Microsoft Surface Pro 3: My First 2 Weeks - InformationWeek

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6/7/2014
07:20 AM
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.

content at default scaling than a 13.3-inch MacBook Air. In fact, as someone who's used the Air extensively, I didn't find the Pro 3's somewhat smaller screen to be a disadvantage.

Infinitely adjustable kickstand
The Surface Pro 2's two-step kickstand made it fairly easy to orient the device for lap use, but the Pro 3 takes it to a new level. Its kickstand is infinitely adjustable, allowing you to find just the right angle for any activity, whether it's watching Netflix in bed, drawing with the Pro Pen, or typing on your lap.

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

Some reviewers have complained that configuring the Pro 3 for lap use requires more lap space than many people possess. I haven't had that problem, but I'm also 6' 3". I asked a few shorter friends to try, and they were also untroubled. Still, this is a subjective point, and if you're concerned, you should check out the device in person.

New Type Cover
The new Type Cover is physically larger than previous models, but the keys themselves are the same size as before. A lot of the extra space goes to a dramatically improved track pad. Earlier Type Cover track pads were there mostly for show, but the new one is not only usable but well above average. It doesn't match Apple's standard-setting tech, but the Pro 3's track pad is more than fine.

The new Type Cover can fold toward and magnetically connect to the Surface Pro 3's body, providing more stability for lap use.
The new Type Cover can fold toward and magnetically connect to the Surface Pro 3's body, providing more stability for lap use.

The new keyboard is more rigid, and it can fold into and magnetically lock with the base of the tablet. The result is a much more stable laptop experience. I also like that the Pro 3 is compatible with earlier Type Covers, even if they look a little ridiculous when attached to such a large tablet.

It looks a little silly, but Surface Pro 3 is compatible with earlier Type Covers.
It looks a little silly, but Surface Pro 3 is compatible with earlier Type Covers.

The pen
The pen could be a blockbuster feature. It feels solid in the hand, and thanks to the Pro 3's thin optical stack, there is no parallax effect; when you write, the stream of digital ink keeps up with the tip of the pen. The Pen uses N-Trig technology that actually senses fewer degrees of pressure than more-common Wacom styluses, but it doesn't seem to matter; it's the most organic digital pen experience I've ever had.

The Surface Pro Pen comes close to ink-on-paper fluidity.
The Surface Pro Pen comes close to ink-on-paper fluidity.

The pen is also wonderfully integrated with OneNote. If you push the pen's top button while the Pro 3 is asleep, the device wakes directly into OneNote. It doesn't require you to authenticate and instead lets you immediately begin jotting down your thoughts, before inspiration has had a chance to fade. You can also automatically sync these notes to OneDrive. I've found this extraordinarily useful, especially when I have a thought while on the go. I've also found that the pen makes art apps, such as Microsoft's Fresh Paint, much more engaging.

I'm tempted to say the pen might be reason enough for some to buy the Pro 3, but I hesitate for two reasons: The same pen technology will show up in other devices before long; and we won't see pen-optimized apps, such as Photoshop, until later this year, making it unclear how powerful the pen will ultimately be.

Now for the device's drawbacks.

The Pro 3 is priced like a MacBook Air but the keyboard is still sold separately. Microsoft has tried to justify this strategy with some nonsense about letting

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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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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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7/9/2014 | 8:10:28 PM
Re: surface pro 3
It definitely can be. It depends a bit what kind of presentations you do, how you like to work, how much processing power you might want for more demanding apps and gaming. Depending on the gear you'll work with at school, you might be able to wirelessly mirror your Surface Pro 3 to projectors and displays, which is handy for presentations. But you can do that with MacBooks too, again, provided the right gear is there. But as far as lightweight laptops go, the Surface Pro 3 is very, very nice, assuming you're okay with the kickstand instead of a traditional clamshell. The difference doesn't really bother me, but I'm tall, so I have a lot of lap on which to position the kickstand. The Pen is a great perk with potential.

