10 Things You Need to Know About Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3

Surface Pro 3

Since the release of the first Surface nearly two years ago, Microsoft has been improving and revising its line of tablets. We tested a Surface Pro 3 that came with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD. Microsoft also included a Type Cover -- the keyboard designed for this tablet that also serves as a protective cover, which is normally sold separately. Bottom line: The Surface Pro 3 is a beautifully designed machine that shows off the Windows 8.1 operating system. It’s billed as a tablet, but I found myself preferring to use it as a notebook, a nifty ultraportable one -- and doing so through the Windows desktop environment.

Surface Pro 3
Form factor

The Surface Pro 3 is comprised of styles that complement one another. The flatness of its back is offset by sides that angle outward toward the display screen. Due to its size, which is close to that of 8.5-by-11-inch paper with a thickness of 0.36 inches, it’s safest to hold this tablet with both hands. The kickstand flips out initially to an endpoint of 22 degrees, but the two hinges will gradually and gently give, allowing you to turn them back to 150 degrees. This angle helps you use the tablet when you have it set on a table, without the Type Cover. Placing it on your lap, with the Type Cover attached, and using it as a notebook is doable and not uncomfortable.

Surface Pro 3
Keyboard: Type Cover

The Type Cover, which is available in four colors, attaches tightly with magnets to the edge of only one side of the tablet. The keyboard’s palm rest surface is a tight and smooth-to-the-touch felt. The protective cover is a rougher but softer felt, like a high-quality billiard table. The touchpad is wider than the one on the first version. And while the original rested flat when opened; this one can be raised into an upward incline. I found that this elevated profile did make my typing better.

Surface Pro 3
Software

The Surface Pro 3 uses the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 Pro. This is, refreshingly, the “cleanest” Windows device (desktop, notebook or tablet) I’ve ever seen: It comes with several Windows Store apps owned by Microsoft, including Skype, but only one by a third-party: Flipboard. There are no third-party desktop applications. The only extraneous desktop application was Microsoft Office.

Surface Pro 3
Display

The 12-inch, 2160-by-1440 pixel screen is color-calibrated, which aids in professional work where maintaining image fidelity is tantamount. To me, the colors looked somewhat dull. By default, the screen is set at a dim looking 50% brightness. I liked it better at 80% to 90%. Outdoors in sunlight, the display’s glass became so reflective that the screen was not viewable. When the tablet is held in portrait mode, its display’s aspect ratio is 2:3, which compares similarly to that of an 8.5-by-11-inch paper sheet. So the Surface Pro 3 can work well for previewing PDFs or scanned images of documents.

Surface Pro 3
Performance

With an Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, the tablet operated speedily with rarely a slowdown. I would purposely keep several tabs open in a web browser, while playing streaming music or video (at 1080p resolution), and jump between the Start Screen and desktop to launch applications or apps. The one notable time that the Surface Pro 3 became strained was when I updated Windows 8.1 through Windows Update. The upper-right of the tablet’s back (when the device is in its notebook orientation) began to feel warmer than usual to the touch, as the OS installed several updates onto itself. Things returned to normal after a required reboot to finish the installation process.

Surface Pro 3
Digital pen: Surface Pen

The Surface Pro 3 comes with a digital pen, called the Surface Pen. You can use it to interact with Windows 8.1, as you would by tapping on the tablet’s touchscreen with your finger, but it was specially devised for the OneNote app. The Surface Pen has a button at its end that launches OneNote when you click it. Virtually doodling or writing with this digital pen on the Surface Pro 3 felt very much like doing so with an actual pen on paper. Even when I quickly swept its tip across the tablet’s display, OneNote kept up with my motions instantaneously to produce corresponding scribbles.

Surface Pro 3
Sound

When set up as a notebook or held in landscape mode, the tablet’s speakers emanate sound through grills from the top edges of the bezel. The audio had a fullness, but lacked distinct and strong enough clarity in the high end. The volume range seemed narrow, but the loudness that these tiny speakers could put out was still impressive. When I listened through good-quality earbuds, the audio sustained clarity without any distortion at high volume settings.

The Surface Pro 3 has three mics: One in the bezel; two embedded in the back, which together are meant to capture sound in stereo. Using the Windows 8.1 default Sound Recorder app, the front mic recorded audio that sounded crisp and free of buzzing.

Surface Pro 3
Camera

Both the front and rear cameras can capture images up to 5 megapixels. And, in general, I found they were equally capable of taking clear, in-focus shots under bright or sufficient light, whether indoors or outside. Colors appeared accurate and dynamic in such ideal situations.

The difference between them appeared to lie in how each handles focus: The rear camera couldn’t capture objects within about 22 inches in sharp focus. The front camera fared much better, focusing in at about 8 inches, as to be expected; this is the camera that will be transmitting your face when you’re video-chatting.

Surface Pro 3
Battery

Microsoft lists the Surface Pro 3 being able to run for about 9 hours on a full charge. I managed to use it continuously as much as I could (letting it go to sleep when I took breaks) for almost 8 hours under its Windows 8.1 default settings. I browsed the web, captured audio and images, listened to music, ran desktop applications and Windows apps, and watched video. The Surface Pro 3’s power charger, which neatly sticks to the device with a magnetic connector, shines a bright white LED when it’s plugged into a wall outlet. But there’s no light on the tablet to indicate the charging status of its built-in battery. By my estimate, it took about 3 hours to completely recharge.

Surface Pro 3
Specs

OS: Windows 8.1 Pro, 64-bit

DISPLAY: 12 inch, 2160-by-1440 pixel

SCREEN: Multi-touch touchscreen with digital pen support

UNDER THE HOOD: Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 chip, 4 or 8 GB RAM; 64, 128, 256 or 512 GB SSD

CAMERAS: 5 MP front camera; 5 MP rear

CONNECTIVITY: MicroSD slot, Mini DisplayPort, USB 3.0, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11ac/802.11 a/b/g/n

BATTERY: Up to 9 hours

WEIGHT: 1.76 lbs

DIMENSIONS: 11.5” x 7.93” x 0.36”

PRICE: Starts at $799; Type Cover: $129.99