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My review of the Surface Pro 3

So I have spent some time with a Surface Pro 3 and thought a review would make some sense.

As people who have read this blog for a while know, I reviewed the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 in the past and was intrigued but less than impressed.

Those devices seemed like they fell just a little short of what was needed to be successful in this new space but in all fairness, Mirosoft was attempting something very new.

Both devices were more like “statements of intent” attempting to show the direction that Microsoft was heading in.

With the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft now seem to be fully convinced that this is the device of the future.

Let’s get started.

Unboxing

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 packaging

This is still an area where Microsoft lags behind and with the pricing of this device I cannot for the life of me understand it. The packaging doesn’t necessarily look cheap but it doesn’t feel special.

The boxing is held together with tape and the paper background of the (separate) Type Cover seemed plain and flimsy.

I think that with a device that potentially could cost well over $2000, Microsoft need to rethink the entire packaging experience. It does not feel like you are taking out something special and that’s a problem.

Design

Microsoft_Surface_Pro_3_design_final


Every generation of the Microsoft Surface tablets has gotten progressively better and this device is no exception. The device looks pretty slick. You get the beautifully crisp magnesium alloy metal casing that’s incredibly thin at 0.36-inches but internally has the hardware and horsepower of a full notebook computer.

The Surface Pro 3 measures in at 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36 inches and 1.76lbs (without the Type Keyboard attached) and it’s not a bad shape.

All the reviews I read rave on about how light it is and relatively speaking that is true (compared to a laptop sure). I can tell you though it’s not insignificantly light at all.

After substantial amounts of use, it definitely feels substantial and “light” is not the word that continued to pop up.

Microsoft have modified and extended the built in (very robust feeling) kickstand so that it clicks back all the way to 150 degrees. This is genius because it means you can use the device at almost any reasonable angle.

I had mentioned that I have big hands in my last review of the previous generation of the Surface and it felt small to me. The Surface Pro 3 never really felt that way at all. The keyboard felt really solid and I definitely had no problem doing “real work” on the device.

This device has a USB 3.0 and a Mini DisplayPort, along with a microSD card slot under the stand, a headset jack. In addition it has a magnetic Cover Port on the bottom edge.

Stereo speakers can be found under small slits on the sides and there’s a slit that runs through the side of the device that allows the fan to blow the air out.

The volume button is on the upper left edge, and the Windows key has shifted from the bottom bezel to the right.

There’s also a redesigned charging port, which now clicks into place without the uncertainty of whether it’s charging, as was a common complaint about the old model.

Hardware and Performance

SurfacePro3-v7

My review unit was a Core i5 unit running Windows 8.1 but Microsoft will be offering an i3 and i7 unit at both ends of the (price and performance) scales.

The entry-level Surface Pro 3 comes with 64GB of flash storage (128GB is an option, as well as being the standard storage for the low-tier Core i5; more expensive models get either 256GB or 512GB). It also comes with either 4GB or 8GB of RAM.

The device also has WiFi a/b/g/n/ac along with Bluetooth 4.0 LE, stereo microphones, and 5-megapixel cameras front and back, a digital compass, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, and a magnetometer.

Oddly enough the devices do not have an LTE option at this time but I fully expect Microsoft to provide that in subsequent versions.

During use, even though Microsoft say the device should provide up to nine hours of use with a battery, I was averaging about 8 which is not bad at all.

The Display

SurfacePro3-v6

The first and second generation Surface devices were simply too small when it came to screen size (10 inches). The Surface Pro 3 is much better since it’s a full 2160 x 1440 resolution and 12-inches in size.

The extra screen size does make a huge difference and it feels way more useable in this form factor.

The Pen

Surface_Pro_3_stylus

Your Surface Pro 3 will come with a pen. The new N-Trig pen that comes with the Surface Pro 3 is sleek and beautiful. It’s aluminum and sleek and feels like a quality writing device. Unfortunately Microsoft have made the cardinal sin of not carving out a groove in the tablet where the pen can be stored safely.

Instead there’s a little loop that sticks to the body of the tablet or Type Cover where you can (theoretically) store the pen when it’s not in use. Honestly though, the truth is that Microsoft need to integrate storage for the pen into the body of the device. Any other location just makes you feel self conscious and paranoid about losing the damn thing.

