It's a 12in slate that runs full Windows and has wireless connectivity as well as USB 3.0 and a DisplayPort. For a 12in computer it is thin and light. It is perfectly feasible as a good portable laptop, and an acceptable if heavy tablet. The question is: is that what people want?
I've been carrying around the Surface Pro 3 for a few days now. It is the most portable power laptop I have ever carried, but even despite improvements on previous models it isn't better to use than a laptop. And although it is possible to use the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet for the consumption of movies and eBooks, and for social networking, it's a very big and heavy slate.
Microsoft and Intel really want the Surface Pro 3 to succeed, as it will show the possibilities of the Wintel combination and put Windows 8 into competition with mobile devices such as iPads and Android smartphones. It is indisputably a high-class device, a great feat of engineering. But I have suspicion that people like having a separate Kindle or iPad for fun things, and a laptop for work. We'll see.
In the meantime, here I have attempted to review the Surface Pro 3 from a technical standpoint. I'll look at build and design, performance and specifications. (See also: New Surface Pro 3 new features.)
Surface Pro 3 UK review: changes from Surface Pro 2
As well as iterative specification upgrades, there are two signficant changes to the Surface Pro 3, when compared to its predecessors. The first thing is the display size. Where previous Surface Pro devices were 10in tablets, this is a 12in slate. This fits with the message that the Surface Pro is a laptop replacement, rather than a rival to the iPad or the Nexus 7. It's a subtle change of message, but not a subtle change - Surface Pro 3 really is laptop sized in use, if not in your bag.
The other tweak speaks to the same thing. Microsoft has introduced a new keyboard cover to the Surface Pro 3. Unlike older models there is no Touch Cover: the thicker but more typing friendly Type Cover has been stretched up to fit. And it has been improved with a wider touchscreen and a better, two angle set up that allows for a better typing experience in laptop mode.
In the US, the Surface Pro 3 will start at $799 for the Core i3 with 64GB of storage in the US and here in the UK will cost you £639 for the same base model. There are a total of five different models depending on what processor, storage and RAM you want so you can pay up to £1,649 for the Surface Pro 3. Here are full pricing details:
No longer a 10in tablet, the Surface Pro 3 is build around a 12in display. We'll talk about the display in detail in the next section, but the first thing you will notice is that this is a big tablet. It doesn't feel too big however.
One of the benefits of that bigger display is that there is more space in which to fit the Surface Pro 3's excellent components, and so the more powerful Pro 3 is actually thinner than its predecessor, and indeed any similar full-spec Windows PC. The Surface Pro 3 measures 292 x 201.3 x 9.1mm, although that thickness figure increases to around 16mm with the Type cover included. Either way it's the thinnest Core PC ever made.
Microsoft says the Surface Pro 3 weighs only 800g. We measured our Core i5, 128GB Surface Pro 3 at 813g. Add in the Type Cover and the weight goes up to 1110g on our scales. With the Cover and Pen the weight goes up to 1128g.
This is truly impressive engineering. Microsoft has squeezed into a lightweight slate a powerful PC. For a power laptop the Surface Pro 3 is truly ultraportable. It will slip into your bag or briefcase as easy as any laptop or netbook we have used.
Build quality is universally excellent. Despite the light weight the Surface Pro 3 feels strong. It has a metallic feel, but the texture bears many of the characteristics of plastic. The back is a silver-effect finish, with a simple 'Surface' logo. All the way around the sides is a similar finish, with the thin airvent gap that we have seen on previous Surface devices. It's possible this is required for airflow purposes, but it does tend to be a magnet for bits of filth and dust. Connectivity ports, on/off switch and volume controls live around the edges. The camera aperture is at the top of the back side (in portrait mode).
The Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than previous Surface Pro models, and the larger 12in screen makes for comfortable reading and viewing. The already impressive kickstand can now be secured at any angle rather than the two of the previous model, and the optional Type Cover features a double-fold hinge that allows you to lock it to the display's lower bezel for easier working with the Surface Pro on your lap. We'll talk more about the Type Cover later, but the Surface line's deserved reputation for innovative design continues.
