Since the Surface Pro 3 is hitting the market with a brand new form factor and capabilities, Best Buy asked if our team could compile a list of Surface Pro 3 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and put what we had been discussing about our Surface Pro 3 experience in one convenient post.
We have used the Surface Pro 3 since its initial launch during which we posted a hands-on preview, then followed by a more complete real-world review that we recommend reading if you are looking at getting one. Since then, we had the opportunity to discuss with other industry experts, but also with tech enthusiasts and regular people who had a lot of questions about the Surface Pro 3. Here are the most frequent ones, but don’t hesitate to ask more questions in the comments at the bottom of the page.
Could you show us how the tablet looks next to a well-known tablet like the iPad 2?
Sure! Since most people have seen an iPad 2, let’s put them side by side. They are two very different products, but the pictures should give you a good idea about the overall size and build of the Surface Pro 3, in relation to something that most people have seen at least once.
Who is this tablet for?
The Surface Pro 3 is a real PC which looks and can be used like a tablet. From our perspective, the Surface 3 Pro is best for users who seek ultra-mobility, but yet need to use Windows applications they know or can’t do without. You can imagine a lot of use cases, including lawyers, doctors, office workers, executives, students. Etc…
Since the computer comes in a wide range of configuration to accommodate different needs for storage, processor speeds and budgets, there are a lot of possible use cases, but in most of those that we can think of, ultra-mobility is the common thread.
How does the 12” format compares with regular 13.3” laptops?
Obviously, it is a bit smaller, and in fact, many people in our own team have tried using 11” laptops in the past, so this is a bit more comfortable. In the end, it really depends on your own level of comfort. If we use it for one hour here and there, it doesn’t feel so different from a regular laptop. However, it’s fair to say that a larger screen does offer a slightly different user experience. It’s best to check one out in a store to see what it looks and feels like in the real world.
Next to the Lenovo Yoga 2
Is the Surface Pro 3 “Lappable”?
It definitely (and surprisingly) is. There are two important changes from previous MS Surface tablets that makes it a better lap option: 1/ the larger width brings better stability and makes unintentional tilting difficult. 2/ the “any angle” kick stand lets the user choose an optimal rest angle depending on a combination of view angle and thigh length.
Keep in mind that the surface points of contacts with a rest surface is very different from a laptop, and there needs to be two points of contact (tablet base and kickstand base) whereas a laptop can rest (with some help) on a single point of contact, due to the continuous rigid bottom.
Can I connect it to external monitors?
You can. There is a display port that can be used to daisy-chain several screens. You should note that Surface Pro 3 with Core i5/i7 and Core i3 have different external display support. According to Microsoft, i7 and i5 will drive 1x4K, or 2x2K (while supporting the Surface Pro 2K display) while the i3 will drive 1x4K, or 2xHD (while supporting the Surface Pro 2K display).
When you come back to your main desk/station, it’s therefore completely possible to work on a very nice display setup.
The tablet looks extremely thin, but does that affect performance negatively?
In short, no. Looks can be deceiving and the Surface Pro 3 pushes the envelope in terms of PC/tablet design. Independent testing, including our own, have shown that the Surface 3 Pro runs as fast as most laptops equipped with the same processor/memory/storage.
The tiny fan is on the left of the photo. Courtesy of ifixit
During our tests, we didn’t notice excessive heat, and it’s also interesting to see that the exhaust vents are never anywhere close to the user skin. Despite the thinness, Microsoft has managed to put a super-flat fan in there. also, we’ve never heard the fan in action outside of benchmarking activities.
Tablets aren’t usually great at producing content. Can I get “real work” done with it?
This is a fair question. Most tablets are more built towards media “consumption” and entertainment rather than “creation” and “productivity”. This is not the case of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It runs every PC app that you are familiar with, and the ability to add a Microsoft keyboard cover (not included) and a mouse make it as productive as any other computer.
If getting work done fast is important to you, we highly recommend getting the keyboard cover and using a mouse. The touch screen is great and the trackpad is OK, but nothing is faster than a good keyboard/mouse combo.
What kind of games can I play with it?
Good question: since many students are interested in these devices, chances are someone will want to play games. Surface Pro 3 is just as fast as most Ultrabooks on the market. Yet, from a Gaming perspective, it is optimized to be thin & light.
It can run games, including Titan Fall, Diablo, etc., but the combination of integrated GPU and high-resolution does have an impact on framerate. 1-2 year old games will run at decent speeds. For newer games, you may want to decrease the rendering resolution. You may have to play the game in a smaller frame, but the speed will be much improved. If you want to see games running on a Surface Pro 3, we have seen a couple of videos (link1, link2) that you may want to look at.
Tweaking the graphics settings (removing shadows, etc.…) will also help quite a bit and it depends what kind of graphics level you need. Yes, you can play, but it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect graphics performance to match that of PCs that are much bigger and power-hungry.
How is the graphics performance when compared to classic tablets?
That’s an interesting topic. During our review, we compared the Surface Pro 3 graphics performance to tablets like the iPad Air, and the result was clear: the Surface Pro 3 is 2X faster in synthetic graphics benchmarks.
The main difference is that most tablet games use old graphics technologies which are equivalent to DirectX 9, a standard that came out in 2002. PC games tend to use DirectX 11 and offer a much richer graphics experience. At the end of the day, what’s important is finding the games you like on any platform.
What is the battery life like?
We like using a video playback test to gauge the battery life. That’s because playing a video uses the display, the storage system and the CPU, all in a somewhat moderate way. In turns, this is close to what happens when you write a document, reply to emails etc.…
When we did our test in specific conditions (150 Nit brightness, WiFi ON, Sound OFF), we found that the Surface Pro 3 could play video for about 9 hours.
