Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs. Surface Pro 2
May 20, 2014
Here we are just eight months after the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 hit store shelves, and, what do you know, we're looking at yet another new model. Let's see how the features and specs of the Surface Pro 3 compare to those of the Surface Pro 2.
Just to be crystal clear, both of these devices run full Windows, including legacy desktop apps. It's the Windows RT-running Surface RT and Surface 2 that skip the desktop and lock you into the Windows Store.
Speaking of those RT-running devices, I'm not sure if they have much of a future: Microsoft didn't utter a peep about Windows RT today.
Line these two up, and the first thing you'll notice is how much bigger the new model is. In landscape mode, the Surface Pro 3 is 16 percent taller and 6 percent wider than the Pro 2.
The first two Surface Pros were powerful machines, but they were also much beefier than what most people are going to want from a tablet. Microsoft remedied that with the new model. At 9.1 mm (0.36-in) thick, it's 33 percent thinner than the old model.
The Surface Pro 3's bigger face is going to be great for laptop mode. But is it too big for a tablet? We'll have to wait and see, but its size is in the same ballpark as Samsung's Galaxy Note Pro and Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 – and I wasn't crazy about using those enormous tablets.
No changes here, as we're still looking at a Magnesium build. Though I am thankful that the company dropped its cheesy "VaporMg" description of the Surfaces' magnesium alloy, in favor of the more straightforward "magnesium."
Each Surface locks you into one back color: black on the Pro 2 and silver on the Pro 3.
The Surface Pro 2's dual-position kickstand was a big improvement over the single-position kickstand in the first Surface Pro. The Pro 3 looks like it's going to improve even more in that area, as you're no longer limited by one or two fixed positions.
In addition to making the new Surface thinner, Microsoft also shaved 12 percent off of the older model's weight. Considering how much bigger its face is, that's a pretty impressive upgrade from Microsoft's designers and engineers.
The new Surface's 12-in screen is 38 percent bigger than the 10.6-incher on the Surface Pro 2. It also moves to a less oblong 3:2 aspect ratio, which should make it work better in portrait mode than the older model's 16:9.
But we also don't want to jump into a bigger-is-always-better mentality with this. That 12-in screen is going to make for one ginormous tablet – no matter which way you're holding it.
Microsoft's PR department is engaging in a little wordplay by bragging that the Surface Pro 3's display has "50 percent more pixels." While that is a factually accurate statement, don't forget how much bigger the Pro 3's screen is. What that amounts to is a mere 8 extra pixels per inch in the Pro 3. That probably isn't enough extra sharpness for your eyes to notice a difference.
At the Surface Pro 3 launch event, Microsoft said that the Surface Pro 3 uses a pen, not a stylus. I'd take those marketing semantics with a few grains of salt, but I do agree that the new model's stylus is more advanced, with a more premium build, than the old plastic Surface Pen. You can also click a button on the top of the new Surface Pen to instantly open Microsoft's OneNote app. That could be a nice touch, and one that's more than a little reminiscent of Samsung's Galaxy Note series.
Interesting approach here. Microsoft is splitting up the Surface Pro 3's different pricing tiers by (among other things) which 4th-gen Intel Core processor you get. The entry-level model gets a Core i3, which could be a downgrade from the Core i5 found in the Pro 2. You'll have to spend an extra US$200 to jump up to a Core i5. Want a Core i7? Then you'll be throwing down at least $1,550.
The amount of RAM you get in the Pro 3 will also depend on how much you pay. The two lowest tiers give you 4 GB of RAM, while the three highest price points bump that up to 8 GB.
The new model's storage options (which are, of course, also price dependent) are the same as they are with the Surface Pro 2.
USB 3 port
No changes here, as each device gives you one USB 3.0 port.
MicroSD card slot
Nothing new here either, as the new model also has a single microSD slot.
Microsoft recently launched a version of the (Windows RT-running) Surface 2 that can use mobile data, but no dice for this Pro series.
The cameras also get an upgrade in the new model. The front-facing shooter will make for some higher-res video chat, but I'm not going to get too excited about the rear camera's upgrade. Would you want to hoist an enormous slab of glass and magnesium for your next family vacation photos? Didn't think so.
You never really know what battery life is going to look like until you use a device for extended periods. For what it's worth, though, Microsoft is saying the Pro 3 will see about nine hours of web use – and 10 percent longer uptimes than the Pro 2.
Both devices run Windows 8.1 Pro.
At the Surface Pro 3 event, Microsoft said that the device is "launching tomorrow," but that really means pre-orders are about to start. Right now the Microsoft Store lists the Core i5 version of the Pro 3 as shipping "by June 20." If you want a Core i3 SP3, the estimate is "by August 31." Unless those are very conservative estimates, you could be looking at a one- to three-month waiting period before you can get your hands on the new model.
How does the new model start at a $100 lower price than the old model? Well, that's because Microsoft is throwing that lower-end Core i3 processor in the base model of the Surface Pro 3. As we mentioned earlier, a Core i5-running Pro 3 will set you back at least $1,000.
If you want to read up on the old model, you can check out our full review of the Surface Pro 2. And if you're wondering whether the world's most popular tablet can take its place, you can check out our hands-on comparison of the Surfaces to iPads with keyboard covers.