|+ Top design and great build quality||- Little choice of apps|
|+ Fabulous screen||- Type Cover pricey, and disappointing trackpad|
|+ Speedy and powerful||- Lack of ports|
"The Surface Pro 3 is a much better substitute for a laptop than its predecessors thanks to its fantastic design and great spec."
Here comes the third version of Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Microsoft is so confident in it that it says it can easily replace a laptop. In fact so confident are the folk at Microsoft in its ability that they have claimed that everyone can now get rid of their MacBook Airs and iPads in favour of the Surface Pro – let’s see if they’re right!
The Surface has always been good looking and its looks have improved with age. It looks and feels like a quality product, with its magnesium finish – taking it above the iPad Air in our opinion. However, apart from looks, we don’t really think it is plausible to compare it with the iPad Air or other tablets. After all it is 9.1mm thick and weighs in at 800g. It’s certainly not as portable as other tablets.
The screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which Microsoft says makes it a more usable device, but this big chunk of magnesium and glass is not something you’d want to carry on your commute. Mind you, add the Type Cover (at £11) and use the stylus, which is included, and you do feel like you have something that can replace a pen and notebook.
A kickstand sits on the back, and this can now be set at pretty much any angle you want (before they only had a couple of settings). Its stiff hinge ensures it stays in place at whatever angle you have set.
The included stylus has been designed to both feel and look like a pen. It connects to the Surface Pro 3 using magnets, although unfortunately you have to take it off to charge the device as the stylus gets in the way of the port. A recipe for a lost stylus.
The display measures 12 inches and boasts a 2160 x 1550 resolution, which makes it incredibly sharp unless you look really closely. Apps and the Start screen of Windows 8.1 with all its Tiles look fabulous. However, the desktop environment does not fare so well – it has issues with graininess and Chrome really suffers – we imagine this is more a Google issues than a Microsoft one, though.
If you want to turn up the brightness you can – just tap the display a couple of times. This combats most reflections and glare. And we did find that the 3:2 resolution was far more usable than the 16:9 on previous incarnations. There’s more depth, which means you can view websites in landscape mode – nor does it look silly if you use it in portrait mode. The compact iPad Air still has the edge on it here though.
There are a number of different models available to choose from – you can have Intel i3, i5 or i7 processors, opt for 4GB or 8GB of RAM and storage comes in 64, 128, 256 and 512GB.
We tested a mid-range model with Intel i5 processor, 4GB RAM and 128GB of onboard storage for which you pay £849. Prices start at £639 and head up to £1,649. The stylus is included but if you add the Type Cover (and anyone wanting to replace their laptop will want one) at £110, it makes it pretty expensive.
So with these prices it starts to become hard to compare the Surface Pro 3 with anything else but high-end laptops. Performance-wise it holds its own – multitasking works well, apps fire up quickly and indeed mostly the laptop experience is what you would expect. But there are issues – it was slow when we tried to resize Chrome, for instance.
Apart from that we found performance smooth and speedy – but it is odd having two entirely different user interfaces – both the tiled interface and the traditional desktop. For instance – say you want to write a document – should you choose Word from the applications page – or look through the tiles to find OneLook? Open OneNote and you have your tablet-style apps in full screen, while firing up Word takes you to the desktop environment. Very confusing.
It gets worse though because for some applications you need to open a browser to benefit from all their features. For instance – we received a notification about a contact’s birthday on Facebook – we wanted to just post on their wall but opening the notification caused facebook.com to open in IE.
Also, while Microsoft is pushing the Surface Pro 3 as a professional device for working, Microsoft Office isn’t included. Sure you get a free trial, but after that it will cost you £8 a month for Office 365 – and that’s per user.
Battery life is up to nine hours, though this varies depending on what you’re using the device for but basic web browsing and writing will give you this length of time.
The included stylus has been updated for this version of the Surface Pro – and it does feel like a quality metal pen now. Click the cap and it fires up a new OneNote page – nifty. This works even if the Surface is locked and asleep. Click twice to grab a screenshot – you can even select an area to take the screenshot of, by using the pen.
Writing with the stylus, you can feel there is a little give as it touches the glass – making it feel like a real world writing experience. Happily you can rest the palm of your hand on the screen with no problems, so it feels very natural to write on the display.
The Type Cover now features a better trackpad, and the magnet system has also been improved – it means the keyboard is able to be tilted up at the back, giving you a better typing angle. It also makes it more stable if you’re sitting with the device on your lap.
Despite the improvements, the trackpad still has issues – it is too small and doesn’t respond quickly enough. This makes for a frustrating experience, and if you’re used to the MacBook Air trackpad this might well be a deal breaker.
We also would have expected to see the Type Cover included, rather than coasting another £110.
The Surface is far better than it was when it came into being two years ago. It now has a much better idea about what it is trying to be - the squarer display and Type Cover make it feel much more like a laptop, but with the added facility of working like a tablet.
Hardware is really impressive – this is a quality product with fantastic design. The Surface Air Pro 3 is not a device you’ll be holding in one hand for long, but it’s certainly just as portable as the MacBook Air. Plus it has plenty of storage and power.
It’s a shame that only one USB port is included, though, and that Microsoft saw fit to include a mini DisplayPort rather than the more usual HDMI.
But it’s not the hardware, it’s the software that is a letdown. Windows 8.1 still doesn’t know what it is trying to be.
At the beginning of this review we asked whether Microsoft was right to claim that you could give up your MacBook Air in favour of the Surface Pro 3. So what’s the conclusion? Well, it is more flexible than the Air thanks to the touch screen, stylus and detachable keyboard, but it doesn’t come close to the keyboard and trackpad on the Air.
It seems Microsoft has tried to please everyone with this device – and it’s come close – and we’re sure some will find it is the all-in-one they have been looking for. But we just don’t think it will have the general appeal that a laptop does.
Dimensions: 292 x 201 x 9mm
Weight: 800 grams
Screen size: 12-inch IPS LCD display
Screen Resolution: 2160 x 1550 display resolution
Pixels Per Inch (PPI): 216ppi
Processor: Intel i3/i5/i7(See table above)
RAM: 4/8 GB (See table above)
On-board Memory: 64, 128, 256 and 512GB (see table above) with microSD support
Camera: 5 megapixel (rear) 5 megapixel (front-facing)
Operating system: Windows 8.1 Pro
3G / 4G LTE: No / No
Bluetooth / NFC: Yes/ Yes
Other Connectivity - USB, mini DisplayPort
Battery life: Up to 9 hours
Launch Date: Out Now
Price: (See Table Above)
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