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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.

Longtime Surface fans may be disappointed by the drawbacks, especially if they recently spent four figures on a new Surface Pro 2. But if you're in the market for a new notebook PC, you should think seriously about replacing it with a Surface Pro 3 as your daily driver for work and play. Thinner, lighter, cheaper, more ergonomic: That's the Surface Pro 3 in a nutshell.

Bam! And it's up and running
The Surface Pro 3 boots fast. Crazy fast. So fast that I thought I hadn't shut it down, and instead had put it into sleep mode. Some of this has to do with the fact that I've been reviewing a clean machine. And, obviously, improved SSD technology plays a role. But boot-to-password was on the order of three to four seconds. Be sure to hold the power button a bit longer than normal on first boot, however, as a quick press doesn't seem to trigger it.

Agam Shah, a writer for PCWorld's affiliate IDG News Service, noted that the Surface Pro 3's 2160x1440-pixel resolution isn't quite comparable to the 2560x1440-pixel resolution of some competing devices. Sure, this may turn off some graphics professionals, but not the average worker. Fewer pixels also tend to mean more battery life. Microsoft claims eight hours of battery life during casual use, but our own in-house battery tests—which entail a continuous mix of scripted Office use and video playback—brought the Surface Pro 3 to its knees after 4 hours, 18 minutes. That falls short of our result with the smaller Surface Pro 2, which shut down after 4 hours, 44 minutes.

Our Core i5-based review unit always felt snappy and responsive. Microsoft defines it as a "tuned" version of the Core i5-4300U, the upgraded chip Microsoft adopted midway through the Surface Pro 2 life cycle. But the Surface Pro 3's Worldbench 9 score was just 72, whereas the Surface Pro 2 achieved a score of 74. 

The Surface Pro 3 retains the microSD slot of previous generations, as well as the single USB 3.0 and miniDisplayPort connector. (Plan accordingly to use the tablet with an external monitor.) The power button has been moved from the top right to the top left. Microsoft says an upcoming docking station will include three USB 3.0 connectors and two USB 2.0 connectors, as well as Gigabit ethernet.

The cameras have also been upgraded, with 5-megapixel devices front and rear, enough for full 1080p Skype chats. 

New stylus upgrades the Windows 8.1 experience
Our review unit includes the latest Windows 8.1 Update. On the software front, I can find only two changes: First, when you shut down the tablet, you're asked to "pull down" the window to turn it off, just as Windows Phone does. The second is a serious omission: While the Surface Pro 2 offered 200GB of free OneDrive storage, the Surface Pro 3 does not. Ditto for the year's worth of Skype Premium calling and Wi-Fi access that the Pro 2 offered.

 

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