upgrade from a first or second-generation Surface Laptop.
Bottom line: The Surface Laptop 3 is a major update to the Surface Laptop product line. With a new 15-inch variant, re-engineered design with better repairablilty, a larger trackpad, and USB-C, the Surface Laptop 3 is arguably the best Surface that Microsoft makes to date. But make sure you get the Intel version.
- Gorgeous design and craftsmanship
- USB Type-C
- Instant On and good battery life
- Superb keyboard and trackpad
- Intel 10th Gen is excellent
- It is now serviceable
- No Thunderbolt 3
- No Dolby Vision or anti-glare display
- AMD variant leaves much to be desired
Surface Laptop 3 specifications
|Category||Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch)||Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch)|
|Operating System||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Home|
|Display||13.5-inch PixelSense, 3:2 aspect ratio, 2256x1504 (201 PPI)||15-inch PixelSense, 3:2 aspect ratio, 2496x1664 (201 PPI)|
|Processor||Intel 10th Gen||AMD Ryzen 5
AMD Ryzen 7
Intel 10th Gen
|GPU||Intel Iris||AMD Vega 9
AMD Vega 11
|Memory||8GB or 16GB LPDDR4x||8GB, 16GB, or 32GB LPDDR4|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (replaceable)||128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB SSD (replaceable)|
|Security||Windows Hello face authentication camera, Firmware TPM||Windows Hello face authentication camera, Firmware TPM|
|Ports||1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, 1x Surface Connect, 3.5 mm headphone jack||1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, 1x Surface Connect, 3.5 mm headphone jack|
|Battery||Up to 11.5 hours
|Up to 11.5 hours|
|Weight||Up to 2.79 lbs||Up to 3.4 lbs|
|Colors||Sandstone metal, Matte Black metal, Platinum w/ Alcantara, Cobalt Blue w/ Alcantara||Platinum metal, Matte Black metal|
The one key area I was interested in that ultimately pushed me to upgrade from my original Surface Laptop was the ability to buy one without Alcantara around the keyboard. Don't get me wrong, the Alcantara on the Surface Laptop is beautiful, but it just isn't for me. I wasn't a fan of how dirty it could get without proper care, and, honestly, I didn't particularly appreciate how it felt on my wrists either.
I much prefer cold metal over warm fabric, especially in the summer. That's why I opted for a version of the Surface Laptop 3 without Alcantara. I'm glad it's still an option for those who do like Alcantara, but I'm also glad Microsoft has made it an option instead of forcing it upon everyone whether they liked it or not.
I also don't mind how the Surface Laptop 3 looks with metal instead of fabric. I don't think the lack of Alcantara makes the Surface Laptop 3 look worse; I think they are both beautiful in their own way. I do think the Surface Laptop 3 without Alcantara looks more elegant when closed however, only because the lid sits flush with the bottom half, which isn't the case with the Alcantara model.
I'm also a massive fan of the 15-inch variant that's now available with the Surface Laptop 3. The 13.5-inch model is great, but if you're someone looking for a little more screen real-estate, having the option of a 15-inch model makes a world of difference. Unfortunately, the "consumer" version of the 15-inch model uses a last-gen AMD Ryzen processor, which isn't very good.
AMD or Intel?
It's not a terrible experience by any means, but the Intel variants of the Surface Laptop are simply better. The 13.5-inch models are all Intel, as is the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 that is aimed at business customers. Luckily, anyone can buy that version but you will be paying a little more for it. I think it's worth the extra cash.
The reason I say that is because the AMD version has been tested to offer slightly worse battery life and lackluster performance. It's also missing niceties such as Wi-Fi 6. The only area in which the AMD model excels is in GPU performance, but even then, it's not much more than the integrated graphics found in the Intel models.
This is really unfortunate. Microsoft made a huge deal about the AMD processors in the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, but it has ended up being quite a letdown. This should change with the next generation of AMD laptop processors, but until then, if you're looking for the best Surface Laptop 3 experience, get one with an Intel processor inside. My model with an Intel Core i7 has been amazing. Performance is excellent for a laptop processor.
Battery life certainly isn't the best out there, but I'm able to get through most of an average workday on a single charge. The reason for this mediocre battery life is because Microsoft opted to put the same size battery inside both the 13 and 15-inch models.
That means the battery inside the 15-inch model is pushing a larger display panel, and as a result, uses slightly more power. I don't know why Microsoft decided to do this, as having extra space inside the 15-inch model should have allowed Microsoft to put a bigger battery in. Still, they didn't, so I'd recommend bringing a charger with you if you're traveling.
On the subject of charging, Microsoft has maintained the Surface Connect port, which I'm pleased about. I love Surface Connect due to its convenience and safety. Having a connector that magnetically connects means if you trip over the cable, you won't damage your laptop. New with the Surface Laptop 3 is fast charging, which is an excellent addition and makes the mediocre battery life bearable.
The fast charging only works when the lid is closed, however. If the screen is on and you're actively using the device, then fast-charging won't initiate. I don't exactly know why this is, but I've found if I want it to hit fast charging, then I need to close the lid or power down the device first. You can also charge the device via the USB-C port as well.
On the subject of ports, we've got a satisfactory selection. There's one USB-A, one USB-C, and a headphone jack. I wouldn't have said no to an additional USB-C or USB-A port, especially on the 15-inch variant, which should have the room for it. The USB-C port isn't Thunderbolt 3 enabled, which might be an issue for some, but it's not been a problem for me.
The keyboard and touchpad are excellent. Microsoft has made the touchpad larger on both the 13 and 15-inch variants, and it really does make a difference. I'd go so far as to say the touchpad on the Surface Laptop 3 is the best in any Windows laptop today. The keyboard is also top of the class, with a satisfying amount of key travel and a soft-yet-clicky feel to the keys as you type. It's a dream to type on.
I mentioned above that Microsoft re-engineered many parts of the design with the Surface Laptop 3, and most of that work was put into making the device repairable and upgradable. Now, I've not needed to take advantage of this yet, but if the keyboard, trackpad, SSD, or battery happen to fail, replacing those is as easy as undoing a few screws.
That's a huge deal and should improve the longevity of this device. While Microsoft doesn't recommend customers attempt their own repairs, but those who know how can do so. And if you don't know how, you can take it into a Microsoft Store, and they'll repair it for you.
I think the Surface Laptop 3, with an Intel processor, is the best Surface that Microsoft has built to date. It's an all-round pleasure to use, and even Mary-Jo Foley thinks it's good. Microsoft really nailed it with this refresh, everything from the ability to repair it, down to allowing buyers to choose between Alcantara and metal.
I will say that I wish there were more colors available for the 15-inch model, but other than that, I absolutely love the Surface Laptop 3. If I had to ask for something in the next version, I'd ask for better AMD processors, a bigger battery, and maybe slightly slimmer bezels, as that's a trend that people seem to be quite fond of.
Three months on, I consider the Surface Laptop 3 to be the best Surface yet.
A worthy upgrade
The Surface Laptop 3 is a major update to the Surface Laptop product line. With a new 15-inch variant, re-engineered design with better repairablilty, a larger trackpad, and USB-C, the Surface Laptop 3 is arguably the best Surface that Microsoft makes to date. But make sure you get the Intel version.
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