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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2

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What is the Surface Pro 3 all about?

Microsoft has announced its new wave of Surface Pro tablets. Meet the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, a 12.1-inch Windows tablet for the masses.

But is it enough of a move on from the Surface Pro 2, last year’s version? We compare the two to find out.

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.

It also also possible that the older model has more levels of sensitivity, but we don't know the full story on this yet. A concern for arty types and graphic designers is that N-Trig digitisers are often a bit lagger than Wacom's ones, but we'll check this out when we get a Surface Pro 3 in to review.

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.

Most people, us included, will find a 10-odd inch device too small to type long form on comfortably. A 12.1-inch laptop-tablet can make a fairly convincing Ultrabook-style device. Let’s not forget – it’s larger than the smaller of the MacBook Air models.

However, this is something we’ll have to test first-hand as Microsoft has also changed the aspect ratio of the display. It’s a 3:2 ratio screen rather than a 16:9 one - reducing how much more space the keyboard has to luxuriate. The new aspect is much closer to the iPad's 4:3, a display ratio most people find more convenient to use in a larger tablet.

Higher display resolution

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.

As we tend to hold larger displays further away, there’ll effectively be a sharpness improvement in most situations.

Pro 3 offers better weight efficiencyGreen

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 bigger.

There’s no fan, either, so it is not as if Microsoft has crammed everything in too tightly and decided to rely on a fan to mitigate.

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

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.

Pro 3 offers 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.

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. Using Microsoft’s claim, we can expect the Surface Pro 3 to last for around nine to nine and a half hours. The official specs suggest we can expect "up to 9 hours".

That’s not a MacBook Air or iPad-beating result, but is very good for a Windows device. We’ll test this fully once we get a Pro 3 in to review.

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 will be just 10 per cent, but that may refer to the i5 edition, which uses an i5-4300U CPU.

There will also be a Core i3 version, which will be a bit cheaper. All versions of the Pro 2 used i5-type chips.

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 not going to sell in iPad-like numbers. But that doesn’t mean some of you should not get excited about it.

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

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