Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (13.5-inch) review: Sleek and sophisticated

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We’ve got a lot of love for the Microsoft Surface Laptop. Indeed, both the original and second-generation models won the Best Laptop category in their respective Pocket-lint Awards. No pressure for the Surface Laptop 3 then, eh?

  • Which is the best Microsoft Surface laptop or tablet for you?

The third-gen laptop is more a nip and tuck take on the previous generation, bringing more power, a larger trackpad, and finally adding a USB-C port (but not at Thunderbolt 3 speeds, which seems odd). There’s also a larger 15-inch model available, but we’re reviewing the standard 13.5-inch model here.  

Design & Connectivity

  • Dimensions: 308 x 223 x 14.51mm / Weight: 1.25kg
  • Finishes: Sandstone, Black, Cobalt Blue, Platinum
    • Alcantara on Cobalt Blue & Platinum
    • Metal (aluminium) on other finishes
  • Ports: 1x USB-A, 1x USB-C, 1x 3.5mm jack
  • Power: proprietary Surface Connector
  • Full-size keyboard (1.3mm key travel)
  • Trackpad 20% larger than previous
  • Windows 10 Home

The design of the Surface Laptop 3 is sleek and standout – especially in this black finish (which first appeared for the second-gen model). There are lots of finish options – you’ll see Sandstone as gold and Platinum as silver, really – with the Cobalt Blue and Platinum options retaining the Alcantara microfabric-finished interior keyboard wrist rest, which is both comfortable and eye-catching.

The Laptop 3 has boosted the trackpad size by 20 per cent compared to the second-gen model, which is a welcome adjustment. Large trackpads are king and it’s very on trend for 2020. The keyboard above makes for comfortable typing over long periods, with the 1.3mm key travel ample to get decent feedback.

Most important to the design, however, is the addition of a USB-C port to the side. This joints the full-size USB-A port. But other than a 3.5mm headphone jack that’s your lot – and for a laptop such as this we think more ports would make a lot of sense. Oh, and an additional downside: the USB-C isn’t capable of Thunderbolt 3 speeds, for whatever reason, which is a disappointment.

On the opposite side to those ports is a small opening, but it’s not an SD card slot, it’s Microsoft’s Surface Connector – which is used for power. We like that it doesn’t use up a port, like so many other laptops do, but at the same time we’d much rather it was a second USB-C port – so you had the choice of how to use it. Really this proprietary connection isn’t a great idea any more – although as it magnetically connects, you won’t drag the laptop off the side of a desk should you walk into the cable by accident.

Surface Laptop 3 review (13.5in): Sleek and sophisticated

On the software front the Laptop 3 has Windows 10 Home as standard out of the box. Gone is the more limited Windows 10 S install of the very first Surface Laptop. So there’s no limit to application file installs here, which is great news for productivity – if you want full-fat Photoshop then you can have it (well, if you can afford to pay for it).

Display & Stylus

  • 13.5-inch ‘PixelSense’ touchscreen display
    • 2256 x 1504 resolution
    • 3:2 aspect ratio LCD
    • Gorilla Glass
  • Works with Surface Pen (sold separately)

The Surface Laptop 3’s ‘PixelSense’ display is unchanged from the original and second-gen model’s displays. But as the saying goes: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

That means the Surface family trait of having a 3:2 aspect ratio screen – rather than the 16:9 ratio you see in many other places – still takes pride of place. We think this is great, as it works well for document-based work, but is less designed for widescreen multimedia use. That ratio is also why this is a 13.5-inch screen on the diagonal, not a 13.3-inch one – as is typical in the competition.

The panel is high resolution and has excellent colour and contrast. No, it’s not quite as pixel-dense as the new MacBook Air’s panel, but it’d be splitting hairs to suggest it would actually makes a genuine difference in use between either device.

Like in the Surface Pro, the Laptop 3 uses a slightly reflective coating which is its only notable display drawback. It’s not mirror-like in its reflective qualities, but you’ll catch a glimpse of your own face more often than not when there’s surrounding daylight sources. Fortunately there’s ample brightness to cut through any potential issue this could cause when using the Laptop 3 outside. This has always been a criticism we’ve had throughout the Surface Laptop’s three generations, though, so it’s a shame it’s not been addressed yet.

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