Commentary
3/31/2015
12:10 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary

Microsoft's Surface 3 Promises Windows 10, Kills Windows RT

Microsoft's newest Surface 3 ditches ARM for Intel. It packs a full version of Windows 8.1 and has an upgrade to Windows 10 coming later. The Surface 3 can be a tablet or a laptop. Prices start at less than $500.



Windows 10 Vs. Windows 8: 10 Differences
Windows 10 Vs. Windows 8: 10 Differences
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Microsoft today announced the Surface 3, a tablet that splits the difference between the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 3 in terms of features and price. It also effectively buries Windows RT. By switching from ARM processors to Intel, the Surface 3 is able to run Windows 8.1 with a Windows 10 upgrade on deck for later this year.

At $499, the Surface 3 tablet is a less expensive option for businesses looking to equip mobile professionals with a device that fills several different roles.

The Surface 3 is thinner and lighter than the Pro model, but is compatible with the Pro's pen and detachable keyboard. Microsoft says the device is ideal for those seeking to pair productivity with portability.

The tablet's screen measures 10.8 inches and has full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080 pixels). The display has a 3:2 aspect ratio -- the same as Surface Pro 3 -- and supports 10-point multi-touch input. Intel's 1.6-GHz quad-core x7-Z87000 processor powers the tablet with Intel Burst technology up to 2.4 GHz. The base configuration includes 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, but both can be doubled for $100. It weighs 1.37 pounds. Battery life is rated at 10 hours of video playback.

(Image: Microsoft)

(Image: Microsoft)

Microsoft gave the Surface 3 a solid set of hardware features. For example, it boasts a three-position kickstand to allow for different usage scenarios. The tablet includes a full-sized USB 3.0 port in addition to a Mini DisplayPort, a microSD card reader, a micro USB charging port, and a headset jack.

These will allow mobile pros to expand the functionality of the tablet through accessories. WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 cover most connection needs, but an LTE version of the tablet will be made available, too. (T-Mobile was quick to say it will support the LTE version.) It also includes an 8-megapixel main camera, a 3.5-megapixel user camera, stereo speakers with Dolby audio, and a microphone.

As far as productivity goes, the Surface 3 kicks RT to the ground and runs a full version of Windows 8.1.

The original Surface RT and follow-up Surface 2 both ran the in-between version of Windows that is, for all intents and purposes, at the end of its road. Adding Windows 8.1 to the Surface 3 -- and promising a free upgrade to Windows 10 -- should go a long way to boost the tablet's appeal. In addition to Windows 8.1, Microsoft is giving buyers a free year subscription to Office 365, complete with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. The device includes some OneDrive cloud storage and 60 Skype world minutes each month for 12 months.

The $499 starting price undercuts the Surface Pro 3 by several hundred dollars, but the Surface 3 isn't nearly as customizable as its more professional older sibling.

[Read Office 2013 shortcuts.]

Based on Microsoft's website, only the storage and RAM can be changed, the processor cannot. Microsoft hasn't released details for the LTE-equipped variant. Expect it to cost about $100 more than the WiFi-only version. Moreover, vital accessories such as the keyboard and pen are not included. The keyboard alone costs another $129.

The Surface 3 is available for pre-order beginning today, March 31, but doesn't ship until May 5. Microsoft said it will be available in 26 countries by May 7.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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