Surface Pro 3 - Initial Impressions

Posted Wednesday July 23, 2014 at 7:37:08 pm in Technology

Introduction

The Towson Town Center Mall finally has a Microsoft Store. Well, kind of. On June 28th, 2014 a Microsoft Store kiosk opened. I kept telling myself I wanted to get some face time (excuse the pun) with the Surface Pro 3 before making a decision on whether or not it was for me. Some of the main concerns I had were with the overall size (it is now larger than the Surface Pro 2) and the Type Cover (stability, trackpad, keyboard, etc.). Regardless, I was finally able to give it a try over the weekend (for about a half hour). And here are my impressions.

 

Size + Weight

The Surface Pro 3 is both larger and smaller than its predecessor. In particular it has a 12" screen compared to that of the Surface Pro 2's 10.6" screen. As such, this is a larger device. But it is also thinner and lighter than the Pro 2.

Surface Pro 3 Dimensions:

  • 12" screen
  • 11.5" width
  • 7.93" height
  • 0.36" depth
  • 1.76 pounds

Surface Pro 2 Dimensions:

  • 10.6" screen
  • 10.81" width
  • 6.81" height
  • 0.53" depth
  • 1.98 pounds

The Pro 3 is 11% lighter, 32% thinner, 6% wider, and 14% taller. It also has an additional 12% of screen real estate.

One of the key things to remember is the overall aspect ratio. Microsoft designed the Pro 3 to be more like a piece of paper. And as such it has a 3:2 aspect ratio compared to the Pro 2's 16:9. This makes the device more comfortable and wieldy in the hands.

A lot of people are comparing the overall thinness and weight to that of the Surface 2 (the RT model) than that of the Pro 2...and I can say that is a pretty accurate assessment.

 

Screen and Cameras

The resolution on the Pro 3 improves on the Pro 2's 1920x1080 (208 DPI). The Pro 3 has a 2160x1440 resolution which gives it a DPI of about 216. The fact that the Pro 3 was able to not only increase screen real estate while also improving the resolution is noteworthy. The screen is gorgeous. I was not able to

try it in direct sunlight, but since it was an open air kiosk in center court, there were skylights that the Pro 3 performed well in.

Also of note are both cameras are now 5MP shooters that can shoot in 1080p. The Pro 2's were 1.5MP shooters that shot in 720p. From a video conferencing standpoint, that's a great upgrade. As for taking pictures? Don't care. Using the rear camera on any tablet is still inane to me.

 

Keyboard and Trackpad

I want to get this out of the way once again: I was not a huge fan of the Type (and Touch) Cover on past generations of the Surface Pro. I was also not a fan of the trackpad. There are a few simple reasons: the trackpad was much too small, the keyboard was mushy and felt unstable and flimsy while on the lap.

The Surface Pro 3's Type Cover is not only wider (~11.6" to 11") but it is also taller (~8.5" to 7.4"). And it's also a tad thinner as well. It is also backlit w/ a proximity sensor for those wondering.

That said, the larger size allows for a larger keyboard. It also allows for a larger trackpad. And both are much better. And using the keyboard on the lap is now much. much better. For a couple of reasons, actually. First, the magnetic strip on the top of the Type Cover now can attach to the Pro 3's bottom bezel for better stability. Second, the hinge on the Surface Pro 3 now has an almost infinite amount of angles that it can be adjusted to.

I will say this, I still much prefer a laptop when it comes to stability and comfort on the lap. But I can finally say that the Surface Pro 3 is finally "lapable". But I'm sure there is going to take some getting used to.

 

Surface Pen

Generally speaking I'm not a fan of the pen. I'm talking about ink...and that's largely centered around my hand writing being atrocious. It's gotten worse over the years. I typically only use a pen when drawing diagrams, going through use cases, mocking up UI's, etc. However, I feel that the Surface Pen can actually eliminate most (if not all) of my actual ink needs.

I gave the Surface Pen extended use inside of OneNote...and I was pretty amazed at how much this felt like actually using a pen on paper. Microsoft switched from Wacom to N-trig for its digitizer. Their reasons are generally a thinner piece of glass and more accuracy. While the N-trig digitizer only has 256 pressure levels (compared to the Wacom's 1,024), for most this will never matter.

Either way, I went into testing the Surface Pen with some skepticism. I originally thought it might be a bit of a gimmick. However, when holding the Surface Pro 3 like a legal pad...writing on it felt natural.

