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Surface Pro 3: Microsoft’s laptop replacement has finally grown up

Andy Vandervell

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Surface Pro 3: Microsoft’s laptop replacement finally grows up

Has Microsoft finally cracked it?

OPINION Andy Vandervell believes Microsoft has finally hit upon a formula that makes sense with the announcement of the new, 12-inch Surface Pro 3.

I’m an iPad user, I have been since the the iPad 2 and I use my iPad Air daily. It’s a constant companion and it’s my go to device when at home. I still have a laptop and use it for all sorts of things, but only when I can’t do what I want on my iPad and that happens less and less these days.

But despite my love for the iPad I’ve always held an odd sort of affection for the Surface Pro. Both versions I’ve used have always been a little too flawed in too many ways for me to make the switch, but I respected and understood what Microsoft was grasping at even if it struggled to execute its vision successfully.

With the Surface Pro 3, however, I think Microsoft has finally hit upon a formula that makes the Surface Pro a fully formed individual, rather than a product with one foot in iPad land and one in PC land.

SEE ALSO: Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2

It’s a much better laptop killer than an iPad killer

The change in size and shape is key here. Previous Surface Pros always felt a little weird to use. The 10-inch screen wasn’t really large enough to use comfortably in desktop mode, while its 16:9 aspect made it awkward to handle as a tablet.

Switching to a 3:2 aspect similar to the iPad and upping the screen to 12-inches should solve these two problems. A 12-inch screen is a good size for using desktop applications on the go, while the 3:2 aspect should make it feel far more natural as a large tablet. Sure, this makes the Surface Pro 3 a seriously large tablet, but it’s actually thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 2.

This change also unlocks the untapped potential of the stylus, now further improved and upgraded for the Surface Pro 3. The stylus alone won the Surface Pros plenty of fans in the past, but once again the widescreen aspect did a poor job of delivering its potential. As Microsoft’s demo showed, it’s clearly convinced the Pro 3 does the 'digital canvas' much better.

Surface Pro 3

It can almost sit flat and the keyboard now had a more natural angle

Aggressive pricing could be right

Now that the Surface Pro now looks like a more convincing replacement to a laptop, rather than a wannabe tablet, Microsoft’s pricing also proves intriguing. We don’t have proper UK pricing yet, but the entry-level Surface Pro 3 will sell for $799, $100 less than the Surface Pro 2. It’s not as powerful, but it’s certainly powerful enough.

Apply the same conversion as with the Surface Pro 2 ($899 to £719) and we arrive at a potential UK price of £619, or £230 less than the 2014 MacBook Air I’ve just reviewed. You’ll need to factor in the price of a keyboard cover as well, which puts the two on similar ground, but the vastly superior screen on the Surface Pro 3 (2,160 x 1,440 vs 1,400 x 900) should make it a tempting alternative.

There is always a but…

Or in the case of the Surface Pro 3, there are two of them. One is the whole ‘lapability’ question, the phrase Microsoft chose to use to describe using the Surface Pro 3 on your lap. It seems confident it’s solved the problem thanks to the new stand and keyboard design, but I’ll believe that when I try it myself.

The other is that the Surface Pro 3 won’t dent the iPad in the slightest. That’s ok to an extent as the Surface Pro 3 is not trying to be the iPad. But Microsoft still needs to come up with a convincing alternative to the iPad if it’s to win back ground surrendered to Apple. Perhaps the still rumoured Surface Mini will be it? We’ll see.

MattMe

May 21, 2014, 9:21 am

I think I agree with all of your points here.

One thing though - you kind of contradict yourself a little. You start off by saying you still have a laptop to do the stuff your iPad can't do, and this is certainly the replacement for your laptop, but you don't really talk of whether it would replace your iPad, or why it is a laptop killer, though not an iPad.

It's certainly a large tablet, but given it's weight (and equal distribution of that weight), why would it not be a complete replacement? You certainly wouldn't need to carry both a laptop and a tablet when on the move, would you? And around the house how often does the mobility/screen size really matter - in fact in most cases larger would be better.

Just curious.

Kulti Vator

May 21, 2014, 9:45 am

Perhaps one factor is the iPad's great many useful apps.

I guess a lot depends on your line of work and interests, but for me - there's plenty of iOS apps that I now use in preference to Windows alternatives - particularly for planning, research and mind-mapping.

These are also great functions to keep on a 'second screen' device, whilst freeing up your main production equipment (PC / Mac / Linux box / etc) for actually producing work.

Great support in many serious iOS apps for Dropbox (and to a lesser degree iCloud) have also helped these devices gain adoption as useful work-tools.

andyvan

May 21, 2014, 10:02 am

Good question and the answer is I don't know!

