16 Basic Tips for Mastering the Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 balances laptop with tablet in a single, useful 2-in-1 package, but for some people the device includes features that can confuse new owners. We offer 16 basic tips for mastering the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, its features, accessories and software.

A lot of our basic tips will cater to the beginning Surface Pro 3 users, but even people who’ve owned one for a few months or longer will likely find something helpful among these tips.


Read 5 Cool Things a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Can Do and How to Set Up Your New Surface Pro 3

The video below shows how one architecture firm uses the Surface Pro 3 in their work.


Where Do I Find Search or Settings on Surface Pro 3?

charms bar on start screen

Slide in from the right to open the Charms Bar on the Surface Pro 3.


To search the web, apps on the Surface Pro 3 or files, the user can open what’s called the Charms Bar. Microsoft will remove it when Windows 10 launches, but until then, they will need to master the Charms Bar to get the most out of the Surface Pro 3.

The Charms Bar sits along the right edge of the screen. Get to it by swiping in from the right edge towards the center of the screen or use the Windows Key + C. Mouse to the top right corner of the screen to open it.

You’ll see five icons as follows:

  • Search – searches multiple parts of the operating system and the Internet, unless an app is open; then it might search within that app if the app supports it.
  • Share – share content with various apps installed on the Surface Pro 3 or to places like social media or email
  • Start – the Windows Start screen.
  • Devices – opens the device settings bar, which includes specific features like printing, projecting the screen to an external display or playing media in media player apps.
  • Settings – the settings bar will let users change Surface Pro 3 settings like device settings, the look and feel of the user-interface, or open Control Panel.

Get rid of the Charms Bar by sliding it away towards the right.


Let’s take a look at what each of the Charms Bar items do.

How Do I Search on Surface Pro 3

search the charms bar on surface pro 3

Slide in from the right and tap on Search to open the Search Bar. There’s a dialog box. Enter something to search for and it will search “Everywhere,” meaning the tablet, the Internet or within an open app that’s programmed to take advantage of the Search feature. Not every app works with the Search in Charms Bar and only those downloaded from the Windows App Store use it.

Notice in the screenshot above I searched for Microsoft Word and it shows Word 2013, a couple of apps from the Store and below that there are some suggested Internet searches that will open the browser and search Bing.

Also notice the word “Everywhere” above the search box. Tap on this to change where Search looks. The arrow drops down a list that includes …


  • Everywhere
  • Settings
  • Files
  • Web images
  • Web videos

How Do I Share Content with Others?

The Share button in the Charms Bar will share content with various places, depending on what apps the user installed or what app they’ve opened.

share on surface pro 3

For example, I opened the Amazon shopping app and found the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station that we reviewed last fall. Maybe I’d like to share this with my Twitter followers. Swipe in to show the Charms Bar and tap Search. Then tap on Post to Twitter in the list of optional apps. It will take a screenshot and post it to Twitter. Others apps my share an Internet link or selected text.

Most of the time the Share feature takes a screen shot and shares it. Some apps might share web links, photos, files or more. For more details, see our tutorial on sharing from Windows 8.


How Do I Get to the Desktop to Run Normal Windows Software?

Windows 8 hides the desktop, but Surface Pro 3 Users can easily find it. Tap the Start button on the right side and then tap on the Desktop icon on the Start screen.

surface pro 3 start screen

I moved my Surface Pro 3 Desktop icon to the upper left corner.

Another way to get to the Desktop is to tap the Start button in the Charms bar. Slide in from the right and there it is. A third way is to slide in from the left. Windows 8 shows the running software in a column docked to the left edge of the screen.

program show up in left edge on windows 8

Slide in from left to see running apps and the Desktop.

How Do I Take a Screenshot on Surface Pro 3?

There are a couple of hidden features of the physical Start button. The Start Button plus the Volume Down button takes a screenshot and saves it in a Screenshots folder under Pictures the user’s folder. This saves the screenshot.

Users can also take screenshots of a selected area using the Surface Pen. Double tap the purple button on top of the Pen and the screen dims. Select the area on the screen you want to capture. This will save that area to a new page in OneNote. To export it, tap and hold the new screenshot and save it as a PNG file.

How Do I Play Media from the Charms Bar?

How To Play Your Content on the Xbox One (14)

Tapping the Devices Charm in the Charms Bar will bring up three more buttons – Play, Print and Project. Use the Play button to start playing to a device. First the user must connect one. Read our tutorial on connecting the Xbox One as a receiver for this kind of media. This helps when the Xbox connects to a stereo system. Users can play their music through the Xbox.

