Skip to main content

My initial thoughts on the Surface Pro 3

Yesterday was an important day for Microsoft. With the announcement of the Surface Pro 3, Redmond is continuing to show that they’re in this for the long-haul and perhaps more importantly, they’re actively improving upon their previous work. A Surface Mini was not revealed as expected, but it sounds like for good reason, including the possibility of it contradicting the “one device to rule them all” message.

Sitting in the same room with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Stephen Elop and the who’s who in tech media, it was fascinating to watch Panos Panay – the corporate vice president for Surface Computing at Microsoft – take the stage and sell us on the idea of the Surface Pro 3. Soon after the now familiar promo ad for the device, the audience cheered and enthusiastically clapped. It was an odd thing because it felt genuine; people were seriously excited about this announcement.

Fast forward 24 hours and most of the ‘new tech high’ has worn off, and a few of us who have the Surface Pro 3 are digging deep into this new creation. Being sold on the idea is one thing, but using it and actually liking it is another. While it’s much too early for a review, here are some of my first thoughts on the Surface Pro 3 and Microsoft’s chances of success with it.

It’s really well built

All of Microsoft’s Surfaces have so far felt very premium, and the Surface Pro 3 is no different. Machined parts, no wobble or creaks, the Surface Pro 3 feels the price it fetches. The Surface Pro 3 isn’t meant to compete with budget computers; it’s an all-in-one, high-end, high quality device that demonstrates the best of Microsoft. Here, I think it succeeds.

I love the color

My favorite device up until now has been the Surface 2 and Surface 2 with LTE. Part of the appeal was the metallic grey color, because I just find black boring. Making the Surface Pro 3 in that same color scheme makes the device stand out. It’s also less dreary.

It’s light and it’s heavy

The Surface Pro 3 weighs 1.7 pounds. That’s on the heavy side for a pure tablet (versus 1.44 pounds for iPad Retina; just 1.0 pound for iPad Air), but it’s not prohibitively heavy. By that I mean it still feels good to hold, partly due to it being so thin. Is it too much tablet? Maybe, but it’s not as silly as the Lenovo Yoga and flipping that to be a tablet. The Surface Pro 3 at least feels like a legit tablet on its own and dare I say, it feels more tablet-y than the Surface Pro 2 too.

But if you think of the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop, it’s very light (MacBook Air is 2.38 pounds by comparison at 11 inches; 2.96 pounds at 13 inches). When tossing it in my Ultrabook shoulder bag, I’m reminded just how light it is when compared to even standard Ultrabooks these days.

The new kickstand is great

Having a kickstand on a tablet was nice (Surface gen 1); having two positions was better (gen 2), but having an almost infinite amount of positions is the best. The kickstand has always been the cornerstone of the Surface series, and it’s one of the main reasons I’ll choose it over a Lumia 2520 any day.

It will be fascinating to see how long this new hinge lasts. I will say it’s very stiff, so stiff that you feel like you may break it off at first. Good problem to have, I suppose.

Panos Pen

The pen holder is awkward

As you could tell from Mark’s earlier article, the pen holder is a bit odd. Having said that, I’m not sure what else Microsoft  could do to resolve this issue. They can’t put the pen into the device (it’s already too thin and packed too tightly) and the pen is too unique to abandon. C’est la vie.

It’s fast

Running an Intel Core i5-4300 (1.9-2.5 GHz), it’s easily the fastest Surface I’ve used. I couldn’t imagine the Core i7, though I assume some of you need that much horsepower. For me, for now, I’ll take the extra bump in battery life. Seeing as how fast the Core i5 feels, I have high hopes for the cheaper Core i3, which is good for those of you on a budget.

Battery life seems legit

No, I haven’t performed any battery tests*, but from using it all day and having hordes of people ogle it all night, it still had 30% by midnight. It doesn’t feel like I need to monitor the battery on the Surface Pro 3, which is a good thing. We’ll see though how that holds up over the next few days.