In all seriousness, I need to use one before I can really judge. I guess the difference would be you'd want a smaller tablet for portable use, and you'd only take the Surface Pro with you when you knew you needed it.

The whole equation is still very important, too, and that remains Microsoft's biggest weakness. The other is simply that the Surface Pro's complexity as a product means it will never challenge the iPad directly, and I'm certain it won't sell anything like as well, either.

That's why Microsoft still needs a proper iPad alternative that focused more on consumption and accessibility. I was hoping the Surface Mini would be it, so it's a shame Microsoft seems to have backed away from that. I think it could have done well if it was done right. Perhaps it will reappear once Microsoft is happy it can make it work. I hope so because the current 'small' Windows tablets are crap.

MattMe

May 21, 2014, 10:04 am

Oh I get that people like the iOS apps, and can understand that, but you can hardly argue with the x86 Windows OS being virtually limitless as far as installing programs (as we used to call them).

I bet if you were to do a little digging around you could easily find a Windows alternative (or maybe even a direct port) for your planning/research/mind-mapping apps. In fact I know it.

The Surface tablets all have micro display ports, so you can run your second screen from the same device, and have it all with you when you move from your desk.

Don't get me wrong, I currently have a tablet and a laptop, but I cannot really see any reasons why I would still need both with the Pro 3.

And support for Dropbox? Am I missing something? The client install integrates any files you want with Windows. Or you could use OneDrive... ;)

MattMe

May 21, 2014, 10:15 am

Thanks for the response.

I understand the need for smaller, more mobiles devices (7-10 inch tablets), but that's not a design fault of the Surface, is it? If you require two different size screens, then you require two separate devices, and no one product should not be judged on that requirement.
If it is being sold as a tablet and a laptop then it must be reviewed as a 12 inch laptop and a 12 inch tablet; whether or not that works we'll see after your review...

Would you not say the RT surfaces are iPad alternatives? They are cheaper and are primarily for consumption, with the added benefit of Office suite and Windows desktop (networking, shares etc). The store still isn't there yet, but as a hardware device, they already sell the iPad alternative. I'm sure for most app-hungry iPad fans, it's not actually an alternative yet, but for people like myself who just want a small, light device to browse the web and have a news app, with the other Windows benefits, it's perfect.

andyvan

May 21, 2014, 10:27 am

Oh the RT is meant to be the iPad alternative, but it's not good enough. Moreover, rather like the older Surface Pros, the whole office productivity thing is a total bust. It's never worked for me for many of the same reasons stated above.

If Microsoft does a Mini I expect the Surface 2 (RT) will just disappear. I really hope MS hasn't abandoned that idea, it would be criminally stupid if it did.

Kulti Vator

May 21, 2014, 12:10 pm

In no particular order:

I run a three-screen Windows setup in my office at home - an iPad adds more convenient because it remains active (in focus) the whole time whilst I'm also being productive in a Windows app (e.g. creating a word document, based upon a live MindMap that I can continue to manipulate on the iPad.)

In a Windows-only scenario - only one app can have focus at a time - so using multiple apps requires that you constantly switch focus between the apps - even when they each run on a separate screen.

Creating MindMaps using my preferred iOS app is faster and more enjoyable than using Windows alternatives (I have MindManager, FreePlane and FreePilot - all of which are good, but significantly poorer than the iPad software I use) and sadly no port of my iOS MindMapping software is available on Windows.

Dropbox integration is important when your workflows ebb to and fro between a mobile device and Windows apps - and you want to be sure you always have the latest version of your work regardless of which device you're sat in front of. Beats manual syncing of files - and has contributed enormously to my iPad being a serious and convenient tool - as has a decent Logitech Bluetooth keyboard.

Your mileage may vary - but I bought an iPad thinking it would be a toy I'd browse on and check email - when in actual fact it has become an integral part of many of my workflows and creative processes.

In truth my iPad does little that I can't achieve in Windows alone - but it does refine things for me and often an iPad combined with a single-screen PC form a better work tool than a multi-screen PC for my particular purposes.

GPickles

May 21, 2014, 1:04 pm

I believe it's a 4:3 aspect ratio - the standard for all displays before widrscreens came out - not 3:2.

andyvan

May 21, 2014, 1:11 pm

No, it's definitely 3:2,

GPickles

May 21, 2014, 1:25 pm

I stand corrected. Some other reviewers also assumed the same as I. My bad.

TheConciseStatement

May 22, 2014, 3:37 am

It seems amusing to me that it's taken Microsoft four whole years to learn the lesson of the iPad, that a tablet needs to be more square than widescreen otherwise it's just awkward.

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