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Surface 3 review: This one is worth recommending, though it's no bargain

Mark Hachman | April 28, 2015
Think of the Surface 3 as a smaller, cheaper Surface Pro 3, with slightly disappointing battery life but surprisingly good performance.

Junior member of the Surface clan
Once on your desk, the new Surface 3 hardware looks nearly identical to the Surface Pro 3's. The Surface 3's superb, 1920x1280-pixel, 10.8-inch screen is slightly smaller than the 12-inch display on the Surface Pro 3, but it has the same 3:2 ratio. The space savings may translate into a bit more comfort on planes.

Desktop use: Smaller is only sometimes better
Physically, the new Surface 3 measures 10.52x7.36x0.34 inches and weighs 1.37 pounds, plus another 0.57 pounds for the Type Cover. That's virtually indistinguishable from the Surface Pro 3 in a satchel or backpack, but marginally heavier than a comparable Android tablet when you factor in the keyboard. 

The Surface 3 offers three fixed positions for the kickstand. After living with the Surface Pro 3 and its variable-pitch kickstand, that's disappointing. I understand Microsoft made the choice for cost reasons, but I can't help but want more.

Like virtually every generation of Surface machines, the Surface 3 ships with its own backlit Type Pad keyboard. (No word from Microsoft on whether a Touch Pad keyboard is en route.) Like the Surface 3 itself, the associated keyboard is smaller, although Microsoft makes up for it by organizing the keys far closer to the side edges than on the SP3's keyboard. It also has a nicely redesigned top row of keys that includes frequently-used functions.

The Surface 3's keyboard is sufficient, yet a little small for my tastes. Over time, my Surface Pro 3 Type Covers has become a bit mushy, so you may eventually need to invest in a replacement. And while you can use an Surface Pro 3 Type Cover with the Surface 3, you won't be able to fold back the edge of it, creating the slightly elevated angle that both keyboards otherwise allow--the magnet in the Surface Pro 3 keyboard doesn't "grab" the Surface 3 correctly to do so.

The Surface 3's proprietary docking station provides ethernet, two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, a miniDisplayPort, and a headphone jack. The dock doesn't recline, but it's a well-made piece of hardware that grasps the Surface 3 securely from both sides.

Unlike with the Surface Pro 3's dock, the Surface 3's dock completely encloses the tablet's own USB port, but it also eliminates the power brick that most other docks include. There's a slot hidden behind the kickstand that accepts up to 128GB SD cards, plus 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0 tucked inside. While there's additional storage on the dock, you do get 1TB of OneDrive storage with your Office subscription.

The Surface 3's two cameras are designed to be used with its Office applications. The front-facing, 3.5MP camera is designed for Skype, while the rear-facing, 8MP camera is more designed for taking video of a lecture recorded as part of OneNote than anything else. The Surface 3 (like the SP3) lacks a flash, but you can now tap to focus and autoexpose a particular element of the scene, which you can't do on the SP3.

 

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