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6/7/2014
07:20 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Microsoft Surface Pro 3: My First 2 Weeks

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
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 10 Tablets Paved Its Way
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

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
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.

[Want to see more of the Surface Pro 3? Read Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Visual Tour.]

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.
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

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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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FritzJ931
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FritzJ931,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2014 | 1:50:47 PM
Re: Way too expensive for a table, way too weak for a power laptop
For everyone that says its too expensive to be a tablet, I openly request that you show me a decently priced lap top, and a tablet. The total of the two must no be more expensive then the Surface 3 which is roughly 899 with the 950 with the keyboard. The tablet and the laptop must have that great build quality both must ofer +7hrs of use and. a screen to match the experience. Also they must be able to use the counless amount of windows applications an have a decent app store. No atom processors also. I know its impossible to find. Maybe if you use the top end Surface 3 you may find two devices that wont be as expensive as one Surface 3, but remember the top of the line is a i7, and your wiill end up carrying two devices to make up the one surface 3.
Paul987
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Paul987,
User Rank: Strategist
6/7/2014 | 1:29:29 PM
Re: Surface not for me
"comments about the gradual slowdown of tablets is right on but I would suggest it also applies to desktops and laptops"


Agreed that it's an issue that effects most every system.  But on the other hand, a lot of what makes mobile OS based tablets obsolete so quickly is due to 2 things:

1- the modest hardware capabilities - a quad-core mobile processor is simply NOT the equal of even a singe or dual core x86 processor in terms of absolute performance.  Desktop/laptop class processors have far greater performance, and therefore headroom, to handle the weight of more and more installed applications.

And 2- Mobile OSs and apps are really in their infancy.  Each new OS version brings new capabilities, and new apps take advantages of those new capabilities.  This inherently leads to a situation where a device of only 1-2 years old can have trouble running the latest OSs and apps.  This is far less of an issue with desktop-class processors and operating systems since the requirements and capabilities are long since established and little changing.  

As for your office desktops, as much as Windows 8 has been derided (somewhat deservedly), it has made significant improvements in maintaining performance.  I have several systems running it since it's release, and none show signs of slowing down.  I make a reasonable effort to avoid installing everything I come across, but I evaluate any programs that look like they might be of use.  Furthermore, Windows 8 now provides a restore function that will return a system to a newly installed state without any of the hassle of manually re-installing an OS and related drivers.

The price if the Surface line is definitely high, but not terribly so when compared to other ultra-portable systems of near the same build quality.  I'm not sure you'll find prices dropping in the coming months though.  If the SP2 is any indication, they kept production low enough that there's little to no unsold stock to try to get rid of by lowering prices.  Aside from the 512 gig version, all SP2 models have been out of stock for a while now, and will probably remain so.   The same will likely be true of the SP3.  
Paul987
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Paul987,
User Rank: Strategist
6/7/2014 | 1:02:23 PM
Re: Way too expensive for a table, way too weak for a power laptop
"MS still has to understand that tablets and power laptops have different, and largely non-intersecting, markets."

And you still have yet to understand that an under served market exists precisely in between tablets and laptops.  You, and people who share your opinion, continue to expect the Surface to fit into existing product categories.  It doesn't, shouldn't, won't, and was never meant to.

If someone wants a "power laptop", they should be buying a "power laptop", not an ultra-portable tablet/laptop hybrid.  And the Surface Pros are anything but weak.  They're not desktop/workstation or even "power laptop" class, but for a <2lb ultra-portable, they're quite powerful.  I've done real, relatively high-end, *paying* Photoshop work on mine.

If you want a pickup truck, you don't buy an SUV.  It's as simple as that.  The Surface Pro isn't for someone who *specifically* wants a laptop and all it's unique properties.  The Surface Pro isn't for someone who *specifically* wants a tablet and all it's unique properties.  

Personally, mobile OS based tablets are of no use to me since their capabilities are so limited.  At the same time, I have little to no need for significant typing, so the bulk of a laptop/ultrabook's clamshell design is undesirable.  The Surface Pro is perfectly positioned to offer most of the power of a laptop with most of the portability of a tablet.  

