When Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 3 tablet in New York on May 20, it made one thing abundantly clear. The new Surface is not an iPad killer—but then it’s not intended to be one at all. Instead, Microsoft is aiming squarely at the MacBook Air, Apple’s ultra thin and ultra light Ultrabook.
In fact, when Microsoft’s Panos Panay demonstrated how thin and light the Surface Pro 3 is, the measurement was against the MacBook Air. And this was after he spent some time talking about how many, if not most, people carry both a laptop computer and a tablet, one so they can consume data and another so they can get work done.
The idea behind the new Surface Pro 3 is to provide a laptop that can be both a tablet for consumption of content and a work platform. To do this the Surface Pro 3 is vastly changed from the earlier versions.
The biggest change is that the new Surface has a 12-inch screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio, versus the 16:9 ratio on earlier Surface tablets and on most Ultrabooks and laptops. The screen is more nearly square and mimics the shape of a pad of paper. The new Surface Pro 3 also sports higher-end processors and a very high definition screen with 2160 x 1440 resolution.
Creating content and getting work done in general are supposed to be easier with the new model’s type cover and touchpad that are larger than with the earlier models. Then there is the stylus that Microsoft says feels more like a real pen. The pen is tightly integrated with Microsoft’s OneNote software so that the tablet turns on and runs OneNote with the click of a button on the stylus.
The new Surface runs Windows 8.1, as did earlier versions of the Surface. However, Microsoft has worked with application vendors, including Adobe, to produce versions of their software that specifically support the attributes of the Surface Pro 3.
In short, the idea behind the Surface Pro 3 is to replace your laptop and tablet with a single device that will be lighter and cost less than two devices designed for different purposes. Meanwhile, the device is 0.3 inches thick and weighs less than 2 pounds, type cover included.
But will the Surface Pro 3 really replace a laptop and a tablet? And will people buy it? A lot will depend on just how good the type cover actually is. Microsoft claims it’s better than the previous versions, but whether it’s better for you depends on how you use it.
Microsoft Aims High by Going After the MacBook Air With Surface Pro 3
The 12-inch screen is a vast improvement as is the aspect ratio. Current laptop screens, which seem to be mostly sized for watching movies rather than performing actual work, don’t really suit a lot of people, me included. The new Surface screen has a lot more useful real estate than do current tablets. It’s worth noting that the screen is a lot closer in shape to what Apple uses for the iPad, which seems to work better for a tablet.
The price of the Surface is another issue. Fully loaded with an Intel Core i7 processor and a half gigabyte of storage, the device will set you back more than $2,000 if you include a type cover. This is MacBook Pro territory.
It’s also a lot more expensive than a number of really nice touch-screen laptops already available. The $1,949 price of the basic i7 device doesn’t include the type cover, so it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison with those other laptops.
But even at that price, there’s something to be said about one device that can take the place of two. During a recent weeklong travel interval I hauled around a briefcase laden with a Lenovo T-430 laptop with an extended battery and an iPad. I used the iPad to play music and read books from Amazon. I used the laptop to write my column for eWEEK and perform other work-related tasks.
I could have used the laptop for music and reading, but the 16:9 screen doesn’t lend itself to reading, and I’d have to put the laptop away during takeoff, landing and turbulence. I could keep the iPad at hand the whole time. I also could have used the iPad for writing, but I don’t like the iPad touch-screen keyboard, mostly because it’s too small.
This means that I’m probably an ideal candidate for a Surface 3. But I already have a laptop and I already have a tablet (actually, I have seven tablets if you count the half-dozen my wife has accumulated). Do I really want to go out and drop a couple of grand on yet another tablet?
Actually, a year from now, when my current laptop expires from one too many trips into the overhead luggage bin, I might. But will Microsoft manage to sell huge numbers of this new model on the hopes that people who currently already have a laptop and a tablet will rush out to replace them? Maybe, but this will happen only if the new Surface Pro 3 has some compelling applications that make it worth its keep.
Even the cheapest Surface Pro 3 costs about as much as one and-a-third iPads, for example. So it needs to be worth more than just taking the place of another tablet.