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Surface Pro 3 Impressions: Has Microsoft Succeeded Where Apple Failed?



Microsoft’s latest tablet is hoping to succeed where Apple has so far failed. It’s thin and light so that it can be used as an entertainment tablet. It also includes an Intel processor for running serious applications. In many respects, it’s the closest we come to not having to carry around a laptop for getting work done and an iPad for quickly checking emails.

There are plenty of new things here too. The Surface Pen that allows users to take handwritten notes is now thicker and able to open the OneNote note taking application with a single button push. The Surface Type Keyboard accessory has been revamped with an extra magnet to make it easier to lock into place. There’s even a wider trackpad so that carrying around an external mouse is no longer a requirement.

Better Hardware

Surface Pro 3 First Impressions (5)

The Surface Pro 3 is seriously thin.

Many have said that Microsoft’s idea for the Surface Pro has been, and always will be, misguided. These people are right, but they’re also wrong. Don’t misunderstand, they’re wrong in so much as the Surface Pro 3 is the real deal. They’re right because past devices didn’t necessarily live up to Microsoft’s stated goals for the Surface line. This device does.

You realize how misguided Microsoft was with past Surface Pro devices the moment you pick up the Surface Pro 3. The Surface Pro felt premium, but the Surface Pro 3 feels and like something Apple would have made. It’s incredibly thin, so thin that it makes smartphones feel thick by comparison. The Surface Pro 3 only measures .36-inches from front to back.

It’s also more attractive thanks to Microsoft’s decision to drop the black paint that previous devices came covered in.

Despite the completely redesigned exterior, the Surface Pro 3 is still an Intel-powered laptop where it counts: inside. This means that the device still allows users to run desktop and Windows Store apps along with each other. There’s still that single USB 3.0 for connecting to printers, keyboards and cameras too.

During my brief time with the device it seems like Microsoft made all the right decisions where the core hardware is concerned. This thinner, lighter package feels more sophisticated, more capable and less of a compromise – depending on the version. The Surface Pro 3 launching this month comes with 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core i5 Processor for $999. Two more powerful versions with more RAM, storage space and a higher price tag will launch in August. Alongside those units will be a Surface Pro 3 with 64GB of storage space, 4GB of RAM and an Intel Core i3 processor at $799. That version with the Core i3 Processor will still be plenty powerful, just not as powerful as the entry-level Surface Pro 2 that Microsoft is selling for $799 today.

Better Extras

Surface Pro 3 First Impressions (3)

The Surface Pro 3 with its new Surface Pro Type Cover.

Microsoft talked a lot about the extra upgrades that it packed in the Surface Pro 3 during its press event. It’s hard to not notice that these small refinements are what actually makes the Surface Pro 3 an iPad and laptop replacement.

A stylus is a stylus until you’ve used the Surface Pro 3’s included pen. Microsoft says its more accurate than the old Surface Pen and I’m sure they’re right, but it’s the pen’s heft and weight that users will respond to. Writing feels more comfortable and taking notes is crazy easy thanks to that button that instantly opens Microsoft OneNote. Whether the batteries the pen requires to pull all of this off last a very long time will be interesting to see.

There’s also a new hinge that allows users to position the tablet for a better viewing angle. Bulky cases with bright colors and expensive price tags need not become an issue for Surface Pro 3 users.

Surface Pro 3 First Impressions (2)

Also, that refreshed Surface Pro Type Keyboard may have a wider trackpad, which feels way better when browsing the internet, but it’s still sold separately from the device itself. That means users have to factor in an extra $130 into the Surface Pro 3’s purchase price. That Microsoft continues to show the Surface Pro 3 in commercials with the keyboard but not include them together on store shelves remains a bit questionable.

When users spend time with the Surface Pro 3 they’ll likely come to the same conclusion I have. The Surface Pro 3 is truer to Microsoft’s initial Surface vision than any previous Surface Pro was, and is arguably the best Windows 2-in-1 on the market. So far, the refinements are appreciated and make for a better experience. Far more importantly, they deliver on the dream that one day, users won’t have to carry around multiple computing devices to live their lives.



