NEW YORK: WE’VE HEAPED PRAISE on Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2, with its stellar keyboard, lovely display, clean design, and solid Windows 10 experience. But it wasn’t perfect, notably its lack of USB-C in favor of mini DisplayPort.
But that’s changed with the newly revealed Surface Laptop 3; there’s now a USB-C port, and a new 15in the model has been added into the mix.
We got our hands on both models at Microsoft’s event in New York, so read on for our first impressions.
It’s mostly business as usual for the overall aesthetic of the Surface Laptop 3. It sports the same clean look as its predecessor with noticeable but hardly chunky display bezels; there’s no slick InfinityEdge style screen here as there is with the Dell XPS 15.
Obviously, there’s the aforementioned USB-C port, but otherwise, you’ll find the same single USB-A port, 3.5mm headphone jack and a Surface Connector for power; it now supports fast charging which promises to juice up the battery to 80 percent in an hour.
However, the big change is with the new aluminum chassis on offer for both models. The 13in Surface Laptop 3 still comes with an Alcantara fabric-swaddled keyboard deck, but also comes in an aluminum guise, available in black, a rusty pink color, and sliver grey finishes.
The 15in the model only comes in aluminum in grey or black, both of which look rather fetching.
The use of an aluminum chassis means both Surface Laptop 3 models look like Windows 10 alternatives to the MacBook Pro 13 and 15, which is no bad thing.
The aluminum models also feel good to the touch and are well-built, as expected from a Surface device, and boast a nice finish that’s pleasant to rest one’s palms on. It’s certainly a nice option to have alongside the stain-prone Alcantara finish.
The trackpad on the Surface Laptop 3 13 is 20 percent larger than that one its predecessor, which is a welcome upgrade because as excellent as the trackpad was on previous Surface Laptops, it could feel a tad small at times. The extra size means an already excellent trackpad is now even better.
Fans of the keyboard will also be pleased to know it’s still as responsive and tactile as the one on the Surface Laptop 2, with the new models offering 1.3mm of key travel; that’s slightly down on the 1.5mm of travel on the Surface Laptop 2 but it still feels fine to us and not as shallow as a Butterfly mechanism on a MacBook Pro.
There’s not a great deal more to add to the design, other than it’s a clear small step up from the Surface Pro 2 and the new 15in model offers more screen space without messing up the minimal look of Surface devices.
As you’ll probably have figured out already, the Surface Laptop 3 13 comes with a 13.5in PixelSense touchscreen display, while the Surface Laptop 3 15 has a 15in the display.
The former sports a resolution of 2256×1504, while the latter has a resolution of 2496×1664; both looked sharp and clear, and we appreciate that the 15in the model also uses the 3:4 aspect ratio which is particularly good for web browsing and other productivity-related tasks.
From our first impressions, the displays are up there with previous PixelSense screens; colors, contrast, and brightness were all on point according to our peepers.
We’d have preferred slimmer screen bezels on both models, as it would have allowed the 15in model to reduce its footprint down a little, not that it’s particularly big or heavy.
Otherwise, the screens on both laptops are shaping up to be excellent displays, though we’d need to give them a longer look before we cast proper judgment.
Performance, storage, and battery life
It’s under the chassis where things get interesting. The Surface Laptop 3 13 comes with Intel’s Core i7-1065G7; that a 10-nanometre processor sporting Intel’s new Iris Plus integrated graphics accelerator.
That means the Surface Laptop 3 13 should not only deliver some healthy processor performance over its predecessor’s eighth-gen CPUs, but it also comes with better graphics performance, which means it should be able to run some modern games, albeit with some setting tweaks.
The chip can be paired with 8GB or 16GB of RAM, and storage goes from 128GB to 1TB of SSD space. The drive is now removable through a specialist Microsoft service, or maybe with some very brave tech DIY, meaning that it can be replaced or upgraded at a later date. This memory and storage combo is the same for the 15in the model.
We basically knew Microsoft would use Intel’s Ice Lake CPUs for the Surface Pro 3. But what we weren’t expecting was for the 15in model to have a custom CPU.
Microsoft calls it the Ryzen Surface Edition, which is essentially a souped-up version of either a Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7, with Vega 9 and Vega 11 integrated GPUs respectively.
A Microsoft bloke told us that the chips have been designed to kick out more CPU and GPU performance than other Ryzen mobile CPUs and have specialist drivers for them.
Both the Ryzen 7 3780U Microsoft Surface Edition and Ryzen 5 3580U Microsoft Surface Edition are quad-core, eight-thread processors with a 15W thermal design power. The former runs from 2.3GHz to 4GHz, and the latter clocks from 2.1GHz to 3.7GHz.
These chips promise to have the power for folks who run multithreaded workloads, like video rendering, as well as the graphics grunt to run games, though we’d not expect the graphical power the likes of the Razer Blade Stealth offer with its dedicated GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card.
Both the Surface Pro 3 models look reasonably promising in terms of performance, though we weren’t able to test them properly during our hands-on. The 13in model looks like a decent upgrade over the Surface Pro 3, while the 15in laptop looks more like a device that’ll appeal more to creative types who want a little more oomph without shelling out for a machine with a dedicated GPU.
Battery life is slated at 11.5 hours, which would be good if that translates into real-world use; we find that’s rarely the case. But the fast charging support should make up for any minor battery shortcomings.
Microsoft has evolved rather than started from the ground up for the third-generation Surface Laptop, and we rather like this approach.
The Surface Laptop 2 was one of our favorites, and its successor promises to be the same when 22 October comes around.
With the Surface laptop 3 13 starting at £999 and the 15in model from $1,199 (UK pricing TBC), both machines look priced around the same as many slim laptops currently out in the market.
But if they deliver the performance their chips potentially offer, that combined with the simply lovely design and top keyboard quality could see Microsoft score yet another Surface home run.
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