Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!

JT JT 21 September
Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!

Laptop or tablet - why not both? This is the Microsoft Surface Book 3, a premium device that can be either. It’s available in a smaller 13.5” size, or larger 15” model which has the option of higher end specs, and is what I’ve got here. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!Build quality feels excellent, it’s got a magnesium exterior and silver finish. Let’s start out by discussing the hinge and screen, as this is what really makes the Surface Book unique.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! Basically you can remove the screen from the keyboard, allowing you to use it as either a traditional laptop, or as a windows tablet.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! Both halves of the surface book have their own battery, though the one for tablet operation is smaller. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!The Intel CPU is behind the screen, while the Nvidia discrete graphics is in the keyboard half, so heavy graphical tasks can only be done with the base attached. That said, you can attach the screen in reverse and still use it like a tablet for drawing and still take advantage of the Nvidia GPU and extra battery power. Microsoft is using a custom hinge to make this work.

When you open the lid, the hinge sort of rolls back, and when the device is closed there’s a gap at the back, which they’re confident won’t cause any problems over time. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!To remove the screen, you just press the dedicated detach button next to the delete key on the keyboard, and it will tell you when it’s safe to remove in Windows. Apparently removal is 3 times faster than the older surface book 2, I haven’t used the older model, but I can say that it didn’t feel like it took too long, but it may depend on what applications you’ve got open.

If the discrete graphics are in use, it will ask you to close those apps first, you can proceed anyway which would automatically close the necessary apps for you rather than dynamically move the workload over to the integrated graphics. You’ve also got the option of doing the swap through software without the physical button.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! I found it difficult to remove the screen with both hands on the top half, the best way was to place one hand on the base to keep it from lifting up. Reattaching was easy enough, it’s guided in with magnets.

Tablet mode felt much better when compared to a 2-in-1 device, you’re not holding the entire weight of the machine so even at 15” it wasn’t too heavy, but that said I’d probably prefer the smaller 13” model here. Unlike a 2-in-1, you’re also not putting your hands on the keyboard to hold it, which always felt a bit weird to me. The touch screen itself uses a 3 by 2 aspect ratio with high but not quite 4K resolution. I found the screen to be responsive, but it doesn’t come with a pen, the surface pen is separate.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! The bezel looks a little thick compared to alternative laptops, but I think it’s a reasonable compromise to make it comfortable to hold as a tablet.

I’ve measured colour gamut with the Spyder 5, and got 93% of sRGB, 64% of NTSC, 69% of AdobeRGB, and 68% of DCI-P3.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! At full brightness I measured the screen at 380 nits with a 1230:1 contrast ratio, so good brightness and contrast but a little lower on the colour gamut than I was expecting for a premium device, not bad, just a bit lower. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!There was only very minor backlight bleed in this worst case, but this will vary between laptops and panels.

Microsoft lists the weight at 1.9kg which is what I’m getting. With the 127 watt power brick and cables for charging, this increases to almost 2.4kg, or 5.2lb. As a tablet, the screen by itself was 815g or 1.8lb. The power brick also has a 7 watt USB Type-A charging port. It’s not too big for a 15 inch device, the thickness varies as the back is thicker due to the hinge. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!The hinge is rock solid as it runs along the entire width of the machine, there was next to no flex when trying to twist the lid, which makes sense given it acts as a standalone tablet. Chassis flex was also on the lower side when pushing down hard, it feels extremely sturdy and solid. It opens up easily with one finger despite definitely feeling more back and top heavy, which would be a result of all the extra components behind the screen to get it working as a tablet. The screen still tilts back far enough without making it unbalanced though.

When you open the lid, the laptop automatically powers on, which makes sense, chances are if you’re opening the lid you want to use it. By default closing the lid will put it to sleep, and when you open the lid it resumes from sleep extremely quickly. If you combine this with Windows Hello, it pretty much wakes up and logs you straight in.

There are two 1080p cameras, the one above the screen is 5MP, and there’s another on the front lid which is 8MP. Both the camera and sound quality are significantly better than most other laptops. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!The front facing speakers are towards the top of the screen on the left and right, so you can still use them in tablet mode. They sounded good, definitely above average for a laptop with some bass and were still clear at maximum volume, it wasn’t super loud but I prefer quality, and the latencymon results were looking good.

The keyboard has white backlighting which illuminates all keys and secondary key functions, however I found the white lighting difficult to see in a well lit room when paired with the silver keys, so you might want to only use the keyboard lighting in darker environments. It can be adjusted between three brightness levels or turned off with the F1 shortcut key.

Typing on the keyboard felt excellent, definitely one of the better ones I’ve used. I like that the function key locks on or off, so you don’t have to hold it down if you want to use the F keys up the top. The only thing I didn’t personally like apart from the small arrow keys was the button for detaching near the back space, I only mispressed it once which just resulted in the screen going a bit flaccid until you reattach it. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!The glass precision touchpad was amazing, again one of the best I’ve used. It clicks down anywhere but given the size available it probably could have been bigger. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!It was extremely accurate to use, though the click is quite audible.

Fingerprints don’t show up at all on the silver finish, they do show up on the glossy screen though, but that’s the nature of touch screens unless you’re only using a pen.

On the left from the back there are two USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-A ports and an SD card slot. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!On the right there’s a 3.5mm audio combo jack right down the front, USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C port, no Thunderbolt though, and the power connector. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!The power adapter can connect either way, and it uses magnets, so if you accidentally trip over the cable it easily comes out without taking the machine with it, and you can also optionally instead charge with the Type-C port.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! The 3.5mm jack is on the top section so you can still use it when in tablet mode, but when in laptop mode it’s kind of awkward. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!The front has a groove in the middle for getting your finger in to open the lid, and there’s a power button and volume adjustment buttons towards the left, again for use in tablet mode, though you can still use them in laptop mode too. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!Meanwhile on the back we just get a view of that big hinge. Underneath is clean too, literally nothing other than some feet. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!They seemed to be more of a hard rubber meaning they’re not very grippy when on a flat surface. It doesn’t seem to be user upgradeable, I haven’t found any upgrade guides or easy way of getting inside in any case.

