By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about Microsoft’s latest flagship tablet / convertible device, the Surface Pro 3. The company announced it last week at an event in New York City that I was lucky enough to attend and I left with one in hand, along with a new Touch Cover as well.
I spent the last week or so working with the device daily, running benchmarks, evaluating battery life in real-world situations, playing with apps, and just using it as I would normally use my notebook. I’ve been a long-time proponent of Windows 8 (especially on touch-enabled devices) and own a Surface 2, so finding my way around the Surface Pro 3 was second nature right from the get-go. There was no learning curve whatsoever, so all of my time was used to evaluate the experience and not futzing around the interface. Keep that in mind if you’re reading someone else’s opinion on Windows-based mobile devices—if the writer doesn’t know their way around the OS, are they evaluating the device or just learning how to use Windows? Just something to consider when a rabid iPad advocate rips a mobile device running a Microsoft OS. But I digress.
The particular Surface Pro 3 model I have on hand falls right in the middle of Microsoft’s initial line-up. It features an Intel Core i5-4300U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive—the expected retail price is $1299. There will be four other models as well, two more affordable options and two higher-priced offerings, with prices ranging from $799 all the way on up to $1949. The least expensive model is built around an Intel Core i3 processor and has 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD, while the top-of-the-line model is packing a powerful Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD.
Performance – With Intel Haswell-based processors, 1600MHz RAM, and speedy solid state drives, the Surface Pro 3 performs very well. It simply smokes any ARM-based mobile device and performs more like a high-end ultrabook.
The Form Factor – The Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest and lightest Core-based mobile device available (Dimensions: 7.93 in x 11.5 in x 0.36 in. Weight: 1.76 lbs). If you want many of the capabilities and the performance of a mid-range desktop system, which is also highly portable, no look further.
The New Kickstand – The new kickstand in the Surface Pro 3 can open to any angle between 22 and 100 degrees, thanks to its new friction hinges. It’s infinitely more useful than the two-position kickstand in the Surface 2.
Battery Life – Microsoft claims up to 9 hours of battery life while browsing the web. My sample lasted more than 10 hours with what I’d consider normal use during a regular work day (browsing, answering emails, editing Office documents, etc.). As long as you’re not pounding on the thing constantly, all-day battery life is definitely possible.
Screen Quality – The 3:2 aspect, HiDPI 12” screen—with its native 2160×1440 resolution–is great in my opinion. Some folks may not like the additional height the 3:2 aspect ratio brings, but I think additional screen real estate and vertical resolution are welcome additions.
Sound Quality – The front-firing speakers on the Surface Pro 3 are better than any other tablet I’ve used. Their small size precludes them from producing much bass, but clarity, richness, and volume levels are excellent.
Pen Input – The Surface Pen works very well. Though I personally prefer to type notes and am not much of an artist, I can still appreciate the highly-precise, low-latency input of the Surface Pen.
I think there’s a lot to like about the Surface Pro 3, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. Here’s where Microsoft’s latest wunderkind misses the mark:
Type Cover – Microsoft claims the Surface Pro 3 is a ‘tablet that can replace your laptop’. For the most part that’s true, if you also purchase the companion Type Cover for an additional $130. The Type Cover itself is a decent piece of kit; it is comfortable to type on and the touchpad is vastly improved over the previous generation. But Microsoft should be throwing these thing in with the tablet. It is a must-buy accessory, so consider it a $130 tax on the Surface Pro 3.
Expensive – The Surface Pro 3 and its accessories are relatively expensive. Mind you, I DO NOT think the hardware is overpriced. In comparison to similarly equipped ultrabooks, with HiDPI, multi-touch displays and all solid state storage, the Surface Pro 3 itself is actually priced competitively. But for the setup I tested, you’ll still have to shell out close to $1500, which is a lot for a Core i5-powered device. The accessories are also somewhat pricey. $130 for the Type Cover is tough to justify when you can find high-end mechanical keyboards for under $100. And $200 for a docking station that’ll little more than a stand and glorified port extender / USB hub is pretty pricey.
Pixel Scaling – From a technological standpoint I absolutely love HiDPI / high-resolution displays. But many applications don’t render properly when Window is configured to scale elements to 150% (or higher), which is necessary to keep things readable on such a small screen. This problem has consistently been getting better, but there’s still lots of work to do.
Windows Store – The Windows Store is still way behind iOS and Android, though it’s not as big of a deal on the Surface Pro 3 because it can run the millions of native Windows apps currently available.
There you have it. Some opinions on the Surface Pro 3 from someone that has actually used one for the last week or so. If you’re in the market for a new mobile device, I hope you find this information useful.
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