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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2

Andrew Williams


Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2: What is different?

What is the Surface Pro 3 all about?

The Surface Pro 3 is the third generation of Microsoft's hybrid tablet. It's a full Windows 8 PC with the same internals as an ultrabook, but in a hybrid format designed to make it work just as well in tablet modes. But is it enough of a move on from the Surface Pro 2, last year’s version? We compare the two to find out.

Surface Pro 3 video review

Head to our Surface Pro 3 review for the full, in-depth review

Pro 3 swaps a Wacom stylus for an N-Trig oneGreen

There are lots of improvements in the Surface Pro 3. But there is one significant negative you may not have considered yet.

The tablet uses an N-Trig digitiser stylus rather than a Wacom one, as used in the Surface Pro 2. In practical terms the main difference is that the Surface Pro 3's stylus needs a battery where the Surfae Pro 2's does not. But it also has fewer levels of sensitivity at just 256 vs the 1,000-plus of the Wacom-based Surface Pro 2.

In our review of the Surface Pro 3 we found the new pen is more direct and more accurate at the extreme edges of the screen. The Wacom-based Surface Pros tended to suffer from a slight offset between where the nib was pointed and the actual input and didn't work well in the the corners. The Surface Pro 3 doesn't suffer from these problems.

This makes the Surface Pro 3 much better for note-taking and handwriting on the screen. But the reduced pressure sensitivity could put off digital artists.

SEE ALSO: iPad Pro 12.9 release date, rumours and news

Surface Pro 3 has a larger screenGreen

The new Surface Pro 3 is a good deal larger than its direct predecessor the Surface Pro 2. It has a 12.1-inch screen, to the Pro 2’s 10.6-inch display.

In moving to this larger size, the Surface Pro 3 is able to separate itself from rival non-Windows tablets, the biggest names of which have been much more successful than any Surface tablet. Larger size also arguably makes the Pro 3 much more viable as a laptop-replacer.

In practice the new screen totally transforms the Surface Pro 3. Previous Surface Pros always felt a little awkward due to their widescreen aspect, but the Surface Pro 3 works better both as a laptop replacement and as a tablet thanks to the squarer screen.

This one change makes the Surface Pro 3 significantly better than its predecessors, and that's before you factor in its higher resolution.

SEE ALSO: Surface Pro 3 vs MacBook Air

Higher display resolution


So let's tackle that topic. Along with making the screen larger, Microsoft has also improved resolution. The Surface Pro 2’s screen was 10.6 inches across and 1080p in resolution, giving pixel density of 208ppi.

Microsoft’s new model has a 2,160 x 1,440 pixel display, which equates to 214.5ppi. It’s not a great deal sharper than the Surface Pro 2, but does offer slightly higher density and certainly doesn’t lose out on the sharpness stakes thanks to its larger display.

This increased resolution is arguably less important than the change in aspect, but the screen on the Surface Pro 3 is very good. Not only is it sharp, it also has good contrast and is very bright. It's a great screen.

Pro 3 is slimmer and lighterGreen

The Surface tablets have never been renowned for their super-slim, light frames. This was particularly true of the former Pro models, because they used much more serious internals than most of the tablets perceived by some to be the series’ main rivals.

Microsoft has clearly put some effort into improving things, though. The Surface Pro 3 weighs just 800g, lighter than the last model even though it’s a good deal larger.

Dimensions are pretty impressive too. The Surface Pro 3 is 9.1mm thick, down from 13.5mm in the Surface Pro 2, and Microsoft has cut down the screen bezels a bit too.

In use, the Surface Pro 3 feels impressively slim and light for such a large device. Indeed it's size, not weight, that's the greatest obstacle. Its size means the Surface Pro 3 doesn't fit well in tight spaces, such as small tray tables on planes and trains.

It's a fine laptop replacement when sat on a normal desk, but it can't beat a laptop in every environment.

Louder speakers this time aroundGreen

Speakers are often neglected a bit in tablets and laptops – presumably under the notion that they are never going to sound good. But Microsoft has made significant improvements in this area.

