The 15-inch Surface Book 3 is so great that it forgot to be good - a review

surface book 3 15 review

I enjoyed working on this computer. Whatever I may indicate, it is significantly above my needs and expectations. Surface Book 3 is great. Provided you forget how much it actually costs.

Surface Book is easy to stand out. It is one of a kind and has no real competition. There are only some substitutes. However, this is a device that will eventually replace us with a notebook. And although the form of Surface Book 3 resembles a classic laptop at first glance, it is so difficult to escape comparisons with just this type of equipment.

The uniqueness of the Surface Book comes at the moment when we press the button illuminated by a small LED on the keyboard. Then the components under the display signal those under the keyboard that they are no longer needed. In about 1.5 seconds from pressing this button from the computer we can detach the display - and use it as a tablet.

This design is fundamentally different from other hybrid laptops. Surface Pro and others like it hide all components under the display, only the keyboard is detachable. Surface Book, however, hides much more under the buttons: additional graphics and battery. That's why you have to wait a moment to unhook the display.

But is this screen detachment worth anything? Especially on such a large computer as the 15-inch Surface Book 3?

The computer I rented for testing included top-shelf components. Performance is supported by the Core i7-1065G7 processor with 16 GB 3733 MHz LPDDR4x RAM (version with 32 GB is also available) and 256-gigabyte PCIe SSD memory (versions with 512 GB and 1024 GB are also available). The work of the card embedded in the processor is taken over by the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Max-Q graphics chip and 6 GB of GDDR6 graphics memory - but only when the display is connected to the docking station.

Intel components instead of Marvell are responsible for wireless connectivity, which is supposedly good news. Apparently, the arrangements of the current partner did not work well, as the Surface community has repeatedly written on relevant forums and subreddits. The new computer is compatible with Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax, Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 and Xbox Wireless signals.

The computer measures 343 mm x 251 mm x 23 mm (in the thinnest place 15 mm - due to the unusual hinge the computer body is not shapely) and weighs just over 1.9 kg. So, this machine is not the lightest and most bulky, but we do not expect it from an efficient workstation with such a large display.

Speaking of the display, it works at a resolution of 3240 x 2160 pixels (260 PPI) with 10 multitouch points and stylus support, and a 1600: 1 contrast ratio. Of course, absolutely sensational (and strongly pushing the price of the device) 3: 2 proportions so well suited to Windows interfaces and dedicated software.

The equipment is completed by two USB-A 3.1 connectors, one USB-C 3.1 with USB PD 3.0, headphone jack, two Surface Connect ports and an SDXC memory card reader. Unfortunately, Microsoft still insists that the Thunderbolt 3 format is too poorly protected to be used on its computers. It is a pity, because possible fears - due to possible and very difficult vectors of attack - can only have selected corporate or institutional clients.

The consumer version of the computer is managed by Windows 10 Home. Unfortunately, not the Pro version, which is only available to B2B customers. I think this is a significant mistake: after all, the more expensive Windows is not only useful functions in companies, but also tools and environments useful for enthusiasts and developers with Hyper V at the forefront. The cheapest version of the 15-inch Surface Book 3 - the one I tested - it cost 11.3 thousand zł. The most expensive one costs 14.5 thousand. zł. I find shame about the virtual good, which is the Pro license, a shame.

Beauty Surface Booka 3 is a matter of taste. However, quality can be assessed objectively.

Subjectively, I like Surface Book 3. I am captivated by its simplicity. And although the design of this device is definitely not for everyone, it suits me especially. It's simple and clean. I enjoy looking at this computer.

I'm even more pleasant with him. Magnesium computer case gives the impression of extremely solid, and certainly the device is made with the highest attention to detail. Nothing sticks out, nothing moves, nothing bends. This is a unibody design, which unfortunately also means that the user does not have access to computer components. At least not without its damage.

Despite the solid configuration, the computer is also relatively light. 1.905 kg is, of course, much above the typical Ultrabook. However, in the context of 15-inch laptops with a touch screen and additional graphics - Surface Book 3 is one of the lighter devices.

Detaching the display from the base is very easy. Just press the dedicated button on the keyboard or icon in Windows, wait for the signal - and that's it. The whole takes about a second and although the process does not give the impression of something special, so switching live between graphics systems without a break in Windows work is a significant challenge. Hence the need to wait a moment - for the system to switch, or alert the user that the application is currently converting something to GeForce and that it must first be closed.

The display can be attached to the computer the other way round - for example, to watch a movie without a keyboard in front of the screen, but above all it can be used as a tablet. That is why the power, volume and headphone buttons are located in such strange places as for a laptop. Otherwise, Surface Book 3 would be an uncomfortable tablet.

