BY JOEL SANTO DOMINGO – PC MAGAZINE
Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 3 is a larger iteration of the Windows 8 tablet the company has been producing for the past two years, and it certainly addresses some of the shortcomings of last year’s Surface Pro 2. It also contains PC components like an Intel Core 5-4300U processor with Intel HD 4400 graphics, 8GB of DDR3L memory, and a 256GB SSD, but the biggest draws are its larger 12-inch size and higher-resolution screen. It also runs a full copy of Windows 8.1, which is something the iPad and entry-level Surface tablets like the Surface 2 and Surface with Windows RT can’t do.
During the press conference, Panos Panay, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Surface, repeatedly alluded to the fact that the majority of Apple iPad users still carry a laptop along in their bags to do real work. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 gives those users a much larger screen with a higher resolution than the one on their iPad or an ultraportable like a 13-inch MacBook Air.
We got a $1,299.99 Core i5-equipped Surface Pro 3 with 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD to test (stay tuned for our full, rated review), and at first flush it feels more balanced than the Surface Pro 2 and other 16:9 tablets like the Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 10. Its 3:2 aspect ratio is closer to a letter-sized paper notepad than the narrower and thinner 16:9 tablets, contributing to that balanced feel. Panay touted its 800-gram weight during the presentation, but that translates into about 1.75 pounds alone, and when you add the Type Cover and Surface Pen, the Surface Pro 3 tips the scales at 2.44 pounds, about three quarters of a pound more than the iPad Air, and about a half a pound less than the 13-inch MacBook Air. Not bad, but that’s pushing the limits of an everyday mobile companion that you carry everywhere.
The light blue Type Cover ($129.99) we received with the tablet guided itself and snapped in just like all the other Surface Type Covers we’ve seen, though this one is physically larger. The new cover also wakes the system when you open it. The one-piece touchpad is a huge improvement over the tiny one on the older Surface tablet covers.
The included Surface Pen, made by N-trig, is chunkier than the last model, and you can no longer clip it to the charging port. You’re clearly meant to keep this in your shirt pocket like a real pen. There’s a loop in the Type Cover meant for pen storage, but that is kind of flimsy and will likely tear sometime over the tablet’s lifetime. The pen’s top-mounted button feels like the one on a traditional ballpoint pen or mechanical pencil. If you click it, it automatically wakes the tablet and opens OneNote on a new blank document. Clearly Microsoft designed the system with notetaking in mind. The Surface Pen glides easily on the Gorilla Glass, with only a minor visible lag in drawing if you move the pen too fast. The line fills in almost before you can lift the pen off the Surface.
Typing on the new Touch Cover feels similar to the last version, with the same feel and keystroke travel. However, the additional magnetic latch between the tablet and the cover helps stability and has the added benefit of raising the typing angle to something more traditional. The chassis (finally!) has indents on both sides, so lefties and righties can easily extend the kickstand. The kickstand works as advertised, allowing you to tilt the system back to a comfortable angle from standing to when you’re slouched in a seat with the Surface Pro 3 on your lap. The action on the hinge took a little effort to change angles, but that’s likely to loosen up as you use it. The magnetic latch on the Type Cover helps stability at all angles.
Unfortunately, the Type Cover is still an added extra, which will negatively affect any price comparison to a traditional laptop. Sure, it’s competitively priced alone, but add the necessary keyboard and all of a sudden the tablet seems more expensive.
The 2,160-by-1,440-resolution screen is bright and clear, with good scaling of the Windows 8 UI. Colors pop, and sample images look vibrant and lifelike. We’ve seen some larger laptops like the Dell XPS 15 with QHD+ screens that don’t handle scaling as well: UI elements like text and menus look fine on the 12-inch screen. The Surface 3 booted in a few seconds: It took longer to connect to our wireless router than it did to cold boot the system. It found and connected to several 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks in our lab.
So far, so good. We’re running the Surface Pro 3 through our Lab tests and will report back to you shortly with its strengths and shortcomings, and how it stacks up against the competition. Will the Surface Pro 3 truly replace both a laptop and a tablet? We’ll let you know in our full review.