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6/20/2014
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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Hits Stores: 3 Cautions

After a month of hype, Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 hits stores on Friday. Consider these facts before you pull out your wallet.

Surface Pro 3 Vs. World: Mobile Smackdown
Surface Pro 3 Vs. World: Mobile Smackdown
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Though some models won't ship until later this summer, the first batches of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 hit stores Friday, a month after the company introduced the device at an event in New York. The newest Pro has earned better reviews than its predecessors. Praised features include its super-smooth digital pen, which is well integrated with OneNote; its form factor, which is thinner and lighter than those of previous models; and its bright, 12-inch, 2160 x 1440-pixel screen, which is both the biggest and highest-resolution display in the Surface lineup.

The Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft's most compelling hardware effort yet, and one of the better 2-in-1 devices on the market -- but is it right for you? Here are three things to consider:

1. Only the midrange models will be available at launch
Microsoft offers the Surface Pro 3 in a variety of configurations, but only those based on Intel's i5 processor are available Friday. The low-end model with an Intel i3 chip and the high-end models built around i7 processors won't ship until the beginning of August.

[Want to learn more about the Surface Pro 3? Read Microsoft Surface Pro 3: My First 2 Weeks.]

Microsoft says customers who pre-ordered and received email confirmation that their devices would ship on June 20 will receive their Pro 3s on schedule. Shipping dates for later pre-orders have slipped to June 30. Microsoft also says a limited number of i5 Pro 3s will be available in brick-and-mortar stores, though the company hasn't said how many units each location will have, nor how quickly depleted stock will be replenished.

2. The Surface Pro 3 is expensive but uses high-end components
The Surface Pro 3 is a high-quality device -- and Microsoft's definitely priced it like one. The i3-based model with 4 GB of RAM, which won't ship until August, offers the most budget-friendly option -- $799 for the tablet itself, or almost $930 for the tablet and a Type Cover.

The i5 models available this week are somewhat more expensive than similarly spec'd premium computers. Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air offers an i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD Graphics 5000 GPU, and a 128-GB SSD for $999. The new 21.5-inch iMac includes the same processor, but boosts RAM to 8 GB and swaps the SSD for a 500-GB hard drive. It starts at $1,099. Microsoft offers two i5-based Pro 3s -- a $999 model with 4 GB of RAM and a 128-GB SSD, and a $1,299 model with a 256-GB drive and 8 GB of RAM. The i5 Pro 3s use Intel's HD 4400 integrated GPU, which isn't quite as fast as the one in the Apple models, but the i7 model will use the nicer HD 5000 version. Several similar, if arguably less advanced, Windows hybrids are significantly less expensive than the Pro 3.

Does that mean the Pro 3 is overpriced? Not necessarily-- see the next item.

3. The Pro 3 is most valuable for its unique qualities, not its overlap with the MacBook Air
Almost every Surface Pro 3 review has compared the device to the MacBook Air. That's not surprising, given that Microsoft's advertising encourages this comparison, but it's also myopic.

With a Type Cover, the Pro 3 is a fine laptop -- but so is the Air. Whether one is better is pretty subjective. Do you prefer OS X or Windows 8.1? Clamshell designs or click-in keyboards? Does the Pro 3's extra screen resolution matter to you? Basically, if you want a nice laptop and don't care about hybridity, the Pro 3 is a good option, but it's not nearly as easy to justify the price.

If you do care about hybridity, on the other hand, the Pro 3 comes into its own. As a pure tablet, the device is a little large for one-handed use, but its 3:2 aspect ratio still makes it pleasant to hold two-handed. More importantly, the new screen dimensions make the device feel like a legal pad, which makes it natural to use the included pen. The pen could become a significant differentiator as optimized apps come online, and Microsoft has already done a nice job integrating the accessory with the Pro 3's out-of-box software. Ultimately, the device's value isn't in one use-case or the other, but in the user's ability to shift between them.

InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of the Internet of Things. Find out the way in which an aging workforce will drive progress on the Internet of Things, why the IoT isn't as scary as some folks seem to think, how connected machines will change the supply chain, and more (free registration required).

