Review: Surface Pro 3 works as laptop, has trade-offs

May 21, 2014 by Anick Jesdanun
Panos Panay, Microsoft's vice president for Surface Computing, holds an electronic stylus that works with the Surface Pro 3 and Final Draft software at a media preview, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 in New York. The device will have a screen measuring 12 inches diagonally, up from 10.6 inches in previous models. Microsoft says it's also thinner and faster than before. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

To appreciate Microsoft's latest tablet computer, you need to accept the notion that one device can do it all. The Surface Pro 3 works as a tablet when you want to watch video or read e-books. It works as a laptop when you need to get serious work done. The Surface delivers on both, though it falls short of meeting Microsoft's claim to do so without compromising on either.

The Pro 3 runs a full version of Microsoft's Windows 8 system, the same as you get on a traditional desktop or laptop computer. That means that, unlike other , it can run just about any program designed for Windows: Microsoft Office, Photoshop and more.

The Surface has a touch screen like other tablets, but it also has an optional cover that opens to reveal a physical keyboard and touchpad. It has a USB port and one for external displays, both of which are rare on tablets.

It also matches laptops in price. Although the new Surface starts at $799, the keyboard cover is $130 extra. As a laptop replacement, you'll want a faster processor and more memory. Configurations run up to $1,949, or $2,079 with the keyboard. A comparable MacBook Air laptop costs $1,749—though buying a separate tablet will run you a few hundred dollars more.

The mid-range configuration comes out June 20, with the rest coming out later this summer. Microsoft began taking orders Wednesday. I've had about a day with the Surface since Tuesday's announcement.

I wrote this story with my feet on my desk and the Surface on my lap. The previous model had a kickstand that rests in two positions—one for the desk and one for the lap. The new one gives you a range of angles, akin to adjusting a laptop screen on its hinge to any position. I was able to adjust the angle to reduce glare from overhead lights.

Of course, the MacBook also does all that, while allowing me to hold it in one hand. When I try to do that with the Surface, the keyboard or screen moves back and forth like a swing.

Panos Panay, Microsoft's vice president for surface computing, introduces the Surface Pro 3 tablet device at a media preview, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 in New York. The device will have a screen measuring 12 inches diagonally, up from 10.6 inches in previous models. Microsoft says it's also thinner and faster than before. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Then again, the MacBook isn't convenient to open on a crowded subway or bus, and it isn't comfortable for watching video in bed. The Surface, without the keyboard, is ideal for those situations.

Apple's iPad is good for that, too, and it has a greater range of tablet-specific apps unavailable for Windows or even Android.

The Surface and other Windows tablets have the benefit of being able to run multiple apps side by side, something I long for in the iPad when I want to check e-mail or Facebook while watching video. The Surface also has a bigger screen, at 12 inches diagonally, compared with the iPad's 9.7 inches.

The Surface comes with a stylus that feels like a real pen. Clicking on it takes you to Microsoft's OneNote app, where you can start handwriting or doodling, just as you would on a pad of legal paper. The screen is sensitive enough to tell whether you're pressing lightly or hard, and what appears adjusts accordingly, just like real paper.

One potential annoyance: The pen doesn't have a rechargeable battery. You need a AAAA battery (the first time I've heard of that size) plus two wristwatch-type coin-cell batteries. And you need a small screwdriver, not included, to replace the coin-cell batteries.

The new Surface departs from most other tablets, including previous Surface models, in adopting a screen ratio of 3:2. Most tablets use 16:9 for widescreen television. The iPad uses 4:3, which is common for older TV shows and standard digital photographs.

That means you'll get wasted space whether you watch 16:9 or 4:3 video. It tends to be one or the other on other tablets, though the amount of wasted space is larger when you do have it. Microsoft says the 3:2 ratio is the "sweet spot" that covers both types of content. It's also good for photos from single-lens reflex, or SLR, cameras.

A bigger consideration than the screen ratio is whether you need a single device that does all things.

There are plenty of professions that don't involve sitting at desks all day: health care, retail and teaching, to name a few. A hybrid might make sense in those cases.

But I'm not one of those people.

