Microsoft Surface 3 Hands-on Impressions

Microsoft has made quite a standout with its Surface line of tablets.  No doubt, it has had a bumpy start.  The “RT” version of the Surface didn’t work out, nor did we expect it to.  I remember back when the original duo were released, the Surface RT and Surface Pro, and thinking “OMG, we have something promising and something…well, the opposite”.  Not to mention that the RT was gonna confuse a market that was used to simplicity, which Apple defined the tablet world to be for most people.  RT was kind of Windows but not?  What exactly could it do and what couldn’t it??


Surface History [via Microsoft]

So it took Microsoft til the third iteration to fix the problem, with the Surface 3:


Surface 3 [via Microsoft]

Mind you, it’s the “Surface 3”, sans the “Pro” in the name.  And this time, we have the full Windows operating system (Windows 8.1), not a mobile version of it.  So why does the Surface 3 even exist then?  Why not just the Surface 3 Pro?  Well, because the Pro is too expensive, and Microsoft is clearly saying that that’s not going to change.

So the question then becomes, what does the vanilla Surface 3 compromise on?

For starters, instead of using a full PC CPU (Intel Core i3/i5/i7) like the Pro does, Microsoft is taking advantage of the cheaper, low-power Intel Atom line.  Now, “Atom” may not bring up pleasant memories (recalling the netbook days), but it has come a long way.  The re-introduction of the line with the slew of Win8 tablets a couple years ago has proven that it is very well capable of casual computing and HD playback, just don’t expect to play Crysis.

We also have a slightly smaller screen, at 10.8″ vs. the 12″ of the Pro.  Here is the full spec list:

  • Display:  10.8″ 1920×1280 (3:2 aspect ratio) IPS LCD
  • SoC:  1.6 GHz Intel Atom x7-Z8700 (quad-core)
  • Ram:  2GB or 4GB
  • Cameras:  8MP rear and 3.5MP front
  • Battery life rating:  10 hours
  • Storage:  64GB or 128GB, expandable with microSD slot
  • OS:  Windows 8.1 (Windows 10 in near future)
  • Chassis:  Magnesium alloy with ceramic finish

The pricing is set at 2 tiers: $499 for 2GB Ram with 64GB Storage or $599 for 4GB Ram with 128GB Storage.  Comparing to the cheapest Surface 3 Pro at $799 for 64GB and 4GB, I would say the pricing is pretty justified.

The build closely resembles the Surface 3 Pro, and that’s a very good thing.  Microsoft has always shot towards “premium” in their designs.  Simple, solid, and premium.  And being that the Atom SoC is low power and does not require a fan, the Surface 3 is thinner and lighter.


Surface 3 (top) vs Surface 3 Pro (bottom) [via Pocketnow]

It’s a funny thing though, when I first picked it up, I thought the chassis was plastic.  Unfortunately, the light weight and finish makes it feel that way.  This was before I read up and saw that it wasn’t.  It’s quite ironic that they put effort into better material, but the end result isn’t that different.  I do believe it’s a solid product, and not flimsy.  I just wish the feel would confirm that, it doesn’t.

The kickstand is of course present.  However, it’s not the same as with Surface 3 Pro.  A compromise was made here as well.  Where the kickstand on the Pro is friction-set at any position, the non-Pro has the pre-set, clickable positions, like past Surfaces.  But we do have 3 positions to choose from this time.


The 3 different kickstand positions [via Microsoft]

Here are the available ports:


Surface 3 Port Layout [via Microsoft]

On the front:


Surface 3 Features [via Microsoft]

I must say that the dual front speakers took me by surprise, pleasantly.  They’re inconspicuously placed as slits on the bezel and can get plenty loud.

So you’re probably thinking, cheaper model = poor display.  I’m happy to report that looks as gorgeous as a Surface product should.  I have always praised the Surface displays for their vibrancy and viewing angles, I feel quality when I look at them.  I’m glad Microsoft made the right choice here, a tablet is essentially a big chunk of screen after all.

Many would argue that’s there no point in getting this tablet without the keyboard attachment.


Surface 3 Type Cover [via Microsoft]

While I wouldn’t go that far (especially since this cheaper model is more play than work), I will say this is one of the best soft keyboard implementation I have seen.  It attaches via strong magnetic connection (and props up to a slant via magnetic as well – very clever Microsoft), is backlit, has a touchpad, and serves as a screen cover.  Just don’t expect much of a tactile key-press response, this is a thin keyboard for obvious reasons.


Type Cover Attachment [via Microsoft]

Unfortunately it comes at a price, $130.  Ouch.

The other renowned Surface accessory is the Surface Pen:


Surface 3 Pen [via Microsoft]

And this one ain’t as simple as it sounds either.  The Surface Pen is cased in aluminum, inputs to the Surface wirelessly via Bluetooth, and has a clicker and eraser.  Also, together with the Surface screen tech, your palm can touch the screen without interfering with the Pen input and screen press sensitivity is detected.  Pretty fancy, huh?  The Surface Pen goes for $50.  Tip:  The Surface 3 Pro Pen is the same, it goes for $35 on Amazon.

So with all that said, is the Surface 3 worth it?  As I love to say, it depends on you.  As with Android, what I love is all the choice we have (yes, this is partly a knock on Apple).  You can get a full Windows tablet no matter what your budget is.  Such as a Dell Venue 8 Pro for around $150 or a performance tablet such as the Surface Pro 3 (i5 with 128GB storage) for $1000.  The vanilla Surface 3 is a middle-ground, for those who don’t need need a high performer but want the premium quality.  I think Microsoft finally made the right move for the cheaper Surface variant.


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