*Microsoft rates the battery life at about 9 hours for web-browsing

Front-facing speakers are awesome

Nokia got the front-facing speakers rights on the Lumia 2520, so I’m glad to see Microsoft follow suit. Having stereo speakers produce sound aimed at your face is the only way to go. In fact, it feels downright silly to have speakers on the sides. Considering these are supposed to be 45% more powerful than the last version, they’re exciting. They won’t shake the room, but they will envelope you when using the Surface.

Surface Pro 3

2160 x 1440 resolution nails it

I have a few quad-HD devices (2550 x 1440) and while the resolution is remarkable, scaling on Windows desktop can be trying at times with some items just being tiny. The resolution on the Surface Pro 3 is ideal with everything scaling nicely; nothing feels too small so far.

3:2 is better than 16:9

I’ll explain why Microsoft went with 3:2 for screen dimension on the Surface Pro 3 in another article, but for now I’ll just say I prefer it, especially in portrait mode. My older Surfaces now look odd being so long in the horizontal plane. Sure, I get that 16:9 is good for movies, but 3:2 is much more natural for daily computing, and that’s what this device is for, as opposed to being a media-centric device.

The pen…works

Okay, I’ll catch flak for this but I’m just not a pen and paper user. My knowledge on Wacom versus N-trig lacks and my handwriting is just as terrible. Also, this Surface Pro 3 needs some more software before the new pen can be fully utilized.

But it is cool.

Clicking the pen button to launch OneNote – even when the device is locked – is a neat trick and very useful. The Surface team heavily researched what makes the perfect pen, including the ideal size, the ideal tip, the ideal weight balance and even how resistive the coating should be for your grip. Once you try it, you’ll see that this isn’t a gimmick.

It’s quiet and there’s no heat

Yes, the Surface Pro 3 does have a fan, despite some previous reports. In fact, it has a highly customized fan that Microsoft has allegedly been working on for three years. It’s neat technology but to the user, all you need to know is this: you’ll rarely (if ever) hear it, and you won’t feel it. I did manage only once so far to get it to crank lough enough to be audible. It sounded like steam hissing a bit, and it was very temporary.

You can make the Surface Pro 3 slightly warm (not searing) when pushing the CPU, but my Lumia 1520 can easily get hotter, for reference. If it weren’t for the radial vent, I would swear this was an RT device, to be honest.

The new trackpad is way better

The old trackpad was barely useable, but Microsoft has addressed that with the Surface Pro 3. It has 70% less friction; it’s larger, and it has a very firm and satisfying ‘click’ when you push it down. Fun fact: it’s evidently made from little glass beads to give just the right feel for your fingers.

New power connector for charging is also better

I wrote on this earlier. The power cord has been completely re-worked and is 87% (my calculation) less annoying than previous versions. See my previous report for more information.

Initial conclusion?

Up until now, I’ve been a Surface RT guy instead of Surface Pro. My reasons?

  • Lighter and thinner
  • Better battery
  • Better camera
  • Better color scheme

It was my ‘lay back and relax’ Windows device that I could snap a keyboard on if I wanted to do some “real” work. Not too real, mind you, for that I have a Dell XPS 15 with a Core i7 or my dual-27 inch desk setup. But if I needed to do some emails, web searching, Twitter responses, etc., my Surface 2 was my go-to device. The Surface Pro 1 and 2 though were too thick, too pricey, and their screens were too small for my liking. For that price and size I’d just use my Ultrabooks and be done with it.

With the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft has addressed nearly every concern of mine, even the cameras (which aren’t amazing, but are better than the Surface 2’s). The device feels like the best of the Surface 2 combined with the Pro’s hardware, but now with a bigger screen and some new innovation.

The only thing missing for my likes? Give me an LTE option.

The Surface Pro 3 is an impressive device. I’m not sure if it’s the device for everyone, or whether or not it will even sell well. But I can say it Microsoft is trying hard, and if anything, they have set the bar for quality and even innovation. So far at least, I feel good about grabbing this instead of my Surface 2, and I’m even more likely to leave a laptop behind. Let’s see how it all works in the coming days but yeah, I'm impressed.

