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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 stylus no longer attaches to the place where the power cord goes, as it had in the Surface Pro 2. That's both good and bad. It's good because in the past if you wanted to charge the Surface Pro, you had to first take out the stylus. But it's bad because there's now no place on the device itself to attach the stylus. If you buy a Type Cover, there's a small loop on the side for tucking in the stylus, but even then, I worry whether the holder will fray and tear over the long term. (If you lose it, a new stylus will cost you $50.)

Before trying out the Surface Pro 3's stylus, I was never much of a stylus fan. But after spending time with it, I'm a believer, particularly for note taking. The combination of OneNote (which is included) plus the stylus is a potent duo. Not only can you hand-write notes and draw with it, but the Surface Pro also has handwriting recognition. So instead of using the virtual keyboard, you can write by hand using the stylus, and the tablet translates that into text. My handwriting is exceedingly bad, but when I slowed down and wrote carefully, it rarely made a mistake. Even when I wrote quickly and sloppily, it did better than I expected, making a mistake only about every fourth word or so.

I even wrote part of this review using the stylus in Word, although it's not an experience I would care to do again, because it requires slow and careful handwriting. Still, for jotting down notes, it's a winner.

For drawing, it's good as well. It's pressure sensitive — press the pen on the screen lightly and it draws a light line; press it harder as you draw and the line thickens. Microsoft claims that the stylus recognizes 256 different levels of pressure. Being no artist, I can't vouch for whether it's really that sensitive, but when used with an art program such as ArtRage 4, I found it quite responsive. There is also little or no lag between pressing and moving the pen and a line appearing. It feels as natural as using a real pen.

The upshot? The pen is a true productivity tool, and not a toy or an afterthought. Professionals on the go who want a tablet with pen input would do well to consider the Surface Pro 3.

The app gap

So what's not to like about the Surface Pro 3? In a word, apps — or more precisely, the lack of them.

The Windows Store ecosystem doesn't come close to either iOS or Android when it comes to app choice. For example, when I did a quick search, some of the popular apps that were missing included eTrade, the Chase and Citibank banking apps, Google Maps, LinkedIn, Spotify, Pinterest, Yelp, Sonos and others.


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