Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review
|Review: February 2015|
Last updated November 2015
In a nutshell: The 3rd generation Microsoft Surface Pro is the best so far, and the best candidate for replacing the power and productivity of a laptop with something more compact. It's more a portable laptop than a tablet, however, and the price is very high.
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Microsoft's Surface tablets have always been very impressive, premium devices right from the beginning, and the Surface Pro 3 maintains the high quality of build with a solid but lightweight VaporMg magnesium alloy frame in a silver finish.
The Pro 3 has a larger 12 inch display than previous generations, making it even more capable as a laptop replacement. The screen is pin sharp too, with a resolution of 2160 x 1440 pixels. It's even sharper than earlier versions, despite the increase in screen size. Colour accuracy, brightness and contrast are all good. The aspect ratio of the screen is an unusual 3:2, which gives more height for viewing and editing documents when in landscape orientation.
Of course, the overall dimensions of the device have grown as a result of the bigger screen, yet it's slimmer and lighter. With a thickness of 9mm, it's bulky compared to an iPad Air 2, and weighs close to twice as much, at 800g. But compared with the 13-inch MacBook Air, it's roughly half the thickness and weight. So whether the Surface seems bulky or lightweight probably depends on whatever type of device you're most used to, and also on how you plan to use it.
We think that most Surface users will want to use the device as an ultra-portable laptop, rather than a souped-up tablet. If that's true, you'll be wanting to buy the optional Type Cover keyboard to unleash the true power of the device.
The Type Cover adds significantly to the overall weight, pushing the Surface closer to laptop size and weight, but it is detachable, and does also act as a robust cover. It fits magnetically to the edge of the device, and is a good quality keyboard, although its detachable nature makes it slightly less solid than a laptop. Still, it's massively better than a virtual touchscreen, and is angled and backlit for convenience.
As well as using the Surface as a laptop-replacement with the keyboard and adjustable integrated kickstand, the Surface can be used as a tablet, with the benefit of a digital pen for input. The new-style pen can be used for annotating Word, Excel, and OneNote documents and for entering text as handwriting.
Stereo speakers with Dolby sound deliver much improved quality audio.
The device can get rather hot in use, despite the addition of vents along the edge.
Under the surface
This third-generation Surface aspires to true laptop capability. It's powered by a 4th gen Intel Core processor - i3, i5 or i7. For our review we chose the Core i5 model with 4GB of RAM, but up to 8GB of RAM is available as an option. This makes the Surface a highly capable device, able to run all kinds of demanding software.
The operating system is Windows 8.1 Pro, giving access to a very wide range of desktop software, not just what's available with Windows RT. Windows 8.1 doesn't have as much choice as iOS or Android when it comes to tablet-based apps and games, making the Surface Pro much more a replacement for a laptop than a tablet. Apps such as OneNote and Skype are pre-installed, but everything else you'll need to buy.
A powerful laptop needs plenty of storage, and the Pro 3 doesn't disappoint here, either. Starting storage is a decent 64GB. The system eats quite a lot of this space however, leaving just 36GB available for the user. There's a microSD card slot for inexpensive expansion, but the microSD card is slower to access than the onboard memory. If you really need a lot of storage, there are versions with 128GB, 256GB and even 512GB. You'll pay considerably more for these, however.
A device this big is hardly suitable for taking holiday pictures, but you might well want to use it for Skype calls. The Surface can handle both, with rear- and front-facing 5 megapixel cameras. There are twin microphones for recording stereo sound.
The Surface Pro 3 offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity, and also has a full-sized USB 3.0 port. This lets you plug in a USB device such as a camera, and drag and drop files between the drive and the Surface, just like with a PC. You can also connect accessories like printers or mice. A 3.5mm headset jack and a mini display port are also included.
There's no 3G or 4G connectivity, however, so you'll be replying on a Wi-Fi network connection for internet access.
The Surface Pro 3 has a heavy duty battery, and outperforms many laptops. On a full charge, the battery will give you up to 9 hours of web browsing, which probably covers a full day at work, but maybe not the evening too. However, you can probably keep it plugged in whenever you're at a desk. The device can be charged via USB.
The entry-level model with a Core i3 processor, 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM costs £639. That's a lot more than any other tablet on the market, and more than many laptops. The Surface Pen is included in the sales package, but you'll probably want to budget an extra £110 for a keyboard.
The device we reviewed is the Core i5 with 128GB of storage and 4GB RAM. This is a good general-purpose workhorse and costs £849.
If you want to push the tech as far as it goes, you can pick up a Core i7 model with 512GB of built-in storage and 8GB of RAM for an eye-watering £1,549!
Conclusion - an excellent hybrid, but expensive
The Surface Pro 3 is a truly impressive device. Whether you think of it as a heavy-duty tablet or as an ultra-portable laptop, it works beautifully in either role. It has the power to run desktop software, from business apps to hardcore games, and it performs both jobs with ease. We love the quality and flexibility of the device, although there are inevitable compromises in its role as a tablet/laptop hybrid.
What we don't love is the price. Our review model costs just under £1,000, and that's a lot of money to spend on anything. It's as much as a MacBook Air, and more than most Windows laptops. To justify this high price, you'll need to convince yourself that a laptop just isn't portable enough, or alternatively, that you can't make do with a cheaper tablet with less power. The Surface 2 RT is considerably cheaper, if all you need is Microsoft Office; the iPad Air 2 is much cheaper and more portable if you mainly want a tablet. But if you can justify the budget, the Surface Pro 3 is a real beauty.
Update (23rd November 2015): Surface Pro 4 launched - read our review.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 features include:
- Operating system: Windows 8.1 Pro
- Display: 12" ClearType multitouch screen with 2160 x 1440 pixels
- 5 megapixel front and rear cameras
- Processor: 4th Gen Intel Core processor (i3, i5 or i7) with TPM Chip for enterprise security
- Sensors: Ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer
- Memory: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB or 512GB plus microSD card slot and 4GB/8GB RAM
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0 LE, USB 3.0, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, Mini DisplayPort, Cover port
- Size: 292 x 201 x 9.1 mm
- Weight: 798g
- Battery life: 9 hours of web browsing
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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 user reviews
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Average rating from 1 review:
Reviewed by Spike
from New Zealand
on 8th Mar 2015
I have the I5 256gig ssd with 8gigs of ram. This is the perfect windows platform for me. Pictures and video from my windows phone are on my surface almost instantly. 0ne or two clicks on IE11 will find my phone within seconds. I know Apple has had this for years and I've been jealous, not any more. I don't use a mouse anymore, between the pen the keyboard and the beautiful touch screen there is no need to. I cant wait for windows 10. I don't have any issues with size or weight even after coming from a 13"Toshiba Satelite Ultrabook , 1.1kg . Oh year and whats not to like about a cold boot time of 6seconds? I love it.