Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 3

With the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft finally perfected a formula it’d been trying to mix up for a decade or more. This year’s Surface Pro 4 is a tacit admission of that.

Many don’t remember that Microsoft was out front on tablets, it’s hardware partners created a half-dozen convertibles based on Windows before anyone knew that there’d be an iPad. Bad battery life, bulky designs, somewhat terrible displays and the clunky Windows XP Tablet Edition software made them non-interested toys. Then Apple came along and proved that people wanted tablets, just not the ones that HP, Compaq and a few others had tried to sell them. In 2012 Microsoft fired back with the first Surface Pro, which was bulky and ugly. It took Microsoft until 2014 to get things right.

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Surface Pro 4 Review (1)

Surface Pro 4 with Type Cover.

Here’s how the Surface Pro 4, Microsoft’s latest tablet and notebook replacement compares to its trend-setting direct predecessor, the Surface Pro 3. Knowing the differences between the two devices, could help make your buying decision a bit easier.

Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 4: Design

Thinner and lighter, that’s what we’ve been conditioned to expect from each new major electronics release. Even more than those two things, most people expect larger, sharper displays. Hardware makers don’t have the luxury of choosing which attributes to deliver on.

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The Surface Pro 3 is both thinner and lighter than it’s blocky, black predecessors with a 10.1-inch displays. It has a 12-inch display with a resolution of 2160 x 1440 pixels. It measures 0.36-inches from top to bottom and weigh’s 1.76 pounds. A touch sensitive button allows Surface Pro 3 users to go back to the Start Screen or Start Menu at any time.

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The Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3

Microsoft ditched the touch-sensitive Windows button on the Surface Pro 4, giving it the room it needed to add a 12.3-inch display with a resolution of 2736 x 1824 pixels. The heaviest Surface Pro 4 configuration still weighs a few grams less than the Surface Pro 3 at 1.73 pounds. 0.33 inches separates the front of the Surface Pro 4 from its back.

The volume buttons are on the top edge of the Surface Pro 4 instead of the left edge like they are on the Surface Pro 3. This left edge now acts as a place to keep the Surface Pro 4’s upgraded Surface Pen without a tacky pen loop like the Surface Pro 3 requires. A mirror-like Microsoft logo adorns the kickstand that allows the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 3 to act as both notebook and tablet. Microsoft hasn’t made any changes to the kickstand, which was already freely adjustable to begin with. The cover port hasn’t changed either, but the magnets embedded in the Surface Pro 4 front-edge seem stronger.

Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 3: Internals

Functionally similar outside, it’s the internals that make the Surface Pro 4 worth considering over the Surface Pro 3. Microsoft improved the insides of the device in every way possible.

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Surface Pro 3 Review (8)

Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 3 Type Cover.

The Surface Pro 3 used Intel’s 4th Generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors. Generally considered great for battery life, they produced a lot of heat, forcing the Surface’s firmware to heavily regulate processor power. The industry calls this “throttling” and many Surface Pro 3 users say they run into after pro-longed work sessions. Even when processor throttling isn’t a problem on the Surface Pro 3, fan noise is. Sometimes simply updating Windows turns on the Surface Pro 3’s fan. It shatters the illusion that Microsoft is trying to foster; that what it’s selling is a no compromises notebook and tablet.

Surface Pro 4 Review (13)

Surface Pro 4 with Type Cover and Surface Pen.

Read: Surface Pro 3 Review

6th Generation Intel Core processors are used in the Surface Pro 4. They produce less heat, making throttling a thing of the past for most users. Cooler temperatures also mean that the Surface Pro 4’s fan is less likely to turn on. Microsoft has also added a heat pipe system for getting rid of heat without turning the fan on at all.

