Opinion: Surface Pro 3 - Quality Tablet PC but not mainstream

Surface Pro 3 and keyboard
Surface Pro 3 and keyboard
After having some time to consider what just happened with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 we come to a conclusion with our thoughts. Microsoft has a superbly engineered product in the Surface Pro 3, best-of-breed as it were, but it’s too early for mainstream 2-in-1 customers.

There’s an interesting thing happening in the 11-12 inch tablet space as technology advances. The story really started with the 890 gram Samsung XE700T which is remarkably similar to the Surface Pro 3 in concept in that it tries to offer a productive screen in a lightweight, tablet-first format with features that would appeal to more creative people. The Samsung XE500T, Sony Vaio Tap 11 and even the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro are aiming at the same thing – a productive, rather than consumption-focused 2-in-1.  The problem, however, is that even at 750 grams the weight is too much for many people for it to be a truly work-and-play tablet. 

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Microsoft Surface Pro 3

A consumer-focused 12-inch tablet is bound to happen at some point in the future as the ‘stack’ inside a tablet reduces and components get more efficient. If battery technology were to take a leap we might even get there with today’s technology but unfortunately we’re left with something tantalizingly close.








Comparison of dimensions

Let’s think about that fan for example. Microsoft appear to have based the design of the tablet around a new, improved fan design. Why?  We've already seen fanless Core-based products which, while not removing the need for quality thermal engineering, do remove the only moving part and save space and thickness. Fanless is possible, although possibly not at the high clock rates that Microsoft have enabled with the high-end Core i7 version of the Surface Pro 3 and that’s why we think that Microsoft is at the absolute limit for Ultrabook-style mainboard and internal design. What a shame it missed a more friendly consumer weight and fanless, silent design that could hit a potential  tens-of-million market rather than a niche of creatives.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Microsoft Surface Pro 2 Microsoft Surface Pro
Processor Intel Core i Haswell ULV Intel Core i Haswell ULV Intel Core i Ivy Bridge ULV
Graphics Intel HD Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4200 Intel HD Graphics 4000
Memory up to 8 GB RAM up to 8 GB RAM 4 GB RAM
Storage up to 512 GB up to 512 GB up to 128 GB
Display 12.0 inches 10.6 inches 10.6 inches
Resolution 2160x1440 pixels 1920x1080 pixels 1920x1080 pixels
Pixel density 216 ppi 208 ppi 208 ppi
Dimensions 292x201x9 mm 275x173x13 mm 275x173x13 mm
Weight 798 g 907 g 907 g
Battery 42 Wh Li-Ion 42 Wh Li-Ion 42 Wh Li-Ion
Price 799 € - 1949 € starting at 879 € 899 € - 999 €

Comparison of Specifications

The Surface Pro 3 is targeted at pro-mobile, productive, creative and highly-focused customers that have very specific needs. The N-Trig digitizer is there for designers, artists, natural handwriting workers, education and possibly CAD users, especially when paired with 8GB of RAM although the $1299 entry-cost for that configuration might put-off some first-time customers in the sector.  Still, if you look at the competition in the Fujitsu Lifebook T904 and the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga there isn't anything that will offer the same experience for less money. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a unique product. 

Think about some of the features that come with the Surface Pro 3: 

  • A class-leading screen offering wide color and contrast, high brightness and high DPI. Obviously we’ll be testing that as soon as we can but indications are that it’s going to beat a lot of PCs out there. 
  • DisplayPort that offers 4K multi-screen output. 
  • 2160x1140 resolution (3:2 aspect )
  • 802.11ac Wifi 
  • Infinitely variable, whole-width kickstand.   

The entry-level price is worth talking about too. The Core i3, 64GB version is to launch at $799 but you’re likely to see it with $699 offers later in the year. If you don’t need the highest CPU power you’ll still get the screen, design, most of the GPU power and the same RAM. We don't expect this Core i3 version to be the cut-down Y-series version either.

Surface Pro 3 stand
Surface Pro 3 stand

The battery inside is a 42Wh pack. Microsoft says it’s good enough for 9 hours of web and if you look back at some of our tests, yes, you can get that level of efficiency from this platform, as long as the screen brightness isn't too high. With InstantGo / Connected Standby support you’ll also get hundreds of hours of always-on usage but remember, this is a highly dynamic platform and as as soon as you get into gaming you’re going to be looking at under 3hrs of battery life and, possibly, a fast fan.

You can order the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 from today in the USA and the Core i5 version will be in shops on June 20th. we assume online orders will ship then too. By the end of August, the Surface Pro 3 and some accessories will become available for purchase in 26 additional markets, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Summary

There are a few things to watch out for on the Surface Pro 3 if you’re thinking of ordering one (from today in the USA.) It’s not fanless, there’s no full-size SD card slot, an 8GB model starts at $1299 and the N-Trig digitizer is yet to be tested by the sort of people that can pick up the difference as soon as they put pen to screen. Note that there’s no GPS or NFC listed in the specifications.

Microsoft have pushed the limits of high-quality engineering around a Core CPU and it’s great to see it. The Surface Pro 3 is lighter than the Surface Pro 2 and will offer a better 2-in-1 environment and at $799 will make an interesting, powerful and capable tablet PC / desktop PC choice. Have no fear, a well-built ultrabook-style platform is more than capable of being your office PC.  If you’re looking at graphical usage you’ll probably have to step up to 8GB of RAM and the $1299 option.

Would it have been better to wait until Broadwell launched? Possibly but that’s not really enough to enable a fully-powered fanless Core i7 experience as you see it today in the Surface Pro 3. If you really want the fanless 2-in-1 experience, keep an eye on the higher-end of the Baytrail spectrum where devices like the Lenovo Thinkpad 10 are playing. If you’re really into high-end lightweight computing though, don’t forget the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga and the Fujitsu Lifebook T904 with the Surface Pro 3 on your shortlist.

Surface Pro 3 dock
Surface Pro 3 dock

Surface Pro 3 Prices

Surface Pro 3    Estimated retail price (USA)
Intel® Core™ i3, 64 GB and 4 GB of RAM    $799
Intel® Core™ i5, 128 GB7 and 4 GB of RAM    $999
Intel® Core™ i5, 256 GB7 and 8 GB of RAM    $1,299
Intel® Core™ i7, 256 GB7 and 8 GB of RAM    $1,549
Intel® Core™ i7, 512 GB7 and 8 GB of RAM    $1,949

Surface Pro 3 Accessories     Estimated retail price (USD)
Surface Pro Type Cover    $129.99
Additional Surface Pen    $49.99
Additional 36W Power Supply    $79.99
Additional Pen Loop    $4.99
Docking Station for Surface Pro 3    $199.99
Surface Ethernet Adapter    $39.99

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2014 05 > Opinion: Surface Pro 3 - Quality Tablet PC but not mainstream
Author: Steve Chippy Paine, 2014-05-21 (Update: 2014-05-22)