Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Review: Pure Windows

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Let me address something before this review starts – I’m an unashamed MacBook user and will likely continue to be one, as long as I can afford them. That said, I’m not above about changing my mind when it comes to a notebook, which brings us to the Surface Laptop 3.

We were interested in reviewing the device for a number of reasons, including the fact that it is one of the first Surface-branded products that Microsoft has made available to “officially” purchase in South Africa.

There is also the small matter of premium Windows 10-powered notebooks often failing to marry hardware and software in a unified and seamless experience. It’s part of the reason why I switched to MacBook Pros in 2014 and have not looked but since.

So is the Surface Laptop 3 enough to tempt this MacBook user? Well I spent three weeks with the notebook to find out.

Side note here, we’re using the term Notebook as that’s our website’s style, regardless of Microsoft wanting to brand their device as a laptop.

Okay, no that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the Surface Laptop 3.

Clean and simple

We start with aesthetics, and here we think Microsoft has done a great job. The Laptop 3 has kept things very simple from a design perspective, with only the reflective Windows symbol in the centre of the cover lid of the device being the only sign of who made it.

Where some OEMs have tried gimmicks and flourishes to showcase their device, Microsoft has gone against this and served up a rather refined looking notebook. In fact, if it weren’t for the matte Black finish of our review model, one could even be forgiven for thinking the Laptop 3 has a certain MacBook-esque look to it.

But Sir Jony Ive would likely flog me for saying so.

Regardless, the Surface Laptop 3 has retained a clean and simple aesthetic that makes it feel like a premium notebook, and its lack of flourishes makes it all the more endearing to us.

The design does come at a price though, especially in the aforementioned Black colourway, which is a serious magnet for smudges and dust. We purposefully treated the notebook with care, as we do all our devices that come in for review, but our best efforts did not stop oily fingerprint marks from surfacing.

This is a rather small aspect in the greater scheme of things, but may give you pause should the matte Black option be what you’re interested in.

Quick and responsive

Moving on from the colour, our review model is the larger 15″ flavour of Laptop 3. There is a smaller 13.5″ version on offer too, if that the former is too large for your liking.

During our time with it, the screen real estate on offer from the 15″ variant was welcome, with the 2496×1664 resolution and PixelSense Display tech on offer yielding a crisp and vibrant visual experience.

The only thing we changed in that regard was the amount of zoom, as the standard setting did make reading a touch difficult at times.

The display is also touch-enabled, with Microsoft supplying us with a Surface Pen stylus to accompany the review device. We tried it out and it worked as expected, but given that this is not a convertible device that can switch to different form factors, like the Surface Pro 7, it feels like an unnecessary accessory for this particular notebook.

Shifting to some of the other elements, one portion of the performance for the Laptop 3 that proved impressive was its boot up time. Taking on average 16 seconds to do from powered off to logging in, it was a rapid experience that we’ve not always found on Windows 10 devices.

Setup was also a breeze, and the usual frustrating updates and notifications that often accompany a Windows 10 experience, simply aren’t there on the Laptop 3.

As such from a simple marriage of hardware and software, the Surface Laptop 3 provides the seamless experience I’ve been looking for.

A solid performer

Added to this is an all-round speedy notebook. In terms of internal components, an AMD Ryzen 5 3500U processor is present.

This is paired with 16GB RAM and AMD Radeon Vega 9 graphics. As a package, it is not going to be a processing powerhouse, as evidenced by the 1 497 score on Cinebench, but for general tasks and going from work to home it is more than capable.

The aforementioned seamless experience also makes up for any shortcomings from components. Plus, you can always opt for a better specced variant if your budget can handle it.

One of the other areas that Microsoft has done a solid job is battery life. The 15″ model is listed at working for up to 11.5 hours. In our time with it, we did not get to that figure, but did manage an average of nine hours following every full charge, which once again, is more than enough for a regular nine to five session.

Touch and type

While the Surface Laptop 3 has been impressive up until this point, there are a few elements that could do with some improving on future iterations. The trackpad and keyboard is what we need to highlight in particular here.

The former is a tad slower than we’d like. While a larger trackpad is present on this model compared to the predecessor, the actual cursor travel does not feel any better than other Windows 10 notebooks we’ve tried. This can make multitasking a little less intuitive, and as such might necessitate a wireless mouse instead.

As for the keyboard, the keys fell a little squishy when typing quickly. That might be the fact that our preference leans towards a snappy responsiveness from keyboard keys, but the setup on the Laptop 3 may be emblematic of how other Windows 10 OEMs opt for.

Final verdict

At R27 999 (RRP) depending on the retailer you head to, the Surface Laptop 3 is about on par for what you can expect to pay for a premium 15″ Windows 10 notebook.

If you opt for better AMD internal components, it rises quite a bit, but it is not the components that set this notebook apart from others. It is the seamless experience between hardware and software that Microsoft has been able to pull off.

With more Surface-branded hardware likely on the horizon, there are now more tempting offerings on the market for those jaded by the current Windows 10 experience.

Will I be swapping my MacBook Pro for the Surface Laptop 3? Not quite yet, but I’m definitely keeping an eye on the Surface range for the next time I choose to upgrade or buy a new notebook.

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.