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The entry-level Surface Pro 4 with Intel Core M3 processor is a perfect example of how big changes in internals can have on experience. To truly sell its vision of a notebook that can be a tablet, Microsoft has to ditch things that ruin the effect. The Surface Pro 3 with Intel Core i3 processor has a loud fan and gets very warm to the touch sometimes. The Surface Pro 4 with Intel Core M3 processor gets warm, but never too hot. Also, there’s no fan at all, giving you the feeling that you really are using a tablet with its keyboard cover isn’t connected. You give up some raw processor power for this. The Intel Core i3 processor in the Surface Pro 3 has a clock speed of 1.5GHz. The Surface Pro 4 with Core M3 starts at about 900 MhZ before boosting to higher levels if the need arises.

connect surface pen to surface pro 3 instead of type cover

The Surface Pro 3’s Pen Loop and Surface Pen.

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The Surface Pro 4 with Intel Core i5 and Intel Core i7 processors still have fans, but they’re for more performance minded users, not the less media-creation minded folks that’ll purchase the Intel Core M3 model.

The full-size USB port that’s pretty essential to the Surface experience is in the Surface Pro 4 unchanged from the Surface Pro 3. Giving users a full-size port makes connecting to printers, controllers and other accessories easy because there’s no dongle – or separate purchase — required. Users still need an adapter to take advantage of the MiniDisplay port on the right edge of the Surface Pro 4. It’s the same port that Microsoft used in the Surface Pro 3.

Surface Pro 4 Camera Samples (6)

Taken with the Surface Pro 4’s camera.

Microsoft says that the front-facing speakers in the Surface Pro 4 are 60% louder than the Surface Pro 3. The solid state storage, or SSD, inside every Surface Pro 4 is significantly faster than their predecessors. You won’t notice the difference between them until you find yourself transferring pictures or video. The Surface Pro 4 handles transfers very quickly.

Read: Surface Pro 4 Review: The Best There Is  

Going back to the displays, Microsoft has always maintained that Surfaces make great digital notebooks and companions for artists. A new Surface Pen design and technology embedded in the Surface Pro 4 give users 1,048 different levels of pressure. The Surface Pro 3 had around 200 different levels of pressure and a side-mounted button that you had to press to erase anything. The new Surface Pen has an eraser cap, with shortcuts to activated the Cortana personal assistant and creating new notes in OneNote. The OneNote shortcut isn’t new, but the Cortana access is.

Surface Pro 4 Review (11)

The Surface Pro 3 has two 5 megapixel cameras, both of which are incredibly useless for anything but video conferencing. The 5 megapixel front-facing camera on the Surface Pro 4 is capable of recording at 1080p. The rear-facing camera has an 8 megapixel sensor that easily out-classes what’s available in the Surface Pro 3. Windows Hello is a new feature for devices built specifically for Windows 10. It lets users login to their device with their face instead of a password or pin code. The Surface Pro 4 has Windows Hello built-in, but the Surface Pro 3 requires that users purchase a $159 cover with fingerprint reader.

Surface Pro 4 vs Surface Pro 3: Which to Buy

Every Surface Pro 4 Type Cover is compatible with the Surface Pro 3. Even the new Surface Pen can be used with Microsoft’s older device, albeit without the 1,048 different levels of pressure. This makes it pretty easy to decide on purchasing a Surface Pro 4 or a Surface Pro 3.

Read: Surface Pro 3: 4 Things Buyers Need to Know

Now starting at $699, the Surface Pro 3 is the obvious choice for anyone that wants to get in on the Surface experience for a reasonable price. More powerful versions of the Surface Pro 3 are available at lower cost than their Surface Pro 4 counterparts. There are lots of differences between it and the newer model, but none them makes it completely obsolete if your main focus is price.

For those looking to get the best performance and tablet experience, the Surface Pro 4 is the obvious choice. The entry-level Surface Pro 4 is thinner, lighter and quieter than any previous generation device, making it the ultimate notebook and tablet replacement. More expensive models of the Surface Pro 4 offer faster file transfers and better performance in games and media creation programs.