Have a question about the Surface Pro 3? Ask away and I’ll try to answer! If you want more discussion, jump into our Surface Pro 3 forum.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

387 Comments
  • cant wait to put my hands on this. was going for a surface 2 but now I'll save a bit more and buy this. College only starts in September so I've got some time to save some money :D
  • Yeah I am in the same position as you. But the problem is I live far away from Microsoft store :(
  • BestBuy will have them.
  • Yes, and they have an exclusive Blue Touch cover that only you could find at BestBuy(not at Microsoft Store)
  • The Microsoft Store however has an exclusive dark red type cover that IMHO is pretty awesome
  • My initial thoughts on Dan Rubino's thoughts: EPIC
  • And here, today i read in the newspaper, it had an article from new york times (i think ?), and guess what ? It said "..Microsoft, so far having failed to get any success in the mobile and tablet industry..". What the hell !!
    No mention of OneNote, just wrote "note taking", no mention of specs, no mention of the fact that it runs full win8 (for non-geeks). How would MS get the attention if the media doesn't cover their best points ? Ads alone dont suffice.
  • If it was New York Times, what else can you expect?
  • No i checked, it was REUTERS and AP.
  • Only if Apple brings out something new it's heralded as the second coming of Christ. I'm not even joking here. It's like Apple owns the NYT. Not bashing iProducts here. Oke, maybe a little :P
  • Wipe that off your nose...gross
  • Thoughts on thoughts... huh
  • I would've ordered mine today... but I want LTE, d*mnit... so I'm going to wait.  I know, I know... I could tether... or dongle... but I don't want to tether or dongle.  So I'm going to wait... and hope they release an LTE version for Christmas.  If they do, then I'll buy one on day one. Until then, I'll tether my Surface RT when necessary.  *sigh*
  • If you have a Windows phone, tethering ain't really a big deal. It's pretty much all automatic from the point you force it to connect, which takes 5 whole screen touches.
  • And after 5 hours you have neither tablet or Phone because the battery is empty. also LTE only tarifs are available. The Data options on Mobile contracts are a joke anyways. feels like living back in 1995
  • yup. Tethering isn't an option. It is like back in the days when you had to buy a wi-fi card. remember that? this is 2014. LTE as a built in option shouldn't even be a matter for debate when you sell a device touted to replace both a tablet (which can have LTE) and a PC. I will too buy a second surface 3 if they release it for LTE because I use the tablet to process credit cards in places where there is no wifi. currently I have to use my phone for this and as you say, it dies faster. I've considered buying a second phone. can you imagine? ridiculous MSFT. just ridiculous.
  • You're going to use the internet straight for 5 hours? That's quite expensive.... How much data are you looking to use? -- Bam --
  • Do people who are using Smartphones and Tablets seriously not going with a data tariff? Since 2 years I've 10gb data tariff in the Netherlands (35€, even incl. some free call minutes and free SMS) for my Lumia 1020 instead of a crapy default phone plan which usually only includes 200mb or 500mb. Skype is my replacement for normal phone calls ('free' landline calls to DE coming from the Office 365 package I've running) and texting. Most people I know are reachable through WhatsApp, Facebook Chat or Viber etc. I really have no need anymore for a classic phone tariff, these so called smartphone tariffs are a joke for devices that heavily rely on data All in all I pay around 45-50 €/month depending if I additionaly call mobile numbers and do some SMS texting. Previously I payed 50€ alone to have free cals within the same carrier network and landlines and crapy 500MB data volume and since I switched I really ask myself why it took me so long to switch. As soon as MS offers the Surface Pro 3 with a SIM option and in something else than grey it will be a day one buy!
  • Anyone knows if is out there a LTE Intel chip capable? Even Samsung can't make they ARM Exynos chips work with LTE. As far as I know Intel doesn't have LTE Intel Core iX chips. Can Microsoft put a second LTE chip in the Surface maybe? Anyone?
  • Do you reviewers not mention which gpu is in this on purpose ?? Is it a 4400 a 5200 iris or what is it ???
  • i3 has 4200 i5 has 4400 i7 has 5000
  • He mentioned the CPU. All i5-4300's use an HD4400. An iris pro at meaningful performance is a 28W+ part, and double the COU thermal budget of what is currently in the device. It just wont work.
  • I would love one but... I can't stand grey on electronics. I know the fashion goes between grey and black every few years, especially with things like tv sets (sky boxes usually show you where the trend is at the moment), but I HATE grey! Tech looks sleek, timeless and sexy in black, buy grey looks old and dull straight away.
  • I completely agree. The grey is massive turn off for me. I've got an SP2 and everything else about this is exactly what I've been wanting with the larger, higher resolution screen and the ability to tilt it all the way back for comfortable pen use. Oh well, I can't really justify the spend on an upgrade so soon anyway. Hopefully they bring back the black next year.
  • Colours are good too, something to match my Red 920 or the coming 930s would be highly appreciated.
