The Surface Pro 3 is the first Microsoft tablet to offer more than the sum of its parts.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 10 Tablets Paved Its Way
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I've been using Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 for a little more than two weeks, and although it's not perfect, it improves on its predecessors by an epic margin. It's the only Surface model -- in fact, one of the only Windows 8.1 hybrids -- that's left me with a sense of unique potential, rather than compromise.
To be clear, the Surface Pro 3 isn't without its compromises. That's true of virtually any product, but Microsoft advertises the Pro as a replacement for both tablet and laptop, so the point bears mentioning: There is no ideal, all-in-one computing device. With a 12-inch screen, the Pro 3 balances tablet and laptop quite well -- but if you prefer tablets you can hold one-handed, or the stability of a traditional laptop, hybrid designs probably aren't for you.
Microsoft's Surface Pro 3
Even so, the Pro 3 provides an intriguing fusion of possible uses. It is, minus a few quibbles, an excellent laptop that compares well with other premium-priced models. In tablet mode, the device will never be mistaken for an iPad, but the new Surface Pro Pen offers appeals of its own. Earlier Surfaces tried to differentiate themselves by being laptop-like tablets; they weren't about new computing experiences as much as the retrofitting of old ones. The Pro 3 maintains that strategy, but with the pen, it also enables new user experiences oriented around touch and mobility.
Perhaps most impressively, the device feels more cohesive. Most hybrids have a Frankenstein-like quality, in which concessions made for one use create deal-breaking problems in others. Earlier Surfaces' 16:9 screens, for instance, helped them accommodate a full keyboard in laptop mode but rendered them awkwardly narrow in tablet mode. Thanks both to its thinness and a new 3:2 aspect ratio, the Surface Pro 3 switches between modes in a more fluid, sometimes even chameleon-like way.
The Surface Pro 3, center, offers more power than the Surface Pro, left, is almost as thin as the Surface 2, right, and boasts a better screen than either.
Here's a quick rundown of standout features:
Build quality All Surfaces, even the misbegotten Surface RT, have boasted impressive manufacturing. The Pro is no different, with a strong, magnesium frame, and a Gorilla Glass-fortified screen to protect against drops. It feels like a premium product from the second you pick it up.
Thin and light Earlier Surface Pros were fairly chunky, but the Pro 3 is a sexy, sleek piece of industrial design. When it starts shipping later this month, it will be the thinnest Intel Core-based device ever to reach the market, only 9.1mm thick. Devices based on Intel's next-generation Broadwell chips will be thinner, but they won't be available until the end of the year.
The Pro 3 is also fairly light at 1.76 pounds -- not as light as the 1-pound iPad Air, but not much heavier than the 1.46-pound iPad with Retina display. Given that the Surface Pro 3 offers a 12-inch screen to the iPad's 9.7-inch one, it balances the extra weight very well. The screen's 3:2 aspect ratio helps here; it makes holding the Surface Pro 3 feel like holding a legal pad. You won't want to hold it one-handed for hours like you can an iPad Mini, but it still handles well.
The screen itself is gorgeous. The bigger screen gives the Pro 3 laptop-like real estate, and the 2160 x 1440-pixel resolution displays more desktop
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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