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Surface Pro 3 deep-dive review: Has Microsoft finally got it right?

Preston Gralla | June 2, 2014
Microsoft's new Surface Pro 3 is supposed to work as both a tablet and a laptop. After working with it for a week, does our reviewer agree?

There's a saying about Microsoft that I've heard for a long time: It takes three tries for the company to get something right. For example, it wasn't until Windows reached version 3.0 that the operating system really took off, and it was only when Word 3.0 hit that the word processor became a market standard.

But is this also true about the Surface Pro 3, the third iteration of Microsoft's tablet line? Microsoft touts the Surface Pro 3 as a device that, when equipped with an added Surface Pro Type Cover, does double-duty as a productivity tablet and a true laptop.

So how is the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop — or a tablet? To test that out, I carried it around and used it, forgoing the MacBook Air that I typically use when I work away from my desk. It was an ideal test case, because Microsoft has clearly aimed the Surface Pro 3 at the MacBook Air. In fact, on Microsoft's Surface website, there's an entire section devoted to comparing the specs of the Surface Pro 3 to the Air.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

I had previously tried to use its predecessor, the Surface Pro 2, as a primary laptop, and found it impossible to do. But the Surface Pro 3 was generally up to the task, although with some drawbacks.

A look at the specs

Before I go into details about my experience with the Surface Pro 3, let's take a look at its basic specs.

In this area, it certainly seems as if Microsoft got it right this time. The Surface Pro 3 has a 12-in. display, 40% larger than the Surface Pro 2's 10.6-in. screen. And it's quite spectacular, with 2160 x 1440 resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio — more like a traditional computer's than the Surface Pro 2's aspect ratio of 16:9.

Despite the larger screen, the Surface Pro 3 is thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 2 — it's 0.36 in. deep and weighs 1.76 lb., compared to the Surface Pro 2's depth of 0.53 in. and weight of 2 lb. That may not sound like much of a difference, but in use, it really matters (as I explain later in this review). Depending on the model you choose, the device is powered by an Intel i3, i5 or i7 processor. Storage ranges from 64GB up to 512GB, and RAM from 4GB to 8GB.

There's the usual complement of ports, including a USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader and mini DisplayPort. There are front- and back-facing 5-megapixel cameras capable of 1080p video. And it comes with an interesting stylus; more about that later.

 

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