Surface Pro 3 isn’t a superb tablet (but that may be OK)

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.

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