"The Surface Book 3 is not for everyone, but it is a unique laptop that is a pleasure to use."
Unique 2-in-1 design
Large, sharp display
Great video editing performance
Limited processor performance
Reduced battery life
The Surface line has never been known for its performance. They are devices to be held, played and drawn. The performance is not a weakness, but for most Surface devices it is in second place behind the design.
That was a problem for the Surface Book. It is the only Surface product that Microsoft often calls "powerful" – especially for the large 15-inch model.
The latest version, the Surface Book 3, doubles this performance promise with better graphics via the Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti and updated Intel processors. But don't be fooled – the Surface Book 3 still doesn't have the heart of a real workstation laptop. Does that hold you back?
Performance is the only major change in the new surface book. So let's start there. The Surface Book 3 extends its processor and GPU to the latest Intel or Nvidia silicon. In this case, it is the 10th generation Intel Core Ice Lake processors and the Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti. My test device came with a Core i7, 16 GB RAM and a 1 TB SSD.
The CPU performance alone is not impressive for such a large device. There is one main reason for this: The same 15-watt chip is used that is also used in small laptops such as Dell XPS 13, Surface Laptop 3 and HP Specter x360 13. This is important. Not only is this less power than the CPUs in most 15-inch laptops, but there are only four processor cores available. The Dell XPS 15, ThinkPad X1 Extreme and 16-inch MacBook Pro all have up to eight cores.
The difference in the number of cores makes a massive difference in performance. If you add four cores with a laptop like the Dell XPS 15, the Cinebench R20 multi-core test scores 53% better than the Surface Book 3.
The 15-inch Surface Book 3 has an ace up its sleeve. Graphic.
It's not that Microsoft is deliberately limiting performance. The Surface Book 3 must contain most of its components – CPU, memory and more – in its tablet section. Everything sits behind the screen, like an iPad or a Surface Pro. As much as I want Microsoft to do technical magic and use a 45-watt processor, there are limitations that are inherent in this design.
But the 15-inch Surface Book 3 has an ace up its sleeve: graphics. It now uses the Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti and is available in all configurations. And as we'll see, the Surface Book 3 can use these graphics in a way that other laptops can't.
I loaded a 2 minute 4K video project into Adobe Premiere and started rendering the clip in ProRes 422. To my surprise, the Surface Book 3 completed the task in just 5 minutes and 25 seconds. This is really fast. Despite four additional cores, the XPS 15 only beat 30 seconds in the same rendering test. Options like the MacBook Pro or the Razer Blade aren't even that fast.
The Surface Book 3 can maximize the load on its CPU and GPU in many places during the entire rendering time. The system can transfer the additional load on the processor to the graphics card. This is not possible with a standard laptop, in which these hot components are all housed in the same housing. The Surface Book 3 has the graphics card in the base, while the CPU and other components are behind the screen.
Ironic, isn't it? The same reason why the Surface Book 3 is processor-controlled also gives the graphics card so much room to breathe. The only catch (and it's a big one) is the fact that this only applies to software that the GPU can use. Demanding software that the GPU cannot use does not benefit from the boost it can offer.
Of course, a powerful graphics card has other uses. Although the Surface Book 3 is anything but a gaming laptop, it surprised me with its gaming chops.
3DMark's time spy test increased 33% over the Surface Book 2, which used the GTX 1060. While a laptop like the XPS 15 has a much more powerful processor, the GTX 1660 Ti helps make the Surface Book 3 a better laptop. With a resolution of 1080p and graphics at Ultra, Battlefield V played at a speed of 60 frames per second. It doesn't make much sense to go beyond that because the Surface Book 3's display is updated at 60 Hz.
The Surface Book 3 was particularly impressive in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, a tough game that challenges even high-performance gaming PCs. While the game was almost not playable on the XPS 15, the Surface Book 3 can process it at an average of 48 frames per second even at extremely high settings. Microsoft even fixed the battery issue that prevented the Surface Book 2 from charging while playing.
Not all applications are ready to use the GPU in this way. You're not as lucky in Lightroom, and even video encoding software like Handbrake is limited to the CPU. The surface book 3 is painfully slow in these situations. Even smaller laptops such as the Dell XPS 13 and the MacBook Pro 13-inch are making their mark in video coding thanks to better thermals or processors with higher performance.
Yes, the Surface Book 3 can be a powerful laptop depending on the task. It's a surprisingly powerful video editing device and even a decent gaming laptop when you need it.
Surface book 3 as a tablet
The Surface Book 3 remains an adventurous design for Microsoft too.
It is a 2-in-1 device like the Surface Pro, except that the screen is attached directly to the "dynamic pivot hinge" at the base. With a surprisingly close connection, the tablet part is plugged into the base to create a laptop experience with very few compromises.
The tablet can be removed relatively easily by pressing a function key. You can even reattach the tablet backwards so that it can be used for presentations or watching videos. It's an intuitive alternative to using stands or magnets to hold up the screen.
The new Surface Book 3 works just like the original launched four years ago.
However, I miss the tablet stand. I often use tablets in the kitchen when cooking or cleaning, for which both the Surface Pro and the iPad are good. There is no way to support the Surface Book 3 without reattaching it to the large base. The lack of an adjustable stand also makes writing on the tablet a bit awkward. It is most convenient to turn the keyboard backwards.
