Microsoft has given us more choices this year than ever with our Surface products. If you want a 2-in-1 tablet, you can now choose between a Surface Pro 7 or a Surface Pro X. If you want a traditional clamshell laptop, you can now choose between a 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 or a larger 15-inch model. I have already discussed the latest Laptop 3, so in this review I focus on the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3.
The $ 999 ($ 1,599, as tested) 13.5-inch model is the more "traditional" Laptop 3, and I think this should be the majority of people considering buying one. It has an excellent keyboard and trackpad; a sharp, clear touchscreen; a sleek design and a sturdy construction; and excellent performance for daily productivity tasks, that is what you are probably using a 13-inch laptop for.
However, the Laptop 3 is not flawless and you can get better battery life and port selection from other 13-inch Windows laptops, such as Dell & # 39; s XPS 13 or HP & # 39; s Specter X360. It also has an occasional bug that causes things to get confused until the laptop shuts down and restarts. But if those things are not a deal break for you, the Laptop 3 is an excellent, traditional Windows 10 laptop.
Microsoft did not change much with the external design of the Laptop 3 compared to the earlier models – it is still an aluminum clamshell laptop with a slightly clamped shape that can easily be slid into a shoulder bag. The 13.5-inch model weighs 2.89 pounds, which places it between the 2.75 pounds of the MacBook Air and the three pounds of the MacBook Pro. It is not the lightest 13-inch laptop that you can get, but it is certainly not cumbersome.
However, there are two noticeable changes to the design. First, the Alcantara fabric deck that is the signature of the Surface Laptop line is now optional, depending on the color you get. It is present on the silver and blue models, but is being replaced by a much more traditional aluminum keyboard on the gold and black models.
I have tested the gold version (which Microsoft & # 39; sandstone & # 39; calls, but I am a human, so I call it gold), which looks very nice and does not absorb fingerprints and fats like the black model does. However, I miss the Alcantara – the aluminum deck is nice, but it feels like any other aluminum laptop and does not have the soft feel that the Alcantara offers. But if you worry about the durability of the Alcantara, you now have an option to avoid it. (However, you have to pay at least $ 1,299 to get a different color, as the $ 999 basic model is only available in silver and comes with the Alcantara fabric.)
The other change that Microsoft made was to replace the old Mini DisplayPort with a USB-C port, which should probably be on the first version of the Surface Laptop in 2017. You can use the USB-C port to laptop (next to the Surface Connect port on the other side), connect an external display or use different USB-C accessories such as a hub. Unfortunately, it does not support Thunderbolt 3 speeds, so you are limited to USB-C 3.2 (10 Gbps) devices and cannot use it with an external GPU, faster external SSD drives, or a Thunderbolt desktop dock. Most other laptops in this price and size class support Thunderbolt 3, so it is frustrating that the Laptop 3 is not.
Apart from the new USB-C port, the other I / O on the Laptop 3 is a single USB-A port, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and Microsoft & # 39; s own Surface Connector, which is connected with a 65 -watt charger that comes in the box.
Microsoft has done some work to make this generation easier to maintain and upgrade than previous Surface Laptop models, but that doesn't mean you can just open and upgrade the Laptop 3. The only part that can actually be exchanged is the SSD and Microsoft says it cannot be replaced by the user – you must take the Laptop 3 to an authorized service center to get the job done.
The 13.5-inch touchscreen is unchanged from previous models and retains the characteristic 3: 2 aspect ratio found on all Surface devices. It's clear and sharp, with good viewing angles and spicy colors, and I really like the bigger aspect for working in documents or reading websites. There is some letterboxing when I watch widescreen video & # 39; s in full screen, but for everything else that I do on a laptop, this aspect ratio is better than the traditional 16: 9 screen.
I also appreciate the fact that it is a touchscreen, even if it is not a 2-in-1 convertible and this is not the primary way I communicate with the laptop. Reaching casually up and tapping the screen is a convenience that I miss when using laptops that do not have touch screens.
One thing that bothered me during my test period is the erratic behavior of the automatic brightness function of the screen. It will randomly decrease the brightness of the screen from time to time to uncomfortable levels before increasing it again a few minutes later. This happens with the laptop in a stationary position and the lighting does not change.
Just like the 15-inch Laptop 3, the 13.5-inch model has an excellent keyboard, with excellent distance, travel and feedback. It is perhaps my favorite laptop keyboard that I have been using for a long time. Similarly, the trackpad, which is 20 percent larger than one on the Laptop 2, is smooth and easy to use, with great tracking and palm rejection. This combination of keyboard and trackpad is the best you can get in the Windows world and shows Apple how to do a laptop keyboard.
Inside, the 13.5-inch Laptop has 3 Intel & # 39; s latest 10th generation Ice Lake quad-core processors, with Core i5 or i7 options. I have tested the Core i7 model (i7-1065G7, to be precise) and it offers excellent performance for every productivity task you may want to achieve. It is also competent enough to handle Lightroom and Photoshop and has no problems with 4K video playback, as I saw with the AMD processor of the 15-inch model. (You can apply these performance results to the Intel version of the 15-inch model that Microsoft sells to companies because it uses the same processor as the 13.5-inch model.)
In fact, the 13.5-inch model was substantial more capable then the 15-inch version when it came to exporting a 5-minute, 33-second 4K H.264 video from Adobe Premiere Pro. The 13.5 was able to chew and threw that job in just 15 minutes and 26 seconds, compared to the more than 3 hours the 15 would have cost. That is even faster than an older 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2016 with a special graphics card. I would not recommend the Laptop 3 as a gaming machine or a hardcore video editing workstation – this is, after all, a thin and light computer – but if you need some video editing on it, it certainly is.
The battery life, on the other hand, is less than fantastic. In my daily workload test, where the screen is set to 50 percent brightness and juggled between dozens of browser tabs, Slack, e-mail, Word, Twitter and other productivity apps, I get about seven hours between costs on the Laptop 3. That's better than the times of less than six hours that I saw on the 15-inch model (iFixit was aborted says that both the 13.5 and 15-inch versions have the same battery capacity), but it is far from leading and short of a full workday.
The Laptop 3 has a new fast-charge feature, which Microsoft says he can charge the laptop up to 80 percent from anything in less than an hour. My tests are in line with that – I had gone from death to 39 percent in 30 minutes of charging. But the fast charge function only works if the laptop is closed and asleep – you will not get high charging speeds while using the machine.
Finally, since this is a Surface device, countless weird bugs have come and gone during my test period. I have already mentioned the automatic brightness display of the screen, but I have also seen that the battery is running low, the fans have risen to 100 percent during charging and the trackpad stops randomly scrolling in apps. Most of these bugs disappear after the laptop has been completely shut down and restarted, but they are all frustrating to experience in the first week of using a brand new laptop. Microsoft usually updates its Surface devices regularly with bug fixes and patches, so hopefully things will be settled in a few months, but at the moment the experience of the Laptop 3 can be unexpected.
Apart from those annoying bugs and the just fine battery life, the Laptop 3 13.5 is a very good laptop, and I think most people looking for a premium Windows 10 computer will be very happy with it. It has no nagware or bloatware that is so common on HP, Dell, and Lenovo machines, and it simply has the best keyboard you can get on a laptop. The Surface Laptop is not cheap and you pay for those nice things, but for the most part it is worth it.
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