(Pocket-lint) - We've got a lot of love for the Microsoft Surface Laptop. Indeed, both the original and second-generation models won the Best Laptop category in their respective Pocket-lint Awards. No pressure for the Surface Laptop 3 then, eh?
The third-gen laptop is more a nip and tuck take on the previous generation, bringing more power, a larger trackpad, and finally adding a USB-C port (but not at Thunderbolt 3 speeds, which seems odd). There's also a larger 15-inch model available, but we're reviewing the standard 13.5-inch model here.
Design & Connectivity
- Dimensions: 308 x 223 x 14.51mm / Weight: 1.25kg
- Finishes: Sandstone, Black, Cobalt Blue, Platinum
- Alcantara on Cobalt Blue & Platinum
- Metal (aluminium) on other finishes
- Ports: 1x USB-A, 1x USB-C, 1x 3.5mm jack
- Power: proprietary Surface Connector
- Full-size keyboard (1.3mm key travel)
- Trackpad 20% larger than previous
- Windows 10 Home
The design of the Surface Laptop 3 is sleek and standout - especially in this black finish (which first appeared for the second-gen model). There are lots of finish options - you'll see Sandstone as gold and Platinum as silver, really - with the Cobalt Blue and Platinum options retaining the Alcantara microfabric-finished interior keyboard wrist rest, which is both comfortable and eye-catching.
The Laptop 3 has boosted the trackpad size by 20 per cent compared to the second-gen model, which is a welcome adjustment. Large trackpads are king and it's very on trend for 2020. The keyboard above makes for comfortable typing over long periods, with the 1.3mm key travel ample to get decent feedback.
Most important to the design, however, is the addition of a USB-C port to the side. This joints the full-size USB-A port. But other than a 3.5mm headphone jack that's your lot - and for a laptop such as this we think more ports would make a lot of sense. Oh, and an additional downside: the USB-C isn't capable of Thunderbolt 3 speeds, for whatever reason, which is a disappointment.
On the opposite side to those ports is a small opening, but it's not an SD card slot, it's Microsoft's Surface Connector - which is used for power. We like that it doesn't use up a port, like so many other laptops do, but at the same time we'd much rather it was a second USB-C port - so you had the choice of how to use it. Really this proprietary connection isn't a great idea any more - although as it magnetically connects, you won't drag the laptop off the side of a desk should you walk into the cable by accident.
On the software front the Laptop 3 has Windows 10 Home as standard out of the box. Gone is the more limited Windows 10 S install of the very first Surface Laptop. So there's no limit to application file installs here, which is great news for productivity - if you want full-fat Photoshop then you can have it (well, if you can afford to pay for it).
Display & Stylus
- 13.5-inch 'PixelSense' touchscreen display
- 2256 x 1504 resolution
- 3:2 aspect ratio LCD
- Gorilla Glass
- Works with Surface Pen (sold separately)
The Surface Laptop 3's 'PixelSense' display is unchanged from the original and second-gen model's displays. But as the saying goes: if it ain't broke don't fix it.
That means the Surface family trait of having a 3:2 aspect ratio screen - rather than the 16:9 ratio you see in many other places - still takes pride of place. We think this is great, as it works well for document-based work, but is less designed for widescreen multimedia use. That ratio is also why this is a 13.5-inch screen on the diagonal, not a 13.3-inch one - as is typical in the competition.
The panel is high resolution and has excellent colour and contrast. No, it's not quite as pixel-dense as the new MacBook Air's panel, but it'd be splitting hairs to suggest it would actually makes a genuine difference in use between either device.
Like in the Surface Pro, the Laptop 3 uses a slightly reflective coating which is its only notable display drawback. It's not mirror-like in its reflective qualities, but you'll catch a glimpse of your own face more often than not when there's surrounding daylight sources. Fortunately there's ample brightness to cut through any potential issue this could cause when using the Laptop 3 outside. This has always been a criticism we've had throughout the Surface Laptop's three generations, though, so it's a shame it's not been addressed yet.
Being a Surface device there's also excellent touch capability – something the aforementioned Apple lacks entirely – while you can use the Surface Pen stylus with it and, therefore, Windows Ink. The Laptop 3's screen bends back to around 45 degrees, which is just ok for stylus input - but it's not great for precision work because it will move. So we think the other Surface devices in the range might make more sense for stylus use. Anyway, the stylus doesn't come in the box, so you'll have to buy that as an extra if you decide it is the accessory for you.
Performance & Battery Life
- Intel Core i5 processor (1035G7), 8GB RAM (base model)
- Intel Core i7 (1065G7) with 16GB RAM available
- 128GB storage (base model)
- 256GB / 512GB / 1TB options
Microsoft has opted for Intel's 10th Gen Core i processors for the third-gen Surface Laptop. The key choice, we think, is the Core i5 – there is also an i7 model available, but we would expect the impact on battery life to be negative and without too huge a processor boost, especially as it's all just running Intel integrated graphics anyway.
The chip is the i5-1035G7, which is a quad-core with eight threads, as opposed to the dual-core lower-voltage chip in something like the MacBook Air. That makes for respectable performance, which in a like-for-like spec setup to the excellent Dell XPS 13 puts Microsoft in a very strong position.
With the base configuration of the Surface Laptop 3 you get 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. For our money you need 256GB in a laptop like this, but if you store a lot in the cloud then that might not be necessary - especially as upping the SSD adds 27 per cent to the asking price.
In terms of battery life we put the Laptop 3 to its streaming test, with a YouTube clip running non-stop at full resolution, full screen, and three-quarter brightness, and the laptop managed to reach the seven hour mark. That's slightly down on its predecessor. However, you won't spend every second of your life streaming content - so when we've been using the Laptop 3 for our day-to-day tasks we've found it to last out longer.
Overall the Surface Laptop 3 is a sensible upgrade to the already stellar series. The introduction of a USB-C port, larger trackpad, and more power from the latest Intel chipset options, all add plus-points onto its impressive score sheet.
However, there's no Thunderbolt 3 speeds from that USB-C port, which is an oddity. And there aren't that many ports either - which is why we think Microsoft should do away with the proprietary Surface Connector and replace that with an extra port or two. Oh, and that slightly reflective screen coating has been a thing since day one in this series and could be bettered.
Having won awards and accolades in its past guises, the Surface Laptop 3 is showing no signs of this series slowing down. This is one sleek and sophisticated laptop - both in looks and performance - that will give even the Dell XPS 13 a good run for its money.
Dell XPS 13
It'll probably cost you more, but this is up there among the Windows 10 kings, complete with micro bezels in a screen-dominant and eye-catching design.
Apple MacBook Air
Ok, so it's not Windows, it's Mac OS. But the MacBook Air is an obvious - and fairly similar - alternative to the Surface Laptop. Only, as we see it, Microsoft has now actually gone one better and outshone Apple's offering.