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

Don’t approach the Surface Pro 3 if 3D gaming is high on the agenda, because it won’t happen.

Shadowrun’s limited 3D engine still looked excellent on the 2160×1440 screen, but it’s a top-down isometric 3D title, so isn’t going to succumb to the high frame-rate requirements of a 3D first-person shooter, which isn’t going to be handled by this machine. Sorry, the included Intel graphics just aren’t going to cut it for running full-screen on this sort of resolution.

But if you’re a gamer of the retro style, especially with so many pixel-art games on the resurgence, you’ll be fine here, provided you don’t plan on gaming for too long far from a wall socket.

The charge ports are very different in the Surface Pro 3 (top) compared to the Surface Pro 2 (bottom).

As you can probably imaging, gaming also impacts battery life pretty dramatically, dropping full charge to no charge in around one to two hours, depending on the severity of processor power.

Without gaming, the Surface Pro 3 manages, though isn’t the best around, with five-ish hours, pulling in a little more if you decide to pretty much leave the Surface Pro 3 a WiFi connected web surfing writing machine. With the functions stripped back, you can get six hours, but we’d stick it closer to five across the board from a full charge.

That’s not a huge change from the Surface Pro 2, which managed around 6 hours itself, although generally hit 4 to 5 if you were using it more frequently (which we found out months after the review). We suspect this is because of the bigger screen and thinner design, both of which would impact the battery life considerably, especially since outside of a few slight revisions, the Intel processors used in both the Surface Pro 2 and Surface Pro 3 would be close.

For many, five to six hours should be plenty, though we’d like to see a little more juice out of the Surface Pro 3. If you switch WiFi off, we suspect you might be able to squeeze a little more out, but ultimately, a Surface Pro 3 version of the Microsoft Power Cover would help this a long way.

Beyond the regular performance, some of the other touches are welcome, as they make the Surface Pro 3 really stand out.

New power plug (top) trumps the old power plug (bottom).

One is the proprietary charger, which is different from the last generation and easy to use thanks to the thin plastic cable being drawn in and held in place with magnets. This is better than the previous generation which also used magnets, but over time would wear away at the paint job and not always clip in place properly.

The charger also still has a USB port on the brick, which is still a fantastic inclusion if you head on a trip somewhere, making it easy to charge your phone from without needing to bring with a separate charger.

Microsoft’s updated stylus is also weighted better, features easier to locate buttons, and now made from a premium material — metal — which helps to make it feel more like a pen.

We’re also fans of the OneNote purple button on the end of the pen, which like a pen clicker, allows you to press it to start up OneNote from any screen — working or locked and in standby mode — and get straight into taking notes

If anything, taking digital notes will feel completely fluid for people, and while it’s not quite as fast as using a pen and paper, the Surface Pro 3 isn’t far off, and for this reviewer highlighted just how poor his handwriting had become while his typing speed had increased.

A magnet on the right side of the computer is also a welcome touch, great when the power cable isn’t plugged in for snapping the stylus to the side of the computer.

This might not mean much to you, but previous Surface users had this option, with the Surface Pro’s stylus snapping in thanks to its use of the shared power connector recess. With a different power connector, the stylus doesn’t have this option anymore, but thanks to a magnet can still sit in this spot.

There’s even a loop include with the new keyboard, which is a little fabric piece to attach to your keyboard to keep the pen nearby.

Even the sound has been improved, which is now loud enough out of the tiny front-facing speakers to enjoy a small movie by yourself without plugging a pair of headphones in.

Overall, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is a very well thought out device totally made for productivity, and while no machine is perfect, Microsoft’s third try at the Surface manages as close as can be, marrying a brilliant blend of excellent design, solid component choice, and an understanding that tablets should be more than just about content consumption, with creation on the agenda, also.

With that, our only complaints from the Surface Pro 3 stem from the few ports on offer, the lack of an included keyboard and a bug which continues to plague the Surface Pro machines.

We’ll tackle them one by one because that really is the order of importance here, and the omission of ports, or rather, the missing standard two USB ports that most small laptops offer.

It’s true that Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 does use a different design and a different screen from its Surface Pro 2 brother, but the port selection may as well be the same, and if you struggled with the few expansion options from that machine, you’ll struggle here, too.

There is, just like on that computer, a single USB 3.0 port and a single DisplayPort for you to work with, as well as the microSD card slot for expanding the storage, but that’s it. Not two USB ports like most computers, and no HDMI port, with video handled through DisplayPort.

Will most people have a problem with this?

Probably not, and in fairness to Microsoft, the Surface Pro 3 is designed around the logic of being a totally mobile productivity station, but if you say wanted to plug in both an external hard drive and a CompactFlash or SD card reader at the same time, you’re out of luck unless you have a USB hub laying around.

The microSD slot is still here. Yay upgradeable memory!

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  1. Thanks very much for the great review. I’m currently carrying around a 1.5kg laptop and an 800g iPad4 for note taking and media consumption, I’ve been waiting for an eternity for this hybrid factor to finally hit its strides. Currently I have to carry around circa 2.3kg to do the same thing that this can do with 800g ! As a regular traveler, this is indeed massive leap forward and I know that business users will revel with this device and its Office integration. The all round lightweight ability and the pen are most definitely the key highlights here.
    Microsoft is definitely on the right track and I wish them a lot of success with this product as they’ve lost a money on the way trying to get it right.

  2. I’ve read in another review that the two cameras don’t have auto focus. This seems a ridiculous ommission. Your comments?

    1. We tried this yesterday and they don’t appear to have auto-focus on board, no.

      Not sure why the omission, to be honest. Strikes us as odd, but I’m not big on tablet cameras as it is.

      That said, yes, it should be in here. One has to wonder whether it is and the firmware hasn’t been enabled yet.

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