My advice is to seek out an actual model and handle it yourself. If there's a Microsoft Store, or a Best Buy, or a friend who has one, make sure you hold the device in your hand, see how it handles, etc. It's an unconventional device. For some people, it will be very satisfying, but for others, it will be hard to ignore the ways it isn't a normal laptop or tablet.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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6/10/2014 | 6:24:13 PM
Re: Have you used it again?
Hi David,


Great question. I'm still using it quite often. Earlier Surfaces quickly became niche options that I only used for very specific scenarios. It was clear pretty quickly that the compromises would be deal-breaking.  But with the Pro 3, I've found that compromises rear their heads less frequently, and that when they do, I'm much more forgiving. In laptop mode, sure, sometimes I'd like a bigger screen, but the overall mobility and light weight make it worthwhile. And the size is just write for note-taking and drawing. With the Pro 3, I feel encouraged to find more ways to use the device, rather than, as was the case with early models, quickly confining the tablet to specific uses. It might be worth noting, though, that I'm using the Surface Pro 3 at the expense of a Windows laptop. It hasn't really affected my iPad use.

Granted, if I had access to any device I wanted, I'd probably use a MacBook Pro, if for no other reason than I run a lot of video software. The extra processor power, bigger RAM capacity and discrete graphics card would win out over the Pro 3's slim design and undeniably cool pen. But everyone has a dream product, the products they're happy using, the products they'll unenthusiastically accept, and the products they'll resent being forced to use. I'm more than happy using the Pro 3. Great, light laptop, and the note-taking experience could offer legit sales appeal.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
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6/10/2014 | 6:00:27 PM
Have you used it again?
Michael,

Since you filed this story, have you found yourself going back to use the Surface again, either for work or play? Or were you only motivated to use it while you were working on this review? Just curious whether you found yourself drawn to go back to it or happy to be done with it.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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6/10/2014 | 2:49:09 PM
Re: Way too expensive for a table, way too weak for a power laptop
@celtic,

I agree. I wouldn't call the Surface Pro 3 underpowered any more than I'd called the iPad Air (a laptop for which there is a demonstrated market) underpowered.

If you want something approaching desktop-class power in a portable form factor, you won't find it in anything as thin or light as a Pro 3—that much is true. A 15-inch MacBook Pro will handle more than the Pro 3, but it's also much larger and heavier. Both Apple and Microsoft use "Pro," but they're talking to somewhat different markets. There's a reason Microsoft keeps comparing the Surface Pro 3 to the MacBook Air.

Granted, I haven't used the i3-based Surface Pro 3. It might struggle with some tasks. The demo unit has an i5 processor and 8 GB of RAM, and unless you need to do substantial post work on 4K video or something, it will do the job. I think the number of people who can make use of the Pro 3's unique traits will outnumber the number of people who find it underpowered. I think consumer skepticism over the Modern UI is a bigger potential problem than the Pro 3's processors.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/10/2014 | 2:31:16 PM
Re: Surface not for me
@johnny,

Unfortunate but interesting that your friends have had such bad luck with their iPads. I've definitely seen iPhones slow to a crawl after a few years, but in my experience, iPads have fared a bit better. Refresh rates  suggest people replace iPads on more PC-like (rather than smartphone-like) cycles. But your point remains: Some people get 5+ years of productive life out of their PCs, and it remains to be seen if tablets and hybrids provide the some long-term value. Some people are still running XP on 10-year-old computers. I'll be surprised if a similar numer of iPad Airs are still in use a decade from now. With tablets and hybrids, whatever you gain in portability and sleek aesthetics, you lose in DIY repairability and upgradability.

OneDrive provides a little relief for the storage concerns you cite, though I'll concede that the cloud is a limited solution. If you end up needing external storage, that lone USB port gets a little limiting. You could go for the Surface Docking Station, of course, which gives you more flexibility for peripherals. Microsoft is building a modular ecosystem around the Surface Pro, with the tablet as the starting point, then the keyboards, then the docking station. They've done a decent job so far providing backward compatibility, meaning if you upgrade the tablet every two or three years, you could still have a three-in-one set-up with replacing all your accessories. But as I alluded in the article, this sort of hybrid approach is both empowering and limiting, depending on your needs.

I think the Surface Pro 3 will be the most successful Surface Pro to date, and that it will become very popular in certain industries. It's a very nice laptop, but it's most interesting for its uniqueness. You can do things with it you couldn't do with earlier Surfaces. Whether you want to do those things is a different matter. Some people – a lot, I think - will. But many people will ultimately prefer clamshell laptops, or iPads, or whatever—so lots of those devices are going to continue to get sold too.
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