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The Surface line of Microsoft tablets got off to a very rough start, with the Surface RT falling utterly flat and costing the company almost a billion dollars. The Surface 2 fared better thanks to an upgraded display and better hardware, though the continued use of the rather truncated Windows RT platform limited its appeal. With the Surface 3, Microsoft’s lower-cost alternative to the premium Surface Pro 3, the tech giant may have finally found a successful balance between cost and functionality.
For all its complaints, the Microsoft Surface line has always been extremely well-designed compared to tablets by other manufacturers. The Surface 3 is as sleek and attractive as ever, with a little-changed magnesium alloy case that feels both sturdy and comfortable to hold. At 10.52-by-7.36-by-0.34 inches and 1.37 pounds, it’s both thinner and lighter than its predecessors. The aspect ratio has changed slightly as well, creating a more conventional tablet shape that marks a subtle improvement.
The Surface 3 features a layout that is similar to its forerunners. Taking a tour around the device, a Mini DisplayPort, USB 3.0 port, micro-USB port, and 3.5-millimeter headphone jack are arrayed along the right edge in landscape mode. The bottom features magnetic connectors for Microsoft’s excellent detachable keyboard, which unfortunately is still sold separately at a steep price. (Update – the iPad Pro’s keyboard is more expensive.) Comparing tablets with the previous iteration, the Microsoft Surface 3 biggest layout change is the volume rocker, which moves to the top edge along with the power button. A microSD card slot is tucked away under the kickstand.
Resolving the Details
Despite a 1,920-by-1,280 native resolution that lags slightly behind the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 features a display that is every bit as pleasing as its more expensive sibling. The 10.8-inch LCD panel is largely excellent, offering superior color reproduction and vibrant, high-contrast image quality. It’s plenty bright enough for indoor use, even under bright ambient lighting, but the screen can become difficult to read outdoors. Still, compared to tablets in its class, the Surface 3 offers a display that’s hard to beat.
Under the Hood
Like its predecessors, the Microsoft Surface 3 is powered by a low-power Intel Atom processor. In this case, it’s a 1.6-gigahertz Atom Z8700 chip running the show. The Z8700 is a clear step up from the seriously underpowered Atom chips of yore, but it still leaves something to be desired. The Surface 3 can handle routine tasks with ease, but it simply doesn’t have the horsepower to fill the role of a portable laptop. However, Microsoft’s decision to upgrade to the full-featured Windows 8.1 marks a significant improvement compared to tablets running a hobbled Windows RT operating system. (Update – Windows 10 is out and is the best Windows ever.)
Though billed as the ideal blend of laptop and tablet, the Surface 3 still isn’t quite good enough in either regard. A fully functional Windows OS is an excellent inclusion, but the Surface 3’s underpowered hardware limits its usefulness among power users. Microsoft’s Type Cover keyboard is also very well-done, but it remains an expensive optional component rather than an included feature. The Surface 3 fares much better as a tablet, especially with its newly implemented stylus support, but there are better options for those who simply want a tablet.
Comparison to Previous Models
Comparing tablets, the Surface 3 is undoubtedly a clear upgrade over the Surface 2. The inclusion of Windows 8.1 alone warrants an upgrade, but the improved display and better hardware are also welcome additions. Compared to the Surface Pro 3, however, there’s plenty left to be desired. The displays are quite comparable and both devices boast excellent construction quality, but the Surface 3 simply can’t compete with the Pro’s significantly more powerful hardware. For users who are searching for a true all-in-one solution, the Surface Pro 3 remains a better option despite the hefty price tag. (Update – since the iPad Pro announcement, technophiles have been rethinking their attitude to the Surface range. The consensus is that the Surface was ahead of its time, and represents the future of computing. High praise!)
We have our opinion, but what do the guys at TechnoBuffalo think?