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Surface 3 review

Andy Vandervell

By

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR

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Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

Pros

  • Great screen
  • Near all-day battery life
  • Nice size and weight for a hybrid
  • One-year Office 365
  • Versatile and fun to use

Cons

  • Not as fast as similar price laptops
  • Essential accessories cost extra

Key Features

  • 10.8-inch, 1,920 x 1,280 display
  • 662g
  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom processor
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • USB 3.0
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • microSD
  • 3.5-megapixel front camera
  • 8.0-megapixel camera
  • Manufacturer: Microsoft
  • Review Price: £610.00

What is the Surface 3?

In essence, the Surface 3 is a thinner, lighter, smaller and cheaper version of the Surface Pro 3. It has a 10.8-inch screen and weighs just 887g with the keyboard attached (622g without), but it's less powerful than many of the laptops it aims to replace. It's kind of awkward on your lap and you'd struggle to recommend it to a friend without pointing out how 'different' it is. It's complicated.

That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but the Surface 3 is more than the sum of its parts. Its Intel Atom processor is competent rather than fast and its battery doesn’t last quite as long as laptops like the Asus Zenbook UX305, but it's charming, versatile and – like a good camera – it makes you want to use it. And, unlike the Surface RT it replaces, it runs on a proper version of Windows, so it's actually useful.

Related: Everything you need to know about the Microsoft Surface Pro 5

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Surface 3 – Design

You could easily rename the Surface 3 the Surface Pro Mini, though ‘mini’ is somewhat generous. Its 10.8-inch screen is significantly smaller than the 12-inch Surface Pro and this has several – largely positive – knock-on effects, but it’s mini compared to the Surface Pro, not in an iPad Mini way.

In practice the Surface 3 is a good 200g or so lighter than the Pro. Indeed, the combined 885g weight of the tablet and keyboard makes it 33g lighter than the shiny new 12-inch MacBook. This means the Surface 3 feels more like a genuine tablet than the Pro, and it’s an important difference. You’ll want to use the Surface 3 more because it’s lighter, easier to carry and less cumbersome when out and about.

It’s also thinner – 8.7mm vs 9.1mm – but the more important point is the Surface 3 is fanless. Intel’s Atom processors aren’t speed demons, but they’re efficient enough that they run happily without additional cooling. It’s another way the Surface 3 is a better tablet, as you’ll never be interrupted by the unwelcome whir of a fan.

SEE ALSO: Best Laptops, Ultrabooks & Hybrids

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Yet the Surface 3’s also a vastly better hybrid than the ill-conceived Surface RT line ever was. That’s mostly down to the fact it runs a full, unlimited version of Windows 8.1, but also because it employs most of things that made the Surface Pro 3 such a great product.

While smaller, the Surface 3 retains the same 3:2 aspect introduced for the Pro 3. It’s a good compromise between the widescreen 16:9 of previous Surface tablets and the 4:3 aspect of an iPad. It works just as well in portrait as in landscape, or in desktop and tablet modes.

Related: Best Tablet 2015: 12 best tablets you can buy

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You also get an improved kickstand. It isn’t as adjustable as the Pro’s novel effort, but it has three sensible angles that work well for a variety of situations. You’ll rarely encounter a time when you can’t find an angle that works for you – I found the middle and shallowest angles the most useful.

As with previous Surface tablets, the hinge is impressively durable and this is arguably the easiest Surface to use on your lap. Its size and weight make it less cumbersome than the Surface Pro 3 and it remains stable, provided you keep both your legs level. It’s not as easy to use like this as a laptop, but it’s good enough if you don’t have to do it all the time.

Use it on a table, though, and the Surface 3 feels little different from an ordinary laptop. You can magnetically clip the keyboard to the bottom of the screen to create a more comfortable typing angle, but it feels better for typing when left flat on a hard surface – the angle works best on your lap.

The versatility of the design means you can enjoy using the Surface 3 in settings where laptops are awkward, and you can even use the on-screen keyboard effectively with the Surface 3 at its shallowest angle.

SEE ALSO: Best Cheap Tablets

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Connectivity is limited, but not as much as some small hybrids we’ve seen – the Asus Transformer Book T100 Chi springs to mind here. The Surface 3 has a full-size USB port, a Mini DisplayPort output and Micro USB expansion, which is sufficient when paired with the fast AC Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Everything you really need is here and Microsoft has even upgraded the two cameras. You now get an 8-megapixel camera at the rear and 3.5-megapixel on the front. They’re both adequate for what you’ll need from a tablet.

Surface 3 – Keyboard and Trackpad

The keyboard is a decent effort given the constraints of the hybrid design and the smaller screen. In fact, the keys are the same size as those on the Surface Pro 3, so there’s no meaningful compromise there. They’re comfortable to type on and have a not unpleasant sharp, precise action. We’re not talking ThinkPad quality here, but they’ll do.

The touchpad, however, is very small and awkward. It’s hard to be precise on such a small pad, and using gestures to scroll up and down pages is hit and miss – Google Chrome was particularly bad for some reason.

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But the large, responsive touchscreen makes up for this. It’s often easier to employ it to do some actions, and the nature of the web these days means many websites and web apps are more touch friendly than in the past.

