When the original Surface was introduced, Microsoft made it clear that their aim was to render the ultrabook obsolete by providing a versatile, portable tablet with enough power and functionality to take on the added role of a productivity-oriented laptop or PC.
The result was decidedly mixed. The sequel, the Surface Pro 2, brought about a number of improvements but still suffered numerous usability issues. So, is the third time a charm for Microsoft’s ambitious project?
Picking up the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 immediately introduces a bit of a contradiction. It’s big, measuring in at 11.5-by-7.93 inches, but it’s also exceedingly thin. The 0.36-inch slate is nearly two-tenths of an inch thinner than the Surface Pro 2, and it’s more in line with a traditional tablet than an aspiring ultrabook.
It’s also a quarter of a pound lighter than previous models, weighing just 1.76 pounds. The construction quality is excellent and compares well with premium devices from other manufacturers.
Touring around the Surface Pro 3, the power button is situated on the left side of the top edge when held in landscape mode. The right edge features a Mini DisplayPort and USB 3.0 socket as well as a proprietary charging port.
A volume rocker and 3.5-millimeter headphone jack are located along the left edge. The bottom edge sports the magnetic connectors for use with the optional Type Cover keyboard accessory. There’s also a microSD card slot underneath the rear kickstand that can expand storage by up to 128 gigabytes.
Resolving the Details
Microsoft has never been known to skimp on displays in their tablets, and the Surface Pro 3 is no exception in this regard. The 12-inch panel is a full 40 percent larger than the previous iteration, and at 2,160-by-1,440 pixels it’s a beautiful display indeed.
Color and contrast are both excellent, and the IPS screen offers wide viewing angles and a low level of reflectivity. The display also makes the transition from a 16:9 aspect ratio to a more computer-like 3:2.
Under the Hood
The Surface line has always had power to spare, and the Surface Pro 3’s 1.9-gigahertz Core i5-4300U processor and eight gigabytes of RAM ensures that you’ll have enough muscle to accomplish any task you’d normally ask an ultrabook to handle.
The hardware is also assisted by a solid-state drive, and the overall performance is on par with what you’d expect from an ultrabook. Multitasking is a breeze, and even hardware-intensive programs are likely to perform well. At approximately seven hours, the Surface Pro 3’s battery life is about average compared to similarly thin devices.
It can’t compete with the best ultrabooks or tablets in terms of longevity, but it should be good enough for most users.
There’s no doubt the Surface Pro line has the hardware and the versatility to stand in for a typical ultrabook, but each model has been held back from being competitive in some way or another. Microsoft has taken some steps to address this, but usability still remains a question mark for the Surface Pro 3.
The first problem is that the Type Cover keyboard just doesn’t feel as good as an ultrabook keyboard. The adjustable kickstand and keyboard attachment are certainly improved over previous versions, but the experience still feels more like a poor and uncomfortable substitute for an ultrabook than a genuine replacement.
Additionally, the kickstand angles that are most comfortable also tend to be the ones that reduce the display’s visibility.
Comparison to Previous Model
Compared to the Surface Pro 2, the latest model has undergone a number of notable changes. The most immediately apparent is the increase to a 12-inch display, which provides considerably more screen real estate than the 10.6-inch Surface 2.
The Surface 3’s substantially enhanced resolution also outshines the already excellent display found on the Surface Pro 2. The overall user experience is also improved, but the keyboard still feels inadequate and it remains an expensive option rather than an included piece.
The Surface Pro 3 is a very good device, but it’s still hard to imagine it as the “ultrabook-killer” that Microsoft had envisioned.