Tech review: Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 could have been great

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 now comes in a 15-inch variant, in addition to the existing 13.5-inch model. PHOTO: MICROSOFT

This year's Microsoft Surface launch event in October saw the tech giant expand its Surface line-up to include a dual-screen Android smartphone, a thinner Surface tablet that is powered by a mobile chip and a pair of true wireless earbuds.

But these exciting new devices are only coming here next year. The ones that have already been launched in Singapore are iterations of existing products Surface Pro 7 and Surface Laptop 3.

The latter now comes in a 15-inch variant, in addition to the existing 13.5-inch model. This aluminium clamshell notebook is available here in platinum and matte black, unlike its predecessor, which lacks the black option for local consumers.

I tested the matte black Surface Laptop 3. It looks sleek and handsome, with a minimalist design that reminds me of Apple's laptops. Its metal body feels solid and well-made and is surprisingly light at around 1.5kg.

Much attention has been paid to the laptop's design. For instance, the lid can be opened using only one hand. The power key (to turn on the laptop) is at the left of the Delete key, which keeps its usual position at the top right corner. Since typing relies heavily on muscle memory, it was important that Microsoft retained the Delete key's usual location at the top right corner.

Besides the larger touchscreen and chassis, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is identical to its 13.5-inch sibling. Both models have too few ports for my liking, which is vexing given the ample dimensions of the larger laptop.

There is a single USB-A port, which is handy for users who have yet to upgrade their storage drives to USB-C variants. The mini-DisplayPort from the previous version has been replaced by a USB-C port that can also be used for charging. There is no Thunderbolt 3 port, which is a major omission for a premium notebook.

I would have been appeased had Microsoft simply added more USB ports. Or made the trackpad larger (it is the same size as the one in the 13.5-inch version). Also, the ample space at the sides of the keyboard could have been used for dual speakers. Even the size of the battery is identical to that of its 13.5-inch sibling. And how about having a dedicated graphics chip?

But alas, it seems to me that Microsoft has not made full use of the 15-inch form factor.

In fact, you actually lose something with the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 compared with the 13.5-inch model. First, the 15-inch version sold in stores here comes with an AMD processor, which does not support the latest Wi-Fi 6 standard, unlike the Intel chip on the 13.5-inch model. Only the 15-inch models sold to businesses have the option to use Intel chips. Second, the 15-inch model comes only with a metal palm rest, without the option for an Alcantara one - found in the 13.5-inch.

The AMD processor is a quad-core chip that does a good job with office productivity tasks. In the PCMark 10 benchmark, the Surface Laptop 3 scored 3,818, which is good, but slightly lower than the latest Intel Core i7 processor.

More promising is its 3DMark score of 898 in the Time Spy benchmark, which is almost as fast as an entry-level Nvidia dedicated notebook graphics chip. But this level of performance is still inadequate to play the latest games at more intensive settings.

The laptop fared relatively well for a 15-inch laptop in our video-loop battery test, lasting 6hr 40min with the screen brightness set to maximum.

The new 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 feels like a missed opportunity by Microsoft to compete with the Apple MacBook Pro. While it is no doubt a very good laptop, it could have been much more if only Microsoft had aimed higher.


Solid metal chassis

Portable for its size

Good, spacious keyboard


Relatively few ports for the 15-inch model

No Thunderbolt 3 port or Wi-Fi 6 support

Middling integrated graphics


Price: $2,488

Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 3580U (2.1GHz)

Graphics: AMD Radeon Vega 9 Graphics


Screen size: 15 inches, 2,496 x 1,664 pixels

Connectivity: USB Type-C, USB Type-A, Surface Connect port, headphone jack

Battery: 49.4 watt-hour


Features: 3.5/5

Design: 4.5/5

Performance: 4/5

Value for money: 3.5/5

Battery life: 4/5

Overall: 3.5/5

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