PC

Surface Book 3 has a great display but feels dated

Microsoft's new Surface Book 3
Microsoft's new Surface Book 3

Microsoft's new Surface Book 3 already feels long in the tooth despite being launched in Singapore in June.

This two-in-one convertible looks exactly like the original Surface Book from 2015, though it is powered by the latest 10th-generation Intel Core processor.

What was innovative then - such as the fulcrum hinge, which extends when the lid is open to keep the top-heavy Surface Book 3 from tipping over - now feels increasingly like an anachronism.

This is because the PC industry seems to have moved away from the Surface Book's detachable 2-in-1 design, where the screen detaches from the keyboard to become a tablet.

A downside of the fulcrum hinge is that the screen is not flush with the keyboard when closed, which makes the Surface Book 3 significantly thicker than most notebooks. The fulcrum hinge also pinches the thighs when you open the lid with the laptop on your lap.

You have to press a button or tap on an on-screen icon to detach the screen from the keyboard base. Because the base contains the optional dedicated graphics chip (a mid-range Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 in my review set), you are reminded to properly close any open apps using this graphics chip before detaching the screen.

In short, this hinge design has one too many disadvantages, especially when 2-in-1 convertibles that use a flexible 360-degree hinge are now as sleek as ultrabooks.

To be fair, the gap between the screen and keyboard enables Microsoft to increase key travel for the Surface Book 3, which makes it more comfortable to type with than the shallow keyboards of most ultrabooks.

The touchpad remains one of the industry's best. It is smooth, responsive and produces a satisfying click when pressed. But Microsoft has resisted the urge to follow the trend of increasingly large touchpads.

Also missing is a Thunderbolt 3 port, which has higher bandwidth than USB-C to connect to multiple secondary 4K displays and external graphics cards. This is due to security concerns that the interface could be used to access the device's memory, according to Microsoft.

As a tablet, the Surface Book 3 weighs around a handy 700g for its 13.5-inch screen size.​

  • FOR

    • Excellent keyboard, touchpad

    • Good battery life as a laptop

    • Sharp display optimised for productivity

    AGAINST

    • Niche and expensive

    • Same old design

    • No Thunderbolt 3

    SPECS

    PRICE: $3,768

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i7-1065G7 (1.3GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 4GB GDDR5 (Max-Q)

    RAM: 32GB DDR4

    SCREEN SIZE: 13.5 inches, 3,000 x 2,000 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, 2 x Surface Connect ports (one on base, one on tablet), SD card slot, headphone jack

    BATTERY: 73 watt-hour (18 watt-hour for tablet, 55 watt-hour for base)

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3.5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3.5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    OVERALL: 3.5/5

It feels balanced in the hand, though the chassis becomes fairly warm when running intensive apps, despite having cooling vents running along its edge.

Adding to the dated feel of the device are the chunky screen bezels. But the display itself is sharp and vibrant. Like other Surface devices, the screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio that is optimised for editing documents or surfing the Internet.

Despite having the same Core i7 processor and twice the amount of memory as the Surface Pro 7, the Surface Book 3 actually falls behind in PCMark 10 with a score of just 4,084, compared with 4,233 for the Surface Pro.

And while the Surface Book 3 has a mid-range GeForce GTX 1650 graphics chip, this chip comes preloaded with Nvidia's Studio driver, which is optimised for professional graphics applications, unlike the gaming-centric Nvidia Game Ready driver.

Perhaps this is why the Surface Book did not perform well in my gaming tests. While it achieves an average of 69 frames per second in Apex Legends at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, there are severe dips in frame rates during the game's hectic moments, which affect my gaming performance.

I am also disappointed by the short battery life of the Surface Book 3 when used as a tablet. Without the keyboard base, which has a second battery, the Surface Book 3 lasts only two hours and 10 minutes with the screen set to maximum brightness.

To be fair, the Surface Book 3 manages a very good eight hours, which is comparable with the best ultrabooks, when attached to its base and used as a laptop.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2020, with the headline 'Surface Book 3 has a great display but feels dated'. Print Edition | Subscribe