So it's not the right device for you, thankfully, there's any number of dedicated "power laptops" and dedicated tablets you can choose from.  For my needs, the few compromises the Surface Pro requires are vastly outweighed by the advantages of having 90% of the capabilities of a laptop in a device 90% as portable as a tablet.  

Microsoft exactly gets the market the Surface Pro was designed for, it's you that doesn't.  
BillP212
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BillP212,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2014 | 12:51:30 PM
Re: Surface not for me
Johnnythegeek, your comments about the gradual slowdown of tablets is right on but I would suggest it also applies to desktops and laptops.  My home office has five Windows machines of varying makes and OS versions (XP, W7), all with at least 500GB drives and 4GB of RAM.  Yet they all have been gradually deteriorating in performance over the years (Might be a result of some of my downloads but that's another story!).  Our two iPads are a joke, one is gathering dust, the other my wife uses on the road for Facebook, Google and email....period.

I think the Surface Pro 3 can be a great laptop replacement but the cost is high.  I think I will wait for a few months, see how prices come down along with possible enhancements.  But I am definitely going to replace at least one desktop with a Surface and use it on the road as well.
celticlandcom
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celticlandcom,
User Rank: Strategist
6/7/2014 | 11:27:30 AM
Re: Way too expensive for a table, way too weak for a power laptop
So an i5 or and i7 with 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD is not a powerfull laptop??!? I would say it would satisfy 95% of users.

I work in IT I preordered and will use it fot IT work, CAD/CAFM troubleshooting and some LR work....

 

 
SfkdslfS419
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SfkdslfS419,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2014 | 10:44:28 AM
Way too expensive for a table, way too weak for a power laptop
This device firmly lives in a no-man's-land, gathering in itself many of the disadvantages of a tablet and many of those of a laptop. Probably the opposite of what MS wanted. MS still has to understand that tablets and power laptops have different, and largely non-intersecting, markets.
Paul987
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Paul987,
User Rank: Strategist
6/7/2014 | 10:34:43 AM
Re: Surface not for me
"While the first couple weeks were great. I wonder how long before you realize the limitations of any tablet?"

While I agree with your basic premise - that limitations and compromises can take time to be fully realized, I think many of your complaints are illegitimate:

Repairability is not a common feature on almost any device these days.  I share a somewhat dubious view of internal batteries, but I acknowledge their necessity for packaging a system as small as the Surface or modern Ultrabooks.  As far as general repairabiltiy, no system sold today can be opened for repair without voiding it's warranty, many are designed in a way that makes it difficult to impossible, and finally, there's little to nothing inside modern computers that can be repaired at all, at least by the average person.  

Upgradability is also not common, in normal notebooks and certainly not in ultrabooks.  At most, you might be able to upgrade a hard/ssd drive or increase system memory on a larger notebook, but not generally on an ultrabook.  So the Surface doesn't introduce any trends that haven't already been, and to an extent, have to be, accepted in the pursuit of the smallest of form factors.  And while it is imperative that you purchase the system with future needs in mind, the ubiquity of home networking and the availability of inexpensive network attached storage products makes storing large amounts of data on the device itself largely unnecessary.  Personally, I have over 5 terabytes of storage on my home network, regularly deal with enormous files (1 to 3 gig Photoshop files), and I've yet to reach the 50% mark on my 256 gig Surface Pro 2.  You have to be considerate to what you need to carry on the system, but again, this isn't a foreign concept on any ultra portable system today.

Lack of ports is a limitation, and one the Surface particularly suffers from.  While it would be nice to have another USB port and maybe an Ethernet port, in my 6+ months with the Surface Pro 2, I haven't found either to be an issue.  The only USB devices I've attached to mine was a wireless mouse receiver and a memory card reader, and the purchase of a bluetooth mouse would eliminate one of those.