  1. Matt Chapman (@TheMattChapman)

    06/28/2014 at 10:48 am

    hey travis nice article. your twitter page says it doesn’t exist.

  2. Matt Chapman (@TheMattChapman)

    06/28/2014 at 10:53 am

    when i click the link under your name description that is.

  3. shaheena

    06/29/2014 at 11:46 pm

    Good blog you have here.. It’s hard to find high-quality writing like yours nowadays. I really appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

  4. Ponta

    06/30/2014 at 4:32 am

    “…the Surface Pro 3 feels and like something Apple would have made”

    Don’t let Jony Ive hear you say that. He’ll strangle you.

    The Surface is definitively not something Apple would have designed. Something being kind of thin does not pass that bar. Surface has too many sharp edges and those airflow vents are as un-Apple as you can get. And don’t get me started on the kickstand. As for the SP3 being “an Intel-powered laptop,” yes, if you enjoy modern-day Celerons. The base model has got a seriously weak chip, barely faster than Apple’s A7. There’s more, but you get the drift.

    The biggest point, however, is the toaster-fridge problem. I blogged on this long before Tim Cook brought it up. Apple would never compromise on design like Microsoft has. It’s trying to be two different things at once, and so fails at both. The Surface is big and kludgy as a tablet, and it’s lame and barely usable as a laptop (as in, use it on your lap). Both miss the mark. Like most reviewers, you get wowed by many irrelevancies. Apple’s design is not about thinness or anything so elementary. It’s about the device being perfect for its intended use. That is the *opposite* of what Microsoft has done here.

    • TheTruthSquad

      06/30/2014 at 9:13 am

      What is your position at Apple?

    • WP7Mango

      07/01/2014 at 5:28 am

      Actually, Microsoft did not make the opposite of “perfect for intended use”. What Microsoft did was take one aspect of mobile computing – VERSATILITY, and perfect it.

      In terms of versatility, there is absolutely no doubt that Microsoft has got this right. For those who want maximum versatility from a single device, the Surface Pro 3 delivers on this vision beautifully.

  5. Mark

    06/30/2014 at 9:47 am

    @Ponta, As a former staunch Apple “person”, In my opinion Apple’s tablets are simply compromised laptops. Tim Cook’s toaster and fridge comment is convenient for Apple to use to criticize a product that they are not in a position with their OS to produce. I can guarantee you, now that Surface 3 is out, more than a few people at Apple will be taking pause to reassess their hardline opinions about what a tablet should be.

    You criticize the “modern-day Celerons used in the Surface but seem ok with Apple’s choice to use the very same chips in its family of laptop products.

    You say “It’s about the device being perfect for its intended use”. Is it such a reach to realize some people’s intended use cases of the Surface are for a highly portable devices that can be used for both creation and consumption purposes?

    I never thought I would be defending MS, but listening to the lame arguments of people that just seem to be anti MS no matter what they do is starting to get old. There is no doubt in my mind that as the technology underlying portable devices improves, we will see tablets become full on general purpose computing platforms, and I applaud MS for trying to make it happen now. I for one am planning on getting a Surface Pro 3 for my own use now, and look forward to a future of even lighter, cheaper, and more powerful tablet/laptop computer systems.

  6. Ponta

    07/05/2014 at 7:17 am

    @TheTruthSquad: Har.

    @WP7Mango: Versatility is apparently a relative thing as you define it. “Perfect” versatility would actually mean a best-possible tablet form (big and heavy is not it), the best-possible laptop form (Surface is crap as a laptop, unless you forgo the keyboard, in which case you have a choice of also-clumsy input methods for that position), and the best-possible desktop (a low-powered unit with a much-less-than-ideal keyboard is also a fail). The SP3 excels at none, and is only nominally “versatile” at two. I could just as easily say that the Macbook Air is “versatile” because you can use it as a laptop and a desktop. Such a claim means nothing, as does yours.

