Can a Surface Pro 3 (or any Windows 8 tablet) replace your laptop?

Summary:Microsoft introduced its third generation Surface Pro as "the tablet that can replace your laptop." Really?

Ed Bott

Ed Bott

Yes

or

No

Eileen Brown

Eileen Brown

Best Argument: Yes

72%
28%

Audience Favored: Yes (72%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Of course it can

If you've seen one tablet, you haven't seen them all.

That is the fundamental problem with most discussions of tablets and productivity, which start by assuming that tablet means iPad.

Apple's revolutionary and insanely popular device is an excellent example of one way to build a tablet. But it's not the only way. In fact, Apple's design stresses simplicity, which makes it great as a companion device but mediocre as a full-time productivity tool. You can add a Bluetooth keyboard, but all that does is let you type faster; it doesn't alter the fundamental operation of the device.

A tablet designed for Windows 8.1 takes a drastically different approach. With a keyboard and trackpad attached, this is a full-strength Windows PC, capable of running productivity software like the full version of Office and connecting to corporate networks. Detach the keyboard and you have a device that fits comfortably in the hand for browsing, watching movies, and doing light productivity tasks.

That "two in one" approach isn't for everyone. But the Surface Pro 3 (and similar devices like Dell's XPS 11 and the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro) make sense for business-focused buyers who want a single device in their carry-on bag.

 

Too soon for the enterprise

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 has arrived and it promises to deliver the “power, portability and productivity you need”. But while it might be useful for the casual user who wants an additional device for leisure purposes, the office hot desk warrior might struggle to embrace this form factor.

Knowledge workers that spend all day at their screens will want to add an external screen to aid their productivity and fast typists will find the optional touch or Type cover slows them down when writing and editing documents throughout the day.

Sure, the touch screen makes it easy to manipulate document and spreadsheets; but you will favour your external mouse over using the glide pad. Use it as a touch screen tablet to display photos, watch videos and browse the web. Use the pen – until you lose it – to write casual notes. But as a device to replace your souped-up laptop with its superfast games graphics card, multiple USB ports and decent sized keyboard? I don’t think so.

See also:

 

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome to the Great Debate

    This week Ed Bott and Eileen Brown face off over what Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 can really do. Are the debaters ready?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    I'm set

    The new Surface Pro 3 is an outstanding machine.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Let the games begin

    We're not ready for a revolution, yet.

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Is third time the charm?

    Microsoft unveiled the Surface Pro 3 after the first two iterations of Surface received a lukewarm reception from the market. What has Microsoft done with the third generation that is going to change minds and win over new converts?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    More than incremental improvements

    The old joke is that Microsoft gets things right with version 3, and that stereotype actually applies here.

    This device is extremely thin and light, unlike the previous Surface Pro versions, which felt clunky. It has a high-res screen that is actually larger and easier to read than its predecessor, which makes its lightweight package an even more impressive feat. The trackpad on the new Type Cover works well. And it really does offer enough battery life to last through an entire working day.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    The kickstand

    One of the main enhancements that make the Surface Pro 3 more flexible is its kickstand. You can now position its 12-inch screen to suit any angle of working you want; Surface Pro 2 only had two kickstand options. Microsoft is touting Surface Pro 3 as “the tablet that can replace your laptop” while positioning the device against users who own both a MacBook Air and iPad.  Users that are tired of lugging around both a laptop and a tablet could consider the Surface Pro 3 as their new primary device

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What's making the headlines?

    What are the headline features of the Surface Pro 3 and how will they help it compete against other tablets?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    It's a great notebook

    The new kickstand, which allows you to prop the screen up at almost any angle, represents very solid engineering. But I would call out two features that really make this device stand out.

    The first is the change in aspect ratio from 16:9 to 3:2. That change allows for more working area when you're using it as a PC, in landscape mode. But more importantly, it makes the device easy to hold in portrait mode for reading and reviewing documents.

    The second is the tight integration with Microsoft OneNote. Click the top of the pen (which is included with the Surface Pro 3) and a new OneNote page opens immediately. For anyone who spends a lot of time in meetings, this is a very big deal.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    The big screen

    The Surface Pro 3 has a larger screen than the Surface Pro 2 which has a 10.6 inch screen. The Surface Pro 3 is almost 40 percent larger with a 12-inch screen. Both of these devices have really crisp display and resolution. Its screen – at 2160 by 1440 pixels – has a 3:2 aspect ratio.

    The Surface Pro 3 is also lighter than the Surface Pro 2 by a quarter of a pound. At 1.76 pounds it weighs less than the 2.38 pound MacBook Air.  However, you do need to factor in the weight of the keyboard for a true weight comparison against the MacBook Air. Surface Pro 3 has a low latency stylus. This pen is made by N-trig instead of Wacom which supplied pens for previous devices. Finding a place to clip the pen to the tablet every time you set up your station can be annoying however. Its friction hinge lets you place the kickstand in any angle you want it to up to 150 degrees.

