Buying a laptop today can be confusing. There are literally dozens of brands and hundreds of models from which to choose. That can be narrowed down initially by knowing what you want your new computer to do. Is it going to be a power hungry, strictly gaming-only machine? Is it going to be mostly used for memory-intensive rendering of high-quality video? Or is it – as is the case with many buyers – going to be a multi-purpose all-rounder.
There are arguably six key elements to a good laptop:
- Power – both CPU and GPU
- A true colour immersive display
- Battery life – long, please
- Top-line keyboard – not to hard, not too soft, well spaced keys.
- Flexibility – can handle everything from word processing and conferencing to gaming, video and photo/graphic editing and design.
- The right ports
We went looking for a machine that is both a good all-rounder but also a step into the future. That combines the best of traditional laptop engineering and modern thinking.
The detachable 2-in-1 laptop, Microsoft Surface Book 3, delivers the best blend of unique features, operating-mode flexibility, computing power, and portability of any Microsoft PC. With powerful graphics processing, multiple cameras and batteries, and a choice of two –13.5-inch and 15-inch–screen sizes, the Surface Book 3 is a category-defying device.
So how did it measure up in the six categories? Simply, excellently.
Power plus: CPU and GPU
There’s little doubt the Surface Book 3 is powerful. The entry-level 13.5-inch version has a 10th Generation Intel Core i5 processor with Iris Plus Graphics, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), and 8GB of memory.
The larger 15-inch model features a quad-core Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU with a 1.3GHz base clock speed, 32GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU to handle graphics output.
Other options for the 15-inch Surface Pro 3 include an Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 GPU, and a 1TB or 2TB SSD. When it came to testing, the tablet performed best when docked and using the GeForce graphics in the base, delivering excellent performance figures on nearly all our graphics benchmarks. As an image editor, the Surface Book 3 is much faster than its predecessor.
That said, it isn’t a pure gaming laptop but it can certainly be used as one. And Microsoft encourages this. Support for the Xbox Wireless Controller is built-in, and the company claims the laptop “is the best Surface for immersive gaming”.
True colour immersive display
Let’s face it, you want true-colour, bold, realistic imaging whether it be when producing images in a graphics editor, looking at your photos, watching live events, playing games or chatting online. Bottom line: it has to look good. The Surface Laptop 3 ticks this box. The display is the same PixelSense display offered on the Surface Book 2. It's a beautiful screen with a 3240-by-2160-pixel native resolution, a 1600:1 contrast ratio, and support for 10-point multi-touch. And you can write and sketch with precision using Surface Pen or Surface Dial and high-end graphics.
Talking about images, Surface Book 3 features two cameras. There’s a 5-megapixel front-facing camera with IR sensors to allow face-recognition logins to your Windows account, and a second 8-megapixel rear. Both also offer acceptable 1080p video quality.
The Surface Book 3 lasted for close to 16 hours in a PC World battery rundown test, which involved playing a locally stored 720p video file at 50 per cent screen brightness in Airplane Mode until the battery died. That is in line with Microsoft’s claim of up to 17.5 hours of battery life.
Surface Book 3 has comfortable backlit keys that are quiet, feel satisfying to tap, and offer a good amount of travel without being mushy. The touchpad has responsive tracking and a stable clicking mechanism. With the keyboard attached, the 15-inch version weighs 1.9kg. When you detach the keyboard, the display is just 0.82kg.
The Surface Book 3 scores heavily in this category. It’s the beauty of forward thinking technology meeting modern user needs. It is an ambitious device that seeks to combine the best qualities of all three current laptop genres into a do-it-all machine. Digital artists and on-the-go professionals who need the flexibility of a detachable tablet and some significant graphics horsepower will probably appreciate it most. But, frankly, there isn’t anything it can’t do at least reasonably well. Tellingly, our reviewer, Tom Brant, concluded: “There’s nothing else like the Surface Book 3, from Microsoft or any other mainstream laptop maker. It has a credible claim to being the ultimate Windows device.”
The right ports
Too few, not enough, the wrong ones – port permutations are endless. Happily, all configurations of the Surface Book 3 feature two USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A ports, one USB Type-C port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a full-size SDXC card reader. This is the best physical connectivity of any Microsoft laptop. Wireless connectivity includes Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax). All Surface mobile PCs also come with the Surface Connect port, a proprietary jack that accepts the included AC charging cable and adapter. The power adapter has an additional USB Type-A port for charging external devices.
The Surface Book 3 offers excellent overall performance and innovative and well-considered design to make it the ideal all-round laptop for most users looking for reliability and flexibility and a genuinely satisfying user experience.
To read more about Surface Book 3 visit its home page.