Microsoft's latest tablet boasts some dramatic improvements, but the pricey device still lacks some key features.
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On Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro 3, a tablet that the company says can replace your laptop. It has a larger, sharper screen than the Surface Pro 2, a thinner design, and an improved hinge and keyboard. Microsoft made a ton of improvements to the device -- all with productivity and the ability "to get stuff done" in mind.
That's what leads us to question some of the choices Microsoft made in planning the Surface Pro 3, which arrives just six months after the Surface Pro 2. It is the most powerful and portable tablet yet from Microsoft, but it leaves out some key features that many mobile professionals have come to rely on. Let's take a look.
LTE 4G The Surface Pro 3 does not support today's cellular wireless networks. According to the official spec page released by Microsoft, it supports 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0, but not LTE. WiFi may be nearly ubiquitous, but it isn't available on the side of the road, out in the field, or in a million other places where people wind up working when they're out and about. Most of today's tablets include LTE options at the very least. It's disappointing to see that no such option exists for the Surface Pro 3.
Affordability The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799. That price includes 64 GB of storage, a Core i3 processor, and 4 GB of RAM. The top-of-the-line model, which packs 512 GB of storage, a Core i7 processor, and 8 GB of RAM, costs a whopping $1,949. Price points that fall between these include $999 for a Core i5 device with 128 GB of storage; $1,299 for a Core i5 device with 256 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM; and $1,549 for Core i7 with 256 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM. To put that into perspective, the top-of-the-line iPad with 128 GB of storage and LTE costs $929. The Surface Pro 3 may be a tablet, but it is being priced like a laptop.
Keyboard Microsoft made huge improvements to the Surface's keyboard accessory -- it now has a larger trackpad and a more secure magnetic fit to the device itself for improved laptop computing. Too bad it's not included. If you want a keyboard, it'll cost you another $130. Most users agree that true productivity hinges on a keyboard for faster, more accurate typing. It's a stretch to call the Surface Pro 3 the "tablet that can replace your laptop" if it doesn't actually ship with a keyboard included. If you want a keyboard, be prepared to shell out at least $930 ($799 + $130). Of course, the iPad (along with every other tablet) doesn't include a keyboard, either, but Apple isn't really pitching its tablet as a true laptop replacement.
Questionable portability Microsoft made a big deal about the Surface Pro 3's size and weight compared to certain Apple products. Microsoft executive Panos Panay argued that most people who carry an iPad also carry a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. He said flat out that the MacBook Air is a best-in-class device in terms of the thin-and-light form factor. Together, though, the MacBook Air and iPad Air weigh more than 3.8 pounds and are fairly thick when stacked one upon the other.
The Surface Pro 3 (by itself, with no keyboard) weighs 1.76 pounds. With the keyboard, it weighs 2.41 pounds. It measures 7.93 inches wide, 11.5 inches long, and 0.36 inches thick (9.1 mm, if you prefer). The device is by no means large, but it is much larger than an iPad Air, which measures 6.6 inches wide by 9.4 inches long by 0.29 inches thick and weighs just one pound. The Surface Pro 3 may weigh significantly less than a MacBook Air and iPad Air combined, but when pitted head to head with the Surface Pro 3, the iPad comes out on top in terms of portability.
Many users will correctly point out that the Surface Pro 3 is a full Windows 8.1 machine, while the iPad is not a full Mac. That's true, but as you'll see in its most recent iPad commercials, Apple disputes the notion that the iPad can't be used to get stuff done. Any way you slice it, the Surface Pro 3 is a tablet that has the price point and the weight of a laptop (with the keyboard included).
Microsoft achieved some significant leaps forward with the Surface Pro 3. It is a thinner, lighter, more functional tablet than its predecessors. In creating a tablet that is meant to serve as both laptop and tablet, however, Microsoft can't help but stumble on the weaknesses of both in terms of size and cost. The Surface Pro 3 may serve as a laptop and tablet replacement for some users, but others will be happy to skip out of the office with a thinner, lighter tablet that costs hundreds of dollars less.
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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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