updated 06:20 am EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Microsoft gets very close to perfectly executing the Surface Pro vision
Electronista recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 ahead of its June 20 North America launch. Although the device carries the '3' moniker, it is the first full redesign of the Surface Pro since its debut in January 2013. As has been well documented, the Surface product line has not been the runaway success that Microsoft had hoped. Of all the products on the market shipping with Windows 8, the Surface is the device where Microsoft's controversial Modern UI makes the most sense. So is the Surface Pro 3 likely to change people's perceptions towards what is one of the most innovative products to come out of Microsoft recently?
The first two incarnations of the Surface Pro centered on a 10.6-inch 1080p display, but weighed in a relatively hefty 2 pounds (910 grams). They were also relatively thick at 0.53-inches (13mm) that, while making them light for a notebook, were quite bulky compared to an iPad. Which is perhaps why with third iteration, although much lighter and thinner, Microsoft has squarely pitched the Surface Pro 3 at the MacBook Air/Ultrabook market.
While many expected Microsoft to reveal an 8-inch Surface (which was reportedly pulled at the 11th hour), the Redmond-based company went the opposite way, increasing the size of the Surface Pro 3 display to 12-inches with a sharp 2160x1440 resolution and an aspect ratio of 3:2 (most Windows tablets have a 16:9 aspect ratio). Although increasing in this dimension, impressively, Microsoft managed to get its total weight down to 1.8 pounds (800 grams). With a depth of just 0.36-inches, the Surface Pro 3 is also takes the title as the thinnest product powered by an Intel Core processor, in this case, the very latest iteration of Intel's fourth-generation 'Haswell' M chips.
In terms of chips, users have the option of a dual-core Core i3, i5 or i7 processor clocking from 1.9GHz with Turbo Boost through to 2.9GHz with integrated Intel HD4400 GPU. Unfortunately, RAM is capped at a maximum of 8GB, though storage options range from 64GB through to 512GB. Battery life is rated at up to 9 hours when browsing the web only, so you can expect that to drop markedly with tasks requiring more intensive processing. Other key specs include a full-size USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader, Mini Display Port, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, digital compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, 5 megapixel front and rear cameras as well as stereo Dolby speakers and an included Surface pen.
Other improvements to the Surface Pro 3 include a third-generation range of keyboard covers that feature a much-improved trackpad and better, more accurate pen-input. It also offers a far greater range of motion from the integrated kickstand that now allows you to lay the device right back with a comfortable tilt, ideal for pen input. While we have always liked the portability of the Surface range, compared to regular notebooks, we are not sure that the Surface Pro 3 has fully cracked Microsoft's PC tablet proposition. It has, however, come very, very close. To shoehorn what is effectively a full-powered Ultrabook into a tablet form-factor is a real achievement.
However, suspicions linger that the Surface Pro 3 is neither the best tablet you can buy, nor necessarily the best Ultrabook that you can buy, dampening our enthusiasm for it somewhat (even if it could well be the best hybrid that you can buy). When it comes to the best productivity tablet you can buy, it remains the undisputed champ. In our brief time with it, we certainly appreciated the larger display from a productivity-first perspective as viewing documents side-by-side is much improved. Its ClearType display is also one of the best you will ever see on a device. However, the increase in screen real estate means that the Surface Pro 3 is still somewhat uncomfortable to hold in one hand as a tablet for extended periods. While in notebook mode, it works well when used on a table, but a regular notebook remains much more comfortable when used on your lap.
If you are prepared to live with the compromises that seem inherent in hybrid devices, the Surface Pro 3 is well worth a look. Although a premium product, it is competitively priced compared to Ultrabooks with similar specifications and starts from $799.
By Sanjiv Sathiah