On our model the kickstand/Type Cover combination makes for the ultimate in versatility. You can position the Surface in just about every position from flat to the desk to bolt upright. And the keyboard can be flat or at a slight incline, like a desktop keyboard. Using the Surface Pro 3 on my lap is my most comfortable experience of working on my lap, but I still prefer to use it on a desk. Regular commuter/workers should consider the Surface Pro 3, however.
Around the front, the Surface Pro 3 is a single sheet of virtual end-to-end glass. The Windows symbol sits to the right in landscape mode or at the bottom in portrait. Switch on the screen and you'll see that the bezels are impressively small for such a thin and light PC.
We can't fail but be impressed with the build quality and design of the Surface Pro 3. It is the thinnest and lighest of thin-and-light PCs, a truly portable, powerful PC. A uniquely versatile device. But that doesn't mean it is the one device to rule them all.
The Surface Pro 3 is a perfectly servicable laptop, and a perfectly servicable tablet. It is sufficiently thin-and-light to work as an okay tablet, but the large screen size - critical for laptop use - means I'd always reach for a iPad mini or Nexus 7 for consumption purposes such as reading an eBook or watching a video. I just don't have the arm strength to want to use the Surface Pro 3. And leaving aside occasions when I am required to work without a desk, I'd always choose a full-size laptop for work purposes where possible. It's just that little bit better. (See also: Best laptops you can buy in 2014.)
Surface Pro 3 UK review: display
The Surface Pro 3 is built around a 12in ClearType Full HD Plus multi-touch display. It is noticably sharper than the previous generations of Surface Pro, a genuinely impressive display at this size. A native resolution of 2160 x 1440 pixels makes for a decent pixel density of 216ppi.
The extra size makes the Surface Pro 3 a feasible laptop. It's a big difference from a 10in tablet with a keyboard attached. And that isn't the only upgrade. Where before the aspect ratio was 16:9 the Surface Pro 3 is a 3:2 device. Open it up in portrait mode and it feels like an A4 pad, but in landscape orientation movies look good.
As, indeed, does everything. Photos are bright and clear, full of colour and detail. And even at this resolution it is difficult to pick out pixels on densely packed text documents. It's a very good display. The multi-touch touchscreen is responsive, too. (See also: The 26 best tablets of 2014 UK.)
Surface Pro 3 UK review: Type Cover, pen
For the uninitiated the Type Cover is a must-have, although not a cheap, addition to the Surface Pro 3. Costing an additional £109 the Type Cover is a screen protecting cover that attaches to one side of the Surface Pro 3 using a magnet. It snaps into place with a satisfying click, and then works like a book cover to protect your Surface Pro 3's display.
Fold it out and it works as a keyboard. As with other Type Cover accessories for Surface tablets the Pro 3's Type Cover is a fine device. As good a portable keyboard cover as you will find. We love the ability to set it flat against the desk or at a more keyboard-like angle. And the keys have enough travel to make typing feasible. We'd always rather use a full-sized laptop keyboard, but in the absence of that the Type Cover is the very next best thing.
The trackpad has been expanded from previous Type Covers, and is now a reasonably sized 89 x 43mm. It has distinct left- and right-click zones, and supports gesture control as you would expect. Fold the Type Cover around the back of Surface Pro 3 and the keys are no longer active, a nice touch that allows you to use the Type Cover as a cover even when you are in tablet mode.
When closed up the Type Cover presents to the world a felt-like finish, that feels nice to the touch but has a nasty habit of picking up fluff. It is available in several different colours.
