What tablets should be: Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 reviewed

Microsoft’s Surface machines have always been made to highlight the best experience Windows 8 could bring, and in the Surface Pro 3, the company is improving both the design and spec to make a true Ultrabook competitor. Is the third time really the charm?

Features

The third generation of the Surface Pro 3 takes what was familiar from the second generation, flattens it slightly, and brings it to a bigger screen, making it closer to an Ultrabook than previous models.

The most obvious change is the touchscreen, which leaps from a 10.6 inch 1920×1080 screen on the 16:9 aspect ratio to a larger 12 inch screen running the higher resolution of 2160×1440 on the 3:2 aspect ratio, the same aspect ratio relied on by 35mm cameras.

A bigger screen and a slightly different aspect ratio means you’ll get more screen real estate to work with, and these numbers all translate to a close-to-Retina value of 216 pixels per inch for the screen clarity (Apple’s 13 inch MacBook Pro comes in at 221ppi).

Underneath this is all the technology, and in the Surface Pro 3, that means a few configurations can be selected.

At the bottom end of the scale, is one with Intel’s Core i3 processor, working alongside 64GB storage and 4GB RAM, with a Core i5 with 128GB storage and 4GB RAM also being provided as a second option.

Up from there, you’ll find an Intel Core i5 paired with 256GB storage, or a Core i7 working alongside variants with either 256GB or 512GB storage. Both the 256 and 512GB variants rely on 8GB RAM.

The review model was an Intel Core i5 model working with 256GB storage and 8GB RAM.

Chips, storage, and memory are all important, and Windows 8.1 is installed here out of the box, but so are other bits and pieces, and you’ll find plenty of those in the Surface Pro 3, too.

As such, connectivity is catered for on wireless with 802.11a/b/g/n and 802.11ac, with Bluetooth 4.0 LE also provided here, while wired ports are handled through the standard 3.5mm headset jack, USB 3.0 port, and a Mini DisplayPort. A microSD slot is also provided, under the flap for the kickstand, with Microsoft’s proprietary magnetic Cover port sitting on the bottom edge.

The cameras have received an update, great if you plan on using video conferencing apps or taking pictures with your tablet, with the 720p cameras jumping to 5 megapixel on each side.

The speaker is hard to see, but there in that little recess.

The stereo speakers are also apparently louder, and the kickstand has been changed drastically, no longer supporting merely two positions and being tightened for all manner of positions.

The casing for the Surface Pro 3 is still made of magnesium, with VaporMg still the metal of choice, this time in a lighter grey and matching the look of the Windows RT powered Surface.

Also changed are the dimensions and weight, with 800 grams of power compared to the Surface Pro 2’s 900 grams, with the thickness dropping from 13.4mm to 9.1mm.

Performance

A new year and a new model, and while Intel’s chips are on the verge of being replaced (likely at the end of the year), Microsoft is making good use of the current fourth-generation of Intel Core processors to reinvent its Surface Pro computer.

This reinvention comes at the cost of size, as Microsoft moves past the 10 inch tablet size to come up with a 12 inch tablet that can take on the laptops like the Apple MacBook Air, which actually have a similar thickness going for them.

For this generation, the colours have also shifted, with dark grey being lightened up quite a bit, and a better screen also being thrown in, too.

Looking at the Surface Pro 3, it’s clear the design is still Microsoft’s, with the slanted edges, solid metal body, and a feel of something premium. This isn’t your standard plastic tab, as this oozes professionalism and strength, something few tablets beyond that of the iPad offer.

The feel is equally strong, part and parcel of the magnesium used in its construction, which is light enough to the touch, but still offers the strength of metal, with a body that refuses to buckle as you apply pressure across its surface, excuse the pun.

Let’s talk the changes, because while the size is the most noticeable one, the modified stand is, excuse the pun, the real stand out. Ahem.

Rather than rely on two click settings in the Surface 2, up from one in the original Surface, the Pro 3 relies instead on a tightened hinge which has no settings and nothing for the stand to click into on the part of the Surface tablet.

It is just tight — really tight — a fact you’ll feel as you pull the kick stand out from the back of the Surface tablet into which ever position you prefer.

This an excellent stand, one that doesn’t impose any particular position on you, not like some of the hybrid tablets we’ve seen in recent years, and that’s good news for people who never really know how they’re going to be working and love versatility.

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