Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch) review

The Surface Laptop 3 isn’t quite the exciting new laptop we were all hoping for. It comes with the introduction of the new AMD Ryzen Surface Edition CPU, a collaboration between AMD and Microsoft. And, as Microsoft’s first flagship laptop that’s rocking the new AMD Ryzen Surface Edition CPU, it should have been an exceptional new offering. 

Sadly, this signal for a potential sea change from laptops with traditional Intel offerings fell a bit flat. Beyond delivering the best battery life we’ve seen on this popular line, the Surface Laptop 3 feels a bit underwhelming, especially next to the versatility and power that many of its rivals are offering.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t bother upgrading to the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3? Not necessarily. It does have its place in the notebook world, one in which a larger screen real estate and a fantastic battery life are valued more than anything else. 

Microsoft has set a rather reasonable amount to purchase its new 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 device: $100 or £100 less than the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro. That’s impressive pricing.

For that price, you’re getting far better graphics and computing power, not to mention a larger and sharper screen – the latter of which is the same across all configurations. Still, this price comparison starts to break down when you consider available ports and other features, particularly against competing 15-inch laptops. Here’s how all of the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 configurations shake out:

  • Ryzen 5 3580U (8GB, 128GB) – $1,199/£1,199/AU$1,999
  • Ryzen 5 3580U (8GB, 256GB) – $1,499/£1,469/AU$2,499
  • Ryzen 5 3580U (16GB, 256GB) – $1,699/£1,699/AU$2,799
  • Ryzen 7 3780U (16GB, 512GB) – $2,099/£2,049/AU$3,449

This is not bad pricing at all when you take into consideration that even the most expensive 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 costs less than the starting 15-inch MacBook Pro at $2,399. But, it should be immediately clear why this pricing is possible, and to be honest we think it should be even more aggressive given what Microsoft’s 15-inch laptop fails to offer.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro provides up to four Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 gives just one USB-C port that is not Thunderbolt 3 compatible, an arguably ancient USB-A 3.0 port – and that’s it. The 15-inch MacBook Pro features top-firing speakers, while the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is equipped with bottom firing ones. Finally, the 15-inch MacBook Pro uses dedicated AMD graphics processors (GPUs), while the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 uses embedded AMD graphics on a Ryzen processor (CPU).

So, with that perspective in mind, it shouldn’t be all that unexpected that the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is much more affordable than the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Truthfully, considering that the laptop’s design basically just enlarges the existing 13.5-inch Surface Laptop, we feel as if it should be even cheaper than it is.

Being a new frontier for Microsoft, using an AMD processor within a flagship product, it was a bit up in the air how the laptop’s performance would turn out. Well, we’re excited to say that Surface Laptop 3 knocks it out of the park in this department – for an Ultrabook.

This is a device that will be more than able for both basic computing tasks as well as more intense ones, like photo editing and graphic design work. It’s also a powerhouse for playing video, if you can get past the extra-large black bars on 16:9 or 21:9 content.

And, judging by the numbers here, the Surface Laptop 3 will be able to run plenty of games at 1080p resolution. But, again, the 3:2 screen ratio doesn’t do it any favors in terms of how those games will render on screen, either stretching the game image or wrapping it in – you guessed it – black bars.

Comparing this 12-nanometer (nm) chip to the 10nm Intel Core i5 that comes with the Surface Pro 7, the Ryzen CPU isn’t quite as strong in either single- or- multi-core performance. However, whereas the Pro 7 wasn’t even able to run the 3DMark tests, this laptop all but trounced them. It’s nowhere near as strong as even the weakest dedicated mobile GPUs available today, but will be more than ready for basic gaming at 1080p.

Still, for what Microsoft is charging at the mid-range and above, we’d expect better graphics performance from the Surface Laptop 3. After all, you can get a Dell XPS 15 with more powerful dedicated graphics – and the same amount of storage and memory – for the same price or less.

Again, like any Surface product these days, the Surface Laptop 3 isn’t chock-full of features, nor does it have many key pieces of software to cover, which has its ups and downs. The biggest upside here is that this is a 100% clean Windows 10 install coming directly from Microsoft.

And, as we have on so many Surface devices before, we enjoy the Windows Hello facial recognition, which uses an infrared camera next to its webcam. Getting into the Surface Laptop 3 interface with this feature is as fast as it has been for years now on Surface products, allowing you to start securely using it immediately.

Unfortunately, there is really little else in terms of marquee features or software. This laptop doesn’t offer anything much more than what competing Windows laptops do. This includes the Your Phone feature, which syncs up your Android phone with Windows 10 to display and respond to text messages, edit calendar entries or even take calls.

We’re not sure what more we’d expect from such a laptop, maybe a longer trial for Microsoft’s suite of Office apps and OneDrive storage than a paltry 30 days. Regardless, the Surface Laptop 3 suffers a bit in comparison to its partners’ own Windows laptops, not to mention MacBooks that offer an entire productivity suite for free.

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