  • I hate gray too, but this isn't really gray, it has a rich metallic appearance rather than gray. Have you seen these in person? 
  • Give it a few weeks and go to http://www.decalgirl.com/ or other such source and make it any color you like :)
  • The battery ♥ You said there is no heat. Have you tried halo in it yet?
  • ...is good
  • I have another question if you have time; I do not know what to search to find this, but you've probably provided how you have made your surface 2 set up. Any chance you can share that with me? Because, I love my surface 2, but if you have a better, more comfortable set up, I would love to try it! What I mean is, the specific ways you use it. Unless you have a YouTube video. I should start there -- Bam --
  • Have you checked to see if the previous SPro pens were compatible?
  • I have and they are not.
  • Daniel. I am not able to tip you guys anymore. Is my email address blocked? Sorry, didn't know where to ask you this. Btw, just wanted to send you Fox news review / comparison of Surface Pro 3.
    Fox news calls i5 a dual core 1.6GHz processor and makes sure iPad air wins the comparison.
    http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2014/05/21/microsoft-surface-pro-3-vs-ipad-a...
  • Lol! Dammit Fox News...
  • Ya, FOX News is not even on this planet. Never have been...
  • What journalist isn't all about the i? Even the supposed tech news sites have a hard time finding someone who will do reviews without an Apple/Android only agenda.
  • Quite understandable why they closed the comments for that article...
  • I had just read that article and was coming here to discuss it. Something told me to read these comments. FOX news totally skews it towards the iPad. They even go as far as saying the say the Surface pen costs an extra $50, which isn't true. They even go out of their way to pad the specs of the iPad by listing it's speakers under "Ports". Ugh. The tone of the article is completely negative towards the Surface.
  • They want those primo seats at all the hot Apple annoucement events.
  • Just FYI, it is not a FOX News written article. It's from Digital Trends. FOX News frequently prints tech articles form other sources (like BGR), all of which I hate an usually disagree with. And it's a ridiculous comparison. It's like comparing a Mercedes (Surface Pro 3) to a Smart car (iPad Air). There's no comparison and theyre not directed to the same consumers. But, The SP3 blows away the iPad Air.
  • The iPad Air is the clear winner, ask any chick. It's thinner and lighter; what else matters?
  • Colors...especially pink.
  • They are all pink where it matters!
  • I went to the digital trends site and probably got banned. I was not very nice in the comments I left to others and especially not their hack psuedo journalist that wrote the story.
  • This.  It isn't written by Fox News.
  • Awesome news. starting with the comparison not even trying to calculate pounds in grams and not listing all graphic options as well as storage options for the surface as well as CPUs .. wonder how they "compare" it then :O basically this comparision is full of shit
  • According to that article the iPad Air has an x86 Intel 5000 GPU. I want one of those...
  • notice that they blocked comments on that article.
  • this is why MSFT needs to garget the journalist market (which this tablet kind of does). all these iditos basically see a non apple device and bash it, where as if it was the same thing with an apple logo, they'd orgasm in text form.
  • Just a heads-up--this is actually a digitaltrends.com story that is also displayed on Fox News' site. Edit: oh, goodness... I'm a little late on this.
  • Thank you much!
  • The Surface Pro 3 uses N-Trig technology and is NOT compatible with any Wacom stylus. The other two main differences between N-Trig and Wacom is that N-Trig only has 256 levels of pressure sensitivity while inking, Wacom has 1,024. N-Trig pens also require either AAA or AAAA batteries to function whereas Wacom pens don't need a battery. This won't be good news for artists or Photoshop pro's who were hoping to purchase the SP3 and hoping for Wacom technology.
  • Wow. Huge let down. ಠ益ಠ
  • Dan, are you saying Microsoft failed to deliver? Since they meant for this product to replace our laptops.
  • that's like saying because it doesn't replace every laptop, it isn't a laptop replacement. realistically, you have to use common sense. Does it replace a 17 inch laptop? off course not. how can it?
  • Hey, Could you post the grey wallpaper (visible here http://dri1.img.digitalrivercontent.net/Storefront/Company/msintl/images...) somewhere?    Thanks,
  • I really think they need to sell this as being a super slick laptop, instead of a super expensive tablet... They've always had trouble defining their surface products, but this one finally makes sense as a real laptop, and occasional tablet, rather than the other way around. I'll be getting one, but can't see myself using it much without the keyboard attached.
  • I agree and so doesn't Microsoft. Watch the presentation yesterday, iPad was barely mentioned if at all. It was all MacBook Air/MacBook Pro. Let's see if the ad campaign follows suite, but my guess is it will due to the way it was announced.
  • That's good. I didn't watch the presentation, but a lot of the news coverage and pictures I saw treated it as a tablet and compared to the iPad. Of course, the press has its own vested interest in creating compelling storylines rather than describing reality, so what Microsoft does and what the press says can often be two different things... Unfortunately they shape perception. I really hope Microsoft pulls this off. :)
