In just two days the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 will go on sale in the UK. It’s Microsoft’s latest attempt at merging the two worlds of mobile computing--tablets and laptops--into the one. We just spent a week and bit with the Surface Pro 3. Read on to find out how the Surface Pro 3 stacks up.
Surface Pro 3 Review: Design & Display
Like its predecessor the Surface Pro 2, the Surface Pro 3 is made from a magnesium alloy--but that’s pretty much where the comparison ends. The Surface 2 was an admirable attempt from the company, but there were a lot of complaints about its specs and hardware designs. Matter of fact, a Microsoft spokesperson told me that the company specifically looked into addressing each and every one of these complaints when designing the Surface Pro 3.
One simple example of this is that many people hated the positioning of the Surface 2’s speakers, which pointed out to the sides. Users said it made sounds tinny and far away sounding. So with the Surface Pro 3 Microsoft repositioned the speakers to be forward facing. And that’s just one example of how Microsoft really seems to have taken the time to address all the issues people had with previous Surfaces.
But before we get to some of the newer tweaks, lets look at the major changes in the Surface Pro 3. For starters, it’s now got a 12-inch ClearType Full HD Plus screen (up from 10.6 inches in the Surface 2). The screen resolution is now also 2160 x 1440. But the biggest change made to its screen is the aspect ratio. Previous Surfaces had a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio.
A 3:2 ratio is more comfortable to hold plus web pages display more naturally in this ratio (a 3:2 ratio is the same ratio as your standard paper magazine). All that a 16:9 ratio is good for is films.
The new Surface Pro 3 uses a 3:2 ratio. This makes a lot of sense when considering the Surface Pro 3 is a hybrid--sometimes you’ll use it as a laptop and sometimes as a tablet and to do both well requires this new aspect ratio.
Surface Pro 3 Review: Ports & Specs
Because of its new 12-inch screen the dimensions of the Surface Pro 3 have grown in size too. It now measures 292.1mm x 201.4mm x 9.1mm and weighs 800 grams--not bad for its size. It feels exceptionally thin and light when held.
The Surface Pro 3 features a full-size USB 3.0 port, a microSD card reader, a standard headset jack, a Mini DisplayPort that can output to a 4K monitor, and a port for the Type Cover. Some people will lament that the Surface Pro 3 only has one USB port, but since so many peripherals are wireless or Bluetooth nowadays having one USB port will be enough for a majority of users.
In the connectivity department the Surface Pro 3 offers Wi-Fi 802.11ac and 802.11 a/b/g/n, as well as Bluetooth 4.0. It also comes equipped with a digital compass, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer as well as a front and rear 5MP camera.
The Surface Pro 3 comes in five different configurations: 64GB / Intel i3 / 4GB RAM (£639); 128GB / Intel i5 / 4GB RAM (£849); 256GB / Intel i5 / 8GB RAM (£1109); 256GB / Intel i7 / 8GB RAM (£1339); 512GB / Intel i7 / 8GB RAM (£1649). Keep in mind that those configurations do not include the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover, which will run you an extra £109.
Surface Pro 3 Review: Kickstand & Type Cover
Besides the changes to its screen size, the Surface Pro 3 features some other major hardware redesigns.
First up is its kickstand. The kickstand is something of a signature for the Surface line. With the original Surface the kickstand only had one angle. With the Surface 2, Microsoft added two angles. It goes without saying that the next logical step for the Surface Pro 3 would be a kickstand with three angles, but Microsoft has gone way beyond that and created a kickstand that props your Surface Pro 3 up in almost limitless positions thanks to its new hinge.
There’s no more clicking the hinge in place. Set the Surface Pro 3 up at a 45º angle or lean it back to an almost 170º angle–or anywhere in between—and there it will stay. This is great for those that use their Surface on areas of different height like their desk at work, a plane setback tray, or on their lap.
