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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?

The Surface Pro 3 as a tablet

The Surface Pro 3 may do double-duty as a laptop, but its basic design is as a tablet. And there, despite some very nice hardware, it falls short.

As mentioned before, the 12-in. screen is nothing short of spectacular, with vivid, crisp images and no noticeable lag or other issues with motion. No matter what movie or TV show I played on it, I found myself wanting to watch more. The speakers, as with the previous Surface Pro, are excellent, with Dolby stereo audio so realistic that it feels as if the sound is coming from the room itself, not from the speakers.

Microsoft says the speakers are 45% more powerful than the previous Surface Pro, but I never thought the previous speakers had a problem with volume, so this claim may or may not be meaningful. As a media-consumption tablet, it's stellar — much superior to my iPad or Google Nexus 7.

That large screen also makes a difference when browsing the Web, offering a full experience, rather than the mobile one you get on smaller tablets. For example, when you're using mapping apps, it provides far more detail and context than do smaller-sized tablets.

And the large screen also makes the Surface Pro 3 useful as a productivity tablet. For example, when I was using Microsoft Office, not only could I see more of any document onscreen, but I could touch type on the virtual keyboard because of the larger keys, something not possible on smaller tablets.

But I found the large screen to also be somewhat of a mixed blessing. Because of its size, it's bulky to carry compared to a 10-in. iPad, and its 1.76 lb. is still significantly heavier than the 1-lb. iPad Air.

However, the real shortcoming with the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet is its dearth of apps compared to the iOS and Android platforms — as I'll discuss in a moment.

Styling with the stylus

The Surface Pro comes with something that most competing tablets don't have — a stylus. The Surface Pro 3 has gotten a stylus makeover, to good effect. The old stylus (manufactured by Wacom) was black plastic and felt somewhat cheap, and never felt quite right in my hand. The new one (now built by N-Trig) is made of polished aluminum, and not only looks better, but is heavier and has a far more pleasing and substantial feel to it.

It's got two buttons, so offers more flexibility, depending on the app you're using it with — for example, in OneNote you can hold down one of the buttons and the pen acts as an eraser. The two buttons also do double-duty as mouse buttons. All in all, when I used it, I felt as if I really were using a pen, and a nice one at that, rather than just a tube made of plastic.

 

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