Microsoft's Surface Pro 3: 12-in screen, thinner build, $800 base model
May 20, 2014
It seems like just yesterday that Microsoft was telling us about the Surface Pro 2 – and, come to think of it, it was only eight months ago. But with the company still trying to get a strong foothold in the mobile space, new CEO Satya Nadella and Co. didn't waste any time churning out a new version. Meet the Surface Pro 3.
When we reviewed the Surface Pro 2 (remember, the "Pros" are the ones that run full-blown Windows), we were impressed with its longer battery life and dual-position kickstand. But, on the other hand, it was thick, heavy, and looked exactly like the first Surface Pro. With the new Surface Pro 3, Microsoft's hardware design is taking a much bolder step forward.
The most obvious change is that the damn thing is a lot bigger. The screen of the Surface Pro 3 jumps all the way up to 12 inches, from the 10.6-in display found on its predecessors. That's not only 38 percent more screen real estate than you got from the first four Surfaces, but it's also now going to compete more directly against 13-in laptops.
Its 2,160 x 1,440 resolution gives it a respectable 216 PPI, but it also has the Surface Pro 3 coming out just slightly sharper than the 208 PPI found in older Surfaces. With a 3:2 aspect ratio, though, it's going to work much better in portrait mode than the (16:9) older Surfaces did.
Microsoft also took care of one of the biggest drawbacks from the first two Surface Pros. The new model is only 9.1 mm (0.36-in) thick, down from the beefy 13.5 mm from the older Pros (and Microsoft is branding this as "the thinnest Intel Core device ever made"). At 800 g (1.76 lb), it's also 12 percent lighter than the smaller Surface Pro 2. This should feel much more feathery in hand (well, at least relative to its enormous size) than any previous full Windows-running Surface.
With the Surface Pro 2, Microsoft's dual-position kickstand was much improved over the single-position one that propped up the first model. With the Pro 3, that kickstand now moves dynamically. So, rather than snapping into one or two fixed positions, you can slide through the entire range of motion (between zero and 150 degrees), fixing it in the position that works best for you.
Microsoft also redesigned its Surface Pen with a weightier, more premium feel. The biggest news on the pen front, though, is its "one-click" note-taking capabilities: click the end of the pen and OneNote pops open on the Surface. Double-click the pen to take a screenshot. This is all in the same vein as Samsung's Galaxy Note series, as a click on those pens opens a pop-up menu that has its own screenshots and note-taking app just a tap away.
The trackpads on the first four Surface keyboards were so small, they were borderline unusable. With the newest version of its Type Cover that Microsoft announced for the Pro 3, that trackpad is now 68 percent bigger. The keyboard cover also now folds up at the top when connected to the tablet, which Microsoft says gives you better balance and ergonomics on lap. Incidentally, speaking of keyboards, it doesn't look like the company is bothering with a Touch Cover (the one with non-moving keys) for the new Surface.
Microsoft also brought Adobe to the stage to announce a new Surface-friendlier version of Photoshop CC. Photoshop's scaling on the 10.6-in Surfaces was horrendous (have fun straining your eyes on those tiny icons) so this is a long overdue change. The Photoshop update isn't live yet, but, as someone who spends a lot of time in Adobe's photo-editing suite, I'll be keeping a close eye on this one.
The Surface Pro 3 is technically US$100 cheaper than its predecessor, but there's also a compromise. The base $800 Surface Pro 3 includes a 4th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, a downgrade from the base Core i5 found in previous Surface Pros. The entry-level Pro 3 also totes 64 GB of storage and 4 GB of RAM. If you want a Core i5 SP3 (with 128 GB storage), then you'll be ponying up at least $1,000. It moves all the way up to
The Surface Pro 3 will be up for pre-order starting May 21 at 12:01 a.m. EDT, but you're going to have to wait a while to get your hands on it. Microsoft lists some versions of the Pro 3 as shipping by June 20 with other versions (including the cheapest model) shipping by August 31. You can read more in Microsoft's release below.
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