This is much better than the Surface Pro 2, and that’s mostly due to using Intel’s 4th generation Haswell processor, which is very good at power savings during low-intensity tasks.
Can the Surface Pro 3 replace a laptop AND a tablet?
Yes – but it depends on your use case.
A lot of people have a regular laptop and an iPad, this is something that we see very often in airports as we travel around. The Surface Pro 3 can easily replace a laptop and an iPad for most users. Of course, if someone wants a large-display laptop, or a 7” tablet, that would be a different scenario.
Also, you need to take into account the fact that apps may or may not be available on different platforms, so we would recommend checking that first.
Does the keyboard come with it?
The keyboard is an accessory that needs to be purchased separately. Although the Surface Pro 3 is often shown with a keyboard, it’s important to know that it is not included, and not cheap – but totally worth it. In fact, we can’t imagine using the Surface Pro 3 without it, except in very specific settings (hospital, real-estate, etc.…)
How does it feel to use the stylus?
The pen feels really good, mainly for two reasons: the virtual ink is fast, and the tip of the pen is is visually very close to the LCD display surface, which almost removes the “pen floating” feeling (called parallax) that many users get with digitizer pens on LCD displays.
The smaller the gap between the pen’s tip and the LCD surface, and the more natural it feels to the user because people are used to having their pen tip touch a paper surface. LCD displays are made of many layers, and the pressure-sensitive digitizer adds yet another one.
When we discussed about this with the Microsoft Surface team, they made it clear that they switched from Wacom because N-Trig allowed this gap to be much narrower. As a result, writing and sketching is perceptibly better when compared to the Surface 2 Pro.
What app do you use the pen/stylus with?
We’ve been using the stylus mostly to sketch things or take notes. Although some of us do have a design background, none is really a photo-retouching expert, or someone who would need advanced pen sensitivity. One Note is our app of choice since the pen has been tested and very well integrated (the top button of the Pen launches One Note).
Does the Stylus work with Photoshop?
Absolutely. This is the first thing that we tried since our Surface Pro 2 review got so many questions related to Photoshop. We tested it with Photoshop CC, which requires a Wintab driver in order to gather the pen pressure data (what is wintab). This is different from the native Windows driver which does the same thing. Fortunately, the N-Trig drivers were available prior to the launch, and after a quick installation, Photoshop could sense the different pressure levels.
Are 256 levels of pen pressure, enough?
For what we did, totally – but this is a highly subjective topic, so let’s dig into it further. At the moment, most people who had an early access to the device are “techies” rather than “artists”, and although there is a lot of interest from the art community, it has been difficult to gather independent data.
Our own take is that the current sensitivity should work great for most use cases, including artistic sketching/drawing. Now there are cases like airbrushing that we have not tested ourselves, and that may need further attention. Based on our experience with other devices that use the Wacom 1024-levels sensor, it didn’t feel like this one was 4X less sensitive. Do your homework, because just like “Megapixels” for cameras, the pressure specs don’t tell the whole story. Microsoft presented compelling arguments during their Reddit AMA.
Since most professionals who require a very high level of sensitivity probably have an existing setup, the real question is “is it good enough for a mobile use case”? We think that most people will be happy with it. This may be something that you should try in a store and see for yourself.
What other apps are compatible with it?
A couple of days ago, the CEO of N-Trig has released a list of apps that have gone through extensive testing by their team, which means that things should work flawlessly with those:
Anime Studio Debut 9.5 Version 9.5 build 9768
Crayola PhotoFx studio 1 Version 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52
Flash Professional CC Version 184.108.40.206
Adobe Flash Professional CS6 Version CS6
Corel Painter Version 220.127.116.113
MyPaint Version 1.0.0
Mischief Version 1.12
Zbrush Version 4R6
Adobe DreamWeaverCS6 Version CS6
Adobe Photoshop element 12 Version 12.0.20130925
Krita Version 2.8.3
Substance Painter Version 0.5.0
In addition to these, there are countless apps that are compatible with the pen API, but don’t go through such a rigorous testing because they are not “pro” apps. For those, you will have to rely on user reviews or forums to get a better idea. Maybe we could check a few as well if we have time. Drop a comment to make a request. We wouldn’t buy an app to try that, but if there’s a trial, maybe we can tell you if the pen pressure works. No promises, but we’ll do our best.
What kind of performance difference should people expect between the Core i5 and Core i7 versions?
Our own Surface Pro 3 in the lab is a Core i5 version. We have not tested the Core i7 version, but based on the hardware differences and Microsoft’s own estimate, synthetic benchmarks should score 15%-20% higher. If you absolutely need the extra horsepower, it’s nice to have the option. In our case, the Core i5 serves us well, including for video compression which is partially hardware-accelerated.
The keyboard seems very thin, is it possible to type fast with it?
Don’t be deceived by the look of the keyboard because it is quite efficient. Microsoft made the keys “clicky” and they provide a good tactile feedback to the user. We got used to it after a couple of days, and from there, it was a good experience.
We would love to see some 3rd party cover keyboards as well, but as of now, the Microsoft one works well and does a great job while staying discrete.
I have a cover or keyboard from a previous Surface tablet, can I use it on the Surface Pro 3?
In fact, you can. The connector is compatible and it should work right away. This is something that we tried as well. It won’t cover the whole screen, but other than that, it just works.
These were the questions that we get the most, and we’re glad to have an opportunity to compile them in a single location. If you have a question that we did not answer yet, feel free to drop a comment below, and we will do our best to find answers. Thanks for checking in!