Can the Surface Pro 3 replace your work laptop? Yes, it can — but you may have to make some sacrifices if you want to turn Microsoft's tablet into your new business machine. The device transitions elegantly from tablet to laptop when you snap on the optional Type Cover keyboard, but the accessory offers a less than ideal typing experience. On the other hand, the Surface Pro 3 is stunningly thin and light for a device this powerful, and the ability to leave the keyboard behind when you want to use it like a tablet is a big plus — especially when you want to take notes using the included stylus. It's easily the best Surface tablet yet, but should Microsoft's pricey nbe your next workstation when it launches June 20? Read on for a full review of the Surface Pro 3.
The Surface Pro 3's 12-inch display is big and beautiful, with an eye-popping 2160 x 1440-pixel resolution. In comparison, the Surface Pro 2 has a 10.6-inch screen, while the iPad Air's display measures 9.7 inches. That translates into a lot more digital real estate for screen-intensive tasks, and almost as much space as on 13-inch laptops like Apple's MacBook Air. The Surface Pro 3 is one of the first tablets with a screen big enough for users to comfortably work on Word documents or spreadsheets, or multitask with multiple windows open on screen at once. Microsoft has been hailing its tablet as a laptop replacement since the original Surface Pro launched in 2012, and the Surface Pro 3's large display is a big step toward meeting that goal.
Even in its most affordable configuration, the Surface Pro 3 stacks up to laptops like Apple's MacBook Air in terms of speed and performance. The entry-level Surface Pro 3packs an Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM, providing plenty of power for basic computing. More-demanding users can opt for a pricier model; our review unit includes a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, and delivered extremely zippy performance for processor-intensive tasks such as editing images in Photoshop. An even more powerful Core i7 model of the Surface Pro 3 will launch in August.
Microsoft made the Surface Pro 3 bigger, but didn't sacrifice too much portability in the process. In fact, the Surface Pro 3 is slightly thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 2. And even with the keyboard attached, the newest Surface Pro is significantly lighter than the MacBook Air. That makes it a good pick for commuters and frequent travelers who want to pack light.
What really separates the Surface Pro 3 from previous versions, though, is its redesigned kickstand. The one on the original Microsoft Surface Pro tablet had only a single position, while the Surface Pro 2 let you pick between two different angles. The Surface Pro 3 vastly improves upon both those designs, with a kickstand that can be adjusted to any angle you want. That means you can angle the screen so it's in precisely the right position, just like on your laptop. You can even push the tablet back a full 150 degree so it's almost flat, which makes a better angle for taking notes or drawing with the pen stylus. The new kickstand gives you better viewing angles when using the Surface Pro 3 in your lap, but keep in mind that opening the kickstand to a wider position increases the footprint of the whole device. We couldn't tilt the display back quite as far as we wanted without the kickstand falling off the edge of our knees.
The Surface Pro 3 is lightweight and powerful, so what's holding it back from being the perfect laptop replacement? Mostly, it's the keyboard. First the good stuff: The new Type Cover accessory is much improved over previous iterations. Its touchpad is 68 percent bigger this time around, which gives you a lot more room to navigate your pointer around the Windows 8.1 desktop. We found the touchpad occasionally finicky, but responsive overall. Another tweak: With the help of a magnet, the keyboard can now be attached more securely to the tablet, and at a slight decline. That makes it wobble around less when you use the tablet on your lap, and gives you a more natural angle for typing.
Now for the bad: Typing on the Surface Pro 3 just isn't very comfortable, especially for long typing sessions. The new Type Cover suffers the same problem its predecessor did; its keys travel less than the average laptop when you press them (about 1 mm), so typing feels stiff. And the overall flexibility of the keyboard makes it bend slightly as you type. That's the price you pay for a keyboard this thin and light.
The worst thing about the Type Cover is that it's still not included with the Surface Pro 3; it's sold separately for an extra $130. Still, it's hard to imagine using a Surface tablet without this add-on, and it remains a great accessory for light typing or for responding to the occasional email. Business users also have the option of connecting a desktop keyboard via USB or Bluetooth for more-intensive typing.
The pen that comes with the Surface Pro 3 turns the tablet into a note-taking machine. Combined with the tablet's pressure-sensitive display, the pen makes writing and drawing on the screen feel smooth and natural.
New software tweaks for the Surface Pro 3 make the pen even more functional. For example, one press of the button located on the side of the pen automatically turns the display on and launches a note-taking application, so you can start writing in a hurry. And since Microsoft's OneNote app comes free with the tablet, your notes can be automatically synced to the cloud with just a few taps.
There's nowhere on the Surface Pro 3 to stow the pen when it's not in use, but you can stick it in a fabric loop on the side of the Type Cover. Anyone who wants to use the new Surface without the keyboard will have to find another place to store the pen.
The Surface Pro 3 has the potential to replace your desktop computer as well as your laptop. Alongside the new tablet, Microsoft is set to launch a new desktop dock so you can snap in your Surface and get working. The new dock packs three USB. 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port and an audio jack, and it's capable of exporting video at 4K resolution through its Mini DisplayPort.
The dock could give serious business users a boost, since it lets you connect a range of accessories to your Surface, including a mouse, keyboard and large external monitor. In other words, it promises to let the Surface Pro 3 function as a desktop workstation as well as a portable consumption device. We didn't have a chance to test out the dock, though, which will sell separately for $200.
The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. Next, the $999 model packs an Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB and a 128GB SSD. Several high-end variants will also be available, including a $1,949 model featuring an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
Microsoft says the Surface Pro 3 is a single device that can replace both your laptop and your tablet, and for the most part it delivers on that promise. Thanks to a bevy of design tweaks — including a bigger, better display and an improved kickstand — it's the first Surface device that can realistically replace your laptop as a portable workstation. It's even better if you plan on connecting the device to an exterior monitor and desktop keyboard when you have real work to do. If you do a lot of typing away from the office, though, the Type Cover isn't exactly a satisfying replacement for a quality laptop keyboard. Still, the Surface Pro 3 is one of the most versatile work machines around, if you can stomach its steep price.