If there’s a serious concern about the keyboard, it’s the durability. The keys and touchpad seem fine, but the soft velour-like material around the palm rests scuffs and wears easily – I only had the Surface 3 for less than a week when small signs of use were obvious.

It’s a cosmetic rather than a functional issue, but the idea that your expensive keyboard accessory could look tatty and worn after a year or so is kind of annoying.

LeeTronix

May 5, 2015, 3:47 pm

Funny I just read this article as was about to write some very corrective comments about this and then realised it was the Surface 3 not the Surface Pro 3 hehehe. And Andy I enjoyed this review by the way!

MrTetts

May 6, 2015, 11:06 am

Surface 3 & the cover is not £600.

it is £530 from PC World

http://www.pcworld.co.uk/gbuk/...

Matthew Bunton

May 7, 2015, 1:03 pm

Great review Andy, really detailed info and some nice pics too, so glad you came back.

theweAkinpolitics

May 8, 2015, 9:30 pm

Yes, very good review but I wouldn't buy one based on it.
There are too many caveats.
How you gave it 9 out of 10 I do not know.
There are too many if's.
Even the optional pen has shortcomings!
No, I will stick with my laptop and Nexus 7 until something better
comes along.
I can wait.
Thanks again for a very comprehensive review.
Jimmy.

t014

May 11, 2015, 6:30 am

Correction of a typo in the "key features": 622g - not 662g.

The Surface 3 has many good aspects and its limitations (such as reading of intermediate to large documents or intermediate to advanced productive work). Below I point out only where I disagree much with the review's statements:

The screen is great only if one likes glare displays and as long as light or the sky are not mirrored directly, which hide, or make it difficult to see, the contents. I prefer a matt display. The glare display prevents me from buying the tablet.

Office 365 (subscription after a year) is crap- and adware. Windows Professional without Office 365 is my preference, but it will be hard to find retailers for such (4GB / 128GB) versions of the Surface 3.

Garu Derota

May 15, 2015, 6:12 pm

make this a phablet (like a Galaxy Note) and the world of smartphone will change again

Dead Words

July 23, 2015, 4:07 am

The reason it received a 9/10 was because it's a superb, quality device that meets and usually exceeds standards on every side and doesn't really fall behind anywhere in its respective category. The reason for the caveats is because the Surface 3, although a fantastic hybrid tablet, is just that: A hybrid tablet. It's not for everyone, but for the people who it is for, it's the best out there.

stickyhumid

August 16, 2015, 2:05 pm

I used the Surface 3 for a few days and loved it, but I didn't have time to go through the learning curve of Windows 8.1.... so I went back to a Mac.
For all work related Office tasks, web browsing, and video streaming, I notice zero to almost lag....and that was with beastly Chrome.....and multitasking with it all.
This was actually unexpected. Everything about it felt of very high quality combined with easy lightness.... a rare combination.
Now that Windows 10 is formally released, I'm interested again. The learning curve should be much easier on that. I'll wait until the Surface Pro 4 is released to see if I might want that, or the price-reduced Surface Pro 3s, or possibly this Surface 3.
It would be nice to see a refresh with 8gigs of Ram.

Ryland Johnson

November 12, 2015, 5:22 pm

Owned one for three months as a secondary device to my PC and I can safely write its superb. Like all such techno' its not perfect but it is among the 'best' ('best' being a highly subjective term) Windows 10 hybrids on sale today.

Ryland Johnson

November 12, 2015, 5:26 pm

Still among the most versatile windows hybrids for sale. I can highly recommend this unit. If anything its over engineered with that chunky mag' alloy outer body.

Ferrr

December 3, 2015, 11:08 am

I have a Surface 3 LTE, purchased in October 2015 with all updates duly installed. On the screen appear random clicks, like if I was touching it (but I don't) at full speed, making appear menus, opening files, starting apps etc. making the device unusable.

I had reset the device to no avail.

Additionally, I experienced other problems:

- "Autorotate on" appears on the screen when working with the keyboard attached (so, not rotating at all) stopping the device for some seconds.
- A full charge needs 5-6h, with the device plugged in and switched off. If you want to work while charging the device, you will have a hard time: it charges extremely slowly (12h minimum needed) and in most of cases, if you have 2 or 3 "normal" (not very high energy consuming) apps open at the same time (outlook, word, edge), the device will keep on discharging, even plugged in.
- The device loses battery when on sleep mode at a very alarming pace (around 5% per hour)

I purchased the device in the US and I work in Russia. Now, with a worldwide guaranty, and in spite of having a filial in Russia, Microsoft asks me to ship the device, to pay for the shipping, to be delivered the new one in the US, and to pay the shipping again to my home in Russia...

And the screen problem is known since 3 years, with thousands of people complaining on forums.

Shame to Microsoft to keep on selling these faulty devices.

If you don't know how to make computers and how to deal with customers, please stay away and let others like Apple do that.

I deeply regret the day when I entered the Microsoft store to buy this.

Someone else is experience the same ordeal?

Lauren Glenn

January 16, 2016, 8:45 pm

I had a Vivo Tab RT that did the same thing. It was a broken digitizer due to static electricity of all things..... the Vivo Tab brought down because my cat rubbed up against it. It turned out that it required a hardware replacement and I just dumped the machine because ASUS wasn't making getting it fixed easy or cheap.

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