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Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Pro 7 review

A hands-on comparison of Microsoft's newest offerings: a 13.5-inch Surface 3 laptop, and a Surface Pro 7 tablet.

microsoft surface laptop 3 and pro 7
Last updated: 04 December 2019

CHOICE verdict

Though designed for different uses, both the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Pro 7 tablet have plenty in common. They both sport high-resolution touchscreens and the latest tech built-in: USB-C, Wi-Fi 6, a removable storage module, 'instant-on' speedy start-up, fast charging and silent running. Both are equally desirable. Which one you choose will come down to the form factor – conventional laptop or versatile 2-in-1 tablet, and perhaps the difference in price.

Price: Surface Laptop 3 from $1700 | Surface Pro 7 from $1249
Contact: microsoft.com.au

The first of Microsoft's latest line-up to hit the shelves has laptop users well covered – 13.5-inch and 15-inch versions of its Surface Laptop 3, plus a new 12.3-inch Surface Pro 7 tablet. We tried out both the 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 and the Surface Pro 7 courtesy of Microsoft to see how they compare.

Common specs

Both the Surface Laptop 3 and Surface Pro 7 come with Intel 10th-generation (Ice Lake) processors (though in a surprise move, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is powered by Ryzen 5 and 7 processors from Intel's rival, AMD). 

Both devices are equipped to meet the latest tech trends with Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) networking. We found this significantly faster than with the previous models (48MBps throughput for the new models versus 27MBps for the Surface Laptop 2 and Surface Pro 6). This was achieved using Wi-Fi 5 network clients (802.11ac). Network speeds will be even better again once your other devices are eventually upgraded to Wi-Fi 6. 

A removable storage drive will take some of the pain out of later upgrades. Though replacing the drive requires a technician, it's a welcome change from the non-upgradable drives in many modern laptops and tablets.

Both devices also feature new "instant on" technology to get you up and running faster, along with fast charging designed to bring the battery to 80% charged in just one hour using the standard charger. Our testing shows you can expect genuine all-day battery life in normal usage.

Both models come with Windows 10 Home and Office 365 (but you need to buy a licence), run silently and have superb screens, high-quality finish and comfortable keyboard. 

Where they differ is what could sway you one way or the other.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 3

Surface Laptop 3

The Surface Laptop 3 has the conventional clamshell design, which opens to a comfortably wide angle and feels well balanced for use on your lap. It has a very comfortable keyboard and a large trackpad (20% larger than previously) and plenty of palm rest area. 

It has a single USB-C port, along with the more familiar USB 3.0 (Type-A) port, both on the left-hand side, but no microSD card slot for extra onboard storage. The power adapter includes a handy USB port for charging mobile devices.

The 13.5-inch screen has a high resolution of 2256 x 1504 pixels, driven by powerful Intel Iris Pro graphics chips and fast solid-state storage – average speeds in our testing: 2362MBps read speed and 1559MBps write speed. Its benchmark score for CPU was 17199 and for 58084 for graphics.

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Microsoft Surface Pro 7 side-on

The flexible Kickstand lets you lay back the tablet to a wide angle, ideal for using the Surface Pen for writing and drawing.

Surface Pro 7

Without the optional extras, the Surface Pro 7 is a tablet, with the usual tablet advantages of screen-only use and portrait mode viewing.

Microsoft calls it a '2-in-1 laptop', but to fulfil that title you need to add the optional keyboard (Surface Pro Signature Type Cover, $250) and optionally the Surface Pen ($140). This gives you a more versatile device that's equally at home in laptop mode or tablet mode.

The 12.3-inch screen has even higher resolution (2736 x 1824 pixels) than its larger laptop brother, driven by Intel Iris Plus graphics.

The keyboard is impressively comfortable for typing and the highly-flexible Kickstand provides a wide angle of support

Our test model had 8GB RAM (memory), which is decent for a Windows device, and 256GB of solid-state storage. We found in our testing the average read speed of 2026MBps was not far behind the Surface Laptop 3, but the write speed of 828MBps was significantly slower by comparison. Its benchmark score for CPU was 17225 and for 49681 for graphics, putting it just a little behind the Surface Laptop 3 in overall performance, though it's certainly no slouch by any means.

The keyboard is impressively comfortable for typing, considering it is a thin attachment (via strong magnets). But the relatively small trackpad is not on the same level as the much larger one on the laptop keyboard (which itself is 20% larger than the previous Surface Laptop version).

It's designed as a tablet, so with just the lightweight keyboard attached the screen makes the whole ensemble quite top-heavy, as you would expect. That's not a problem on a flat surface such as a desk or table, as the highly flexible Kickstand provides a wide angle of support. However, it can be a bit awkward to use sitting on your lap, where it takes up more space than a small laptop.

Like the Surface Laptop 3, the Surface Pro 7 has a USB-C and USB 3.0 port, but the Kickstand also hides a bonus microSD card slot for extra onboard storage.

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Microsoft surface range

The new Surface family includes (clockwise from left) Surface Laptop 3, Surface Pro 7, Surface Pro X, Surface Earbuds, Surface Duo and Surface Neo.

More Surfaces to come

There are more Surfaces to cover than just these two: there's also the ultra-mobile 13-inch (2800 x 1920 pixel) Surface Pro X, designed for the highly-mobile user. 

This "always connected" ultra-slim (7.3mm) black-framed tablet gets its own unique optional keyboard with built-in pen storage and charging, sold together as the Surface Pro X Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen Bundle ($430). It's powered by a super-fast ARM chipset developed by Microsoft and Qualcomm (giving up to 9Teraflops) and includes a 4G LTE eSIM, plus two USB-C ports, but not the older USB Type-A ports.

Microsoft has also revealed a very early preview of two ground-breaking new folding devices which won't arrive till late 2020: the Surface Neo and Surface Duo. Both fold via hinges, not an actual foldable screen, with each separate screen able to operate independently (e.g. screen and keyboard) or have images spanning across both screens. 

The Surface Neo (with two 9-inch screens) will run the new Windows 10X operating system, while the pocketable dual-screen smartphone-style Surface Duo (with two 5.6-inch screens) will run Android OS. And yes, it makes phone calls, though Microsoft isn't officially calling it a phone. Expect to hear a lot more about these in coming months.

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