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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: A legitimate work PC in tablet clothing

Mark Hachman | May 28, 2014
Microsoft's Surface lineup just keeps getting better and better, with an improved screen for desktop use and an upgraded Type Cover for the road.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
IMAGE: MICHAEL HOMNICK. Viewed on edge, the Surface Pro 3 looks and feels like a tablet.

Through every iteration, Microsoft's Surface Pro tablet has edged closer to becoming a true laptop replacement. Microsoft's latest Surface Pro 3 takes several small steps in that direction—along with one giant, game-changing leap. Sure, you'll still need to make a few compromises, but Surface Pro 3 can legitimately cover your notebook and tablet needs in a single package.

You'll immediately notice the larger display. The Surface Pro 2's display measures 10.6 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. Microsoft kicked up everything in the Surface Pro 3: The display is 38 percent bigger at 12 inches in diagonal width, and its 2160x1440-pixel resolution is breathtakingly crisp. Just as importantly, Microsoft's shift to a 3:2 aspect ratio for the Surface Pro 3 adds 1.12 inches of vertical real estate to what already is a wider tablet. The result is a more luxurious, productive work space—and that's key when you're multitasking in a desktop environment.

There are numerous other upgrades behind the scenes. Though physically larger in terms of screen dimensions, Microsoft trimmed 0.24 pounds and 0.23 inches of width from the Surface Pro 2 to create the new tablet. Yet there's still a full range of Core processors in the Surface lineup, including a Core i7 that somehow manages to live harmoniously in a 0.3-inch form factor. 

I disliked the original Surface Pro. It felt thick and bulky. The slimmed-down Surface Pro 3 feels like a proper modern-day tablet. Microsoft also improved the kickstand and complementary Type Cover, enhancing their ergonomics considerably. Internally, Microsoft moved to the faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, increasing potential wireless throughput.

Unfortunately, the price you pay is, well... the price you pay. Microsoft will ship the Surface Pro 3 in Core i3, i5, and i7 configurations, with either 4GB or 8GB of RAM and storage options up to 256GB. (Check out our earlier story for the exact details.) Our eval unit, a core i5 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, costs $1,300. 

The low-end Core i3 model will cost $800, a price that's competitive with a slew of perfectly respectable full-fledged laptops. But a high-end Core i7 model exacts more than $2,000 after sales tax, and any future 4G connectivity options will boost prices even further. The new Type Cover costs another $130, and it's a must-have.

As you can see, to enjoy the full Surface Pro 3 experience, you'll quickly price yourself out of traditional laptop territory.

Microsoft also moved to a new charger, breaking compatibility with earlier models. And if you bought a docking station for the Surface Pro 2, it won't work with the Surface Pro 3 due to a port reconfiguration. Perhaps most importantly, many Surface Pro 3's won't ship until almost September. 

 

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