We always wondered what would become of Windows RT, the light version of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system that could only run apps made for Windows 8. Today, it is no more, as Microsoft announces a new version of Surface that is all grown up.
Announced this week and starting from May, we’re going to be seeing a new version of Microsoft’s Surface tablet. This one is called the Surface 3, and isn’t the Surface Pro 3 like what we saw mid-to-late last year.
Rather, it’s a new machine built from the slimmer DNA of the Surface RT models, except it loses the not-so-friendly Windows RT operating system.
And really, we’re being a little unfair: it’s not that Windows RT wasn’t friendly, but more that it didn’t play nicely with every app you’ve ever owned in the past, running only apps purchased from the Windows 8 store, which means apps made only for Windows 8. You could find a few decent apps, too, and there were some decent games, but if you wanted to run things like Photoshop or Steam or even something as simple as Google’s Chrome web browser, you were out of luck because Windows RT simply didn’t support it.
Not helping RT was the fact that few manufacturers got on board with the idea, and instead ran the proper version of Windows 8 — the one that worked with every piece of software you already owned — on relatively budget systems, making the purchase of a Windows RT-based Surface even less likely.
Fortunately, Microsoft has woken up to these issues and remade its Surface tablet to be a little more useful, taking the Surface Pro 3 design and slimming it up, shedding a few grams, and changing what’s inside.
With the Microsoft Surface 3, you’ll find a chance from the Intel Core i processors Microsoft has been using on the Pro models, and a change from the ARM-based chips on the original Surface designs.
Instead, Microsoft is going for Intel’s low-power system-on-a-chip Atom, which tends to grace other budget Windows machines, like HP’s Stream laptops made for the education market, among others.
For the Surface 3, it’s a totally different Atom, with one we haven’t seen, the x7, also known a the Z8700. This little chip runs at 1.6GHz and is paired with either 2 or 4GB RAM depending on the version you choose, with storage set to either 64GB (you get 2GB RAM on this one) or 128GB (4GB RAM).
Inside, there’s much of the technology you’d expect a modern tablet to have, including 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with support for Low Energy (LE), a USB 3.0 port (yay!), Mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm headset jack, and a microSD card slot to expand that storage if you ever needed to, as well as two cameras, with a 3.5 megapixel front-facing camera and an 8 megapixel rear camera with auto-focus finally there.
Microsoft will also keep the “VaporMg” magnesium shell, helping the make the machine feel sturdy, light, and premium, and while it will only come in silver, it will be compatible with a new line of TypeCover magnetic keyboard covers that come in several colours.
The screen size is also a little different to the prior Surface models, with a new 10.8 inch display running the 1920×1280 resolution, pretty much sitting at Full HD if not for the fact that the aspect ratio is different to what Full HD works with, though it is the same aspect ratio as the Surface Pro 3.
What does this mean?
More space to work with, essentially, because a 3:2 aspect ratio is supposed to be more like that of a piece of paper, and since this tablet will arrive with pen compatibility, you can see the parallels Microsoft is trying to draw, pun intended.
“Surface 3 brings what customers love about Surface Pro 3 to more people, delivering the premium design and productivity of Surface in a more affordable device,” said Microsoft’s Panos Panay.
“We’ve taken everything we learned making Surface Pro 3 and poured that innovation into this newest Surface. It’s beautiful, versatile, powerful and productive, and our customers are going to love what it lets them do.”
Some things about the design are very different, that said.
The kickstand is one, and while we had hoped Microsoft would bring over the uber-tight stand mechanism from the Surface Pro 3 to this slimmer model, the big M has gone for something closer to what was seen on the Surface 2 (the RT edition), with a three step mechanism allowing you three distinct settings for the stand at the back.
The flat proprietary power connector from the Pro 3 is also gone, but this is a good thing, with Microsoft switching to something a little more universal and going with the standard microUSB port that charges up its Windows-based phones, as well as pretty much every Android smartphone, tablet, and a fair amount of Bluetooth speakers and headphones.
There’s a good chance you have several of these connectors, making it less likely you’ll ever be in a spot of trouble if you forget to bring the charge cable, something that was definitely an issue if you relied on the proprietary cables from previous Surface tablets.
And then there’s the battery, and while you might struggle to get over five or six hours life out of the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft is suggesting up to ten hours will be possible from the Surface 3. Sweet.
As for pricing and availability, Australians needn’t wait too long for this one, with May 5 being the landing date for Microsoft’s Surface 3 with a start price of $699.
The base spec is the 64GB storage / 2GB RAM WiFi only model, but a 128GB model will also be on the way with 128GB storage and 4GB RAM with WiFi only. If you have to have a tablet with 4G LTE built in, that is coming, with its arrival in Australia later in the year. Microsoft’s Surface Pen, TypeCover, and a screen protector will be available as optional accessories upon release, too.