First Look: Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 is coming for the Apple Macbook Pro

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This seems to be a theme for the impending launch of Microsoft hardware in this country but Apple… may have to keep an eye on its market share. Case in point, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3, which is a direct competitor to the Apple MacBook Pro. At present we know they’re similarly priced at the bottom end of the scale but it’s at the top end that Apple tends to get carried away. Microsoft, depending on how much power (at a cheaper price) it can offer users, might steal some of Apple’s lunch.

We’re fine with that. Apple’s dominance in the best-looking-laptop department was due to be challenged anyway. But Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 is also going to make the other Windows-based manufacturers like Asus, HP, Acer, and the rest feel pretty uncomfortable. And we’re fine with that as well.

Just the facts, ma’am

We haven’t spent much time poring over the Microsoft Surface Laptop’s design because… well, we weren’t sure it’d ever turn up. But now it’s time to take a look and Microsoft hasn’t been skimping on the build quality at all. The Surface Laptop 3 comes in an aluminium chassis that’ll bring a tear to a MacBook Pro fan’s eye – because they’ll want a case as sturdy as this one. This thing screams quality – but quietly because you’ll pay a fair amount of money for one. It doesn’t have to show off, it just has to exist.

It clocks in at 1.3kg, which isn’t bad for a laptop. Sure you can get them lighter but they won’t feel quite as much like they’d stop a bullet. There are… well, more ports than your average MacBook Pro, at the very least. In addition to a couple of USB-C ports, you’ll also encounter a full-sized USB 3.1 and a headphone jack — which isn’t ideal but it does save you from needing to buy new headphones. The power connecter is separate, so you can have more USB-C items plugged in.

Pretty on the outside

The Surface Laptop 3 lands in two sizes here in SA: There are a 13.5in version and a 15in setup, which both aim squarely at the MacBook Pro’s premium notebook market dominance. Whichever you choose, you’re looking at a touchscreen PixelSense Display. The 13.5in Laptop 3 features a 2,256 x 1,504 resolution, while the 15in has a resolution of 2,496 x 1,664. Both screens are 3:2 in ratio — which is a little odd when it comes to laptops. It may take some getting used to but these are bound to be better for work than media consumption.

The keyboard helps there as well. The keys are nicely responsive, they’re a little scooped (which you may or may not love), and there’s an adjustable backlight as well. Which, as we’ll see, is a nod towards its gaming capabilities (if you’re splashing out on the 15in notebook). Is it better than the MacBook Pro’s keyboard? A little testing will see us answer that question.

The large glass trackpad will satisfy even Apple fans. It’s big, it’s smooth, it’s clicky and it doesn’t seem to want to give any issues at all.

Also pretty on the inside

No matter which version of this notebook you’re opting for, you’ll not be lacking in the specs department. All models feature at least 8GB of RAM with an upper limit of 16GB — which may annoy those with heavy video editing to do. But if you’re considering the 13.5in Surface Laptop 3, you’ve got a choice of an Intel Core i5-1035G7 or a Core i7-1065G7. Both chips include Intel’s Iris Plus graphics. You’re not looking at heavy gaming ability here but it’ll run some of the older stuff in your Steam library. Skyrim, certainly (though if you’re heavy-handed on the mods, that’s on you).

If you’re looking for gaming ability, the 15in Laptop 3’s choice of an AMD Ryzen 5 3580U or a Ryzen 7 3780U chipset should see you getting a few frags in. The two versions support AMD’s Radeon Vega 9 and Vega 11 graphics platforms respectively. That’ll run a little more than just Skyrim but you’re going to be paying for that ability. We’re not sure exactly how much it is but the 13.5 Core i3 Surface Laptop 3 starts at R23,000. Expect the top-end 15in version to cost considerably more.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3: Initial Verdict

If you’ve always wanted a MacBook Pro but couldn’t get behind the idea of the Apple ecosystem, the Surface Laptop 3 is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. Microsoft claims an 11.5-hour battery life, which we’re dying to put to the test, but everything else checks out. No matter which version of the Laptop 3 you get, you’ll find yourself with enough power to get the job done. Of course, you might want to pay for a little more power — that’s how the world works these days.

And it shows off, weirdly, by not showing off. The keyboard, chassis, trackpad and screen don’t look like much from a distance. It’s only once you have it in your hands and see just how tightly put together everything is that it’s apparent why the Surface Laptop 3 costs what it does. It’s taken too long to get here but that doesn’t matter now. We’re just glad it showed up.

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