Since the time when the first Pro device from Microsoft came out, we’ve been waiting patiently for that day to arrive when tablets replace laptops. Along this path, there have been constant compromises because of which users have never received the level of quality and balance that can make these Pro devices actually replace laptops.
Microsoft is out with its new Pro device – the Surface Pro 3, as yet another attempt to scale that wall.
Well, given the argument made above the question that follows next is this – is the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 capable of replacing laptops?
The answer is – both yes, and no.
Yes, in a sense that it certainly can if you want it to. What I mean by this is if you are ready to consider the advantages of using this device as a replacement for your laptop over the disadvantages of the same, you will not be too far off from your comfort zone. This essentially indicates that there exists a very fine line between this device replacing you laptop and not doing so.
No, in a sense that it inherently cannot replace a laptop as it does not provide all the necessary advantages in order to do so. But it is mighty close to an extent that personal choice has become the distinguishing factor. Hence, my dilemma.
Display is one area where I found myself perplexed as to draw the appropriate comparison parameter or a yard stick as you might say. Do I compare the Surface Pro 3 with tablets such as the iPad or with laptops such as the MacBook Air.
Given that dilemma I decided to try both.
So, the screen of the Surface Pro 3 measures in at 12 inches. It has 2,140×1,440 resolution which equates to 215 pixels per inch (ppi). This is better (so to say) than the 13 inch MacBook Air’s display. Conversely, the bigger screen is not as sharp as that of an iPad.
Moving away from comparisons, I have to say that this is an excellent screen. It is sharp and text is more-than-clear and is very neat. Also the blacks have a deep, clear look to them and colours are rich but not oversaturated. The colours are distributed evenly throughout the screen.
As with previous Surface Pros the screen is also very bright. This helps counteract reflections from the screen when outdoors, though it can’t eliminate them.
Having said that, there does exist a hint of bleed from the edges when it is completely dark.
Overall the screen meets every requirement of a tablet screen, including touch-responsivesess and supports stylus input, more than adequately.
The Surface Pro 3 comes as close to perfection in terms of design as Microsoft ever has with its Pro series. Microsoft seems to have made all the right moves.
The basic concept remains the same. It comes with the same kickstand design and also includes the external keyboard. We will discuss that a little later.
First, let me shed some light on how it looks and feels. To start with, it looks gorgeous. It has a textured metal back and beautifully chiselled edges. It also has very well placed air vents. The device is amazingly thin at just 9.1 mm thick. It also is relatively light at 800 grams.
Well, yes it is a bit heavy by tablet standards but is considerably light by laptop standards. Even with the external keyboard attached, it is lighter than both the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Airs both of which are over 1 kg each.
The tablet also feels great in your hands. It has that high-end classy feel to it. It certainly feels expensive and precious.
Now, for the significant design improvements over its predecessor.
Lets talk about the kickstand. The kickstand is conceptually the same. But it is vastly different in terms of build and usability. It is much sturdier, and the best thing about it is that now you can set it to any angle you like, unlike the previously available two positions.
This really adds new dimensions to the usability of the device.
You can even use the touchscreen keyboard by fixing the stand in a relatively flat position and laying the tablet flat on it’s back.
Everything related to the build and design of this device oozes quality. Everything seems high-end and feels the same.
Summarising: It is not essentially different form its predecessor in terms of design, but it is much sturdier, solid and wholesome.
Under the hood the Surface Pro 3 packs a fourth-generation Intel Core 64 bit processor. The i5 may not be as good at multitasking as the i7 but the difference to the everyday user is hardly notable.
The 64 GB or 128 GB storage options come with with 4 GB of RAM whereas the 256 GB or 512 GB storage options come with 8 GB of RAM.
Inspite of the slick and thin design the Surface Pro is a brilliant performer. The MacBook is the ideal yard stick here to compare with the Surface Pro 3. The MacBook has a slightly slower processor but it still is quite snappy.
The Surface Pro benefits from the more powerful processor and is quite fast itself.
The performance in general is brilliant. It can handle anything that you can throw at it, with ease.
