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Surface Laptop 3: The Practical Choice for Productivity [Review]

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The Surface brand has developed a reputation for innovation and showing the world the potential of Windows. They are mostly known for developing the concept of the 2-in-1, but here I am going to talk about their take on the traditional clamshell laptop.

The Surface Laptop 3 came out 18 months ago, but it still one of the best thin and light laptops around. It still is relevant even though its successor, the Surface Laptop 4, is on its way in because that means that now you can find it discounted. The improvements on the upcoming laptop are not that significant as well to discard the Laptop 3 just yet.

In this review, I will be talking about the 13-inch version exclusively, although the 15-inch version is similar in many aspects. I have been using the Surface Laptop 3 for 9 months. In that time, I have discovered this to be one of the best laptops that I have had the pleasure of using. There might be better laptops around, but Microsoft made all the right choices for it to meet my productivity needs in a way that very few laptops could do. While this laptop is very specialized, this might also mean that it is not the right laptop for you.

Surface Laptop 3
Source: Microsoft

Performance

My Surface Laptop 3 rocks a 10th gen Intel i5, 8 or of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. In my experience with it, I have to say it is very snappy and fast. Programs are fast to open, and the 8GB of RAM is enough to keep quite a few tabs and words documents open without a struggle. Doing productivity tasks with it is a breeze. It is also capable of light video editing and gaming, thanks to the Intel Iris Plus Graphics.

It should be more than enough for most people’s daily needs. Just keep in mind that for it to be thin, performance was sacrificed. so don’t expect great performance on intensive tasks.

There is also an i7 version, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It is certainly faster, but the price makes it a tougher sell. In my opinion, if you need the extra power for more intensive tasks, you’re better off buying the 15-inch version or a different machine.

Screen

The screen is the face of any device, so I consider this to be one of the most important features to consider. Good thing that the Surface Laptop 3 has a good one. It has a touch-sensitive PixelSense display with a 2256 x 1504 resolution, a good balance between resolution and power consumption.

Colour accuracy and brightness are good but not exceptional. It’s pretty average for the price point of the Surface Laptop 3, but not ideal if you need a good screen for photo or video editing. What really sets this screen apart is the 3:2 aspect ratio which makes it a bit taller than the more common 16:9. This means that the Surface can fit more vertical information, like word documents and web pages, reiterating the focus on productivity.

Battery

The battery of the Surface Laptop 3 is sufficiently average for its category, which is good enough considering its thinness and weight compared to some of its competitors. While I have never achieved the 11.5 hours claimed by Microsoft, I am able to get 6 to 8 hours with a few browser tabs, office documents, and Spotify opened, and the screen at medium brightness. Obviously, anything more intensive will kill the battery faster, and streaming video with lower brightness will get you closer to the advertised 11.5 hours.

Fast charging makes an appearance with the Surface Laptop 3, with Microsoft claiming up to 80% charger in an hour, but only when in sleep mode. While it is neat, I have never been in a situation where it was useful. The magnetic charger, although a great idea, is poorly implemented on the Surface as it will only be detached if yanked in a specific direction. Better than nothing, I guess.

Design

The Surface brand has always emphasized design, and this is no different. Although the Surface Laptop 3 has the same design as its predecessors, it is still one of the most attractive laptops out there.

The minimal and elegant aluminum body feels very solid, and it is only adorned with the shiny squares that make up the Windows logo. Small details like the tapered edges and the beautifully machined cooling vents add to the design on top of the premium feel while keeping it clean. The glass covering the screen goes all the way to the edges, where it seamlessly meets the chassis.

My unit is the Platinum with the Alcantara keyboard, which is by far my favorite thing about the Surface Laptop 3. You can also get a metal keyboard, but why would you? The Alcantara makes this laptop warm and soft. It feels like I am typing on a pillow. Its durability was also my biggest concern, and I have to say it holds well and doesn’t show any signs of wearing. However, it is starting to peel on the corners, and that concerns me.

Surface Laptop 3 on Desk
Image: João Cardoso

The whole thing weighs just 1,265 g and measures 14.5 mm at its thickest point. You can pick the Surface Laptop 3 in various colors. There are the Platinum and Cobalt Blue versions for those with Alcantara. For those without, there’s a selection of Black, Sandstone, and Platinum.

Everything else

The Surface Laptop 3 is a very well-rounded laptop. The keyboard is one of the highlights of the laptop that’s decently deep and has is plenty of feedback. This results in a fast and intuitive typing experience once you get used to the layout. The trackpad is also great with its large smooth glass surface with accurate tracing and satisfying clicks.

The speakers are good, although not the best. Even though they are under the keyboard, they sound good and balanced without distorting the sound at high volume. The web camera is good enough, and it is complemented by a set of two high-quality microphones. Next to that, there are IR sensors that make Windows Hello facial recognition possible. It is fast, and because the laptop itself is fast to open, it unlocks as soon as you open it.

The one thing that I find lacking is the I/O. On the left side, you have a headphone jack, a USB-B, and a USB-C port. On the right, there is a solo Surface Connector that, besides charging, can be used to connect the Surface Dock for extra ports. While it could be better, I never found myself needing more. However, if you do need more, I recommend a Type-C hub over the $200 Surface Dock.

My verdict

When the device first came out, it started at $999.99. However, as of April 2021 and with the release of the Surface Laptop 4, you’ll most likely find a bargain for the Surface Laptop 3, starting with the Windows Store that’s selling it for $769.99 or you can have a look at deals on Amazon. In my opinion, the higher the spec is, the worst a deal it becomes especially as you get closer in price to its successor. Considering that the Surface Laptop 4 is an improved Surface Laptop 3, the one that you should get will depend on the deals available and how much those improvements are worth to you.

If you want a premium machine that’s thin and light, the Surface Laptop 3 is among the best that you will find from Microsoft. It is an easy recommendation if you need something light and portable that can handle all your productivity tasks and looks good doing it.

Details like the taller aspect ratio and the excellent keyboard make the Surface Laptop 3 ideal. While you might find other devices that are better in specific aspects, there are not that many competitors that bring such a complete package. Even though it has been succeeded by the Surface Laptop 4, the discounts available mean that it is still worthy of being considered. However, I do not recommend it if you need the power to run more intensive tasks such as CAD or video editing, there are better alternatives for the money.


YouTube: Introducing Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Photo credits: The first image used within the article is owned by Microsoft and has been provided for press usage. All other images have been taken by the author for TechAcute.

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João Cardoso
Tech Journalist

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