It claims the Surface Pro 3 speakers are 45 per cent louder than those of the last model. The speakers are found on the front, their grilles hidden behind tiny little cut-outs in the sides of the tablet’s screen, rather like those of the Sony Xperia Z2 phone.

Microsoft isn't making idle boasts, either. While the speakers are not significantly better than any you'll find on an iPad or similar tablets, they're huge step up from the weedy speakers on previous Surface Pros. They're right at home when watching Netflix in bed.

The Surface Pro 3 claims better battery lifeGreen

One of the most important practical improvements in the Surface Pro 3 is in battery life. Microsoft claims it will offer up to 20 per cent better stamina than any Surface tablet to date.

However this wasn't borne out in our tests. At review, we found the Surface Pro 2 lasts for seven hours 53 minutes – our testing features simulated web browsing, some work/productivity tasks and some video playback. The same test on the Surface Pro 3 lasted seven hours and 45 minutes, pretty much the same as the Surface Pro 2.

Even accounting for small differences in background processes and screen brightness, it's clear that the Surface Pro 3 isn't a huge improvement in this area. It's still pretty good, though, so there's no reason to get too upset about this result.

Pro 3 is more powerful


Microsoft couldn’t really announce a Surface Pro 3 without making it a fair bit more powerful than the Surface Pro 2. It’s doubly important in a tablet like this as, unlike an iOS or Android tablet, a full Windows device can make good use of whatever power you put at its disposal.

However, you won’t see jaw-dropping improvements in the third-generation model.

It’s not Microsoft’s fault – the Haswell processors used in the Surface Pro 2 are still current models. The Surface Pro 3 uses the same generation of processor.

However, where the Pro 2 uses an Intel Core i5-4200U chip, the top Pro 3 gets an upgrade to a Core i7 CPU. Microsoft says the performance improvement is just 10 per cent, but that may refer to the i5 edition, which uses an i5-4300U CPU.

There is also a Core i3 version, which starts at just £639. All versions of the Pro 2 used i5-type chips.

Next, read our best Windows tablets and laptops round-up

What’s the same?

Size changes and tech improvements aside, many of the core ideas of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 are taken from the Pro 2. It’s a serious device that can double as a laptop, while having a bit more fun as a tablet on the side.

Both tablets have an integrated kickstand and both include an active pen stylus, both offer storage options between 64GB and 512GB. And the Pro 3, like the Pro 2, is almost certainly won't sell in iPad-like numbers.

What's clear now we've reviewed the Surface Pro 3, though, is it's a serious step up from previous versions. If you own one of those, or have always been tempted by them, the Surface Pro 3 is a sound investment.


May 20, 2014, 6:07 pm

forgot to add that kickstand can handle any angle you desire compared to pro2 that has fixed angled on kickstand


May 20, 2014, 6:19 pm

I think I'll keep my laptop - it's cheaper, and just as powerful.


May 20, 2014, 6:37 pm

Edit: They made the correction to the article after I posted this. Originally it said 3:2 was the same as the iPad's.

Since when does 3:2 = 4:3? The aspect ratio is not the same as the iPad. SP3 has a ratio of 1.5 vs the iPad Air's and all the previous generations of 1.333~ (the closer to 1, the closer to a square display). The iPad's is the same ratio as old TV's and old computer monitors. The SP3's ratio is in line with workstation monitors, and still closer to display 16:9 video of 1.777 with far less black bars on the top and bottom (letterboxing).


May 20, 2014, 6:40 pm

WOW, I hope the MicroSoft Stores are ready for the madness to come, I know on most days the traffic in the Stores are light, but with the Launch of the New Surface Tablets Microsoft better have at least 3 of the Surfaces in Stock and Ready to Go.

Houston TX

May 20, 2014, 8:05 pm

WOW is correct. There's actually a company trying to allow you to have a portable tablet that can actually do work. Go figure

Kyle Toth

May 20, 2014, 8:15 pm

Not to nitpick but the article states, "The new aspect is much closer to the iPad's 4:3". It does not say they are the same, just that the Surface 3 is closer in aspect than the Surface 2. I'd rather go with widescreen for movie enjoyment and ditch the unattractive letterboxing.

