Microsoft surprised the tech press on May 20 when instead of revealing the highly anticipated Surface Mini, it debuted an even bigger Surface Pro. Rather than jump into a competitive small tablet market dominated by the likes of the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Apple iPad Mini, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant instead decided to take aim at Ultrabooks and the MacBook Air by supersizing its flagship tablet.
It's a bold move, and one that makes a compelling case for full-powered, Windows-based slates.
To start, the Surface Pro 3 is a looker. Apple may have set the standard for tablets, but Microsoft is a close second. For the Pro 3, Microsoft kept the magnesium but switched to a dull silver, ditching the all-black aesthetic of its predecessor.
Materials and build quality are top notch. Panos Panay, head of the Microsoft Surface division, dropped the Surface Pro 3 onto a carpeted stage from a few feet off the ground during the launch event. It emerged unscathed, but it's a demonstration I'm reluctant to re-enact with my unit.
Reassuringly, the Pro 3 doesn't creak or flex when I apply pressure. At 1.76 pounds, it feels solid without being weighty, making it a breeze to tote around.
One of the biggest changes is the new kickstand. Whereas the Pro 2 sported a dual-position kickstand, the new tablet now features a friction hinge that supports a wider variety of angles. The result is a definite improvement to the Surface Pro's "lapability." It especially came in handy in my home office setup, where I was able to position the screen at a comfortable angle beyond what my Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook can achieve.
Bringing More to the Surface
The biggest, most obvious change is the new 12-inch screen (up from 10.6 inches). It is big, bright and crisp at a resolution of 2,160 by 1,440 pixels, which Microsoft is billing as "2K." Off-center viewing suffers a bit, but overall, colors are punchy, text and graphics pop, and HD video playback is smooth.
Speaking of video, letterboxing is back. The new display has a 3:2 aspect ratio, meaning that black bars will appear above and beneath video that is aimed at 1080p displays.
The included Surface Pen stylus provides accurate, responsive pen input. Clicking its top launches OneNote, the company's cloud-enabled note-taking app, even while the device is asleep. It's a handy feature that makes capturing spur-of-the-moment ideas a snap.
The front-firing speakers, smartly camouflaged by the touch screen's bezel, provide rich sound. Microsoft claims that they are 45 percent louder than those on the Surface Pro 2. Just don't expect too much in the way of bass.
Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3's battery will last 9 hours while browsing the Web. That sounds about right. From a full charge, I was able to get roughly 7.5 hours of battery life after installing apps, viewing the Netflix app, getting real work done and, yes, browsing the Web.
Overall, performance of the Surface Pro 3 is snappy, at least on the Core i5 unit (an Intel i5-4300U processor) with a clock speed of 1.9GHz (2.5GHz turbo), 8GB of internal flash storage and 256GB of internal storage. Most applications, even desktop software, open within seconds.