Six months on: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 revisited

We had high praise for Microsoft’s third Surface tablet to run Windows 8 back in August of last year, when we declared “this was what tablets should be”. Six months on, is it still what tablets should be?

Heralded as one of the best gadgets for productivity, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 has proven to gadget freaks and regular folk that the company has what it takes to produce a solid tablet aimed at more than just watching TV shows, movies, and playing games.

It impressed us when it landed on our desk last August, so much that we gave it just a hair under five stars (4.5), thanks to all the attention paid to its design, performance, and usage scenarios. It was Microsoft’s best look at Windows 8, and even though Windows 8 hasn’t been quite the winner Microsoft had hoped, its Surface Pro 3 demonstrated that Windows 8 could be an excellent choice when it came to making and creating things on the go in a tablet form.

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For the past few years, tablets have predominantly been about content consumption, and that is why many have labelled the tablet a “content consumption device”. You could make them a “content creation device” if you wanted — with keyboard accessories, digital pens, and various applications — but you weren’t necessarily getting the full experience that a computer could offer. That is, you weren’t using a computer, but rather a touchscreen slate designed to fill that middle gap.

We need to stress this, though: you can get any tablet to be a content creation tool. The Apple iPad and its plethora of apps and accessories have certainly shown that this is possible, we know numerous writers, reporters, office workers, and regular folk using it as such (hey, we’ve even written a book on an iPad). It’s just that you have to rely on the apps that exist to service your needs, or have one created for you.

That’s not for all people, and if you presently rely on a Windows app to do your bidding, a Windows slate — one running the full version of Windows — might be just what the doctor ordered.

Since the release of Windows 8, we’ve seen a few companies attempt this, and many have gotten close, but the one that keeps pushing the curve for making Windows perform better is Microsoft.

And that makes sense: Microsoft created Windows 8, so surely it knows the best way to make Windows work on a tablet.

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Microsoft’s tablets are part of its “Surface” branding, and we’ve checked out the “Pro” line-up — that is the ones that come with the full version of Windows you’re used to using that can run the Windows 7 apps you might have, as well — since they were first released, with the Surface Pro reviewed in 2013, and the Surface Pro 2 reviewed back in early 2014.

But while those two got close, the Surface Pro 3 nailed the formula, and really made the tablet something we thought we could use long term.

Six months on, is that the case?

Yes and no.

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First off, we need to say that aspects of this tablet we still love. For starters, we still love the weight and how easy it is to hold.

We still love knowing that it’s there ready to go when we take it out of our backpack, and it still grabs attention when we use it, and people see that this is a keyboard equipped ultra-thin gadget with a bloody bright screen in front of us when we need it.

The magnets that hold the keyboard are still strong, as are the magnets that hold the proprietary power port, and this is still just as strong a connection as we’ve seen in the past. We’ve heard stories of the Surface Pro 2’s magnetic adaptor running into issues and not quite clicking into place, and this is certainly not the case with the Surface Pro 3.

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We’re also still big fans of the stand joint and its ability to pretty much work at any angle we want to use the tablet at.

It’s a little loose at one end of the spectrum, but not overly so, and the ability to use the Surface Pro 3 in pretty much any position and on any surface — excuse the play on words — makes this a delight to keep with you, and then to take out and get working.

The joint on the stand is still going strong.
The joint on the stand is still going strong.

The pen still grabs us, too, and it has become one of the most necessary things for us when it comes to Photoshop work on the fly, because while the touchpad built into the keyboard is usable, Photoshop and other creative tools are much more usable when the stylus is employed, and we can hold the spacebar down and use the stylus to move around an image with ease.

But if we could point out things that are obviously having issues on the Surface Pro 3 six months on, there would be two very noticeable aspects that are hard to get past, and they’re the sort of things you only start to notice about three or four months in: patches and keyboard issues.

So let’s start with that first one.

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  1. No problems over six months on. At worst, a few anxious moments around updates. Nothing more than a bit of prodding to restart it.
    The touchscreen and keyboard are both fine.
    The whole keyboard issue is overstated. It’s a nice accessory and nifty that it doubles a screen cover, but the point is you are not restricted to that keyboard. A portable wireless keyboard is a good alternative.

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