For its size, the tablet is quite light. I was afraid that communing with a 15-inch touch panel would be an embarrassing activity, but in practice it turned out that after work I was eager to detach the display and browse the Internet with it. It is not the most bulky of tablets and it is convenient to rest it on something - on the thigh, knee or something, depending on the position in which we rest, but it definitely works.

The display was a miracle ... once. Now its main advantage is proportions.

Surfaces have always been proud of having great displays and that has never changed. What's more, only Microsoft and Huaweia computers use displays with a 3: 2 aspect ratio, thus providing an incomparably more comfortable workspace than classic cheaper widescreen displays for most applications. The difference is so great that when considering buying more computers, those with 16:10 displays, I don't even take into account.

It's also difficult to complain about the quality and brightness of the Surface Book 3 display. The image is sharp, bright (peak brightness of 410 nits) and readable. The whole looks great ... until we look at everything a little closer. Microsoft has not decided to support HDR in any form - unlike the competition. Color reproduction also leaves a bit to be desired: 97 percent sRGB, 72% AdobeRGB and 72 percent DCI-P3 are only good results. There are, however, better ones, including Microsoft's hardware partners.

The touch panel supports 10 touch points for fingers and 4096 pressure points for (sold separately) stylus. The computer has a PixelSense coprocessor dedicated to calculations related to the recognition of touch, which in practice eliminated any delays between the pen and the reaction of the software. In fact, it works flawlessly, making working with a stylus a pleasure ... for those who like working with that stylus. Personally, however, I am mouse-touch.

It is also not a computer that can boast of thin frames around the display. A partial excuse for this is the face recognition system located above the top edge of the display and compatible with Windows Hello. Works great and is a sensor that guarantees a high level of security. User authentication takes less than a second. The main justification for thick frames, however, is tablet mode: it makes it easier to grab the display.

The display also includes two stereo speakers without a subwoofer. They play well - in a proper and decent sense. Computers with four loudspeakers and a subwoofer provide a fuller sound, but for Spotify in the background they will work well enough.

There is no better laptop keyboard than the one in Surface Book 3. I don't know. There is no.

We'll be debating the advantages and disadvantages of Surface Book 3 in the summary of this review. However, I can already say that if someone asked me to indicate the most successful element of this computer, I would have no hesitation in pointing to its backlit keyboard. Although Surface Book 3 has different, more obvious advantages.

The buttons are arranged perfectly. They are covered with material that is not afraid of dirty and sweaty hands, ensuring no slip even after many hours of work. Their size is excellent, and above all a deep, 1.55-millimeter pitch with perfect elasticity. The computer keyboard is something that I pay special attention to - the computer I use to work, and I earn from writing texts. No Specter, ThinkPad, MacBook, Surface Laptop or XPS are washed into a Surface Book 3 keyboard. This is a computer created for writers and journalists.

The keyboard is accompanied by a very good trackpad between palmrests with an above-average surface. It is covered with glass and supports all Windows gestures. For mine it could be a bit bigger, but it's a bit a matter of taste. Even the most complex gesture combinations come out easily on Surface Book 3 trackpad. It is also as quiet as the keyboard itself.

Surface Book 3 is more than a Surface Laptop 3 with a detachable screen. Its advantage is to be performance. But ... is this really the case?

Surface Book 3 hybridity forced the main processor to be installed not in the base of the computer, where it is easy to cool, but under the display. Core i7-1065G7, to maintain the right temperatures, is therefore powered with 15 W, with an occasional boost of up to 25 W, if conditions and situation allow it.

As a result, the benchmark results look very interesting (results rounded after averaging from three sequentially performed tests):

  • Geekbench 5: 1.3k points / 4.5 thousand point
  • PCMark 10: 4.4 thousand point
  • Geekbench 4 CUDA: 233.5 thousand point
  • CrystalDiskMark: 2370 MB / s / 1500 MB / s

What exactly do these numbers mean? Well, that placing a processor in this place has its price. The XPS 13 computer with the same processor, located in the PCMark database, wriggles the result by 300 points higher. In turn, in Geekbench in the multithreaded conversion test MacBook Pro 16 with Core i9-9980H wrings a result higher by 2.1 thousand. points! I have been looking especially maliciously for the biggest differences between Book 3 and the competition, but I think my malice is justified. It's the fastest and most expensive Surface.