When I'm reading e-books on a train or a bus, I prefer a smaller tablet or dedicated e-reader. When I'm editing photos or writing, I prefer a laptop with a larger screen. When I'm watching video, I prefer a streaming device attached to a big-screen TV.

The Surface is good for those who want just one device, but there are trade-offs, notwithstanding Microsoft's insistence otherwise.

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cjn
3.3 / 5 (3) May 21, 2014
Why not just say "its not Apple, I don't like it"? That would save everyone the time of actually reading this review, thinking that a product would be judged on its own merit, and not soley in regard to some series of Apple products. I don't care for iOS or WIN8 (particularly the latter), but they're oriented towards different audiences, as are the physical products of both parent companies. Try some objectivity, if the iFanboi in you will allow it.
betterexists
1 / 5 (1) May 21, 2014
Just put DVD PLAYER IN KEYBOARD & in case of need Stick it into the Rear of the Tablet!
Let keyboard be Male & Tablet be Female!
betterexists
not rated yet May 21, 2014
Just put DVD PLAYER IN KEYBOARD & in case of need Stick it into the Rear of the Tablet!
Let keyboard be Male & Tablet be Female!

And an Optional External Storage Disk as (an Additional) Stand!
baudrunner
5 / 5 (1) May 21, 2014
Just keep making stuff that we never asked for and that don't do the job as well as what we have already just because they are possible to make and on account of the technology is just begging to be shown off. I can't see a serious computer user like a software developer, engineer, or systems administrator or the like ever using one of these things to do their work on. I'm going to start calling these gadgets novelty items, and like most things, the novelty will wear off, but not until you've given one of the wealthiest corporate entities in the world even more money on something you never asked for and that don't do the job as well as what we have already just because they are possible to make and on account of the technology is just begging to be shown off. Keep your money and keep your laptop/desktop/workstation because you actually need those.
del2
1 / 5 (1) May 22, 2014
When I look for a replacement laptop, I look for the answers to a number of questions, of which two main ones are:
1. Can I install Linux on it?
2. Does it have a keyboard with a proper Delete key, also Home, End, Page Up and Page Down keys? (I use these frequently).
A 'No' answer to either of these means the device is struck off my list.
The answer to Q. 1 is usually 'yes' - but would it be with the surface 3?
The answer to Q.2 is often 'no' as manufacturers follow Apple's lead, as in this case.
The Surface Pro 3 is not on my shopping list.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) May 22, 2014
A 'No' answer to either of these means the device is struck off my list.

But, as can be seen from the article, the demographic that goes for these kinds of gadgets is the one with the main requirement: "Can I watch movies in bed"?

Tablets are for consumers - not producers. Trying to make a tablet into a functional device for people who propuce content is pretty futile (and no - if someone makes a doodle like in the image in a meeting then that does NOT count as 'producing value' for a product. I've seen it tried by people in marketing and vene people in usability design. It's just a doodle. Don't kid yourself into believing it gives meaningful implementation help to the guy designing/building the hardware/software of your product)

Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (2) May 22, 2014
If I want and need processing power and real graphics - I can buy a box and a big screen all for $800 - for something "pretty damned good".

Install Linux on it - and loads of pretty damned good free (make donations too) and some paid for software....

I mean why invest in more American Corporate GLOBAL SPYWARE from Microsoft, just to keep the pricks in the NSA employed?

What are they? Running out of people to bomb, and countries to invade, and install puppet governments in - for oil, gas, coal, gold, opium and coke, uranium, prostitution, weapons sales etc..

Sell them more shit to keep them under surveillance?

Buy American? I doubt it.

Nik_2213
not rated yet May 24, 2014
Sure, it looks pretty, and was probably what M$ had in mind when they foisted W8 on us, but, well, it is still W8.x.

When I had to migrate to 8.1 after a storm's repeated power trips crashed & trashed my lovely, lovely, ex-CAD XP system, I needed a long, hard week to purge all the 'smart phone' stuff, cull umpteen silly 'Apps' from my desktop and create shortcuts to replace Windows' butchered menus.

I've NEVER used a 'Charm' or any of those other not-so-useful whatevers that randomly pop up from the centre-line of my twin screens. When that 'you must have' U1 update arrived, it made no difference because I'd already devised logical work-arounds...