Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

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The Good The Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than the previous two versions, despite having a larger 12-inch display and higher screen resolution. A new kickstand makes it easier to set up and use, and the keyboard cover remains a best-in-class example. The Surface Pro 3 is now optimized for a digital pen, which is included.

The Bad That excellent keyboard cover is not included in the base price, and its improved touchpad still doesn't measure up. The chassis lacks pen storage, and even with tweaked kickstand and keyboard hinges, the Surface Pro 3 still doesn't fit perfectly on the lap.


The Bottom Line While the new Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft's best PC to date, it's more successful as a tablet than a laptop replacement.


Tablets are great for consuming entertainment and media, while laptops and other full PCs are required to actually create those works, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Some substitute the charged word "productivity" for creation, but the pitch is the same. You need one device for A, B, and C, and another for X, Y, and Z.

That means there's a sizable group of people out there spending at least part of the time lugging around a laptop and a tablet simultaneously. I've been guilty of that, usually packing a 13-inch ultrabook or MacBook Air and an iPad into my carry-on bag for airline flights.

                           


With the new Surface Pro 3 from Microsoft, the software powerhouse (and sometimes hardware maker) says it finally has the single grand unified device that will satisfy both the creation and consumption instincts equally. You'll feel just as at home watching a movie or reading a book as you will editing video footage or writing your novel.

Of course, that's largely the same pitch we got for the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 tablets, which points to the difficulty in translating the full Windows 8.1 experience freely between a laptop and tablet. Dozens of our hands-on reviews of devices ranging from 8-inch slates to 13-inch two-in-one hybrids back this up, as does the mixed reception to the first two generations of the Surface Pro.

Both of those devices, as well as the Surface Pro 3, at least begin with the right idea and smartly lean toward the laptop side of the tablet spectrum, including Intel Core i-series CPUs and keyboard covers designed to feel more like laptop keyboards. With the Surface Pro 3, starting at $799 for an Intel Core i3 CPU and a 64GB SSD, we can see the thinking at Microsoft start to lean even more toward the laptop side, with a new kickstand and touch cover that allow you to work at almost any angle. Our review configuration is upgraded to a Core i5 CPU and 256GB SSD, which costs $1,299, while the type cover keyboard is an additional $129.

                                 

The new Surface Pro is thinner than its predecessors, with a larger, higher-resolution screen. On that mark alone, it outshines the Pro and Pro 2. The internal specs and performance are largely similar to the Pro 2, but that means it's still just as fast as any current-gen premium laptop. With the generation-over-generation tweaks to the design, especially the hinge and keyboard, you can see a dedicated push towards advancing the cause of practical usability. It's not entirely there yet, and it's still a bit of a leap to say this will be a true laptop replacement for most people, but the Surface Pro 3 is the first Surface device I feel confident in saying I could get away with using as a primary PC device.


Design and features

Despite the talk of this being the thinnest Intel Core i-series device to date, it still doesn't feel quite as thin and ethereal as, for example, the iPad Air. But its thinner body, coupled with a larger 12-inch screen, give it a more upscale feel than either the Pro or Pro 2, which were criticized for a certain boxiness.

Both of the previous Surface Pro models had 10.6-inch screens and were 13mm thick, with a footprint of 10.8 inches by 6.8 inches. This new 12-inch version is 11.5 inches by 7.9 inches, but its thickness drops to an impressive 9.1mm. The Pro 3 is also a tad lighter than its predecessor: 800 grams versus 900. Again, when you consider the larger screen, that's a worthy achievement.

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