For years, it’s been the belief of most that hardware is only as good as the software running on it. Make no mistake, this is true. It’s why Apple’s iPhone first took off and is still popular. It’s why millions of users install Microsoft Office on their machines despite there being free alternatives. It’s also true that software is only as good as the hardware it runs on. Never has there been a battle example of that than with Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3.
At first glance, the Surface Pro 3 is just a tablet. Only by examining the processors that power it and experiencing the accessories that complement it can you truly Surface Pro 3 for is: a 2-in-1. The Surface Pro 3 isn’t a tablet, it’s a notebook with the powers of a Desktop disguised as tablet. In short, it’s a device designed to give users the best Windows 8.1 experience possible.
The Surface Pro 3 succeeds at giving users the best of a Windows tablet and Windows notebook, mostly.
Surface Pro 3 Review – Design & Internals
Throw out everything you know about Microsoft hardware because we’ve never seen a device come out of Microsoft that’s as well designed as the Surface Pro 3. In fact, it’s about the most incredible looking piece of hardware Microsoft has ever produced, and that’s saying something. The company has a long history of making portable media players, gaming machines, keyboards, webcams and other PC-related accessories.
A black border surrounds a 12-inch 2160 x 1440 display. To the right of that high-end detailed display is a touch-sensitive Windows button. Above that display is an ambient light sensor, a microphone and a 5 megapixel front-facing web camera. The sides and rear of the Surface Pro 3 are made of a hard magnesium pioneered by Microsoft.
Microsoft could have made the Surface Pro 3 a boxy thin tablet, but it didn’t. The edges of the Surface Pro 3 house a single USB full-size USB port, power button, keyboard connector, mini display port, headphone jack, volume buttons and a vent that you’ll barely notice. The edges gently slope, making the Surface Pro 3 more comfortable to hold. Around back is a rear-facing 5 megapixel camera and a kickstand.
Even today, roughly half a year after Microsoft first revealed the Surface Pro 3, its design is still awe-inspiring. The device feels high-end, like a piece of jewelry you’ll get a kick out of showing off at your local coffee chop. You’ll get questions, you’ll get compliments and that’s rare for a device produced by anyone that isn’t Apple.
The Surface Pro 3 is arguably the best designed 2-in-1 you can find, it’s kickstand sturdy and robust.
Surface Pro 3 Review – Features
The aforementioned kickstand is the first hint that there’s something different about the Surface Pro 3. It looks a lot like the Surface 2 that came before it, but the similarities are mostly skin deep. Forget ARM processors that don’t allow you to install apps like iTunes, The Surface Pro 3 has the heart of notebook. Each version is endowed with a 4th generation Intel Core processor and at least 4GB of RAM. What’s running on the Surface Pro 3 is a full copy of Windows 8.1 without compromises. You can run all of your favorite apps on this tablet plus what’s available from the Windows Store. For example, Adobe Photoshop is compatible with the special pressure sensitive pen that comes with the Surface Pro 3.
That kickstand, processing power and Windows 8.1 are like raw gun poweder. Add the $129 Type Cover and the amount of things you can do with the Surface Pro 3 explodes. That keyboard locks in place below the screen, flip out the keyboard and you’ve got one of the world’s thinnest notebook PCs. In most situations the setup is ideal, the kickstand manages some crazy angles and provides solid support. Together with the cover, you’ve got a decent lap experience – something the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 failed at miserably.
Even the base model Surface Pro 3, which costs $799 without a cover, lasts about 9 hours and is capable of running any app you throw at it. Most of the time, it happens with minimal fan noise. That pen allows users to take notes without first unlocking the Surface Pro 3.
Surface Pro 3 Review – Conclusion
If this sounds a lot like a glowing review, then I haven’t managed to fool you. Since purchasing the Surface Pro 3 last fall, I’ve become a Microsoft hardware convert. It’s not the coolness factor that has me convinced, its Microsoft’s attention to detail.
Connected Standby was one of the few unique things about the Surface 2. Because the Surface 2 had innards similar to an iPad, it could run in a low power state. It always has your latest emails and could surface a notification when it appeared off. The Surface Pro 3 has this and it’s amazing what how convenient it is having your main PC updating silently does for your productivity.
Older Surface Pros convinced me of digital note taking’s usefulness, but only using the Surface Pro 3’s high-end metal, pressure sensitive stylus turn I turn into a full convert. Press the purple button and you’re immediately in OneNote.
I’ve played games like Star Trek Online and Sim City on the Surface Pro 3 with Core i3 processor with no problem – though I’ve had to adjust their settings because Microsoft employs some throttling that certainly does mess with processing power during long gaming sessions. That and Microsoft’s decision to charge $799 for an entry-level Surface Pro 3 without a Touch Cover are the only missteps here.
The Surface Pro 3 is a productive, gaming-worthy beast. It’s also Windows 8.1 presented in a way that makes sense. Anyone who has used the operating system extensively knows that is no small feat.