Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Visual Tour - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Visual Tour

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 combines laptop-worthy power with sleek industrial design. Take a closer look at the tablet and get our early hands-on impressions.

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Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 represents almost everything good about earlier Surfaces, with very little of the bad. The new model boasts previous Pros' laptop-worthy horsepower but replaces their heft and clunkiness with an ultrathin, feather-light body reminiscent of the ARM-powered Surface 2. It boasts a bigger screen, but, thanks to a new shape, it's also easier to hold than earlier models, which felt awkwardly tall and narrow in portrait mode. The new device also offers better battery life than any of its Surface siblings, and its pen and Touch Cover keyboards are the best Microsoft has yet built.

Does that mean the Surface line has finally come into its own? After only a day with a demo unit, it's premature to label the Pro 3 a winner without further testing. We'll publish a full review soon, but in the meantime, here are some of the design cues and new features that immediately stand out.

The screen
The Surface Pro 3's 12-inch, 2160x1440-pixel screen is gorgeous, with vivid colors and excellent contrast. The touchscreen offers 10-finger multi-touch support and extremely responsive operations. Thanks to its uncommon 3:2 aspect ratio and light weight, the new Surface handles better in portrait mode than its 16:9 predecessors, despite being larger. Holding the device is somewhat like holding a legal pad.

The Surface Pro 3's screen is bright, beautiful, and - unlike earlier Surface displays - big enough for laptop productivity.
The Surface Pro 3's screen is bright, beautiful, and - unlike earlier Surface displays - big enough for laptop productivity.

The Surface Pro Pen
The Surface Pro Pen doesn't quite replicate a paper-and-ink experience, but it comes closer than any stylus I've ever seen.

The Surface Pro Pen
The Surface Pro Pen

Microsoft replaced the Wacom technology in the Surface Pro 2's pen with N-trig gear -- and it makes a difference. Sensitive to 256 degrees of pressure, the pen is smooth and responsive. It might become even better, too, after Microsoft releases a planned calibration tool that will let you tune the pen's pressure sensitivity to your preference.

[The Surface Pro 3 isn't perfect for everyone. Read Microsoft Surface Pro 3: What's Missing.]

It's also well integrated with the OS and hardware. If the tablet is sleeping, the user can begin scribbling a note just by clicking the button at the top of the pen; doing so wakes the Surface straight into OneNote, allowing you to jump into a note without authenticating (and potentially causing you to forget what you intended to write). Speaking of buttons, the pen includes two more along its barrel. They replicate mouse functions, allowing users to select and move around onscreen files and objects.

The Surface Pro Pen doesn't quite match the paper-and-ink experience, but it comes close.
The Surface Pro Pen doesn't quite match the paper-and-ink experience, but it comes close.

The tablet's optical layers are also extremely thin, which helps minimize any distracting displacements, or parallax effects, between the pen's tip, and the digital line it's drawing.

Full-friction kickstand
The original Surface Pro's fixed-position kickstand made it almost impossible to use in one's lap. The Surface Pro 2's two-step version was a tremendous improvement -- but still

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/17/2014 | 3:34:46 PM
Wait for the Surface Pro 3
Even with the price reduction, the Surface Pro 3 looks to me like the better deal, particularly with the longer battery life, which is important.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
5/23/2014 | 1:03:12 PM
Re: Only 1 USB?
Thanks for the comments!

Regarding lap use-- I wrote most of this article using the Surface Pro 3, on my lap, while riding around on a train. Was it as easy as it would have been with a more conventionally-designed laptop? No. Was it better than I expected? Yes, much better.

That said, you bring up a good point about longer legs and shorter legs; I'm 6-3, so my experience balancing the device on my lap might not be representative of the norm. Also, I've spent a lot of time with previous Surface models, which no doubt colored my initial reaction. Going from the Surface Pro, which is not remotely useful for lap use, to the Surface Pro 3-- that's one kind of jump. Going from an old ThinkPad, which sits on your lap like an anchor, to the Surface Pro 3-- that's another kind. I can see why some people will have more trouble with the kickstand, depending on device history and use cases, but the Pro 3 features easily Microsoft's best implementation of this concept.

But as I said in the article, I've only spent a few hours with the device and am still forming opinions. Right now, I'm thinking something like the following: The Surface Pro 3 doesn't make me want a new MacBook Pro any less, but it does make me rethink whether I'd recommend a MacBook, an iPad, a Windows laptop, or a Surface to someone else looking for a premium device.

Also, good call on the second USB port and charging. I agree it would be nice if Microsoft has included more than on the body itself, though honestly I'm more bummed there's no LTE option, which would make OneDrive even more convenient. Also agree that the new aspect ratio makes a big difference.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/23/2014 | 12:36:45 PM
Only 1 USB?
Two issues.  Its not true that the KB sits well on one's lap.  Paul thurott and Mary Jo both said that almost no one could use it in that way at the MS introduction of the surface 3.  With all the re-engineering of the kickstand, it still really needs to be on a solid surface to be effective.  MS claims that this new surface 3 is lapable with KB but it appears this is far from the truth.  Thurott said that unless your upper legs are abnormally long, this sits very percariously on ones lap and is obviously very top heavy.  Both Paul and Mary Jo liked the machine but said that a real laptop with stable KB is better suited to use on one's lap.  MS is in deep denial that the KB is well suited on the lap.  Any honest feasibility analaysis will show that its a epic failure to be used in this manner.  No matter how much MS says so, the users at launch mostly agreed that the kickstand/KB still is a poor design to be used on the lap.  Its this kind of disregard for real user feedback that has haunted the whole surface and windows 8 acceptance.  To me, the kickstand remains to be a major weakness in the surface design. 

The other issue is the surface pro 3 only has one USB port.  The one on the power adapter can only be used for charging.  Now its bad enough that many ultra books only have two USB but MS really needed to fit at least 2 USB on this device.  With only one, many will also have to lug around a hub. 

What I think MS did right was builting a 12 inch machine that can be used as a laptop at under 2 lbs.  In this regard, the surface three has no competition.  Its a unique device at this form factor.  Even if one can't use the KB on their lap, this is a amazing machine at this very light form factor.  Many who feel its overpriced must realize that the pen/digitizer are the reason for the high cost.  If one does not plan on using the pen, I think this machine would not be worth the price of admission.

One other real plus is that MS is using a 3:2 aspect ratio.  I don't care what anyone says, when laptops went to 16:9 that made them much less functional for what people use them for 95 percent of the time.  I mean, even with hollywood movies you still have the black bars with 16:9   The only reason everyone went with 16:9 in the first place was the panel manufacturers could cut more displays  (less waste) from a sheet.  This one change IMO is why this machine is generally liked allot by the press.  The 16:9 from the prior design was very awkward and a bit small.  The bigger screen was a good idea but going to a 3:2 aspect ratio was a very good move on MS's part.  This one change may make it work and accepted as a workable device.

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