49 Comments

Summary:

I’d never argue that Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 should be your first choice if you’re looking for a pure tablet. If you have limited tablet needs, though, the slate functions are a nice bonus from the ultrabook-like laptop computer.

Asphalt 8 Surface Pro 3

Since last week, I’ve been using the Surface Pro 3 review unit Microsoft loaned me on a nearly full-time basis. I normally use a Chromebook for my computing activities, both work and personal, so it has been a bit of an adjustment. So far, though, the Surface Pro 3 has worked quite well for me, at least as a laptop.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The device isn’t just a laptop, though — without the optional $129 Type Cover, it’s far more of a tablet. So after getting through my work days, I’ve put my current tablets aside — an iPad Air and Google Nexus 10 — and used the Surface Pro 3 as a slate.

For me, the Surface Pro 3 doesn’t work better than either of the tablets I normally use. It’s larger, heavier — about the same weight as the initial iPad — doesn’t have some of the tablet apps I use on other devices, can run hotter and doesn’t last as long on a single charge. Sounds like a “loser” of a tablet, right? Here’s the thing, though: I think that for people who don’t rely on their tablet as a primary device or simply want a device for occasional tablet use, it’s not bad.

What do you need your tablet to do?

Tablets are great for a lean-back content consumption experience, for example. The 2160 x 1440 Surface Pro 3 display paired with the fully adjustable kickstand make this slate, which is 9.1mm thin, a great tablet for watching video. Sure, some streaming video apps aren’t available for Windows 8.1. I haven’t found that a problem, though, because those streaming services work just fine in the browser. There are touch-friendly Windows apps for Netflix and Hulu. Not so for AmazonInstant Video — that’s when the web browser comes in handy so I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

Want to read a book? I’d never say the Surface Pro 3 is a better e-reader than a dedicated model — I love my Amazon Kindle Paperwhite — but it’s not a terrible experience either, provided you aren’t going to read for hours or if you don’t mind reading in landscape mode with the kickstand propping up the tablet (since it weighs 1.76 pounds).

Game on (for a little while, that is)

Gaming is a mixed bag. On the plus side, this is a full Windows PC, so you can run any of the thousands of PC games that are available. There’s also a number of touch-centric games that you’ll find on other tablet platforms, although the selection is a bit more limited.

I like “Real Racing 3,” for example, but it’s not available for the Surface Pro 3. Instead, I’ve been playing “Asphalt 8: Airborne” on Microsoft’s slate, which is a similar game and looks fantastic on this screen. But I can’t play nearly as long because the tablet is larger and heavier. Note: You hold the tablet and “steer” by tilting it left and right when driving.

Asphalt 8 Surface Pro 3

And playing this game caused the Surface Pro 3 to get noticeably hot in my right hand — so much so that the newly designed internal fan was louder than the game sounds. Still, for occasional game use, I’ve enjoyed using the tablet.

Good for the basics, as well as advanced note taking

There are plenty of other apps available for the Surface Pro 3 that I use regularly on my current tablets and they’re all useable with touch: Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard and Zillow (I’m house-hunting right now). Folks who use tablets with what I’d call top-tier or mainstream tablet apps will likely find what they need in the Windows Store. Microsoft also makes a few excellent tablet-type apps for the basics, such as News, Weather and Sports. And if you can’t find a particular app, that touchscreen modern or Metro browser comes in handy.

Surface Pro 3 comes with a digital pen that’s handy in tablet mode. Using OneNote, an app that’s been around for years and has only gotten better with time, I’ve been getting back into digital note taking.

OneNote Surface Pro 3

The pen can even wake the tablet and automatically open OneNote. The pen experience for writing is excellent; I’m not a digital artist so I won’t comment on using the pen for drawing purposes. Including the pen and its heavy OneNote integration is something that no tablet offers, save for a few Samsung models running Android. And those simply don’t compare to the sophistication that the Surface Pro 3 digital pen experience provides.

This is primarily a laptop, but the tablet functions are a nice bonus

I’ll have a final, full review of the Surface Pro 3 in the coming days. As a laptop, I’m impressed. As a tablet, less so but the idea behind this product is that it’s a two-in-one device: Instead of buying and carrying two devices, you can purchase just one. Any time you try to merge two distinctly different types of devices, you’re going to find compromises made. That’s clear when you use the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet. But tablet use for this ultrabook-class computer is almost a bonus, provided you want a limited tablet experience when compared to true tablets.

  1. “limited tablet experience when compared to true tablets.”

    Gigaom’s bias to all things Apple and Google is an absolute shame.

    This Surface 3 like all full Windows tablets allows you to run real Windows desktop applications not just some flimsy app based environment that both Google and Apple utilize. If you already own a bunch of computer software why should you have to re-buy everything just to use them on a tablet?