The issue of hardware becoming sluggish over time is largely baseless.  People are commonly enamored with the fact that they can hold a quad-core smartphone in the palm of their hands, but the fact is that mobile devices (smartphone and smartphone-based tablets) are worlds apart from the performance you get out of a real x86 processor.  While a smartphone/tablet of 2-3 years ago may indeed start running into issues running current apps, that's more due to their inherently limited performance and the infancy of the entire platform.  Real x86 based processors have headroom smartphones/tablets can only dream of, Windows has actually become far better at managing resources than in the past, and again, due to it's PC class components, there's little reason to think the Surface won't be able to run Windows 9, 10 and beyond - unlike smartphones/tablets which might see one or two OS upgrades before support is abandoned.   

I think a lot of the faults you and others lob at the Surface are based on a blatantly unrealistic position - you want it to be *absolutely* everything that a notebook is and/or *absolutely* everything that a tablet is.  If you need those absolutes, the Surface simply isn't the right device for you.  Straddling such different form factors inherently requires some compromises, and the Surface Pro strikes an overall very good balance.  Again, if you can not accept any of those compromises, it doesn't make the Surface a bad product, it simply makes it one not suited to your needs.  

As I eluded, I've had the Pro 2 for 6+ months now, and I've found it to be as close to the perfect portable system as I could realistically hope for.  I didn't want or need what a full notebook provides (physical keyboard, large screen, etc), and yet I needed more than a smartphone-based tablet was capable of, and the Surface Pro has been exactly that.  I've not run into any of the issues you raise and my satisfaction with the device has actually increased over time.  Some of the features of the Pro 3 are nice, but I have no desire to upgrade as the 2 is serving my needs perfectly well, and I have no reason to suspect it won't continue to do so for the next 2 to 3 years at least.  
LarryY615
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LarryY615,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2014 | 9:31:47 AM
Re: Surface not for me
I think these things are the best choice for college students as a primary device and if targeted correctly would sell like hot cakes. Hand written notes have been proven to be better for the learner than typing because of some funky hand-brain coordination thing, and writing in OneNote can be searched so is more useful than paper. And it backs up to the cloud... no losing it. You can link to other pages (cross referncing times 5), add pictures... link to other files. It's pretty cool, really. Plus students get 10% off, at least right now, so the 128 gb i5 model with a type cover comes to about $1000. That's a pretty big market.

I already have a pretty beefy laptop, even more decked out than the most expensive surface, but i'm still thinking of getting the cheapest to use as an electronic notebook for science.
ctitanic
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ctitanic,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2014 | 8:50:35 AM
Re: Surface not for me
Johnny, you have some valid points. But... Before the iPads and the simplistic concept of tablet introduced by Apple there were TabletPCs. The Surface PRO 3 is the best TabletPC ever built. TabletPCs due to their high price partially due to the inclusion of an extra input method named an active digitizer from Wacom were devices targeting a specific market sector with specific needs. There is not a better tool in the hands of a doctor visiting patients in a hospital than a TabletPC. And this is just one of the scenarios where TabletPCs are just a lot better than an iPad or a notebook. For those that never have valued the use of a good digital pen it's difficult to see or comprehend the potential of this type of machines. The PRO 3 is cheap compared to the price of TabletPCs.

You are concern about repairing a Surface PRO 3. Well, then you should be concerned about repairing an iPad or any of the Tablets in the market. All of them have been built in a way that opening them to be repaired is a task for a professional for sure no for the average user. And if you compare Microsoft support to the support of many of other companies such as Toshiba, Lenovo, Sony, etc. and these are brand names that I have experience with, Microsoft is not at the bottom of the lost. Their Tech Support is not that bad to be a concern.

For those looking for a Tablet where you can really work on it, here is a Surface PRO 3. 
anon5887855047
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anon5887855047,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/7/2014 | 8:44:27 AM
Re: Surface not for me
I will definitely get this when it comes out!! 


Been waiting for Microsoft to improve on Surface Pro 1 & 2.. and get this table thin.  They probably should phase out RT and also have a smaller tablet then this one..

I have an iPad that I never used, gave it to my daughter - she played games on.. I think everybody's been waiting for a tablet/laptop that people can get work done on.  This should do well in the corporate workplace.


Yeah!! I am in!

 
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