Microsoft Surface Pro 3

 

Design

Yes, Microsoft bumped the Surface Pro touchscreen from a tiny 10.6 inches to a far roomier 12 inches. In the process, the pixel count has been upped from 1920 x 1080 to 2160 x 1440 The result is a modest boost in pixels per inch – 207 ppi to 216 ppi – given the increase in screen real estate.
More important is Microsoft's interesting choice in aspect ratio. Rather than sticking with the Pro 2's 16:9 or glomming onto the iPad's 4:3, the firm went with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The company claims that, with this aspect ratio, this 12-inch screen can actually display more content than the MacBook Air's 13.3-inch panel at 16:10. The move was also made to make the tablet feel more like your average notepad when held in portrait orientation.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review
Wrapped in a bright, silver-colored magnesium shell that's cool and smooth to the touch, the Surface Pro 3 feels premium in every regard. The tablet keeps the trapezoidal shape of its predecessors, but manages to come in both thinner and lighter than before. Plus, the tablet's upper half is beset by vents on its edges to better dissipate heat pushed out by its fan.
Microsoft also moved the Windows home button to the device's left side of its silky smooth – though, rather thick – glass bezel. This way, it appears on the bottom of the slate while held upright, calling out, 'Hey, hold it this way now.' While it's no doubt the lightest Surface Pro yet, I'm not sure whether I could hold onto it for an entire subway ride home.
Adorning both sides of the Pro 3 are 5MP cameras capable of 1080p video recording. While stills on either shooter won't blow you away, the front-facing lens should do just fine for Skype and the weekly video meeting over VPN.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

This Surface isn't without its sidekick(s)

A tablet wouldn't be much of a laptop replacement without a keyboard, and the Surface Pro keyboard was in desperate need of a boost. Luckily, Microsoft sent the Type Cover back to the drawing board, and what came back is the best version yet. From keys with deeper travel and stronger feedback to a wider glass trackpad that actually clicks, nothing was off the table.
But the most important improvement is the brand new double hinge. Equipped with a strong magnet that latches onto the Pro 3's lower bezel, the Type Cover can now rest with just a portion of it touching your lap or desk. This proved to make writing on my lap much more stable than with previous Surface devices. (Plus, the plush cover comes in five colors: red, blue, cyan, black and purple.)
Tucked beside the Type Cover is also the newly improved Surface Pen. Microsoft made a point of calling its stylus that, because the firm wants it to be seen as and feel like the writing instrument we've all grown up with. With an aluminum finish and a useful clicker up top, the Surface Pen is weighted to better feel like a pen. Using Bluetooth and powered by N-trig, the stylus tracks closer to its physical position than ever before, thanks to some major improvements to the Surface screen.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review
The new Surface Pro 3 inarguably has the look and feel of a premium product, so it only deserves to be stacked up against the most luxuriously built tablet and laptop around.

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-4300U (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3
  • Screen: 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 multi-touch (ClearType, 3:2 aspect ratio)
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Ports: One USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, microSDXC card reader (up to 128GB), headphone/mic jack
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: Two 5MP webcams (1080p HD video)
  • Weight: 1.76 pounds
  • Size: 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H)
This is one of the mid-range Surface Pro 3 configurations, and it'll cost you a steep $1,299 (about £772, AU$1,403). The most affordable way into the latest Surface Pro 3 goes for just $799 (around £475, AU$863). However, you'll have to work with an Intel Core i3 chip, half as much RAM and just 64GB of storage. On the other hand, you can deck out this slate with a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of memory and a whopping 512GB solid-state drive for $1,949 (about £1,158, AU$2,106).
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review
Returning to the device at hand, Microsoft says that it's essentially two devices in one, and has priced it accordingly, not to mention with Apple squarely in mind. So, starting with the latest iPad, it would cost $799 -- the Pro 3's starting price -- to only reach half of this Microsoft tablet's storage. And this is Apple's most premium configuration.
That price also gets you a 1.3GHz processor, a 9.7-inch display at 2048 x 1536 resolution, 802.11a/b/g/n dual-channel Wi-Fi with MIMO and Bluetooth 4.0. While it's tough to compare these displays given their difference in size, the iPad Air has a tough time competing with the Surface Pro 3 on paper.
The MacBook Air comparison is, surprisingly, an easier one to make, spec for spec. For $1,299, Apple's 13-inch thin-and-light laptop meets the Pro 3 head on in terms of storage and memory. However, that 1440 x 900 screen looks just dull in comparison. And while this notebook sports Intel's far superior HD Graphics 5000, the Core i5 chip behind them is much slower at 1.4GHz.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review
At first glance, it looks like the Surface Pro 3 can dance around both of Apple's machines at the same time. However, that's assuming you purchased the optional Type Cover. That's right: the one tool that enables this tablet to truly replace the laptop does not come with the device. In fact, it costs a cool $130 (around £77, AU$140). Even so, this Surface Pro 3 configuration, with Type Cover included, still costs less than Apple's entry level tablet and laptop combined. Microsoft may have made good on its goal of replacing the laptop in terms of price, but what about performance?