Edit: Meaning I'd stick with the aspect ratio of the Surface 2.


May 21, 2014, 2:59 am

This is a great move by MS, but I'll still be waiting for Broadwell to really see this thing come into it's own. Broadwell will see hefty battery life improvements of 30% according to Intel and SSD's are only getting cheaper. Like the move to 15:10 screen and the extra 360 vertical pixels compared to the horrible 16:9 FHD is huge improvement.


May 21, 2014, 4:44 am

Somebody please explain why shall I get this Pro3 when I can get even more functionality from an UltraBook with no limitations and full keyboard attached. Someone?


May 21, 2014, 6:37 am

Its a good question: the biggest difference and functionality Pro3 can give you is hand writing recognition. In other words you can write on Pro3 as if you are writing on normal notebook. its fast and hand written notes can be converted to word or pdf files and so. Or you can just keep hand-written notes as it is. Pro3 is a great machine for taking notes, but at a same time you can also do many takes that any ultrabook can do. Ultrabook will not give you handwriting functionality


May 21, 2014, 9:13 am

We corrected the article shortly after publishing, but due to caching changes sometimes take a while, hence the confusion.


May 21, 2014, 9:24 am

The Surface Pro 3 not fanless. They talked about the fan in detail during the conference. It's made so that you won't hear or feel it, but it certainly has a fan.


May 21, 2014, 9:36 am

When you say 'even more functionality', can I ask what you're referring to?

The benefit of the Pro3 is that it can be used as a tablet - held in one hand. It has handwriting capabilities, and is actually lighter and thinner than most ultrabooks.

With the release of this I'm wondering what the benefit of choosing an ultrabook is.


May 21, 2014, 9:38 am

It's a shame this wasn't Broadwell, I agree. Perhaps they'll do a mid-cycle refresh when Intel release the new chip.
Apparently there are quite good performance gains to be had with Broadwell, as well as the efficiency and running cooler.

Even still, to me, the fact they've done this all with Haswell makes it all the more impressive.


May 21, 2014, 2:25 pm

More functionality = you are able to do everything with a PC Ultrabook where as this Pro 3 is a tablet base device first. A table base device is always going to limit it's user, eg, 128 GB hard drive of Pro 3 vs. 750 GB hard drive of an Ultrabook (One could have Cloud but then one needs internet connection to access cloud). I could go on and on but what's the point.

Microsoft has lost $1.3B, that's Billions with B as per the most conservative estimations (papers filed with regulators) on Surface units. I love Microsoft as I own their stock but I hate Surface Pro and Surface 2 and Surface RT (I also own their overpriced underperforming Surface devices). I could easily spend $900 on an Apple device and rest assured I would get the best hardware/software combo. But spending $900 on Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (basic model with Type cover 3) only gives me frustration and anger. Why Microsoft can't, simply, manufacture the best PC's and Tablets? Why? What's wrong with Microsoft? Hopefully Nadala fixes it sooner than later.


May 21, 2014, 2:50 pm

The article was edited. I had off yesterday and was reading articles as they were released after the press conference. Of course they can edit it without saying they made changes in the article. So it looks like I'm nitpicking when I was stating the inaccuracy where it originally said "3:2, the same as the iPad".


May 21, 2014, 3:02 pm

Hmmm, I think you're misinformed.

This isn't a tablet. This is a fully functional ultrabook, albeit one with a detachable keyboard.
You're not comparing like-for-like. Show me one example of an ultrabook with a 750GB SSD.
Please do go on, please give me one example where a Surface Pro 3 would limit you over any other ultrabook with the same spec. (comparing with machines with higher or lower spec is a waste of time).
Is a full Windows 8 machine, just like any other. There are no limits other than number of physical ports, and in reality, when on the move you're not using external ports much, and when at home/office you could have a hub. But that's certainly one limitation to this form factor, and may be an issue to some users.