    Not a single mention in this whole article that a lot of people or businesses buy tablets to get actual work done and with the secondary purpose of maybe to play games, watch videos, or read books.

    Reply Share
    1. Hmmm…. describing some of the limitations and benefits isn’t what I’d call bias. It’s an observation. Folks need to make their own decisions when it comes to buying a device and that’s based on their needs; everyone’s are different.

      You’re absolutely right that you can run real Windows desktop applications. But these aren’t tablet optimized so I don’t see that as a benefit when looking at the tablet aspect of Surface Pro 3.

      And I *really* don’t understand your last point: no mention of secondary tablet purposes? My entire premise is that this is a solid tablet for just those purposes. That’s probably a better example of bias: not reading the article and drawing irrational conclusions because you disagree with what you *think* was said.

      Reply Share
    2. Hundoman- Dude right on, stick your old software disks into that $800+ surface 3. If this tablet was designed and made for primarily business people they wouldn’t need to advertise or make a store front for the masses. However, this tablet is designed for the average consumer, and its way over priced for its current application. This is why many people have switched to Google and Apple, because their versions of “Word, Excel, and Powerpoint” are free, and come with cloud support to all devices. No 365 yearly subscription needed from Microsoft.

      Reply Share
      1. FYI…Word, Excel and PowerPoint are free at outlook.com

        Reply Share
    3. maisonpulaski Sunday, May 25, 2014

      “limited tablet experience when compared to true tablets.”

      I think you may have missed something. It’s not limited in the sense of PC software. But it is a compromised *tablet* experience.

      Would you want to use a 17″ tablet? Of course not. That’d be ridiculous. Well 12″ is right at that questionable threshold.

      Can that 12″ screen be used as a tablet. Yes. So could a 17″ screen. But are either of those sizes optimal for the tablet experience?

      I really like the Surface Pro 3 and am considering it. But I agree that it compromises some key areas of both form factors. You get the keyboard but loose the rock solid stability of the traditional keyboard. You get the tablet but loose a little of the mobility in the weight and screen size. Yeah it’s lighter than the 13″ MBA. But the MBA isn’t a tablet.

      I think I see the authors perspective.

      Reply Share
      1. Correct and that’s what I was getting at (unsuccessfully it looks like. As a combo device I like the value provided. For a pure touch tablet experience not as much. Thanks!

        Reply Share
    4. Nicholas Paredes Monday, May 26, 2014

      Way back in the early days of mobile, I was playing with my Fujitsu slate tablet with a CDMA card. I loved my slate for the same reason I now love my iPad. A continuous internet connection and a usable interface, albeit with a pen only. I would peck out my emails and surf on the couch or at the beach. I would try to get educational publishers to stop printing books for teachers.

      A decade later, and many fewer educational publishers, I am thinking about a Surface 3 to complement my Macbook Air and iPad. I need a full version of Excel with stat software for school. I don’t need the best interface in the world, but it needs to work. Maybe it even needs to work more than an iPad does.

      I agree with the assessment here, and do not find it balanced against the Surface. Microsoft has plenty of challenges ahead given the current product mix, aging OS infrastructure, and the competition. It also has plenty of advantages. As a Mac user, I need Windows as much as everybody else does until the software really changes. And, it will. It’s too bad that fanboys on both sides can’t see the forest for the trees.

      Reply Share
    5. Isaac Rodriguez Thursday, May 29, 2014

      I was thinking the same thing. People actually want to get things done, not just for entertainment purposes. That is why i got rid of my TabPRO 8.4 and am going to get this, for the purpose of productivity.

      Reply Share
  2. Vlad Grigore Sunday, May 25, 2014

    Kevin, it sounds like you were trying your hardest to find a way to say that the Surface doesn’t suck in every way, but you just couldn’t figure out how to do it.

    Reply Share
    1. My apologies if that’s how it sounds; the Surface doesn’t “suck in every way” but it does make some compromises as you’d expect from a 2-in-1 hybrid.

      Reply Share
  3. Knowing both Windows and Unix (Mac OS), I am surprised why would anybody, except enterprise users, want a Windows machine. Just the necessity to run virus scans continuously kills performance and is a major headache. Not talking about integration, lack of system backup, etc.

    Reply Share
    1. Teagan Lewis Monday, May 26, 2014

      There are a lot of people who prefer to use Windows as a gaming platform. I’m excited for the possibilities of Linux as a gaming platform in the future (Android or Steam OS), but currently PC gaming means Windows.

      Reply Share
  4. Hi Kevin. I think your opinion is valid, but I also think that (like almost everyone else) you have fallen into the trap of considering Surface only within the context of known paradigms: is it a tablet or is it a laptop? Almost all criticisms of Surface seem to stem from considering each of these cases in isolation, and cherry picking areas where the experience falls short of the best “pure” device experiences.