    @Mark: “Apple’s tablets are simply compromised laptops” — no, you miss the point. Apple’s tablets are not “laptops” in ANY sense. That’s the whole idea. Jobs realized what Gates and Ballmer missed for a decade: that a tablet form is handheld, and you don’t do any serious authoring in handheld mode. I do not mind buying a tablet that is great as a tablet AND a laptop that is great as a laptop, because I know if I tried to have both in one I would hate it–the same way most people felt about mopeds, and feel fine having a bicycle and a motorcycle instead. Apple “got” what a tablet is all about, and that fact is evident from Microsoft’s multiple failed attempts and Apple’s one spectacular success. No doubt the Surface is the bee’s knees for a certain subset of users–but not for most. How much money would you care to wager than the iPad Air alone will not massively outsell the SP3? I have need of easy money.

    “You criticize the “modern-day Celerons used in the Surface but seem ok with Apple’s choice to use the very same chips in its family of laptop products.”

    The modern-day Celeron is the Haswell i3, a weak chip which graces the entry-level SP3. Apple’s offerings begin no lower than the Haswell i5. And Apple’s mobile A7 is competitive with the Haswell i3–you get about as much CPU power in an iPhone than you get in a Surface… with the A8 just around the corner. Apple is not slouching in that regard. They knew netbooks were a fail and what was necessary before they released the Macbook Air… and now the flood of “Ultrabooks” are nothing but knock-off Macbook Airs. Apple similarly understands mobile far better than Microsoft; remember when Ballmer scoffed at the iPhone on it’s initial release and predicted it would be an expensive failure while Microsoft’s mobile OS would have an 80% market share? That’s what I mean: Apple gets it, Microsoft doesn’t. It has been consistently proven.

    “Is it such a reach to realize some people’s intended use cases of the Surface are for a highly portable devices that can be used for both creation and consumption purposes?”

    You *still* miss the point–but hey, if you are the kind of person who likes glasses which can double as swimming goggles, or shoes that are also skis, if that’s your idea of “optimum,” then OK, strange, but whatever floats your boat. I’m just saying that the vast majority of people will not see it that way. They’ll look at the Surface, say, “Cool! …but how does it fit in your lap?” and then they’ll pick it up with one hand and, while oohing and aahing at the larger (but lower-resolution) screen, realize it weighs twice what the iPad Air does and will not want to deal with hefting it like that. Maybe you are one of those people for whom having one device instead of two is a huge deal, and your use of such a device would never bring the pain; maybe you never put your computer in your lap when you type, for example. If so, then the Surface is for you! Buy it! Enjoy it! More power to you, Microsoft has hit your target.

    But don’t for an instant think that most people will feel the same way.

  7. simone

    07/16/2014 at 9:45 pm

    Surface pro 3 is just a perfect match of power and design! So usefull to me…
    And ok I’m not ashamed to be the glass/goggle-guy you are discriminating.
    Loved apple but superloving Microsoft now!!!

  8. Karin H.

    08/10/2014 at 12:18 pm

    I’ve owned an Apple iPad with Retina Display (iPad 3-ish) since it was released and have often been irked about how it doesn’t have a USB port, or a familiar productivity suite. Nothing would please me more than to use my iPad as an IT support tool and not have to lug around a full size laptop.

    I’ve seen the first two versions of Surface, Liked the first, scoffed at RT, and fell in love with i7 SP3. Its got everything I need to grab and go. It has excellent battery life, a brilliant screen, and its very responsive. Plus tossing MS Office onto it was a huge plus. And I’m not slaved to an Air Print printer when I want to print something out. And my opinion of Windows 8.1 has changed. Still clunky as all get out on a non touch system, and bloody simple and friendly on a touch screen.

    Only issue is with it getting hot while pushing the processor. But that is minor. Its going to be a handy little device.

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