The 15 inch Surface Book 3 is powered by a 22Wh battery in the screen section, and larger 63Wh battery in the keyboard section, so 85Wh total. Windows will report the charge level of both batteries independently.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! I’ve tested it with screen brightness at 50% and keyboard lighting off. It lasted for just over 7 hours in the YouTube playback test, a respectable result. In tablet mode it lasted for 2 hours and 47 minutes in the same test.

I was only able to test gaming in laptop mode as the Nvidia graphics is in the keyboard half, and noted some interesting behaviour. First off the result in gaming was above average, however the game was automatically closed once the battery in the keyboard section reached 8% remaining, I think the Nvidia GPU just gets disabled, and this was despite the battery in the top half still being at 45%. It’s also worth noting that you’re not able to detach the screen if the screen’s battery is at 10% or lower. If the screen’s battery runs out in tablet mode, you can still use it when docked to the base if that battery is charged, but the battery behind the screen will not charge off of the keyboard battery, it needs to be plugged into wall power to charge.

Now let’s talk about thermals. It was cool to the touch at idle, as the GPU in the keyboard section wouldn’t be doing anything and the processor is behind the screen. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!When under combined CPU and GPU stress test, it warms up in the middle, but it hardly felt warm, still comfortable, and the top panel heats up too as the Intel CPU is behind the screen. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!It was completely silent at idle, and even when under load the fan was still on the quieter side when compared to others. Warm air is exhausted below the screen from the GPU, and out the sides of the screen for the CPU.

The internals were cool at idle, and then when under combined CPU plus GPU stress test it wasn’t getting too hot.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! In this heavy worst case workload the CPU was given 18 watts for PL1. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!The 1660 Ti Max-Q was reporting as hitting both power and thermal limits despite only being 61 degrees Celsius. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!This resulted in the processor running at 2.6GHz over all 4 cores in this stress test, undervolting didn’t work. In a GPU only load the 1660 Ti Max-Q would sit at 55 watts, which seems to be below the 60 watts specified by Nvidia. I didn’t expect the GPU would drop about 20 watts lower with the CPU active, given it’s in a different part of the machine with a separate cooling solution, so there must be some power limitation there.

In a CPU only workload like Cinebench though, the 1065G7 is able to run up to 25 watts for PL1. In cinebench processor performance was on the lower side when compared to others I’ve tested.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! Single core performance wasn’t too bad, but multicore is limited by the power limit of the processor, and look I get it, you can’t exactly shove a beefy 45 watt part in something like this due to limited cooling on the screen half. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!I’ve exported one of my laptop review videos with Adobe Premiere, and the Surface Book 3 was on the slower side out of the options I’ve recently tested. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!I’ve also tested Adobe Premiere but with the puget systems benchmark tool, which tests more things such as live playback, and again the Surface Book 3 was closer to the bottom of the stack. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!It was in the same position in the Adobe Photoshop test, and then down a spot when it came to Davinci Resolve. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!While not exactly a powerhouse due to the lower wattage processor, it’s definitely still capable of running these sorts of workloads, just don’t expect excellent performance.

Although not a gaming laptop, it should still be possible to kick back at the end of the day and play some games with this level of hardware.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both! I’ve got the results of the Surface Book 3 in Battlefield 5 shown in red, and it’s actually doing a bit better than what I was expecting considering the Max-Q graphics and lower wattage processor. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!Far Cry 5 was tested using the games benchmark tool, and the Surface Book 3 was placed similarly here too at just under 70 FPS with ultra settings. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!In Shadow of the Tomb Raider it’s just able to manage 60 FPS at max settings, so not bad results at all all things considered.

I’ve used Crystal Disk Mark to test storage, and the 512gb SSD was performing fairly well. Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!The SD card slot was also doing well too Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!and the card sticks out by this much and doesn’t click in.Microsoft Surface Book 3 - Laptop or Tablet? Why Not Both!

Pricing. In the US we’re looking at $2800 USD for the configuration I’ve tested here, paying more gets you more storage space, but there are cheaper options too. The 13” model with same specs for instance is more than $500 less. Meanwhile here in Australia the configuration I’ve tested is above $4400 AUD, so definitely premium pricing for a premium device, no surprise there.

Overall Microsoft’s Surface Book 3 is a well built machine, and is offering a unique combination of laptop and tablet with its bendy hinge. I thought the implementation worked well, but considering the price you’ll mainly want to consider this machine if you really need the tablet experience in the same device, as it is possible to get a better performing laptop for less money and possibly even a dedicated tablet. The specs in my higher end model are definitely capable, but yeah due to the custom form factor there are trade offs being made with regards to performance for the design.

Thermals were fine and it always ran quiet, even when being stressed, but this is a result of lower power limits. The dual cameras put others to shame, the 3:2 screen looks good, keyboard and touchpad were amazing to use, and battery life was up there too. Lack of thunderbolt in a solution like this is a bit unfortunate, especially for those that might already have a dock, otherwise apart from the higher price I didn’t have much to complain about. Not having upgrade options does suck, but I can understand why it may not be possible in a custom design like this.

Again it’s really going to come down to how much you’ll benefit from the option of using it as a tablet as well as a regular laptop. Anyway, let me know what you thought about Microsoft’s surface book 3 down in the comments.

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