Last year Microsoft released the Surface Pro 3, but strangely, unlike its previous Surface laptop/computer hybrids such as the original Surface Pro and the Surface 2 Pro, the company didn’t reveal a non-pro lower-end version of its hybrid device. This led some to wonder if the company decided to discontinue the downgraded, but more affordable iteration of its laptop-tablet hybrid device.
But in early 2015 Microsoft finally pulled the curtain away showing off its less-powerful but still impressive Surface 3, a device that seems designed to compete directly with Apple’s expensive, but extremely sleek-looking, new Macbook.
So how does it fare against the Surface 2 and other competing laptop-tablet hybrids? Extremely well, and for one significant reason – it comes equipped with the full version of Windows 8.1 and is also Windows 10-ready.
Familiar but different (and more affordable)
The Surface 3 will look familiar to anyone who has used one of the devices before. It features a similar grey metal body to the Surface Pro 3’s, and the same three position kickstand. It’s also 2mm thinner and 54g lighter than its predecessor, measuring in at 8.7mm thick and 622g in weight. But if you compare these numbers to most other tablets, Surface 3 feels large and heavy. For instance, the iPad Air 2 is only 6.1mm thick and weighs 437g. In comparison the full version Surface Pro 3 is 9.1mm thick and weighs 800g.
The device’s screen is also smaller than the Surface Pro 3’s – 10.8 inches compared to a more comfortable 12 inches – but still maintains the same 3:2 aspect ratio as its more expensive and powerful counterpart. For the most part the smaller size isn’t an issue, but if you’re switching from a full-size laptop or even the larger Surface Pro 3, the transition to using the Surface 3’s screen might be cumbersome for some people.
Also, because the Surface 3’s screen size is smaller, its Type Cover has also been reduced in size. While I eventually became used to the Surface 3’s smaller Type Cover, my hands often felt cramped while using the device. Also, unfortunately the Type Cover still isn’t included with the Surface 3 and costs an additional $159. The Surface Pen comes at an extra $49.99 price tag as well. Both of these accessories are required to use the Surface 3 to its full capabilities and it’s a shame Microsoft has again opted not to bundle them with the device.
Unfortunately the Surface 3 doesn’t boast the same pixel density as competing devices such as the iPad Air 2, Galaxy Tab S and even less popular hybrids like Dell’s XPS 13. However, it’s important to keep in mind Surface 3 is a full-featured tablet/laptop hybrid and has many of the same capabilities as a standard PC or Windows-based laptop – the same can’t be said about other similar devices.
It’s not as powerful as the Surface Pro 3, but that’s okay
The most appealing aspect of the Surface 3 is its affordable price tag, making it ideal for mobile professionals on a tight budget and even students, since the device starts at just $639, a price significantly under the new Macbook’s astounding $1,549 price point and most other tablet/laptop hybrids. The lowest end $639 Surface 3 comes equipped with 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM.
The Pro 3 is powered by an Intel Atom X7 1.6Ghz quad-core processor, giving the tablet excellent battery life and decent performance. Intel’s Atom processors have come a significant way from the lacklustre chips featured in late 2000s netbooks, and this is immediately apparent in the Surface 3.
Still, if you’re purchasing the Surface 3 and hoping it will become your go-to computer for resource-intensive projects involving Photoshop or Premiere, this isn’t the device for you. Its Atom mobile processor is great on battery life but has difficulty handling many of the programs and applications people might use on a traditional, more powerful laptop.
However, if you’re using the Pro 3 for web browsing or word processor purposes, its performance is snappy and responsive. Unlike Apple, Microsoft has opted to not include a USB-C port in the Surface 3, which depending on how you feel about the technology, might be a good thing. Instead, it features a standard USB 3.0 plug, which makes connecting almost any accessory easy. Rather than the proprietary magnetic charging system featured in past Surface models, including the Surface Pro 3, with the Surface 3, Microsoft has opted for a standard micro-USB port, allowing the device to be charged by any USB charger. While the magnet charging system featured in past Surfaces was great, the ability to use any micro-USB plug with the device is a convenient and welcome change.
The Pro 3 is also completely fan-less, remaining silent even when using it for an extended period of time. However, its lack of a fan means it occasionally gets pretty hot.
A great device, if you’re using it for the right purpose
The Surface 3 is the best tablet/laptop hybrid out there next to the Surface Pro 3, but a number of issues many people (including myself) experience with the Surface Pro 3 still remain with this cheaper alternative. It’s awkward to use on your lap and battery life is less than stellar (Surface 3’s battery comes in at about 7 hours with intensive use).
Still, if you’re looking for a tablet/laptop hybrid device and are interested in doing quick word processing on-the-go, or browsing the Internet during your morning commute, than Microsoft’s Surface 3 is the best and most affordable option around right now, especially since it uses the full version of Windows 8.1, unlike past Surfaces.
A $249 docking station is also available that turns the Surface 3 into a decent web browsing-focused desktop.
Manufacturer: Microsoft Surface 3
Price: Starts at $639
Release Date: May 5, 2015