How Do I Print from Windows Store Apps?

Most Windows software includes a print feature, however it’s not obvious how to print from apps installed from the Windows Store. The Charms Bar comes to the rescue again. Open it and choose Devices and Print.

print from charms bar

This also lets users send them to OneNote or add new printers to the system.

How Do I Show Content on External Displays?

The Project features lets users turn on an external display. It offers four options including…

  • PC screen only – use this to turn off the external display and only show content on the Surface Pro 3
  • Duplicate – shows the same thing on both the Surface and the external display
  • Extend – shows content on both the Surface Pro 3 and the external display to make a larger single desktop and makes it possible to use the Presentation Mode in PowerPoint, which shows the presentation slides on the external display and a special user-interface for the presenter which shows her speaker notes, the next slide and tools like the virtual laser pointer and highlighter pens
  • Second screen only – shows content on the second screen only and turns off the Surface screen, which makes sense when docking the Surface Pro 3 to use it as a desktop replacement with the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

The Project tool also allows for connecting to a Wireless Display using something like the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter (seen above) or any other Wi-Di enabled display. A few people have problems with this feature. If the link to connect to a wireless display disappears, follow the steps in our guide to restoring it.

Please Read How to Connect Your Window 8 Tablet to an External Monitor.

To use a monitor, TV or projector that’s not wireless requires plugging in the right kind of cable. The Surface Pro 3 doesn’t come with a HDMI, VGA, DVI or regular Displayport. Get an adapter. They usually cost about $30-40 at a local electronics store or less online.

Decide which kind of device you’ll connect to most of the time. Most people will connect to either a VGA monitor for older displays or projectors or HDMI for newer monitors, TVs, or Projectors. Look for a Mini Displayport to VGA or Mini Displayport to HDMI adapter.This [amazon_link id=”B00NH13K8S” target=”_blank” ]AmazonBasics Mini Displayport (Thunderbolt) to HDMI Adapter[/amazon_link] will work great for hooking up to most TV sets or HDMI compatible monitors or projectors. Or get this [amazon_link id=”B00C28L138″ target=”_blank” ]AmazonBasics Mini Displayport (Thunderbolt) to VGA Adapter[/amazon_link] to hook up to a VGA compatible display.

How Do I Change Settings or Personalize the Look and Behavior of the Surface Pro 3?

To open the Control Panel, Personalization screen to change the background or color scheme, or to get specs for the Surface Pro 3 use the Settings icon in the Charms Bar. Open the Charms Bar and tap on Settings and then on  Change PC Settings at the bottom.


Settings Bar on Surface Pro 3 = Top Half

When a user opens the Settings Bar from the Charms Bar, there are two parts that show up. On the top half of the Settings bar we see four general operating system links for various Settings screens. Tap these to open the corresponding screens. Here’s what the four links do:

  • Control Panel – to learn more about the Control Panel, give Microsoft’s useful help article a look.
  • Personalization – lets the user change things like screen backgrounds, user-interface color themes, sounds and their screen saver
  • PC info – learn more about their system’s specs, operating system version, and more.
  • Help – the built-in Microsoft Windows Help tool

At the bottom of the Settings bar we see a grid of six icons with a link to Change PC Settings below them.


The icons represent the following:

  • Wi-Fi connections
  • Volume slider
  • Screen brightness slider
  • Notifications area
  • Power button
  • Keyboard button

Below that we find the Change PC settings button. Use it to get access to things like the Surface Pen setup, OneDrive configuration and other accounts, and update/recovery. Users can also set their screen saver.

What Do the Surface Pen Buttons Do?

surface pen

Double tap the top button to take a screenshot.

Microsoft made the best stylus available for a tablet when they designed the Surface Pen. Users can ink with precision and pressure sensitivity in the right app. However, it’s not obvious what the pen buttons do or how it connects.

The Surface Pen connects via Bluetooth. Upon first boot, the user-interface will instruct the user how to set up the pen for the first time. However, sometimes something happens and it loses the connection and won’t write or launch OneNote anymore. More on how to launch OneNote below

Set up the pen again by opening the Change PC Settings screen from the Charms Bar’s Setting button. Select PC and Devices and then Bluetooth.

surface pen guide


Hold down the purple button on the top of the pen with the Bluetooth screen. Find it under Change PC Settings and then PC and Devices followed by Bluetooth. After holding down the button, the Surface Pen shows up in the list of Bluetooth devices. Tap it and then tap on Pair.