Let it be clear: these are very good results. Surface Book 3 will work well with complex programming projects, with Lightroom, Premiere Pro or other demanding apps. Let's not expect miracles though, it's a laptop, not a desktop. In addition, it achieves very good results in the graphics test (Geekbench 4 Miracles) and storage speed. In fact, it's great equipment in its class in terms of performance. Well, not the fastest. Dell, Apple, Asus and several other companies have something even faster with similar sizes and prices to offer.

I also checked several games quickly - including the demanding Doom Eternal. On the graphic settings "High" and the native resolution of the display I reached 60 fps without any problems, although the computer on this occasion also gave me to understand the fans turned on to the maximum that it was rather the peak of its capabilities. Nevertheless, a modern shooter in such resolution and with such fluidity is something that I did not expect from the Surface device. Players will also appreciate compatibility with Xbox Wireless, providing incomparably lower control delays than Bluetooth, more precise vibration and the ability to connect to a headset pad.

As part of my typical work on the computer - almost constantly open several dense scripted cards in the Edge browser, also using GeForce Photoshop, a text editor, often refreshing in the background Slack - after eight hours of work I usually started looking for a charger. Less than ten, if I did not find her, the computer was saying goodbye to me, informing about the discharge of the battery. This is a very good result. In addition, the fans are very quiet even at high speed, and the housing never gets unpleasant. Surface Book 3's work culture is exemplary - including when working under load.

I have a caveat only for battery maintenance mode. I cling very much, but in this computer I should cling to it. If we work on a stationary computer, i.e. without plans to disconnect it from the charger, we should not work on a fully charged battery - keeping it in this condition for a long time affects its lifetime. That is why in most high-end computers there is usually a flick somewhere that turns on operation from the mains power after charging the battery to 40-60 percent. In Surface Book 3 this flick is ... in UEFI settings. That is, you need to restart the computer, enter the menu that the normal user should not look into, switch the mode and restart it again. I am not kidding.

Surface Book 3 is absolutely unrivaled device. He is undoubtedly helped by the fact that he is also one of a kind.

I recently talked about the product with one of the people responsible for its promotion in Microsoft Poland. Our conversation looked something like this:

- But do you know that the fastest MacBook is faster than the fastest Surface Book?
-And the screen off him?
-No no, don't unhook. But Dell XPS keeps it on the battery for longer, so you don't torment yourself with Apples
- Yes, fact. But there is no detachable screen

Well, that representative is right. In Surface Book 3 15 assessment, it is undoubtedly important how much we need a tablet. If at least a bit - it is undoubtedly unrivaled equipment, if only because this competition does not exist. As I mentioned above in the text, I repeatedly (although certainly not every day) unhooked the display, took it to the sofa and read interesting things there, or fired Netflix.

And what if you forget about it for a moment? From the objective disadvantages of Surface Book 3: Thunderbolt 3 is missing, a convenient energy conservation program is missing, and the display - though very good - could be even better. It's a well-made, fast computer with an absolutely sensational keyboard with an excellent work culture. An absolute sweetheart that I felt sorry for parting. It works as a machine for a graphic designer and editor (although it has a limited display palette), for a programmer, and even goes something to play on it. In addition, I like the visuals very much. I wish I had him. But for such a price ...?

Invariably, optimizations for tablet mode do not give up. Placing the processor in the base instead of the display would allow it to work at higher parameters, and thus would provide the desired even higher performance. Inconvenient placement of selected ports only makes sense due to the fact that some must also have a tablet. No additional speakers in the base? Because the tablet. Thick display frames? To make it easier to hold the tablet.

If only I had the right amount, Surface Book 3 would be mine.

Mainly due to the 3: 2 display and increased computing power relative to the Surface Laptop. I also love his keyboard, and all the rest can disappoint only selected users with very specific needs. It is sensational, polished and high quality equipment in almost every respect. But good?

Peace of mind is not what would happen if Surface Book 3 did not offer tablet mode. If its touch display would be permanently connected to the base. If his processor could be fed more often with higher power, because it would be easier to cool it. And if the computer's outline was slightly smaller, because the frames could be cut slightly. It would still be unique equipment - due to the aspect ratio of the display (Huawei offers 3: 2 only in small ultrabooks) and design. I would still like him. And I guess ... I'd like him even more then.

For today, however, I must draw your attention to the fact that this computer so praised by me for 11.3 thousand PLN in the cheapest version has a slightly faster and slightly longer battery life competition from Dell and Apple sold at prices at a similar level. Without detachable display and 3: 2 aspect ratio. What is more important to you? You already have to answer this question for yourself.

The 15-inch Surface Book 3 is so great that it forgot to be good - a review


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