Another huge improvement with the Surface Pro 3 is its optional £109 Type Cover. The Type Cover is the keyboard that also acts as the lid to protect the Surface’s screen while not in use. Previous Type Covers, while useful, suffered from annoyingly small trackpads that were made of the same material as the rest of the cover. It was hard to tell when your finger was on the trackpad or if it was on the surface around the trackpad. The new Type Cover has fixed all that with a multitouch trackpad that is clearly distinguishable from the rest of the cover--not to mention one that is much larger in size.
And just like the new angles on the Surface Pro 3’s kickstand, the new Surface Pro 3 Type Cover now has an extra magnetic latch that allows you to position the Type Cover at a second angle so you can choose what is most comfortable for you while typing. All the improvements Microsoft made to the Type Cover this time around make using the Surface Pro 3 a much more enjoyable experience.
Surface Pro 3 Review: The Surface Pen & Software
The Surface Pro 3 comes with Windows 8.1 Pro. You either hate it or you love it. The tiled interface is growing on me, but I know that is a very subjective statement. But one really cool thing about the software in the Surface Pro 3 relates to its Surface Pen.
Previous Surfaces came with a touchscreen pen, but the pen that is included with the Surface Pro 3 has been completely redesigned. It’s now made of aluminium, which gives it a nice hefty weight in your hand. The tip of the pen has also been redesigned so it gives you a bit of drag on the screen and doesn’t just slide across it like you are ice-skating.
As someone who still likes to write longhand I was surprised how well Microsoft’s touchscreen pen works. Thanks to the above enhancements it really was no harder to write in cursive on the Surface’s screen than it is to write in my paper notebook. Microsoft also got clever with the software interaction between the pen and the Surface Pro 3. Click the eraser on the pen once to automatically launch One Note on the Surface--even if the screen is locked. This enables you to quickly jot down notes without needing to log into your account.
You can also click the eraser on the pen twice to bring up the screen selection tool. Then simply drag a box around the portion of the screen you want to capture and that screenshot will be added to a new note in One Note, which you can then easily annotate by simply writing on the screen.
Both features are simply amazing and--as an iPad user--are features I hope Apple steals for its next-generation slates due later on this year.
Surface Pro 3 Review: Battery Life
Microsoft says the Surface Pro 3 will last “up to 9 hours” for web browsing. That’s not bad when you compare the Surface Pro 3 to other modern laptops--and even tablets. But most of the people who buy a Surface Pro 3 aren’t just going to be using the device to browse the web. This is designed to be a real productivity machine. But using it as such, unfortunately, drastically reduces the battery life.
In my tests of doing Microsoft Office work, some photo editing, web browsing, and listening to music the Surface Pro 3 lasted between 5-6 hours on average at 75% screen brightness. That’s not horrible, but I’m used to my MacBook Pro--a 15-inch Retina display laptop that last up to 9 hours under heavy usage.
Surface Pro 3 Review: Verdict
Ranging from £639 to £1649 (plus £109 for the optional Type Cover) there’s a Surface Pro 3 for almost every budget. Sure the higher-end Surface Pro 3 looks expensive when compared to an iPad, but remember the Surface Pro 3 is not a tablet competitor. It’s for people who want a powerful laptop that also has all the advantages of a tablet.
I wasn’t a fan of the gimmicky original Surface. With the Surface 2 Microsoft made some good steps forward in the hybrid market. But with the Surface Pro 3 Microsoft has hit it out of the park. They’ve got some beautiful hardware design going on in this latest version and some truly stunning software features like those found in the Surface Pen.
While the Surface Pro 3 isn’t going to sway many who may be tied into the iPad/MacBook world, its a no-brainer for anyone in the Windows world who is looking for the best mobile computing device out there.
At 5-6 hours usage for moderate tasks, the battery life on the Surface Pro 3 leaves something to be desired.
15:07, 26 Aug 2014
The Surface Pro 3 is the best Surface to date and the best hybrid device out there. If you are firmly in the Windows world and can’t decide between a laptop or a tablet, get a Surface Pro 3--you won’t regret it.