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Can Microsoft's new Surface 3 replace your notebook?

By Sarah K. White | May 4, 2015
Microsoft wants you to abandon your preconceived notions of a laptop and embrace the Surface as more than just a tablet. In fact, Microsoft wants you to ditch your cumbersome notebook and one-dimensional tablet -- presumably your iPad -- and replace them with one device: the Surface 3. But even with an adjustable kickstand and full Windows 8.1, can the Surface 3 compete with a traditional notebook, or tablet for that matter?

You won't be playing high-powered games on the Surface 3, but the same can be said for most entry and mid-level notebooks. The Surface 3 packs enough power to get you through your day with average use and maybe some light gaming. Think Microsoft Office, Web browsing, video streaming, playing some tunes and email. It does all of this without noticeable lag, but I can't assure the same experience with only 2GB of RAM.

Having full Windows 8.1 on a tablet is a treat — you aren't limited to an app store, you can snap two apps or programs side-by-side, and the desktop experience allows for true productivity. The keyboard is comfortable and the trackpad is smooth and accurate. In fact, the trackpad performed better than any other device I was using alongside the Surface 3; which includes an HP Spectre x360. By the end of the week, I turned to the Surface 3 over my work computer and personal computer more often than not. It's not just fun to use; you can really get to work on the device.

The Surface 3 touts a 10-hour battery life, which seems accurate in real-world testing. It's enough to get you through your day browsing the Web, using different programs and streaming a little video. Of course, your battery life will always depend on personal use factors, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, streaming content, 4G LTE use and gaming.

Surface 3 vs iPad Air 2 pricing

If you're trying to decide between the iPad Air 2 and the Surface 3, price won't sway you too much. Pricing for the 64GB Surface 3 model with 2GB of RAM starts at $499, while the 128GB model with 4GB of RAM starts at $599. The iPad Air 2 will run you $499 for just 16GB of storage, $599 for 64GB and $699 for 128GB.

Another important factor in price is that the Surface 3 has expandable storage in the form of a microSD port. The iPad Air 2 — or any iOS device for that matter — does not. With iOS 8 hogging nearly 6GB of space, you're essentially buying only 10GB of storage if you go with the 16GB model. It won't take you very long to fill that up with apps, let alone multimedia content.

There is one aspect of the Surface 3's price-point to consider, and it's the same caveat that comes with every Surface past and present; the Microsoft Surface Keyboard. Microsoft has famously shipped its Surface tablets sans keyboard — instead letting users purchase it separately for around $100. Now that the tablet has been out for a while, you can find cheaper keyboards on retailers like Amazon, but it's something to consider. The pen isn't included either, so that will run you another $40. Suddenly, the 128GB iPad Air 2 doesn't seem much more expensive. Mainly, because it's not.


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