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

Also on the versatile side is the screen which is bright, clear, and easy to view from most angles. There’s a small amount of colour wash-out at extreme vertical angles, but it’s not enough to bother us, especially when you realise that you shouldn’t be using a computer from these positions.

Close to Apple’s Retina is certainly close enough for us, and we were happy using such a high resolution screen in a small size.

With both a fantastic screen and a highly adaptable stand, you can actually use the Surface Pro 3 in all manner of working conditions, from the cramped impromptu workspace that is a bus to your soft and cosy bed, and even — if you so choose — on that big sprawling work desk you can’t escape from.

Microsoft even provides a dock for that last one, which allows you to keep your TypeCover keyboard connected, plugging in what essentially amounts to a port replicator in from the back, with 4K output possible from this gadget.

We haven’t been able to play with that yet since it wasn’t available at the time of review, but we have managed to play with another accessory, and it’s one you’ll need if you want to get some serious productivity going, and that’s the keyboard.

The Surface Pro 3 on the left, the Surface Pro 2 on the right, both equipped with Type Cover keyboards.

In the original Surface Pro machines, the keyboard was already a big deal, and you had two options: the Touch Cover and the Type Cover

The Touch Cover was essentially a touch-sensitive keyboard with no tactile buttons and only the sounds of tapping being made from the computer, while the Touch Cover let your fingers dance and tread on a shallow keyboard that provided just enough traction to be comfortable and still provide island-style keys.

We probably don’t have to tell you which of the two was more popular with Surface users (but if we do, it’s the Type Cover), and in the third incarnation of the Surface Pro, Microsoft has found a few ways to make the new keyboard even better.

For starters, it’s a little bigger. Not the keyboard itself, mind you, just the cover, with the keys and keyboard width and length still the same. That’s fine, because Microsoft had that nailed last time, anyway.

Now, though, it has improved the keyboard substantially by providing two ways to type here, both flat (top in the photo above) and now elevated and at an angle (below), as the magnet at the back of the TypeCover can mount directly to the bottom bezel of the Surface Pro 3 screen, all at once raising the key slope and cutting the screen off exactly at the keyboard level.

An improved mouse is also here, and for many, that was the weak point of the previous Type Covers, with a touchpad built into the fabric of the previous keyboard.

That has gone this time, thankfully, and been replaced with a proper button-based trackpad, with the entire surface acting as a button similar to Apple’s (and Samsung’s) trackpad designs.

In use, it is excellent, and provides a worthy inclusion for people who don’t necessarily want to use their fingers or the included stylus to operate the Surface Pro 3, with a more common and sometimes easier to recall method of interacting with their computer.

Indeed, with both your finger operating the touchscreen for Windows 8.1 and the trackpad at your disposal on the TypeCover, this is like having a great ultra-light notebook, albeit one in a metal body weighing 800 grams.

Over to the performance, and this should be pretty much bang on what you’ll expect out of a machine set out with an Intel Core processor running Windows 8. In our review unit, the supply of 256GB storage and 8GB RAM was a perfect match for the fourth-generation Core i5 “Haswell” chip, though if you prefer, a 512GB model can also be found at the ready.

That compliment of storage, memory, and processor power made it one of the most capable of light laptops, competing directly with pretty much everything touting the Intel Ultrabook specification, and handling the same sort of fare.

This makes it ideal for the obvious array of actual work activities, with writing documents, working on spreadsheets, emails, web surfing, social networking, and the odd basic game or two, but because there’s more to a content creation and productivity device than this, we installed a few more things.

For instance, we threw on Adobe’s Creative Cloud, which let us use the combination of input controllers — finger for touch, trackpad on the TypeCover, and stylus with buttons — in Adobe Photoshop for photo editing and RAW processing (yup), InDesign for working with publications, and Audition for letting us play with audio files directly. While the 256GB amount of storage isn’t a huge amount for video, we’re sure we could probably manage a few video projects this way, if we really wanted to.

Valve’s online gaming system that is Steam also had some play on the Surface Pro 3 for us, and while this is by no means a gaming machine — no Ultrabook-styled machine is, for that matter — you can get some gaming done here. Not much, we’ll be honest, with the titles sitting on the lighter end of the scale.