Following the release of two previous versions of the Surface hybrid tablet/laptop, Microsoft recently released the Surface Pro 3, which is a ramped up version of the previous generation Surface device. The new Surface Pro 3 maintains the 2 in 1 functionality and sports a larger display with a sharper screen resolution. Plus, the chassis has been designed with a thinner profile and is lighter than its predecessors.
The new 12-inch screen is designed to compete with the Ultrabook. Plus, the Pro 3 has a newly designed keyboard with better response and the ability to adjust the kickstand to a more comfortable angle. The Surface Pro 3 also comes with other new designs and tweaks that increase usability and efficiency.
A beautiful surface.
The previous version of the Surface was known for sporting a high end look and sturdy feel and I am happy to report that this has been carried over to the current generation. The simple yet elegant design does of good job of discreetly sporting a bigger 12-inch screen, which is housed by a magnesium alloy build and edging that is beveled for comfortable handling.
A lighter surface.
Although the screen on the Surface Pro 3 is larger, Microsoft has made an effort to make the Pro 3 lighter and thinner than the previous versions of the Surface, and they have succeeded. In terms of weight, the Surface Pro 3 is heavier than the iPad Air weighing in at just over 1.7 pounds. When you attach the keyboard (which is not included), the Pro 3 weighs in at 2.4 pounds.
A much improved display.
The biggest improvement in the Surface Pro 3 is the brand new display, which has been expanded from 10 inches in the Surface 2 to 12 inches in the Surface Pro 3. Additionally, the screen resolution has improved from the Surface 2 which was 1920 x 1080 to a 2160 x 1440 resolution for the Surface Pro 3. This is still less than other similar hybrid devices on the market, but still a significant improvement over the Surface 2 none the less.
Size isn’t everything!
In terms of size, the Pro 3 is thinner than the Pro 2 at 0.36 inches and measures 11.45 inches x 7.8 inches in size. When you attach the keyboard, the Pro 3 thickness increases to 0.56 inches. Unlike the Pro 2 which contains a port for storing the stylus pen, the Pro 3 does not provide any storage unless you decide to purchase the optional keyboard.
The operating system.
Strangely enough, Microsoft decided not to opt for an Android based operating system! The Metro-based Windows 8.1 is much more at home on a tablet device and the user experience is feels intuitive. Windows 8.1 is indeed a much stronger OS when operating in its native environment. Click here to read our full review of Windows 8.1.
The hinge on the back of the device has been revamped and can now be folded back up to 150 degrees. This is an improvement over the predecessors that provided only two different adjustments. The hinge design allows you to use the stylus pen on the screen at an angle that is more convenient than the previous models of the Surface. And although you have more choices when it comes to the hinge angle, the Surface Pro 3 still feels very sturdy with a hint of stiffness to the hinge for durability.
Where is the Windows button?
Microsoft has made one design change and has moved the Windows button to the shorter side of the device for use in portrait mode. On the previous versions of the Surface, the Windows button was located on the longer side of the device for use in landscape mode. The change in location of the Windows button is to support the new stylus pen input for the Surface Pro 3.
The only drawback with the location change for the Windows button is the speaker placement. Microsoft has maintained the speaker placement on the left and right hand sides of the Pro 3 for use in landscape mode. This means when you hold the Pro 3 in portrait mode, one of your hands will be placed over one of the speakers.
Similar to the previous model of the Surface, the Pro 3 is designed with one miniDisplayPort and one USB 3.0 port. However, the location has changed to the right side of the Pro 3 along with the port for the Power adapter. The volume controls are comfortably situated on the left hand side of the device along with the Power button.
Processing Performance – Available in three different processing levels (i3,i5 and i7),the Surface Pro 3 we tested was equipped with an Intel Core i5 processor running at 1.9 GHz and 8GB of DDR3 Random Access Memory (RAM). The Pro 3 was also equipped with a 256GB Solid State Drive (SSD) which provides a Windows 8.1 boot time of just under 16 seconds. In terms of performance, the Pro 3 was slightly faster than the Pro 2 equivalent, scoring higher in benchmark tests for duplicating multimedia files and other regular computer tasks. In the multimedia file test, the Pro 3 demonstrated duplication of just under 5GB of multimedia files in about 33 seconds.
Graphics – An interesting find on the Surface Pro 3 revealed that the integrated Intel High Definition Graphics processor proved to be rather limiting considering that the Pro 3 has been equipped with a higher screen resolution. With the resolution set to the maximum of 2160 x 1440, you are limited when it comes to playing graphics intensive games such as World of Warcraft in terms of frames per second. However, if you reduce the resolution, then you can increase the frames per second.