Nothing seems to slow down this device. Tasks like opening and closing of apps, browsing and scrolling through web pages, and switching between apps do not pose the slightest of challenge for the device. Playing games is also a fun experience on this device. There is no sign of heating or any sort of lag whatsoever.
The Surface Pro is a perfect hybrid. You would not be leaving this device at either your home or your office as it will become intrinsic to both these aspects of your everyday life. In that respect, it can easily replace your work laptop at office and your entertainment laptop at your home.
Microsoft has thrown in Windows 8.1 Pro as the OS of choice for the Surface Pro. While most folks are somewhat accustomed to the 8.1, so we won’t be discussing it in depth here, but we’ll say this – it pans out as a really good operating system and interface for Microsoft to use on the Surface Pro 3. Buttons are big, touch-friendly and a lot of the usual arduous tasks like Settings changes etc., have been surfaced (no pun intended) better, and are more accessible. A lot of the peripheral (read: redundant options) are removed, to reduce the clutter.
You get all the Windows 8.1 extras such as the Facebook app, full-featured Mail app and a modern Outlook app. It even has a “peek” bar in the modern version of Internet Explorer 11 and also includes the new Windows Scan app.
You also get the interface changes and SkyDrive integration. The start button that made everybody so happy to get aboard the Windows 8 train, is still here.
There is no bloatware on the Surface Pro. This is surprising particularly because the PC version of the 8.1 did have bloatware, but Microsoft seems to have decided judiciously this time.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 comes with 5 megapixel cameras, on both the front and back of the tablet.
Before we get into the details of how they perform we should remind you that Microsoft has been very clear and critical of what purposes these cameras serve – each camera serves a different purpose. The front camera it is primarily focused around acceptable close-up picture quality when used for video calls (and not so much for selfies). The rear camera is expectedly built around photo taking (but we believe its more for document scanning or image reproduction than for portrait shots).
Something else you should know – both these 5 megapixel shooters are fixed focus cameras and are set up for the stated specific uses. Neither camera will auto-focus because auto-focus requires hardware to manipulate the lens, which is absent in the Surface Pro.
So, the cameras simply do not support auto-focus. You can adjust the settings manually which might give you a slightly improved performance than even autofocus! You can adjust the exposure the exposure time to help with the low light shots.
So, how does the camera actually perform. Well, not very well I will have to say. The image quality does not feel right. The amount of details are fairly low even for a 5 megapixel camera. Also the low-light shots seem to be very poor in terms of quality and the amount of details they pack. You can improve these issues slightly by using manual settings but it still falls way behind acceptable standards.
So, the qualitative assessment of the camera having been done allows us to take a moment to speculate the practical aspect of it. What is the need from these cameras and what is this device aimed at in general? This device is not centered at defeating its tablet rivals, and even if it was, it does not fall too far behind them due to its average-cameras.
Considering the Surface Pro 3 is primarily aimed at replacing your laptop, in that respect its closest competition is the MacBook Air.
So, does it need its camera to be amazing? I do not think so, I look at the camera as a bonus and when you put it up against the functionality of a laptop camera it does provide better quality especially with those close in front camera shots and video quality.
The speakers on this tablet are significantly improved from its predecessor. The front-facing speakers reach decent volume levels without distortion, and they’re good for watching TV or movie..
Also, the delightful display helps this cause and you can be thoroughly entertained with this device.
Playing games is also fun but the placement of the Windows button could have been better as it is exactly where you would place your thumb :-/
All in all, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a solid entertainment unit.
The Surface Pro 3 comes with all the security features enabled by Windows 8.1.
So emails and other business activities should be acceptably secure. And since it uses Outlook, you should be well served on that front. And… you can also use VPN on this device!
The downsides though, are the absence of a fingerprint scanner or any other form of biometric security. Additionally what’s missing is the ability to trace/track a missing device a la ‘Find my iPhone’ that Apple users use to great success.
Both of these are fairly big misses in the Enterprise-use world. Hopefully Microsoft will fix the latter at least, through a software upgrade/app in the near future. The biometric security aspect, unfortunately will have to wait for a future model of Surface Pros.