While it seemed Microsoft skipped a beat when it launched the new Surface Pro and a new laptop, but we now have what, on paper, is the most powerful Surface yet: The Surface Book 3.
We’ve spent the last week with a pretty powerful 15-inch version (it also comes in a 13-inch version) that comes with 512GB of storage, a 10th Gen. Intel Core i7 processor with 32GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce 1660 Ti with 6GBs of RAM.
All that is nearly top of the line, minus the storage, for $2,799. So let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of the Book 3 and see what that all means.
Industrial and detachable
If you’ve never seen a Surface Book, you know it’s in its own class when it comes to product design, sticking out from other 2-in-1s, and especially other laptops. Iit looks like a laptop by default, but its large, almost spiral hinge has a unique bend. The detachable screen includes most of the internals, so it’s top heavy to a degree.
The hinge is like a spiral with different links that can turn in when you want to close the laptop, or open to use the laptop at a normal 90-degree angle. When you close it, the hinges come together to form a “C,” which leaves quite a bit of space. Durability is a concern as stuff can very easily slide into the wide gap. When carrying it in a backpack or sleeve, dirt, keys and coins could potentially get in and scratch the display.
It’s also entirely made out of magnesium, so the 15-inch is a big machine. It’s also pretty thick, at 0.90 inches at the thickest point.
Opening the laptop reveals sizable bezels around the display, a large keyboard and a tiny trackpad. Since the unique hinge expands, it pushes the screen farther away from you. You’re also limited as to how far back you can push the display.
The magnesium frame is slightly puffed up on the inside as well, with a noticeable incline from the side edges moving toward the mainframe. It’s comfortable for your palms and aids in giving the Surface Book 3 keyboard an ample amount of travel.
It only shifts into an upward-facing gear around the top left and right side of the keyboard. The bottom has a noticeable slope, so ergonomically, this feels super high-end all around.
The keyboard provides a punchy experience with a familiar layout. You have decent space between the keys and rows. The keys have a nice recoil to them and make an audible clack when pressed. There’s a solid bounce, or recoil, on the Book 3, and we find it to be nearly on par with our current favorite, Apple’s Magic Keyboard. It’s also easy enough to hold down a function key with the FN key to engage a certain task. There’s also basically no latency when pressing in a key, even in high performance tasks.
After such a great typing experience, we were a bummed with the trackpad. It’s downright cramped and doesn’t make good use of space. They could have easily expanded it to the left and right with plenty of room to spare. It’s especially cramped in gaming and creative tasks, but also when working in a CMS that requires dragging elements. You might run out of room pretty fast. That likely won’t be a deal breaker for everyone, but we feel Microsoft could have cast a much wider net by opting for a larger trackpad..
Circling back to the 15-inch display, it’s a joy to use. As with most Microsoft displays, it’s set in a 3:2 ratio for more height with any given webpage. It also makes it optimal for multitasking in a true split screen: one app on the left, one on the right.
You also don’t end up sacrificing quality for this ratio. It comes out to a full 3420×2160 resolution with 260 pixels per inch, which is quite sharp and does a nice job producing accurate colors. When watching films, notably action movies, it doesn’t increase the saturation to an annoying degree.
A tablet and a laptop
When looking at the keyboard layout on the Surface Book 3, your eyes will likely be drawn to a key on the far right side, second from the end. It’s an upward facing arrow inside a screen. You’ll need to click this to detach the display. It’s not the most magical experience, so you’ll need to use some strength.
We used the Surface Book 3, along with the Surface Pen, with Adobe Illustrator, made precise edits in Photoshop and even felt comfortable taking notes with it while on a Zoom call. The even, thick bezel around the display gives you ample room to hold the tablet.
You get access to most of the processing power in tablet mode, although it’s strictly Intel, which means longer load render times.
You can dock the tablet facing the other way, which works super well for graphic design, as you get access to the full processing power. You can use the Pen and get into the nitty gritty of design. In this case, the hinge also unlocks itself to let the display sit on the bottom. It also locks the keys, so you don’t have any mistaken keystrokes.
When docked in the base and used in normal laptop mode, you get full access to all the hardware and processing power that you paid for. And if you run into the issue with it not recognizing the GPU, you can either wait it out (from our experience) or restart the machine. With basic productivity tasks, web browsing and CMS work, it runs quite well.
As we do with every Underscored review, we ran the Surface Book 3 through a series of benchmarks on GeekBench 5, our standard benchmarking process. The Surface Book 3 is a cool, quiet machine when gaming, editing photos, rendering video, and ultimately, when running tests. It scored a 1,264 on single-core and a 3,296 multi-core, which is good, but not the most powerful scores we’ve seen. For instance, the higher-end 13-inch MacBook Pro scored 1,121 on single and 4,172 on multicore.
And there are no complaints about battery life. The Surface Book 3 is more than capable of lasting a work day with enough juice left for a game or two. The Surface Book 3 has two battery cells: one in the display and one in the base. So for the longest battery life, you’ll want to dock it. We also put the Surface Book 3 through the Underscored Battery Test, in which we turn on Airplane mode and loop a video at 50% brightness. It lasted 6 hours, 51 minutes.
Overall, the Surface Book 3 pushes the unique laptop and tablet combo forward. It’s a step in the right direction for hardware, as it gives you power with minimal fan usage. We wish, though, for the steep price, that Microsoft would have slimmed the design and made it feel like a 2020 product.
Yes, it still works well, but with the third generation, we wanted to see it freshened with slimmer bezels, a bigger trackpad, and frankly, a nicer hinge.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.