The purple button on top of the pen also opens OneNote, the Microsoft notebook program. By default it chooses the modern UI version instead of the desktop version.  To change this, open OneNote 2013 and it will present the user with an option to make it the default. From then on the button will open the more feature complete OneNote 2013.

change default onenote app

The other two buttons work as a right-click and an eraser. Press and hold the button furthest from the tip and then tap somewhere to open the right-click context menu. In most programs the lower button closest to the tip will not do anything. In apps designed to take use of it the button functions like an eraser. For example, in OneNote it will erase whatever you just drew with the pen.

Finally, as mentioned above, double tapping the top button will let users take a screenshot of an area of the screen that they select with the pen tip.

Can I Use Another Stylus?

Yes. It won’t offer the same functionality of the Surface Pen, but any stylus that works on a touch screen will also work on the Surface Pro 3. The only good reason to do this is if you lose or forget the Surface Pen since it works better than any other stylus on the market.

What Are the Dots on Top Edge?

surface pro 3 camera mic and light sensor

At the top center of the Surface Pro 3 uses will notice three dots. They are from left to right, the camera, the privacy light and the front microphone. The privacy light turns on when the user starts a video chat or recording video from the camera.

Do I Have to Use the $129 Surface Type Cover from Microsoft?


People generally love or hate the Type Cover designed to work with the Surface Pro 3. It snaps to the bottom of the Surface Pro 3 thank to magnets. It automatically turns off the screen when the user closes the cover. It protects the screen. There’s no software to install or pairing Bluetooth. Using it instead of a USB or Bluetooth keyboard will conserve battery life because the Type Cover doesn’t drain it as much as USB or Bluetooth connected device.

Despite all of that, some people hate using it. It collects dirt and lint and starts to look bad. Users can clean it with a dampened cloth, and that won’t harm the soft material.

People who would prefer to use a cheaper keyboard, can. Just plug one into the USB port or pair it using Bluetooth. To do that, slide in from the right to open the Charms Bar and tap on Settings. Tap on Change PC Settings at the bottom and then hit Bluetooth in the list on the left.

Turn on the Bluetooth keyboard and follow the instructions that came with it to put it in pairing mode. There’s usually a button that the user must hold down until a light blinks quickly.

pairing bluetooth with surface pro 3

On the Surface, the device will show up on the list. It may say “Unknown” as the image above shows. Tap it and it will likely ask you to type in a code on the keyboard to pair it.

Where Do I Put My Pen?

The design of the Surface Pro 3 doesn’t include a reliable way to hold the Surface Pen. As a result, many users report losing their $50 pen. If that happens to you, you can usually find one cheaper than they sell them at the Microsoft Store by looking around online.

The Type Cover comes with a loop that clues to the Surface of the Keyboard and holds the pen loosely. However, I’ve noticed that it’s easy to snag the pen on things as you carry it making it fall off. That’s how I lost my pen.


The Clean Stylus for Surface Pro 3 replaces the terrible loop that Microsoft ships with the Type Cover.

Spend a few bucks and get the awesome Clean Stylus Surface Pen holder we recommended in a roundup of awesome Surface Pro 3 accessories. It’s $20 and matches the various colors of the Type Cover.

How Do I Use the Kickstand?

surface pro 3 kickstand upright

On the back of the Surface Pro 3 we find the kickstand. Use it to set the Surface Pro 3 at multiple angles. The kickstand can hold the Surface Pro 3 up at an angle comfortable for viewing the screen as the user types or views media. It also moves back to let the user set the Surface Pro 3 at a low angle for typing directly on the screen or looking down on the tablet without setting it perfectly flat.

surface pro 3 lower angle kickstand

I usually put the Surface Pro 3 on a flat surface with the edge that connects to the Type Cover touching the flat surface. Flip the keyboard down if you plan to use it for typing. Then along the lower left or ridge edge there’s a cutout that makes it easy to get hold of the kickstand. Move the kickstand out until it’s at the desired angle. Then when finished move it back towards the back of the Surface Pro 3 until it snaps in place. Magnets hold it closed.

Where’s the micro-SD Card Slot?

surface pro 3 sd card slot

Users will notice that the micro-SD card sits underneath the kickstand. I like to place the Surface Pro 3 on a flat surface with the screen facing down, then lift the kickstand to show the card slot. With the Type Cover connector facing you, it will sit on the left edge.

Press the card into place until it clicks. To remove it, push it in slightly until the springs let it pop out. Be careful to remove it only when the operating system’s not reading files from or writing them to the card. If you remove it while it’s saving files on the card it can damage the file and possibly the card.