The pen is great for using OneNote and the Surface Pro 3 turns the button on the pen into a OneNote trigger, bringing the tablet out of sleep mode when clicked, and automatically opening up a new, blank note.

Also, if you’ve got the camera app open and click on the Surface Pen’s button, it’ll not only snap an image but save that image to a new note for you to annotate.

Type Keyboard

SurfacePro3-v8

The Type Keyboard is awesome this time around. Like the Type Cover of the second-gen Surface, the keys are backlit but since this new device has a bigger screen, the keyboard is correspondingly wider. This makes for more comfortable typing, and the trackpad is larger and smoother.

I have large hands but it felt great to me.

Now what is insane is the fact that Microsoft:

  • Didn’t make the Type Cover a standard accessory that comes with the Surface Pro 3
  • Charge $129.99 for it.

These are two ridiculous business decisions that will cause consumers to pause (yet again) when they shouldn’t have to.

Pricing

Once again, here are the prices that Microsoft are charging for the Surface Pro 3.

  • The 512GB Intel i7 tablet is $1949.
  • The 256GB Intel i7 tablet is $1549.
  • The 256GB Intel i5 tablet is $1299.
  • The 128GB Intel i5 tablet is $999.
  • The 64GB Intel i3 tablet is $799.

Source – Microsoft Store.

These prices are WITHOUT the Type Keyboard so throw an additional $129.99 into each price.

Those are ridiculous prices that have to make you ask what Microsoft’s strategy is.

For those who know their Microsoft history, they will know (from former Steve Ballmer statements) that it’s not clear what Microsoft planned to do with this line of devices.

  • Are they just a reference line of hardware to “show OEM’s how it’s done?”
  • Are they meant to be aggressively sold so that all consumers have a Surface Pro 3?
  • Is this really a corporate play so that companies have them for their employees?

At these prices, I suspect the Surface Pro 3 will remain a relative novelty. Really great to look at and admire but something that most people will not buy and that’s a shame.

It’s a really great device but it’s not priced to sell and you have to question the wisdom of that.

Summary

SurfacePro3-v5

Microsoft has done a really wonderful job with this device. I am impressed by how far the Surface has come and think that this device had a lot of thought and planning go into it’s execution.

I have a Macbook Pro 15 inch Retina laptop and it wasn’t really ever an option for me to switch. The whole attempt to get people to switch from Macs to this seemed silly to me from the very beginning.

People who use Macs probably are happy with the features of OS X and aren’t really too concerned about this new form factor if it means having to deal with Windows 8.1.

I haven’t been shy about saying that the pricing for this device is way too high and by not taking losses and using these devices as loss leaders, Microsoft continues to miss the point.

If I spend as much money designing a watch as Rolex does, make it look like a Rolex watch and feel like a Rolex watch, that doesn’t mean I can charge Rolex prices for my watch. The market needs time to get to know my product and appreciate the quality. Lots of time.

I do however think that these devices are slam dunks for the enterprise.

The Surface Pro 3 is EXACTLY the device I wrote about in my piece “24 hours in an all Microsoft world” where I said:

You dock your tablet into your terminal and you can use it with a keyboard, mouse and monitor.

You log into your work domain and your Microsoft account is deactivated but your corporate account is activated. You only have access to corporate cloud services with the exception of your calendar.

Your Xbox message beeps and reminds you to give your boss the message.

Using Skype, you get on your first video conference call of the day with 5 different countries. In the middle of that call, the screen is minimized because you have an incoming video call from your wife. You take the call briefly to answer her question and once you hang up, you are back on the video conference call.

You remember you want to tape a tv show so you send your Xbox an email saying “record 60 minutes”. The Xbox at home receives the email and starts the process of recording that series for you.

You walk down the hall to a conference room for a meeting with your tablet and take notes with a stylus. Paper stopped being used 7 years ago.

At your next meeting, using Bluetooth, you are able to connect your tablet to a projector and give that presentation. During the presentation, you use your stylus to take real-time feedback on the slides.

If you’re a Windows fan and need to have the latest and greatest, this is it. If you’re a budget conscious shopper it will be hard to justify spending the money on this device and once again, that’s a shame.

What about you guys and girls? Do you have a Surface Pro 3?

Use the comments below and let me know what you think of the device.

Gallery

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