    Would be nice if they have a package that includes keyboard for less than the two parts separately as well... For those of us who want a laptop. :)
  • Right. Exactly The one thing I think most people don't get is that it's not supposed to be a better tablet than the iPad and a better laptop than a MacBook It's supposed to be a better laptop than an iPad and a better tablet than a MacBook, and it absolutely excells at both
  • Nice way of putting it! I may borrow that... :)
  • Haha, thanks Dan c: I'm flattered
  • This is a great way to explain a surface pro 3
  • I would like to borrow that too please..
  • Sure, go ahead c:
  • I think Microsoft needs to borrow it. :)
  • "It's supposed to be a better laptop than an iPad and a better tablet than a MacBook, and it absolutely excels at both" Wow dude lol spot on man! that is exactly what every one needs to know before stating an opinion, especially journalist -_-
  • A macbook isnt trying to be a tablet, and an IPad isnt trying to be a macbook. The Surface 3 is trying to be both, but succeeding at neither
  • What do you mean "succeding at neither" if S3 is not even out yet! Its just a statement fir the sake of it or fear, right?
  • Awesome! Great way of putting it.
  • That's a perfect way of putting it. Try using a Macbook or an iPad to draw straight into Sketchbook Pro or Photoshop and when you're done log into your XenCenter to manage your VM's. Both experiences are done better on the Surface Pro 3.
  • @ BeneathTheSurface:  Your explanation was BRILLIANT.  "It's supposed to be a better laptop than an iPad and a better tablet than a MacBook." I hope Microsoft heard that.
  • That's a cool way to express it.  Of course, NO tablet is of any use to me unless it CAN replace my current laptop in most ways.  That's one reasyon why the iPad and Android devices are useless consumption toys as far as I'm concerned.  I'm a musician, an IT administrator and budding netcaster, I rely a lot on my laptop, which goes with me literally everywhere.  It doesn't have LTE, but I also always have my Lumia 1020, so that's not really a concern for me.  The Surface Pro 3 seems to be pretty much ideal as a near-complete laptop replacement.  It will be able to run the legacy software to support my synthesizers, allow me to more conveniently manage my network admin tasks, and even handle some of the lighter aspects of my netcasting pre- or post-production.  This is the kind of performance I demand in a tablet, period.  Nothing else, not iPad nor Android toy, qualifies as a useful tablet to me.
  • Wow. Thanks guys! c: I didn't expect that comment to have such an effect XD
  • Quick! Run for Govenor!
  • lnteresting. For the past week I've been installing my home studio software (Sonar) on a Surface Pro 2 and am so far pleased with the results. Other than issues with a couple of very old legacy VST plugins (Arturia) everything works as advertised - and blindingly fast. I'll still keep my studio on my dual monitor desktop rig, but now at least I can edit while I'm on the road. Very pleased. And there's no way I could get anywhere near this kind of power on an iPad or Android toy.
  • dude, seriously tweet that to Panos. That's a C-executive worthy line.
  • Lol if I had a Twitter I definitley would Get a summer job in Microsoft's ad department XD
  • Let me get this straight.   It's a better apple than an orange and a better orange than an apple.    
  • Haha.  You better trademark that phrase and sell it to Microsoft.  A commentor named Douglas7 on Engadget quoted you: http://www.engadget.com/2014/05/23/surface-pro-3-review/ The best thing we can do for this product is to keep using this line :P    
  • Wow 15 minutes of fame, here I come! XD
  • Yep, that's so annoying. FOX News even compared it to the iPad Air, put all the specs side by side and said the Air was 'the clear winner' because it was smaller. Sure that's FOX News for you, but they're not the only ones making stupid comparisons.
  • When they do the comparison for the surface mini to iPad mini 2, iPad mini 2 will win because it is the second one. -- Bam --
  • Umm, there is no surface mini :p
  • His point was.  No matter what Microsoft came out with, it will always be Apple as the winner.  That is the reason Surface Mini was on hold, because both Elop and Satya decided to put it in the back burner until they find something more differentiate to compete with.      
  • Yeah, I know. Super obvious, LOL :). Though I don't think that's the reason they put it aside. I think it's more that they're hoping for OEM's to start dropping devices with free Windows installed in the 7-8" category, probably in the same range as Android devices ($99-199) and don't want to disrupt that. And really, there's no need for an 8" Surface anyway. Tons of 8" full Win8 devices already exist and, if you look for sales and refurbs, can be had for under $200 anyway. Why get in the way of those OEM's? I wouldn't. Let them have that space, the profit's in selling apps and gaining market share :)
  • Actually I think there is a reason for a Surface Mini to exist with great inking and great reading experience. It would be an ideal note taking size. Consume books, if MS could get Amazon to create a decent Kindle app and Audible app. And if it came with touch designed Office for three main programs could be useful for light productivity also. There has to be some play also for the Barnes and Nobles stuff that they paid 300 million dollars for.   
  • Well put Nik. Well said.
     