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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glenbren
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glenbren,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/29/2014 | 10:48:29 AM
Re: iPad is still Surface's competition
A 12-inch screen won't be a problem if you've been lugging around a laptop and are getting this to replace it. It looks like a good option to me, but I'm not an Apple fan.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 10:18:58 AM
iPad is still Surface's competition

Its good to know the product components and comparisons but I don't think the MacBook or iMac are Surface's competition.  It's still the iPad Air particularly since Microsoft now provides Office for the iPad.  The only advantage the Surface Pro 3 has is screen size but many will think a 12" screen is too big for most mobile usages.

DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 10:09:38 AM
Re: I find myself amused for some reason
Microsoft is like our political parties, you can't believe a word they say.  This makes for very poor confidence in their products particularly when the truth comes out if you can find the truth that is.  Like our politicians, it doesn't seem to bother Microsoft that they were caught lying about the facts to make them look better than reality.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 7:36:04 AM
Surface 2
What bothers me is that it seems like Microsoft is moving so fast with the Surface Pro line that the previous models are going to be left to rot.  I have a Surface Pro 2 that I love aside from the keyboard cover.  I was hopeful that as the Surface line matured that I would eventually be able to get a better keyboard cover option but the way they are jumping generation to generation so quickly I guess I'll just have to deal with it until I upgrade my Surface to a later model.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 2:41:25 PM
Re: I find myself amused for some reason
@Brandon,

If you have a chance to leave a comment later, after you've taken the device for a spin, I'd be curious to know how you like it.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 2:39:58 PM
Re: I find myself amused for some reason
It's hard to know how big a deal pre-orders are. If you really want the device, pre-orders a big deal, since they're the only surefire way to secure a unit as soon as possible. But otherwise, tough to say.

Microsoft claimed certain Surface Pro 2 configurations sold out almost instantly-- but that was mostly PR spin. Now that the company's financials from that period are public record, it's clear Microsoft simply didn't make that many Surface Pro 2s to begin with. On the one hand, this strategy makes sense-- Microsoft produced more first-generation devices than it could sell, to paraphrase Steve Ballmer. On the other hand, a sold-out debut doesn't mean much if Microsoft artificially limits stock.

That brings us to the Pro 3. Shipping dates slipped for late pre-orders, which suggests decent initial demand. But again, we don't know much about Microsoft's manufacturing strategy, so it remains to be seen how much demand there actually is.

All that said, I wouldn't be surprised if this is the best-selling Surface by a big margin. It's certianly the best of Microsoft's tablets, and one of the best Windows hybrids.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/20/2014 | 2:32:34 PM
Re: CPU note
@Brandon,

 

Good point on the CPU speed. For what it's worth, I've found the Surface Pro 3 to be very speedy for general use, and quite capable for more advanced tasks, like editing photos. I'm curious, though, to see how far the i7 version can be pushed. I'm also curious how much more power future devices of this form factor might have (as opposed to just enery savings) with the upcoming Broadwell chips.
BrandonLive
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BrandonLive,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 2:20:15 PM
Re: I find myself amused for some reason
No price incentive. I pre-ordered mine and it's on a UPS truck for delivery today. Apparently if you waited and go to order one now, they're back-ordered until the 30th. Since they don't charge you until it ships, and you can cancel at any time, pre-ordering seemed like a reasonable way to go for me, and I am happy that I don't have to wait an extra 10 days (or try my luck standing in line).
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Moderator
6/20/2014 | 2:09:46 PM
Re: I find myself amused for some reason
Just curious, what were the benefits of pre-ordering?  Is there any kind of price incentive?  Or is it strictly that you are guarenteed to be one of the first owners?
BrandonLive
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BrandonLive,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/20/2014 | 2:08:15 PM
Re: I find myself amused for some reason
progman2000 - Other factors aside, you're not going to get the same sort of crowd camping out for a product in this price range. People don't camp out for the Macbook Air either, which is the main competitor for the Surface Pro 3. Some people do still pre-order such things though, as I did :-)
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