At the end of the day, this is not a device for the serious gamer. The Surface Pro 3 offers decent graphics capability and in conjunction with the beautiful screen display, the graphics performance is more than sufficient for everyday computing tasks.
Keyboard – If you plan to use the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop, it is necessary to purchase the optional keyboard (Type Cover) for an additional £80. A new feature for the Type Cover unit is the variety of colors which include conventional black, purple, blue, or red that spruces up the appearance of the device which has a brushed silver magnesium alloy color. Some of the other new features include a larger magnet that covers the full length of the keyboard to create a more secure connection to the tablet portion of the Surface Pro 3. This is an improvement over the Surface 2 that is built with a smaller magnet which attaches to the tablet portion of the device.
In terms of typical performance, the keys offer 1mm of travel which requires you to press a little harder than other keyboards of this caliber. The top row of the keyboard contains buttons that allow you to control the backlighting for the keyboard with a series of keys that are specific to Windows functions.
The new larger touchpad that measures 3.5 x 1.7 inches provides improved response when compared to the Surface 2 touchpad. The larger size makes touch gestures and swiping motions much easier plus, the left and right mouse buttons provide improved response.
Connectivity – In terms of connectivity, the Surface Pro is equipped with a miniDisplay port, one USB 3.0 port, and an SD card reader for storage expansion. There is also a 3.5mm audio jack and built-in microphone for conducting video chats. The 3.5mm headphone jack provides you with a richer sound quality than the two speakers that are located on the side of the Pro 3. The speakers are average at best and lacking in depth which is typical for most tablet devices of this level.
Wireless Connectivity – The Surface Pro 3 is equipped with wireless capability with support for 802.11 a/b/g/n connectivity. This helps the Pro 3 to adapt to connections that are operating on different wireless standards in accordance with the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). There is also Bluetooth 4.0 capability for use with Bluetooth enabled peripherals. The Surface Pro 3 does not offer an integrated 3G adapter.
Additionally, the Surface Pro 3 has been upgraded to include a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) which provides you with added security and platform integrity with disk encryption and password protection. This feature was not included in the Surface 2.
Cameras – The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 offers a 5MP (megapixel) front facing camera and a 5MP back facing camera. The back camera takes average photos with colors that are relatively sharp. However, the back facing camera tends to fade out the whites making images in the photo look washed out. The front facing camera is an improvement over 1.2MP and takes fairly decent selfies. The front facing camera tends to display visual noise but otherwise has acceptable performance.
Stylus Performance – Microsoft has included a stylus pen with the Surface Pro 3 which provides you with more accuracy than using your finger. However, as mentioned earlier, there is no place to stow away the stylus pen when not in use like there is with the Surface 2. The stylus pen has been revamped from the Surface 2 to include an active digitizer made by a different manufacturer than the stylus pen included in the Surface 2. The new digitizer provided by N-trig instead of Wacom allows more accuracy on a thinner glass display and has a slimmer design than the Surface 2 stylus pen. The new stylus pen on the Surface Pro 3 feels more like a traditional ink pen and feels more natural when you hold it in your hand. Additionally, the Pro 3 screen is designed with just enough friction that makes it feel like you are writing with pen and paper. The new stylus pen also sports an innovative button on the top that allows you to use an eraser when using apps. The button can also be pressed to wake up the tablet from sleep mode and then OneNote automatically appears on top of the lock screen.
When not in use, the stylus pen must be slipped into the loop that attaches to the tablet. Or you must use the loop attached to the optional keyboard. The loop tends to detach from the device so you may want to find a safe place to store the stylus pen.
What about the battery life?
Microsoft has described the battery life on the Surface Pro 3 in two categories:
- You can achieve up to nine hours of battery life with the auto-brightness disabled and the Wi-Fi connection powered on or,
- You can opt to multitask without doing the above with a 15 to 20 percent increase in battery life when compared to the Surface 2.
Although the Surface Pro 3 battery life falls short when compared to other Ultrabooks on the market, it is still pretty decent. If you loop a series of videos with the Wi-Fi enabled and the auto-brightness disabled, you can still manage to eke out just over seven hours of battery life. This is an increase over the Surface 2 battery which could last just over 6 hours, not bad when you consider the improved technical specification and a bigger screen. In this regard, the Surface Pro 3 is in step with other competitive devices on the market such as the Sony VAIO Pro 11 and a larger Ultrabook such as the Yoga 2 Pro by Lenovo.
