Surface Pro 3 hands on: Better laptop, yes; better tablet, maybe

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

As I walked back from Microsoft’s Surface event earlier today, one question kept creeping into my mind: Did Microsoft improve the new Surface Pro 3 enough to appeal to both tablet and laptop users? It’s too soon to say of course, but I’m writing this post on a Surface Pro 3 review unit with the new Type Cover keyboard. That in itself is telling since I normally use a Chromebook for traditional computing and iPad as a tablet. I also bought a Surface Pro 2 a few months ago that I ended up returning; it just didn’t work for me.

Surface Pro 3, though? I’m intrigued. The hardware itself is pretty impressive at first glance and I can see that Microsoft put quite a bit of time into making the overall device’s usability better: Both as a laptop and a tablet. Some quick thoughts as I use the loaner device for a first post:

  • This 2160 x 1440 screen is superb, both vivid and crisp. |
    Surface Pro 3 display
    It’s now 12-inches diagonally but a 3:2 aspect ratio. That sounds like a crazy ratio yet I like it. Probably because my Chromebook Pixel has the same 3:2 setup. That works better for me than the Surface Pro 2’s setup because it’s taller and more laptop-like. I don’t feel as cramped when in landscape mode. I’m still not sold on this screen for portrait mode though: It’s better than the long display on its predecessor but still fairly big.
  • The new hinge on Surface Pro 3 adjusts to nearly any angle between 22 and 150 degrees. I already like it because it’s more customizable. It also works better on my lap as a result.
  • Helping laptop mode is a magnet in the new Type Cover. The keyboard still attaches to the side of Surface Pro 3 but also to the screen bezel. This gives the overall device more sturdiness in laptop mode.
    Surface Pro 3 keyboard
  • I never cared for the trackpad on prior Surface keyboards — a shame because the typing experience was quite good. This new trackpad is bigger and feels like glass although it’s probably very polished plastic. It works much better than the prior trackpad and I don’t feel I need a Bluetooth mouse to use Surface Pro 3.
  • At 800 grams, Surface Pro 3 is lighter than its predecessor, even with its larger display. This device is about a quarter-pound lighter than Surface Pro 2 and it’s thinner as well: Just 9.1 millimeters. Surface Pro 3 feels less bulky than the older model as a result.
  • My review unit has an Intel Core i5 processor running at 1.9 GHz paired with 8 GB of memory. I haven’t thrown any very computing intensive tasks at it, but so far everything is running smoothly in Windows 8.1. I did watch a few YouTube videos at 1440p resolution since the screen is capable of viewing them and the only stuttering was due to the network; once fully buffered the videos played back perfectly.
  • I haven’t used the included pen yet even though Microsoft pushed the accessory quite a bit at today’s event. If you’re a OneNote user, the experience looks great: Double-clicking the pen will capture data for OneNote while clicking the pen a single time with Surface Pro 3 in sleep mode will wake the device. Microsoft changed over to N-Trig’s pen technology for Surface Pro 3.
  • A quick camera test showed positive results, both from front (see my Surface Pro 3 selfie below) and back. Microsoft used a 5 megapixel sensor for both cameras. Obviously, Surface Pro 3 plays nicely with Skype since Microsoft owns it.
    Surface Pro 3 selfie

Overall, I like what I see here initially. Surface Pro 3 already looks like a much better laptop. Time will tell in tablet mode because a 12-inch slate can become unwieldy after a while; at least in portrait mode. The kickstand will help for content consumption times, of course.

Surface Pro 3 starts at $100 less than the prior model: You can get one for $799. However, that’s a Core i3 model; the Surface Pro 2 base model has a Core i5. Microsoft didn’t announce pricing yet for upgraded editions which go on sale tomorrow.

With all of these improvements, I’m sure the price will quickly rise once you start loading up a custom model. But in Microsoft’s eyes, you’re getting two devices for the price of one. I’ll be using the review unit in the coming weeks to see if the company has accomplished that 2-in-1 goal. I’m also glad I returned my Surface Pro 2 because I’m already liking the new Surface better. I’m curious though: For those that bought a Surface Pro 2, is there now any buyer’s remorse?

It does seem strange that Microsoft revamped the Surface Pro so quickly. I think this may be the device it wanted to deliver last year but simply couldn’t swing it at the time. And now that Windows 8.1 is here, Microsoft’s hardware is more in step with its software. That won’t likely make any Surface Pro 2 buyers feel better, but for Microsoft’s overall Surface strategy it simply makes sense.

This post was updated on May 21 to correct the Surface Pro 3 screen resolution.

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