    In truth, Surface is a hybrid device with multiple modes of use: tablet, laptop, and desktop (with dock). It should be evaluated at least in part as to how well it succeeds at blending these roles into a single device with minimal compromise. In this context, the Surface Pro 3 is easily the best designed, best built multi-mode computing device, and by a VERY wide margin.

    Reply Share
    1. I guess I should amend this to say that I recognize that you are, in fact, advancing this very argument in your post. It’s the headline that probably makes your post seem so negative upon first impression. I’d argue that it’s a pretty great tablet *for productivity* use cases, which is certainly what Microsoft is trying to hit.

      Reply Share
    2. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said.

      This look at Surface Pro 3 was *only* as a tablet, not in its entirety. I’ve already noted in my brief first impressions that it appears to be a pretty solid laptop (https://gigaom.com/2014/05/20/surface-pro-3-hands-on-better-laptop-yes-better-tablet-maybe/) and that I wasn’t sure about it as a tablet.

      That’s what this post is for: to discuss it as a tablet. At the end of this post, I said I’d have a full review and in that one I’ll look at the device as a whole. Hopefully that helps explain the approach to date. Thanks!

      Reply Share
  5. Any specifics regarding battery life? Microsoft claiming 9 hours seems stretches credibility IMHO. I run an I5 Samsung Slate and get maybe 1.5 hours. Intel processors running windows get hot and use tons of amps for a cooling fan. So what is the breakthrough with the Surface 3 to increase battery life so significantly?

    Reply Share
    1. Battery life is going to vary based on use of course. For what I do, which is mostly browser based activities and some apps for social networking, gaming, content playback and such, I’m seeing between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of usage on a charge. I think 9 hours might be possible for particular light computing activities with brightness levels under 50 percent.

      Reply Share
  6. I have the Surface pro 2 128g model and I wouldn’t see myself upgrading to the Pro 3. I bought it because I wanted full windows in a smaller form factor than my Lenovo laptop. Since getting it I’m starting to like Windows 8.1 (wasn’t sure at first) but with time it’s more natural. The pro 2 is slightly larger than I wanted so any larger just puts it too close to laptop size (I currently have a Lenovo T440s). To me the Surface pro line is a laptop in a smaller form factor that can work as a tablet. I’m not sure if I would call it a replacement for a tablet but if you own a Pro you really wouldn’t need to own a tablet too.

    Microsoft has put themselves dangerously close in size to my laptop. Like most everyone says, you need the keypad to get the most out of the Pro. Once you add that in you’ve increased the thickness and added slightly more weight. Once the Pro 3 gets into stores I’m going to put my t440 next to it so I can see first hand the physical differences. Price wise I think MS is going to struggle as they are right in the full feature laptop range.

    Reply Share
  7. Windows Tablets Sunday, May 25, 2014

    Until developers embrace Windows 8 the way they have iOS and Android, Windows 8 Tablets will be a niche product for geeks like me.

    Reply Share
    1. Nicholas Paredes Monday, May 26, 2014

      Until geeks like you embrace Windows 8, Windows Tablets will be a niche products for consumers like me. ;)

      Reply Share
    2. Nicholas Paredes Monday, May 26, 2014

      Until geeks like you embrace Windows 8, Windows Tablets will be a niche products for consumers like me. ;) Therein lies the problem.

      Reply Share
  8. realitycheck Sunday, May 25, 2014

    its a full i3/i5/i7 computer. if you want something less get a chromebook or ios/android tablet.

    Reply Share
    1. honestly, if you want a productivity based tablet and cheaper, go w/the HP 11t-h100 x2. Around $500 on sale starting and the N3520 in it works pretty well.. i can run my XP Prof VM on it for when i need to code my car and the keyboard dock is nice for when i need to run real full blown Windows apps like office 2013, acrobat, vpn, etc. I’ve had about a dozen various iPads and Android tablets and yet now only own my HP.

      we may get a Surface Pro 3 to test in the office for the next line of staff laptops for our company; Win8 is the biggest hurdle and getting used to it.

      Reply Share
  9. ever thought about BLUESTACKS for Android emulation
    – diyzen

    Reply Share
  10. Reblogged this on Carpet Bomberz Inc. and commented:
    There’s a difference between a tablet and a pen tablet. MS really committed to the pen tablet back in 2002 with Win XP Tablet Edition. That’s when OneNote hit the market and it’s been a pen friendly app from the get go. I challenge all competitors to achieve the level of function MS has achieved with the Surface Pro with a pen stylus. If you want or demand to use a pen with your tablet, go Surface Pro. If you want to just sit back and tap/swipe/read get just a tablet, not a pen tablet.

    Reply Share