In another test, surfing the web with the Wi-Fi activated and the screen brightness adjusted to 150 nits, the Surface Pro 3 battery lasted just under seven and a half hours. This is still less than the MacBook Air at just over 12 hours and the Note Pro 12.2 at nine hours and 30 minutes.
Although the battery life does match up to some of the other Ultrabooks on the market, it does charge very quickly. If you completely deplete the battery, it can easily be charged back up to at least 75 percent within 90 minutes. This means you can continue with at least a few hours of work if you do not have time to wait for a full recharge. Plus, the charger is very compact in the event you decide to take it with you and there is also the USB port option as well.
Pricing and Warranty.
The Surface Pro 3 is offered in five different flavours beginning with 64GB of SSD storage, an Intel i3 processor and 4GB of RAM at a price of around £639.00 including VAT. The prices increase from there starting with 128GB of SSD storage, an Intel i5 processor, and 4GB of RAM and range to a model with 512 GB of SSD storage, an Intel i7 processor, and 8GB of RAM, at a price of £1,649.00 including VAT.
Each model of the Surface Pro 3 is backed by a one year limited hardware warranty.
What are the pros and cons?
The Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft’s biggest and best tablet to date. Here are a few pros and cons to help you make an informed decision:
- Beautiful new display screen with higher resolution.
- The kickstand folds out to 150 degrees as opposed to only two positions on the Surface 2.
- New stylus pen performance enhances usability and makes the tablet easier to use as a standalone device.
- Faster processing performance depending upon the model you choose.
- Stylish design is thinner without sacrificing performance.
- The keyboard must be purchased separately.
- The kickstand feature can be inconvenient for lap use.
- Battery life is okay but could compete more with some of the Ultrabooks on the market.
- Device tends to run slightly hot when used for extended periods of time.
Would you recommend the Surface Pro 3?
Although the screen size is larger, the Surface Pro 3 has been designed for easier use as a standalone tablet device. The biggest drawback is the high price that does not include the keyboard which makes the Pro 3 difficult to recommend to business uses n a budget.
Although the keyboard touchpad has been improved, other reviewers have mentioned the keyboard itself has scored low on typing tests where typing a specific number of words per minute is weighed against the number of typing errors made. The keyboard tends to be somewhat flimsy while commanding a high price tag. This drives the cost up even further when the device is being used for business.
On the other hand, if Microsoft could figure out a way to include the keyboard in the price, the Surface Pro 3 is perfectly suited for business use. In the meantime, if you are seeking a business PC and like the Windows apps, you may want to consider an Ultrabook with touchscreen functionality unless, of course, the additional cost is of little concern.
Is the Surface Pro 3 a noticeable improvement over the previous version of the Surface Pro?
Microsoft released the Surface Pro 3 just eight months after the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 hit the market. So, is the Pro 3 a noticeable improvement over its predecessor? Overall, we would have to say the answer to this question is “yes.” The improvements and new features include:
Size – The new Surface Pro 3 is significantly larger than its predecessor without adding a lot of bulk to the design.
Design – The new Surface Pro 3 sports a classy silver magnesium alloy where the previous model was designed in black. However, both models have maintained the study build that the Surface is known for.
Kickstand – The Surface Pro 3 offers more usability with an additional kickstand option that was not present on the previous versions.
Display – The display is larger on the Pro 3 and offers a higher resolution than its predecessor.
Weight –Microsoft made the Surface Pro 3 thinner while reducing the weight of the device.
Stylus Pen – The new stylus pen on the Surface Pro 3 is designed for improved usability with more advanced features than the previous plastic Surface pen.
Cameras – The Surface Pro 3 offers an improved front and back camera at 5 megapixels with 1080p where its predecessor was equipped with a front and back 1.2 megapixel camera with 720p.
Battery – The battery life for the Surface Pro 3 is up to 20 percent longer than its predecessor.
Final verdict. Excellent.
Overall, Microsoft has been gradually improving the Surface hybrid device with each new release. However, it can still use some improvements like the ones we pointed out in this article. When compared with its predecessors, the Surface Pro 3 with new improvements has a lot more to offer than the previous generations.
Additionally, the Surface Pro 3 starts out a lot cheaper than the MacBook Air (13-inch) and the iPad Air combined together, and this includes the purchase of the optional keyboard (Type Cover). Although it may not be for everyone depending upon the purpose for which you want to use the Pro 3, it is certainly worth spending the time to review and consider.
About the author.
Our IT Department Ltd. is one of London oldest IT service organisations. We provide a comprehensive range of IT support services and technology solutions to a diverse range of clients across the capital. Visit the about us page to find out more about who we are and what we do…