Tech review: Microsoft Surface Book 3 is showing its age despite hardware upgrades

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

Microsoft's new Surface Book 3 (available on Lazada and Shopee) already feels long in the tooth despite being launched in Singapore in June.

This 2-in-1 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, 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 onscreen 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 that are 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 the keyboard enables Microsoft to increase the key travel for the Surface Book 3, which makes it more comfortable to type than the shallow keyboards of most ultrabooks.

The touchpad remains one of the best in the industry. 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, due to security concerns that the interface could be used to access the device's memory, says Microsoft.

As a tablet, the Surface Book 3 weighs around a handy 700g for its 13.5-inch screen size. 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 4,084 compared to 4,233 for the Surface Pro.

And while the Surface Book 3 has a mid-range GeForce GTX 1650 graphics chip, this chip is 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 (fps) in Apex Legends at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, there were severe dips in frame rates during the game's hectic moments that affected my gaming performance.

I was 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 lasted only 2hr10min with the screen set to maximum brightness.

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

FOR

Excellent keyboard and 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

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