Computers / Features

Surface with a Smile

So, you want a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 but you can’t justify the hefty price tag? I hear you, brothers and sisters. We want the smooth look, the flexibility of a tablet that can double as a laptop and the perks and refinements that made the Surface Pro 3 one of the most sought-after tablets this year.

Microsoft heard you, too, and took everything that we loved about the Surface Pro 3 and made the Surface 3—condensed it down to a Netbook-like experience so that you can enjoy the hybrid look and feel of the Surface series—without the price tag.

So, what did the designers pare down? They started with the processor. Instead of an Intel® Core™ i3, i5, or i7 processor, you are now using an Intel 1.6GHz Quad-Core Atom™ x7 Z8700 processor with a 2MB cache (with burst, 2.4GHz speed). Recognize the name? Intel Atom processors may take you back to the days of Netbooks, but they have been completely revamped. Although not as powerful as an Intel Core processor, they still hold their own and can run a full version of Windows 8.1. Why is this significant? Microsoft took a beating from consumers and the press for using its proprietary RT operating platform for the original Surface, and that underpowered, underperforming operating system almost took Microsoft out of the  tablet game altogether. Now the company is proposing using a less-than-ideal chip (although claiming it runs at 80% of the performance benchmarks of the Intel Core i3 Surface Pro 3) for the new Surface 3—and wants everyone to know that it can still do a better job than the original Surface did. The chip is still capable of running native Windows apps direct from the store, along with the whole suite of Microsoft Office products.

You’ll also notice that the screen size is compacted to a 10.8" size. While the 12" screen of the Surface Pro 3 is impressive, it is a little obtrusive when used in tablet mode. A 10.8" screen size is the perfect size for a tablet (when performing tasks such as e-reading, you’ll immediately notice the difference), and works well as a laptop hybrid. The resolution is downplayed to Full HD 1920 x 1080, but the only people who will notice that difference are those who were using the Surface Pro 3 for video editing or high-end graphic work—which isn’t going to fly with this Atom processor anyway.

The size and weight are also slimmed down, coming in at 1.37 pounds and only 0.34 inches thick (without the keyboard, which we’ll discuss in a minute). Like its big brother, it still includes a 10-point multi-touch screen, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a full-size USB 3.0 port, mini DisplayPort connectivity and a microSD card reader. It also adds, thankfully, a micro USB charging port, so you don’t have to use the proprietary mag-lock type charger that came with the Surface Pro 3. Why is that a big deal? You have about 100 micro USB charging cables around the house. I’m pretty sure you have far fewer Surface Pro 3 magnetic locking cables.

But there are a couple of takeaways, making the Surface 3 a mixed bag of delight. The Microsoft keyboard Type Cover, which works so well with the Surface line that having any other brand is kind of a letdown, is still a separate cost—about $130 dollars—and you can’t use other Type Covers from previous iterations on this unit. The Surface Pen, which was a real selling point of the Surface Pro 3, is also sold separately and does not come included with the unit, so add another $50. And while not a deal-breaker, the Surface 3 comes with a three-position kickstand, while the Surface Pro 3 had a multi angle kickstand. Not terrible, but even on the Surface Pro 3, the kickstand was a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.

But what Microsoft taketh away, they also giveth. Kind of. Included with the Surface 3 is a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Personal, the new cloud-based Office suite of products. You’ll get Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Publisher and Access. You’ll also get OneDrive cloud storage, and these days, any extra storage you can get is welcome. Also, Microsoft is introducing these in four variations: two 64GB and two 128GB storage capacities, and one from each will include LTE connectivity. Not an option for Surface Pro 3, and a welcome option for travelers who need instant and constant Internet access.

So why the Surface 3? What’s Microsoft’s end game with this mid-tier unit? Microsoft knows that the Surface Pro 3 represents the company’s elite line of tablet/laptop hybrids, and markets it to professional and prosumer level consumers. But Microsoft also knows that a large swath of consumers is always looking for a quality tablet that can double as a productive faux laptop. The iPad Air does it, Samsung Galaxy Tabs reach for the same piece of sky, and ASUS has been cornering the market with less expensive tablet hybrids for years, with the Transformer line. At approximately $500 less than the lowest-priced Surface Pro 3 (Intel Core i3 version), this might be the Surface that rules them all, especially if you’re looking for something more than an entertainment module. The Surface 3 may seem like the benchwarmer for the Surface league, but it is ready to come off the bench and perform like a star when given a chance.

Model

Processor

Storage

Screen Size/Resolution

Ports

Weight/Thickness

Includes

Surface 3

Intel Atom x7-Z7880

64GB

128GB

64GB(LTE)

128GB(LTE)

10.8"

1920 x 1080

USB 3.0

Mini DisplayPort

microSD

Headset jack

Cover Port

microUSB

Charging

0.34 in

1.37 lb

Office 365

1-Year Subscription

Surface Pro 3

Intel Core i3/i5/17

64GB

128GB

256GB

512GB

12"

2160 x 1440

USB 3.0

Mini DisplayPort

microSD

Headset jack

Cover Port

microUSB

Charging

0.36 in

1.76 lb

Surface Pen

Items discussed in article