The Surface ‘Pro’ line is Microsoft’s attempt to merge both the tablet and notebook into a single device. Releasing in the middle of this year the Surface Pro 3 was finally the point where Microsoft managed to create a fairly powerful device which retains the compact form factor of a tablet, but still runs the full version of Windows 8.1. With heavy competition from Android and iOS tablets, ultrabooks, and slim notebooks such as the Macbook Air, is the Surface Pro 3 really worth your time and money? Here’s my thoughts from my first week of using the device…
I previously owned a Surface 2 for a year before finally upgrading to the SP3 last week. The 2 is a great device, despite little bugs and niggles, it offers more versatility for me personally than an iPad, with a full desktop-grade browser (Internet Explorer 11), an accessible file system, a full USB port and HDMI out to hook it up to the TV. But it made me want more…
The Surface Pro 3 weighs roughly 800 grams, only 230~ more than the Surface 2, and comes in at a thickness of 9.1mm versus the Surface 2 at 8.89mm. The difference in weight and thickness is fairly small, considering the huge step up in internals; this thing is packing an i5 processor, 8gb of RAM and 256gb SSD storage (other configurations are available including i3 and i7 models). That means you’re getting ultrabook style power in the form factor of a tablet – pretty impressive stuff! Setting up the device was painless. Windows asked me if I wanted to restore my Surface 2 settings and apps, after a couple of minutes I was in with everything as I left it on my Surface 2 including my homescreen icon arrangement, list of apps, Windows settings and even WiFi settings.
The first thing you’ll notice when powering on the device is just how stunning the 12inch 2160×1440 QHD display is – this thing is crazy sharp and at full brightness colours really pop. It’s the nicest display I’ve ever used on a tablet hands down, and it’s not just me who thinks that – according to DisplayMate’s rigorous testing it produces “the most accurate on-screen colors of any Tablet or Smartphone display”. However, with such a high resolution display when it comes to rendering more intensive applications such as games, the Surface Pro 3 simply doesn’t have the internals to match; expect to knock some settings down to make them run smoothly. If you’re just using the device for browsing, video viewing, document editing and photo editing you’ll have no problems whatsoever.
The Surface Pro 3’s kickstand is absolutely brilliant. On previous models of the Surface the kickstand had preset positions, but on the Pro 3 you have full control over the position. It stays completely firm even when you’re tapping and pressing on the screen, and can almost go entirely back on itself. When sat on the sofa or using the device in bed it’s been great to be able to have the stand in its furthest back position so that the device is slightly elevated but still completely stable. This is actually one of my favourite things about the device, it allows me to use it in whatever position is comfortable at the time.
The new Type Cover 3 is a noticeable improvement over the 2nd iteration I had previously. The touchpad is significantly better, with a wider area and a proper ‘click’ when pressing it just like a real laptop touchpad. The keys themselves also feel slightly nicer, in fact it’s impressive just how nice they are to type on for such a slim accessory – Microsoft have absolutely nailed this. The new Type Cover also has a magnet strip along the top, which lets you prop it up against the Surface Pro 3 so that the whole keyboard is slightly raised; I find this makes for a much more comfortable typing experience. When not in use you can easily detach the keyboard, fold it back, or cover the screen for protection (it also automatically locks the device).
Battery life on the device has been fairly solid so far, and feels very similar to what I was getting out of the Surface 2. When doing something more intensive, such as playing a game, the Pro 3 can get extremely hot in the top right corner; you’ll hear the fan kick in to start cooling device – it’s not loud but can take you by surprise the first time you hear it. Obviously under this load the battery life is also affected, you’re looking at 3-4 hours. When doing basic non-intensive tasks it’s probably closer to the 10 hour mark. When not in use for an extended period of time the device goes into standby to save power, I’ve gone days without having to put it on charge. I’d love to see Microsoft allow data transfer when the device is locked and in sleep though. Currently you can work around this by getting a small application to turn off your screen then disable auto-sleep, but it’s less than ideal. If you’re wanting to download large files, games, or movies for example, you’ll find this frustrating. It’s one of the few niggles I currently have with the device.
Overall I’m a huge fan of the Surface Pro 3 so far. It’s only my first week with the device but it’s made a great first impression. The thin form factor makes it feel like a tablet, and although it’s a bit on the heavier side when compared to normal tablets, the versatility more than makes up for it. I’ve barely put it through its paces yet – light games like Hearthstone and The Sims 4 run perfectly well, and the larger screen make for an even better media viewing and web browsing experience. I can already tell I’d really struggle to go back to a ‘normal’ tablet in the near future.
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