  • Dan will the keyboard be included at the price points or will it be extra like it is now?
  • Unfortunately, extra (that's partially due to having 5 color options,so they need to be bundled separately)
  • Surely they could handle that via some sort of voucher. I really think to do battle with laptops/ultrabooks they need to bundle a keyboard. Never mind im still getting one.
  • Well, color options is one thing, but in the past they also had both the Type Cover and the Touch Cover (which was a no-show at this event-- perhaps it wasn't performing well, either market-wise or experience-wise). Now that there is just one type of cover (ugh. pun.), it makes a little less sense that the cover isn't included in the price. Since they are marketing it as a laptop replacement, it is a hard case to make that the cover is optional.
  • fair enough, then make it 129 dollars cheaper.
  • Daniel, nice report. My feeling is that the modern ui will be combined with RT/ WP 8.1. This tablet makes that conclusion now seem more evident, when i see the 3 in portrait mode it would almost mimic what a phones homescreen would look like, IMO. Think of it, every app thats on the phone works in the modern ui. Do you think my suspicions have merit? Would love to see a wordflow keyboard on tablets as well as maybe making the keys smaller and maybe seethrough...
  • Yes, they are definitely heading that way. I think they have even said so. I honestly thought WordFlow was in W8.1 already (I don't have a touch screen on my PC at home). I LOVE it on the phone, and hope they can bring it to W8.1 too!