At the end of the day there'll never be one piece of hardware that suits absolutely everyone. If you need a 750GB HDD internally 100% of the time, and an external drive wouldn't do for mass storage, then you should not buy this. If most of what you do most of the time would fit on a 128, 256 or 512GB drive, with everything else on an external drive/NAS/Cloud server then it is an option.

Really the only limitations you will be able to give me are things that this device isn't designed to do - like playing AAA games at highest settings running 60fps. If that's what you want, you need a gaming machine.

It's not about what the device can't do, but whether it does what it is supposed to do, and whether that suits you.
But in no way does it mean that the Surface Pro 3 has any limitations to the standard Ultrabook format of PC.


May 21, 2014, 3:35 pm

In your own statement; you have pinpointed a few major drawbacks of owning this overpriced/underperforming Pro 3.

-One would need a Type Cover(extra cost)
-One would need a Hub @Home or Ofc (extra cost)
-One would need a WiFi connection, for the most part, to use it at 100% potential
-One would need to face limitations connecting peripherals
-One may take this device along while travelling coast to coast and still crave for his/her laptop/ultrabook when faced with Pro3's limitations
-Surface RT's Chip delivers extremely weak performance for a laptop whereas Surface Pro3 has the same chip as in Pro2.....why?
-why would someone keep on defending Microsoft's Surface Line when you could simply own an Ultrabook(which are becoming increasingly inexpensive)
-Microsoft's App Store suck-like-a-firing-train

-shall I go on or shall I conclude by saying......to me personally, Surface is crashing all the times as O/S is not as streamlined and perfected as Apple's O/S. Hardware is C R A P if O/S is flawed. This is highly frustrating. my number one concern is still O/S. As I mentioned, I like Microsoft but why do they sell expensive hardwares when they struggle to deliver a pain-free-O/S. Why? Someone?


May 21, 2014, 7:01 pm

Does ultrabook have a built in Digitizer?

couple of my friends got PRO 2's and they use them all the time with onenote to take notes with the digitizer. Their great for that.


May 21, 2014, 8:52 pm

Let’s be clear in our comparisons and stop using RT and Pro interchangeably shall we?

-Surface RT is a tablet OS just as iOS is a tablet OS
-Surface RT (not Surface Pro) “should be” compared to the iPad and other android tablets.
-MacBook Air (MBA) runs a full OS e.g Mavericks just as Surface Pro 3 runs Windows 8.1 Pro.
-Surface RT depends on the windows store for apps just as iPads and android tablets depend on the App Store and Play Store for Apps.
-SP3 (Surface Pro 3) runs all x86 apps (which by the way exceed anything in the tablet stores) just like a full blown PC made by HP, Lenovo, Dell, Gateway or any other PC manufacturer.
- Surface Pro 3 just like the MacBook Air allows for various peripherals connections via USB 3.0, Display port, MicroSD
- Surface Pro 3 is priced comparably to the Ultra book (MacBook Air) even with the separate type cover accessory included.

I’m not sure what hub you’re referring to that is required to use the SP3. Please explain. Anything that you feel you can do on an ultra-book, you can more than likely do on the SP3. If your concern is a 4G LTE SP3, then you should have the same expectation from other PC and Apple computers (not iPads) as well. You do realize that you can always tether your smartphone to your laptop.

Oh and by the way, the Surface Pro 3 can be used like a tablet without the type cover and without loosing the functionality of a full-fledged PC. You can take notes in class with the included pen and the last time I checked the MBA isn't touch optimized. Honestly, the MBA was on my radar until this was announced. I can finally put aside my second generation iPad and not miss the convenience of couch browsing but also now gain productivity with the SP3.

I'll leave this here for you.

Kenneth Parks

May 21, 2014, 10:16 pm

Hey MattMe, you're being just too nice. This French Underwood guy doesn't even know what he's talking about. He's just one of those Apple fanboys, "Our iPad Air is a lot lighter than Surface Pro 3, WE WIN! HAHAHAHAHA"

Mr. Underwood, read this thoroughly, smart man.

