The Surface Pro 3 is a great tablet for professionals in any line of work, but professional artists could end up getting the most out of Microsoft's new business slate. When you add it all up, the Surface Pro 3 could be the best tool around for graphic designers, illustrators, photo editors and other creative professionals who want to work away from their desk. Simply put, no other device on the market can match the new Surface's combination of portability, power and design. It runs on Windows 8.1, so it supports the software that professionals use, and it boasts a pressure-sensitive display that working artists depend on.
As an amateur artist who has had the opportunity to test-drive the Surface Pro 3, I think it's close to being the perfect mobile workstation for creative people. Here are five reasons why.
A pressure-sensitive display is one feature that sets the Surface Pro 3 apart from most other tablets. Most tablets — including all versions of the iPad, and most Android and Windows 8 slates — have capacitive screens that lack the ability to measure how hard you're pressing with a stylus. When the Surface Pro 3 was unveiled, however, some artists were concerned by news that Microsoft swapped out the Surface Pro 2's digitizer, produced by Wacom, for new tech from a lesser-known company called N-Trig. That's because the N-Trig digitizer can detect just 256 different levels of pressure, compared to the 1,024 levels measured by the older Surface Pro 2. In practice, however, I found that drawing on the Surface Pro 3 felt smooth and responsive, so professional artists shouldn't worry too much about the change.
It's hard to do real work on a computer or tablet with a small display. That's especially true for artists, who use their screen as a canvas. That's why the Surface Pro 3's large, 12-inch display is such a big deal for creative professionals. It's significantly larger and sharper than the 10.6-inch screen on the Surface Pro 2, giving artists and other creative professionals more room to run Photoshop or any other software they need to do their jobs. An extra 1.4 inches might not sound like much, but it makes a big difference when you no longer have to shrink down your canvas to make room for toolbars and menus.
The Surface Pro 3 isn't the only 12-inch tablet with a pressure-sensitive display, but it might be the best one for artists. Samsung's Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 combines a built-in stylus with a big display and powerful hardware. However, it runs on Android, so it doesn't support professional-grade software. Meanwhile, Wacom's Cintiq Companion is a 13-inch Windows tablet designed specifically for artists, but it isn't as portable, and at $2,229, it's not nearly as affordable as the Surface Pro 3, which starts at $799.
The Surface Pro 3's display isn't just bigger; it also sports an improved 3:2 aspect ratio compared to the longer 16:9 aspect ratio on the Surface Pro 2. It's more comfortable to use the device in landscape mode, since you have more vertical space to work with. That's a boon for creative professionals, who will be using the device in the landscape orientation most of the time.
A tablet is the same shape as a canvas or a piece of paper, so it's just the right shape for artists to work on. A laptop computer, on the other hand, is a better tool for conducting research and handling the business side of creative work. That's why a hybrid device like the Surface Pro 3 is a good choice for creative professionals. You can snap on the Type Cover keyboard when you need it, and easily remove it when it's time to get back to work. And the new Surface keyboard accessory is better than previous versions, with a roomier layout and a bigger, more responsive touchpad. It's not as good for extended typing sessions as the average laptop keyboard, but that's a fair trade-off for such a flexible art machine.
An improved kickstand is the feature that really separates the Surface Pro 3 from previous versions. It can be adjusted to almost any viewing angle you want, letting you tip the surface back up to 150 degrees. That's about the same angle as an artist's drawing tablet, and it's a much more natural angle for writing or sketching on the display. In comparison, the original Surface Pro's kickstand could only be locked in a single position, and the Surface Pro 2's kickstand allowed just two angles. The new, adjustable kickstand means that artists can use the Surface Pro 3 as a mobile sketchbook without needing to prop it up, making it better for prolonged work sessions.
Designing a website, editing large photo files or creating digital illustrations from scratch requires tons of computing power, and the Surface Pro 3 delivers on that front with configurations featuring powerful Intel Core i5 and i7 processors with up to 8GB of RAM. Compared to other digitizer-equipped tablets like the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, the Surface Pro 3 delivers much more power for processor-intensive tasks. Other hardware highlights include a docking port, so you can hook the tablet up to a larger display, or even a 24-inch Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet, when you're back in the office. In other words, the Surface Pro 3 offers the power and flexibility that professional artists need to work on the go.