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Surface Laptop 3 Hands-on Review: The MacBook Air Should Be Nervous

Faster, cheaper, better keyboard and faster charging

Meet the laptop that should have the MacBook Air scared.
(Image: © Future)

For

  • Sleek aluminum design option
  • Brighter displays
  • Fast 10th-gen Intel performance
  • 15-incher has AMD graphics
  • Comfy keyboards
  • Easy to access components

Against

  • Bezels are thick
  • 15-inch model could use more ports

The MacBook Air suddenly looks a lot less attractive. Microsoft has unveiled the Surface Laptop 3, which features 10th generation Intel processors, a machined aluminum chassis and a new modular design that will make it easier to repair and upgrade.

The Surface Laptop 3 will be will come in both 13.5 and 15-inch screen sizes, the 15-inch model has a custom AMD Ryzen graphics chip for a very affordable price. Other highlights include comfy keyboards with good travel and long battery life.

Here's our hands-on impressions of both machines so far.

Surface Laptop 3 pricing and availability

Both the 13.5 and 15-inch models of the Surface Laptop 3 are available for preorder, with the 13-inch model starting at $999, and the 15-inch model starting at $1,199. Both will ship on October 22.

Surface Laptop 3 specs: 13 inch vs 15 inch

Model Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13-inch) Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (15-inch)
Starting Price$999$1,199
Display (Resolution)13.5-inch touchscreen (2256 x 1504)15-inch touchscreeen (2496 x 1664)
CPUIntel Core i5-1035G7, Core i7-1065G7AMD Ryzen 5 3580U, Ryzen 7 3780U, Intel Core i5-1035G7, Core i7-1065G7
RAM8GB, 16GB8GB, 16GB, 32GB (AMD only)
GraphicsIris Plus 950Iris Plus 950 (Intel), Radeon Vega 9, 11 (AMD)
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB128GB, 256GB, 512GB
PortsUSB Type-C, USB Type-A, 3.5mm headphone jack, Surface Connect portUSB Type-C, USB Type-A, 3.5mm headphone jack, Surface Connect port
Rated Battery LifeUp to 11.5 hoursUp to 11.5 hours
Size12.1 x 8.8 x 0.57 inches13.4 x 9.6 x 0.57 inches
Weight2.76-2.89 pounds3.4 pounds

Surface Laptop 3 design and upgradability

Surface Laptop 3 closed

(Image credit: Future)

Like the Surface Laptop 2, the Surface Laptop 3 has an alcantara keyboard deck. But you can also choose from an all-aluminum design. We especially dig the new sandstone color in metal.

For commercial customers, Microsoft made a few changes to the design, making it more easier for IT departments and third-party shops to repair units. For starters, the keyboard deck pops off simply (but you need some tools), exposing the components underneath, such as the removable hard drive. 

Microsoft paid a lot of attention to detail with the design of the Surface Laptop 3. For instance, it gave each system a very slight "overbite" between the top and bottom to make the laptops easy to open with one finger, without having to carve out a scoop into the deck. I had no problems opening the lid.

Both the 13-inch and 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 are plenty light. The 13-inch model weighs 2.7 pounds, while the 15-inch version is a very manageable 3.4 pounds.

Surface Laptop 3 ports

Surface Laptop 3 ports

(Image credit: Future)

Both versions of the Surface Laptop 3 feature a full-size USB-A port, which is good for plugging in older peripherals. And you also get a USB-C port for modern accessories. The right side houses the charging connector. 

My problem is that the 15-inch chassis has the same number of ports than the 13-inch model, and I would expect more options with a bigger laptop.

Surface Laptop 3 display

The Surface Laptop 3 comes with a 13-inch display with 2256 x 1504 pixels and the 15-inch model offers a resolution of 2496 x 1664. More important, Microsoft says that it has made the panels brighter than the Surface Laptop 2's LCD pane, while reducing the power consumption.

The displays looked colorful up close without too much glare, but I wish Microsoft had done more to reduce the bezels. These systems look a bit dated compared to other premium Windows laptops.

Surface Laptop 3 keyboard and touchpad

surface laptop 3 keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

You're going to like the typing experience on the Surface Laptop 3. Not only is there a pretty good 1.3mm of travel, I found typing to be bouncy and comfortable when I started typing in a Word doc. Yes, I've grown accustomed to Apple's flat butterfly keys, but I still don't like them.

The Surface Laptop also benefits from a touchpad that's now 20% larger. During my limited hands-on time I found the trackpads to be smooth and accurate.

Surface Laptop 3 performance

surface laptop 3 13 inch and 15 inch

(Image credit: Future)

The 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 is powered by a Quad core Intel 10th-generation processor, which Microsoft says is three times faster than the MacBook Air. It's paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage to start. You also get Intel Iris 950 graphics.

The 15-inch version of the Surface Laptop 3 steps things up to to an AMD Ryzen 5 3580U CPU and AMD Radeon Vega 9 or Vega 11 GPU. The latter GPU provides the fastest graphics performance of any laptop in its class, according to Microsoft. 

Surface Laptop 3 battery life and charging

Both versions of the Surface Laptop 3 should last you through most of the day on a charge. The 13-inch and 15-inch versions are both rated for 11.5 hours of battery life. We will put these claims to the test using our web surfing battery test.

When it's time to juice back up, you should be able to get to 80 percent in a little under an hour using the Surface Pro 3's fast charging capability.

Outlook

Surface Laptop 3 stacked

(Image credit: Future)

The Surface Pro 3 doesn't have the slim bezels of the XPS 13, but it should give the MacBook Air a run for its money in terms of performance, battery life and especially typing comfort. It's also nice to see Microsoft embrace USB-C and offer an easier way to upgrade components and service its systems.

The $1,199 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 has a lot of potential, too, and we're very curious to see how the AMD graphics chip can handle serious workloads and games. I just wish Microsoft included another USB-C port.

We will have our full rated review of the Surface Laptop 3 as soon as possible.