128 GB HDD vs 750 GB HDD - Nope, if your notebook has a 750 GB HDD, it's NOT an Ultrabook. It's just a regular bulky notebook.

I also think you don't even know the difference between Pro version and RT version.

One would need a Type Cover(extra cost)

>>> Without this, it's CHEAPER than most Ultrabooks. Not a drawback.

One would need a Hub @Home or Ofc (extra cost)

>>> Most Ultrabooks don't have enough ports either. Again, I'm sure the notebook you have/had isn't even an Ultrabook.

One would need a WiFi connection, for the most part, to use it at 100% potential

>>> Again, most Ultrabooks don't have the Ethernet port either, just like Surface Pro. Mcbook Air? Nope.

Surface RT's Chip?

>>> Don't even bring RT here. It's like you're comparing iPad and Mcbook Air.

Ultrabook being inexpensive?

>>> Not true, you will have to spend more than $1000 easily, w/ 128GB SSD, again, true Ultrabooks, not your regular bulky notebook.

Shall I go on? Just let me know.

And now, what about your beloved Mcbook Air?

Touch screen? - Nope

Resolution? - Crappy, Lose

Weight? - Heavier, Lose

Digitizer? - Nope

Again, SHALL I GO ON, Mr. He-Thinks-He's-Mr.-Know-It-All?


May 22, 2014, 2:06 am

Ken Parks- I think you got this totally wrong. This is a discussion board and no-one is gonna give you a 'piece of metal wrapped around purple ribbon' (you should have joined Army for that). No one is gonna clap after hearing your argument (you should have jointed circus for that). No one is winning or loosing here, first of all.

My thoughts started with Surface Pro 3 and then I felt like attacking the whole Surface line as I have owned all of them (RT/Surf 2/Surf Pro). I also own other Windows devices but only one Apple device. So how can I be an Apple fanboy!?

---My problem with Microsoft is that they have came up with decent hardware in Surface line of products. But the O/S execution still sucks. They have been unable to put 'sexy' into their Surface line of product. And who really wanna look at their app store when we got Android's Apps and Apple's Apps. On papers, they have lost $1.3Billions (very conservative estimate). They are loosing money on Surface as we speak. That said, I do not believe that Microsoft can't execute hardware. Just look at Xbox. If Xbox is not a money loosing operation then why Surface is a money loosing operation (It has been more than 24 months and they keep on loosing money on Surface line). This is a simple question but Microsoft still hasn't answered this very simple question. Let me answer for Microsoft, "Because Surface sucks"

Surface Pro 3 may be a last-ditch effort to save the whole Surface line. Forget about Surface mini; they have gone bigger with Surface Pro 3 launch. I'm not too optimistic if Surface line could be saved but Microsoft does have very deep pockets; so they can keep on experimenting. Good luck!

Quid pro Quo

May 22, 2014, 10:06 am

IMHO, a resolution that high is an overkill for screens of that size, plus it raises the gfx h/w and power draw requirements for no particular reason…
I really don't get it: if all we get is a scaled-up UI, why the need for higher resolutions anyway? It once made sense for desktop monitors, since higher resolutions allowed for greater space in e.g. DTP, CAD or Video editing applications. You clearly had more screen 'real estate' at your disposal, for sure!
But I really don't get it when it comes to mobile devices with screens significantly smaller compared to a desktop or a desktop-replacement laptop: if all I get is a scaled up UI (ok, granted, a bit more visually "compact", too) taking the exact same space (proportionally) as a lower res screen, then why bother at all?


May 22, 2014, 11:13 am

Why is there no mention of the pen? The pen uses N-trig technology and not the previous Wacom tech AFAIK, and so requires batteries!!! quite a notable point IMO. Also the loss of 1024 pressure sensitivity levels to 256.

Source: http://www.anandtech.com/sh...


May 23, 2014, 1:45 pm

We'll be updating this as we go and we'll be sure to add more detail about this change.

Rico Alexander

June 11, 2014, 3:16 pm

Troll, please go elsewhere. Do iSheep like this think people are stupid? Are you this threaten by a product?

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