Hands on with the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3: Gorgeous reworking, inside and out

The Surface Laptop 3 prices, though, push up well beyond what a student could normally afford.

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Even before you can start talking about the new 15-inch Surface Laptop 3, or AMD’s custom Ryzen inside of it, you simply have to admit: Microsoft’s new all-metal Surface Laptop 3's are gorgeous. 

Full disclosure: I’m typing this on a Microsoft Surface Book 2, so there’s some justification for my love of shiny metal. And that’s where the Surface Laptop 3 starts: with metal options in Sandstone, plus Matte Black, Cobalt Blue and the traditional Platinum. Yes, the Alcantara fabric is still an option, but if you want a Surface Book-like option without the price, Microsoft has you covered.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Mark Hachman / IDG

The new 15-inch and the existing 13-inch form factors of the Surface Laptop 3, in metal and the traditional Alcantara fabric.

The Surface Laptop 3 ships in two options: the traditional 13-inch form factor, and the new 15-inch option. But while the original Surface Laptop may have been priced affordably for students, the Surface Laptop 3 soars into higher budget ranges. The base prices are $999 for the 13-inch version and $1,199 for the 15-inch. A tricked-out 15-inch laptop costs a whopping $2,799—the same price as the MacBook Pro. However, both the memory and storage in the top-tier Surface Laptop 3 exceed the MacBook Pro's.) The most expensive 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 is $2,399, $400 more than the most expensive MacBook Pro. Daaaaamn.

Is it worth it? Aesthetically, we’ve already told you that we’re a sucker for pretty notebooks, and both are lighter than you might expect. More objectively, when you look at the spec list, there's a lot to like.

  • Display: 13.5 inch (2256x1504) PixelSense; 15-inch (2496x1664) PixelSense; both touch-enabled
  • Processor: 13-inch: Core i5-1035G7/Core i7-1065G7 (Ice Lake); 15-inch: Ryzen 5 3580U Radeon Vega 9 Surface Edition/Ryzen 7 3780U Radeon RX Vega 11 Surface Edition
  • Graphics: 13-inch: Iris Plus 950; 15-inch: Radeon Vega 9, 11
  • Memory: 13-inch: 8GB/16GB LPDDR4x; 15-inch: 8/16/32GB DDR4 
  • Storage: 13-inch: 128/256/512/1TB 15-inch: 128/256/512GB M.2 SSD
  • Ports: USB-C, USB-A, Surface Connect, 3.5mm jack
  • Camera: 720p (user-facing)
  • Battery: 11.5 hours (estimated); quick-charges up to 80 percent in 1 hour
  • Wireless: 13-inch: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ax)/Bluetooth 5.0; 15-inch 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home (consumer)
  • Dimensions: 13-inch: 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 in. (14.51mm) / 15-inch: 13.4 x 9.6 x 0.57 in. (14.69 mm)
  • Weight: 13-inch: 2.89 pounds; 15-inch: 3.4 pounds
  • Color: Sandstone, plus Matte Black, Cobalt Blue and Platinum in either Alcantara fabric or metal
  • Price: Preorders start at $999 at Microsoft.com

Microsoft surface laptop 3 configs Microsoftt

Surface Laptop 3 configuration options. Note that the most expensive option is either sold out or just unavailable.

It’s worth noting that though the Surface Laptop 3 is designed for consumers, there will be a business option that allows corporate buyers to purchase a 15-inch Surface Laptop in an Core (Ice Lake) configuration, with Windows 10 Pro. 

While we’ve said before that both Surface Laptops are surprisingly attractive, they’re also unexpectedly light: 3.4 pounds for a 15-inch laptop is an unexpected bonus. They’re as sturdy as ever, steadfastly refusing to flop around. As noted earlier, there are several color options from which to choose. The Sandstone option looks particularly attractive.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Mark Hachman / IDG

A new USB-C port now appears on the Surface Laptop 3.

Aside from the obvious differences in size, though, neither of the Surface Laptop 3's are visually different from the other. They each have a Surface connector and a USB-A port, the same as before. Now, however, the microDisplayPort of previous generations has been replaced with a single USB-C port. None of the new Surfaces, including this one, enable the USB-C port with Thunderbolt I/O. Nevertheless, there’s enough bandwidth to power a 4K display, we’re told.

Though the Surface Pen can be used with the new Surface Laptop 3, that’s not really the point. They can also be used with the Surface Dial, though it’s a bit awkward to use while in laptop mode.

The keyboard’s fairly comfortable, with 1.3mm of travel. After checking the specs, we discovered why it didn’t feel quite as good: The key travel decreased from 1.5mm on the previous generation. In any case, the “feel” of a keyboard is largely subjective. The size of the trackpad is now 20 percent larger.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Mark Hachman / IDG

Internally, of course, what makes the Surface Laptop 3 so very intriguing is the new Ryzen chip inside of the 15-inch version, with—wait for it—the Ryzen 5 3580U Radeon Vega 9 Surface Edition. That’s a mouthful. My colleague Gordon Mah Ung offers an in-depth explanation of the new “Surface Edition” AMD Ryzen processors, but basically, it boils down to this: The Surface Edition chips have more on-die computational and graphics cores than AMD will offer other PC partners, making this technically a custom core.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 Mark Hachman / IDG

The specs of each Surface Laptop 3 laptop in the testing area. Note the 20 percent larger trackpads, too.

We’d like to say that we noticed differences in each laptop's performance, but the reality is that we didn’t have time to do much with them. We'll have more to say if we're able to test the units. So far, though, we’re liking what we’ve seen—as long as it’s not our credit cards footing the bill.

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