In the era of the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard, the Surface Book 3 solution isn't the only game in town. Despite the emphasis Microsoft places on the experimental design of its products, the new Surface Book 3 works just like the original launched four years ago.
The software also feels frozen in time. Windows 10 is still lacking a robust, touchable app ecosystem and meaningful gesture support so that tablet mode feels anything but complementary. This is more forgivable here than on the Surface Pro, but it rains on the parade of the impressive tablet hardware.
The tablet itself only weighs 1.8 pounds, which is slightly heavier than the 1.4-pound iPad Pro (12.9-inch). The Surface Book 3's total weight is a hefty 4.2 pounds, but for its size, the tablet feels remarkably light.
It's easy enough to hold a clipboard in one hand and use it with your Surface Pen, or to scroll the web while lounging on the couch. Unfortunately, the pen is not included and was not included in my test device.
Battery life is the main problem in tablet mode. Only part of the battery is available in tablet mode because the battery is split between the tablet and the keyboard dock. You can only expect a few hours of battery life from the tablet alone – long enough to watch a movie in bed, but not much more.
The Surface Book 3 as a laptop
The Surface Book 3 is more than the Surface Pro and should be a laptop experience.
The blunt hinge is not noticeable when the laptop is open, but it makes the device thicker. At the thickest point it is 0.90 inches. That's a lot of pressure in many backpacks. Otherwise, it's a robust, exceptionally well-built laptop. Just think about the size before buying.
Like all Surface products, the Surface Book 3 also has a first-class keyboard and a touchpad. Because the keycaps are located above the keyboard deck, it is an extremely tactile keyboard that mimics an external keyboard more than most laptop keyboards. If you miss that click feeling on modern laptops, you'll love typing in Surface Book 3.
If you are not a professional photo editor, you will enjoy this large, crisp display to the fullest.
The same applies to the glass touchpad, which has a quiet click mechanism and precise tracking. The touchpad is big enough, although I would like to see it expanded. The MacBook Pro 16 has a larger trackpad, and even the new Dell XPS 15 has expanded in size to take advantage of every millimeter of available space. There's no reason the Surface Book 3 couldn't be bigger.
The speakers are not in the base of the laptop, but in the tablet itself. This ensures good positioning as they point directly at your ears. However, they are not the loudest or booming speakers in the world to watch movies.
You will definitely not complain about the ultra-sharp 3240 x 2160 display. It is a beautiful, high-contrast screen. As long as you stick to the sRGB color mode, it is even color accurate. It's not bright enough to compete with the MacBook Pro, and the color gamut isn't wide enough either. However, for anything other than professional photo editing, you'll enjoy this large, crisp display.
Since the case hasn't changed in four years, the Surface Book 3 gets stuck on an older set of ports: two USB-A ports, a full-size SD card slot, the Surface Connect dock for power, and a USB -C connector. The lack of Thunderbolt 3 is a blatant omission. Microsoft continues to avoid the powerful, super-fast port technology that almost all competitors use. Since Dell switches to four Thunderbolt 3 ports on its XPS 15 and XPS 17, the options of the Surface Book 3 are a bit outdated.
Battery life is an integral part of the laptop experience, and the Surface Book 2 was a record holder. Thanks to its two batteries – one behind the screen and one in the base – it took 20 hours of local video playback. The Surface Book 3 still has a whopping 82 watt hours of juice, and yet battery life has been reduced by more than 50% in some tests.
Local video playback takes 13 hours and 42 minutes, while moderate internet surfing is closer to 8.5 hours. It takes me through the working day, but the huge reduction is pretty disappointing. I suspect a firmware update might fix the problem, but Microsoft has not yet responded with an explanation.
After all, the price of the Surface Book 3 cannot be overlooked. The 15-inch model costs a whopping $ 2,400, but only has 256 GB of SSD storage. Even the expensive 16-inch MacBook Pro offers twice as much storage space for the same price. If you're more expensive than a brand that most already criticize as overpriced, you're in trouble.
The only way to add more space to the Surface Book 3 is to spend an additional $ 400, which also gives you up to 32 GB of RAM. Due to the limited configuration, it is difficult to customize the Surface Book 3 exactly as you want it.
The Microsoft Surface Book 3 remains a niche laptop, especially in its 15-inch form. The price is insane and the mediocre processor limits the type of work it excels at. However, the impressive graphics performance makes the Surface Book 3 a solid video editing and gaming machine. However, the unique design remains its main attraction
Are there alternatives?
The closest alternative to the Surface Book 3 are the other Surface products like Surface Pro 7, Surface Pro X or Surface Laptop 3. The Surface Laptop 3 is the only one that is also available in this size, although it doesn't offer a discrete product graphics option.
If you can give up the tablet experience, the Dell XPS 15- and 16-inch MacBook Pro offer better processor performance. The XPS is also a lot cheaper.
How long it will take?
The Surface Book 3 should last longer than a few years. Due to its unique design, you cannot update the memory or memory yourself. The Surface Book 3 offers a 60-day return policy and one year of in-store technical support if you live near a Microsoft Store. The guarantee is a standard one-year fixed-term contract.
Should you buy it
Yes. Thanks to some powerful graphics, the Surface Book 3 is by far the most powerful Surface device ever made.