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Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 8 Winning Features

Has Microsoft finally cracked laptop-tablet hybrids? Here are eight ways Surface Pro 3 raises the bar.

Microsoft touts its new Surface Pro 3 as the tablet that can replace a laptop -- which is the same thing it said about the original Surface Pro and last fall's Surface Pro 2. Neither of the first two Pros sold well enough to justify these marketing claims, but with the new device, Microsoft might have finally cracked laptop-tablet hybridity.

"Even though it looks on paper like incremental changes, if you put it together, it makes for a far better device," said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder in a phone interview.

Gownder qualified, however, that the Surface Pro 3's success is not guaranteed. He said the device's versatility could shine in the enterprise but noted some users are still reluctant to embrace Windows 8.1, and that pure tablets such as the iPad might remain the top option for consumers.

[The Surface Pro 3 isn't perfect for everyone. Read Microsoft Surface Pro 3: What's Missing.]

Does the Surface Pro 3 fit your needs? Here are eight of the device's most important new features.

1. A bigger, higher-resolution screen.
Earlier Surfaces' 10.6-inch screens are just a little too cramped for many users' productivity needs, but the Pro 3's 12-inch display should be a different story. The 2160 x 1440-pixel screen offers a slightly denser resolution than its predecessors, and Microsoft VP Panos Panay, who introduced the new device, said the Pro 3 offers the best contrast ratio in the industry. Panay also claimed the Surface Pro 3 can display 6% more content than the 13-inch MacBook Air.

The Surface Pro 3's kickstand is a big improvement.
The Surface Pro 3's kickstand is a big improvement.

2. A more versatile kickstand.
The Surface Pro's kickstand supported only one position and was generally impossible to comfortably use on a lap. The Pro 2's two-step kickstand improved matters but was still flimsy compared to clamshell laptops. For the Pro 3, Microsoft threw down the gauntlet, installing a kickstand that supports a range of positions, facilitating not only better laptop-style use, but also configurations for notebook-style drawing and note-taking.

The Surface Pro 3's pen experience could be a major differentiator.
The Surface Pro 3's pen experience could be a major differentiator.

3. The Surface Pen.
Note-taking and drawing are major appeals because of the new Surface Pen, which can sense 256 distinct levels of pressure. Panay said using the accessory is as intuitive as using pen and paper. Based on limited experience with the device, Forrester analyst Gownder said that the pen seems to live up to this hype. It's not only sensitive, but well-integrated into the OS, he said. If the Pro 3 is asleep, it will wake directly into OneNote as soon as the user touches the pen to the screen. Gownder said this sort of functionality lets users take notes without fumbling through authentication steps and potentially losing the thought. Moreover, notes can be backed up to the cloud with the touch of a button.

4. More powerful processors.
The Surface Pro 3 can be configured with up to an Intel i7 processor, giving it more number-crunching muscle than earlier versions, which maxed out

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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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Force Craate
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Force Craate,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/21/2014 | 11:04:05 AM
Microsoft Hardware
I bought a Zune. My friend had an XBox. Enough said? I don't care if they build a Starship with a battery of transporters they'll never get another nickel from me for any piece of hardware. 
KevinS235
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KevinS235,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/21/2014 | 11:04:29 AM
Andddd?
With the quality and value of ultrabooks this is all going to come down to price. This may be a nifty little tablet (or really big) but that doesn't mean a thing if it going to cost more than a performance ultrabook with the exact same features (for the most part)
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2014 | 11:05:55 AM
Pens
I find the pen apps very intriguing. As someone who takes a lot of handwritten notes, I've used those on and off in the past bunch of years and haven't found the perfect option. One thing I've found -- the storage volume for those can add up.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2014 | 11:19:39 AM
Re: Andddd?
@Kevin,

There's a lot of latitude in "for the most part."

It really depends which features you value. After all, why do people buy Macbooks when they can get similar specs for less money from a Windows machine? Is it the build quality, the appeal of OS X, Apple's effective marketing, integration with iOS, or something else? Whatever the reason(s), in the $1000+ segment, things don't work out like they do in the lower tiers; Apple might only claim around 10% of the U.S. market, but when you consider almost all of the devices they sell are $1000+, you can get a sense of how much differently things work at the very top. I can see why Microsoft decided to target the premium market, and to mothball the Surface Mini.

The Surface Pro 3 is meaningfully different from current Ultrabooks thanks to its pen integration, at the very least. Eventually, pen support will pervade all of Windows, and this sort of functionality might become more common among OEM devices. But for now, it's at least one feature that helps the Surface stand out, and that could help it to gain a place in the high end of the market. It might not matter to all users, but as someone who's spent a lot of time with both Photoshop and Final Draft (two of them pen-optimized apps demonstrated this week), I can definitely see a market for this sort of tool. As analyst Jack Gold said in our story yesterday, when you sell expensive, high-margin devices, you don't need to move tens of millions of units to be successful.

I think the Surface Pro 3 is a pricey, but if Microsoft had just included the stupid keyboard for the same cost, that wouldn't be so unreasonable.
RajaR362
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RajaR362,
User Rank: Strategist
5/21/2014 | 12:26:46 PM
Productivity
I don't see why this would not be the most productivity oriented table yet. Bravo Microsoft. 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2014 | 5:10:07 PM
Re: Andddd?
Tend to agree with @Kevin, this is spendy -- especially given Microsoft's less than stellar track record with hardware. Seems like Redmond should be cutting people a break to reel them in. 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2014 | 7:39:52 PM
Surface Pro pen
Instant note taking through a pressure sensitive pen, what a nice feature, plus drawing capabilities based on 256 pressure sensitivities embedded in the pen. I like that notion. Might have to give one of these a try.
GAProgrammer
IW Pick
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
5/22/2014 | 9:00:56 AM
Re: Microsoft Hardware
That's understandable. I guess you never buy Apple either, as their Newton was an abysmal failure?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 1:48:38 PM
Re: Andddd?
I think we can both agree, then, that the other 12 inch tablet on the market is monstrously overpriced. Samsung wants $850 for its 64 GB jumbo tablet, $50 more than Microsoft asks for the i3 64 GB Surface Pro 3. Granted, I don't get the feeling Galaxy Pros are flying off the shelf...
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 1:51:09 PM
Re: Andddd?
I do agree, yes. I guess because at that price point you can get a nice ultrabook that weighs about the same as the tablet and does way more.
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