The other Surface Pro 3 peripheral is the pen, which comes free with every model. This is a nice, silvery metal device. Click it on and your Surface Pro clicks into OneNote so you can quicky capture and save a note - even if the Surface Pro 3 is locked. You can imagine this being useful in a meeting scenario. The pen works with any app that uses ink and feels accurate when writing or drawing, and as a left hander I found it a lot easier to use than many similar devices. Double-click the top button on your Surface Pen and sketch out an image and it will be captured to a screenshot in OneNote.
Surface Pro 3 UK review: specifications, performance
The Surface Pro 3's specifications are truly impressive. Each model comes with a 4th generation Intel Core processor family, either i3, i5, or i7. These are paired with either 4GB or 8GB RAM, and storage options range from a 64GB SSD through 128GB, 256GB to 512GB. Our test model is a Core i5 model with 4GB RAM and 128GB storage. And, of course, it runs the full Intel version of Windows 8.1 Pro.
Sensors inlude ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer. There's also a digital compass.
In use the Surface Pro 3 is zippy and fast. Even under load and attempting multiple processes it feels exactly as fast and capable as should a PC with this powerful specification. And the benchmarks bear this out.
In the PCMark7 benchmark the Surface Pro 3 managed a score of 4864. This is a very healthy score, a full 200 points ahead of the 13in MacBook Air with which the Surface Pro 3 will be most closely compared. It's definitely in the top echelon of portable PCs. (See also: Inside the Surface Pro 3: What the specs don't tell you.)
Surface Pro 3 UK review: connectivity
Connectivity options abound. There is a full-size USB 3.0 port, as well as a microSD card reader that allows you to expand the Surface Pro 3's storage by 128GB. A Mini DisplayPort allows you to use a larger display with your Surface Pro 3. This is important: although there is a bespoke docking station you can buy to turn your Surface Pro 3 into a desktop PC, you could use it with any keyboard and display. So your Surface Pro 3 could be laptop, tablet, and desktop PC. There's also a cover port and a headset jack.
If you wanted to use Bluetooth peripharels you could, as the Surface Pro 3 comes with Bluetooth 4.0. You get 802.11ac/802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, via a two-stream 11ac wireless adaptor. This is a Marvell Avastar 88W8897, to be exact, with a top theoretical wireless sync speed of 867 Mb/s.
It's the first non-Broadcom 11ac wireless chipset we've come across, although perhaps not without its teething problems. Some forum threads would suggest from when it first appeared in this tablet people had problems connecting to Wi-Fi. Happily this seems to have fixed, and we can confirm that we had absolutely no problems at all with Wi-Fi connectivity on the Surface Pro 3.
Surface Pro 3 UK review: battery life
Microsoft claims up to nine hours of web browsing use. It's a bold claim, putting the Surface Pro 3 firmly in the MacBook Air class of all-day battery life. We've not yet benchmarked the Surface Pro 3's battery life, but we can say that after a full day in the office we browsing, downloading and writing this review the Surface Pro 3 is still going strong and telling us half the battery life remains.
Whether or not the nine hours is realistic, the Surface Pro 3 is part of the new breed of ultraportable workstations that allow you to step away from the mains for a significant period of time.
The Surface Pro 3 comes with two 5Mp cameras - hardly high end, but about what you expect from a laptop rather than a smartphone or tablet. A quick glance at the Microsoft forums shows that some people are unhappy with this. So let's be clear: the Surface Pro 3 is not a great camera. It is perfectly feasible to use as a conference calling, Skype machine. But it is not going to replace your DSLR or even your smartphone when it comes to capturing photos. We've included some test shots below.
As to video, both cameras can capture 1080p video. So for video calls the combination of great screen and 1080p camera is a good one.
Buying Advice A very decent laptop replacement, and an okay tablet, the Surface Pro 3 is undeniably impressive. If you need a single device to do everything we can't think of any better device. And when you consider the cost of buying a discrete laptop, tablet and desktop PC the Surface Pro 3 is priced to shift. The question remains as to whether people want a single device rather than multiple gadgets that are better at their individual tasks. We shall see.