I also appreciated the click of the Surface Pen's "eraser" to instantly turn on the device and jump into OneNote. Being able to double click the Pen's eraser to use the pen to cutout certain parts of the screen and throw into OneNote is a nice feature.

I would have loved to see how the pen fared in Photoshop, but alas that's a trip for another day.

Regardless, I'm warming up to the idea of a the Surface Pen. I think it's a great value add.

 

Docking Station

One of the biggest downsides of the original Surface Pro Docking Station were the 10/100 ethernet connection. The new docking station ups its game to gigabit connectivity. Another bonus for the Surface Pro 3, as that was a pretty big downside for me on the previous docking station.

In addition, the Surface Pro 3 has 3 USB 3.0 ports (and the USB 3.0 port on the Pro 3 itself is still accessible), and 2 USB 2.0 ports. If you're counting, that's a total of 6 accessible USB ports.

The original docking station had 3 USB 2.0 ports and only 1 USB 3.0 port. So this is a big upgrade.

 

Performance

While I wasn't able to install a few Visual Studio versions, run SQL Server, and everything in between in my brief time with the Surface Pro 3, from most reviews I think the SP3 is up to the task. With the SSD, 8GB of RAM, and array of i3/i5/i7 configurations...I think this is a more than adequate machine.

In my time with the device, at no point did it ever stutter, lag, or whatever. And it was dead quiet. However, I'm sure on demanding tasks it'll get loud(er)...it probably won't get anywhere close to the fan sound on my Macbook Pro (which sounds like an aircraft carrier).

 

Consolidation

During the Surface Pro 3's press event, Microsoft kept touting the ability of the SP3 to replace both your laptop and tablet. The idea is that it allows for the user to not carry/travel around with 2 devices. And that's something that is very important to me.

I travel with A LOT of stuff in my messenger bag. My 15" Macbook Pro is roughly 7 pounds with its charger. My Surface RT (or iPad) rings in at another 2 pounds or so with their chargers. The additional peripherals also increase weight and size. I figure between the devices, their chargers, and peripherals, it's nearly 10 pounds. Being able to replace all of that with a device that is thin and only about 2 pounds with the Type Cover? It's a big selling point. And it also comes with a thin power charger that Apple could take notes from. And that power charger has a USB port for charging. So just bring a USB cable and you can charge your phone (and keep the phone wall charger at home).

I don't want to undersell this, let me list some things and then list what the Surface Pro 3 can replace.

Before:

  • 15" Macbook Pro (~5.5 pounds, ~1")
  • MBP charger (~1.5 pounds, ~2.5" deep)
  • Surface RT w/ attached Touch Cover (1.5 pounds, .35" deep for RT + 0.46 pounds, 0.13" deep = ~1.96 pounds, .48" deep)
  • Surface charger (1.1" deep, 0.27 pounds)
  • Phone charger
  • Total device dimensions: ~7.5 pounds, 1.5" deep
  • Total chargers weight: ~1.75 pounds
  • Total weight: ~9.25 pounds

After:

  • Surface Pro 3 w/ attached Type Cover (0.36" for SP3, 1.76 pounds + 0.2" + 0.65 pounds = 0.56", 2.41 pounds)
  • SP3 charger (0.37 pounds, 0.87 inches)
  • USB cable to charge phone
  • Total device dimensions: 0.56", 2.41 pounds
  • Total chargers weight: 0.37 pounds
  • Total weight: ~2.78 pounds

That's a 70% drop in weight and a 62% drop in depth. Those are huge improvements.

 

Wrapup

The Pro 3 has more pros going for it than cons. The screen is gorgeous. The device is well bit, thin, and light. Battery life can get up to 9 hours (although most real world estimates are pegging it around 7 1/2 hours or so). There's also an improved Type Cover that's backlit with a proximity sensor and an improved trackpad (materials, size). The various hinge angles, ability to mount the Type Cover's top to the Surface make the device more "lapable". The Surface Pen is a great value add. If there are really any stings against the SP3, it's that the keyboard still is a bit mushy and not perfectly stable on the lap compared to a laptop. And maybe being a bit nitpicky is that the battery life isn't as good as its direct competitor: the Macbook Air.

After using the SP3, I can finally say that I legitimately could use a Surface to replace multiple devices. And I think that's pretty damn impressive.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view