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Same direction?

    With Surface Pro 3, Microsoft is largely continuing the same product strategy that the Surface has used from beginning. It's simply a more powerful iteration. Do you think Microsoft was wise to do that? Is it on the right track or do think the company should have changed its tablet strategy?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Right track

    It's worth noting that the Surface line and the Windows software that powers it are only a little more than 18 months old. The software has made tremendous strides in that time, and now so has the hardware. We are finally close to seeing the original Surface vision realized. (The same was true of the original iPhone or iPad, which look downright primitive today but evolved quickly while staying true to their original vision.)

    It’s also worth reminding everyone reading this that the topic of this debate is not just about the Surface Pro 3 but about other, similar Windows tablet/PC hybrids. If the Surface Pro 3 misses the mark on some checklist item, surely there's another premium device from a Windows OEM that will be a better fit.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Stay the course

    Microsoft has always released enterprise products for the long term. It announced its server strategy for the enterprise when perception about the company placed it firmly as a supplier of consumer and desktop products. Continually reinforcing its strategy of being ready for the enterprise has changed perception as its server products have been adopted in mission critical scenarios.

    Microsoft will continue to tweak its current strategy but will have no dramatic deviations from direction. This approach will continue to demonstrate to its Enterprise customers that they can trust Microsoft’s commitment to its strategy and that they will not be let down suddenly if they choose Microsoft for the enterprise.

    Changing direction now and positioning its tablets as a purely consumer play would make enterprise customers perceive that its devices were not yet ready for the enterprise in the marketplace and damage perception about the brand.

    Microsoft is in the tablet race for the long run. The challenge is getting the workforce to change its own ways of working and collaborating before tablets will start to become the de facto device at work.

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Apple envy

    Is Surface Pro 3 more of an iPad or MacBook Air competitor? Why would Microsoft go in this direction?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    It's not an either/or

    I suppose if one has to make this comparison, then Windows 8.1 hybrid devices like the Surface Pro 3 are most comparable to a MacBook Air. They're personal computers, capable of running full desktop productivity software, which is something you can't do in the tightly sandboxed iPad environment. And that's not to mention the USB 3 ports and the availability of MicroSD cards for data storage.

    But when you're done tweaking the numbers in that very important spreadsheet you can remove the Type Cover, push the kickstand back, and watch a movie or play a game. Just like an iPad.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    It's something new

    Microsoft wants to take market share and reduce iPad’s dominance. Although Google devices are gaining in adoption, Microsoft wants to gain a strong foothold in the tablet market with its own offering. It wants to bring a similar look and feel to its tablet range as it has on its PC’s. The familiarity in its look and feel will be comforting to users who do not want to use an array of operating systems yet want an ultra-portable device that they instantly recognise and understand how to use.

    The Surface Pro 3 is lighter than your laptop but heavier than your iPad and MacBook Air. Microsoft hopes that users will start to use the Surface Pro 3 as the one device that does everything a user needs.

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Better at business?

    How about the enterprise? Can Surface Pro 3 do a better job of winning over the enterprise than its predecessors?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Welcome to the age of BYOD

    At this price point, it's unlikely that any businesses are going to be buying this device by the truckload. But as a full-fledged Windows PC that can integrate seamlessly into a managed enterprise network, the Surface Pro 3 has to be a serious contender for executives and IT pros who want a single light and powerful device.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    For road warriors

    I think that the Surface Pro 3 has no better chance than any of the other Surface Pro models released so far. Sure it’s a faster tablet than its predecessor – but so is every new device that is launched to market. Surface Pro 2 offered a mid-level Core i5 processor. Surface Pro 3 offers a range of cores from the i3, 4Gb of Ram and 64Gb of solid state storage right through to the i7, 8Gb of Ram and 512Gb of solid state storage.

    Well managed enterprises, wishing to standardize on one chipset will find the multitude of hardware options challenging to update to the latest versions as Intel release chipset revisions.

    Users that have a fixed desk tend to be task-based workers who do not travel from location to location. These desk bound users will not need the form factor of a touch based ultra-portable tablet device.

    Workers that have jobs that require them to spend most of their day in front of a spreadsheet or document will want to add an external screen to their device to see their work without squinting. External, ergonomically designed keyboards enable users to type all day reducing the risk of repetitive strain injury and backache.
     
    Organizations wishing to standardize on one desktop to manage might wish to dispense with the UI and use the traditional desktop view instead for ease of management. Other organisations may wish to make their line of business apps available to download from the Windows Store, keep the Metro Interface for all workers and introduce live tiles for all apps.

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The winners

    Which types of business users are most likely to benefit from Surface Pro 3?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Mobile, mobile, mobile

    The whole point of this category of devices is to be extremely mobile. Anyone who spends time in airplane seats and on trains, not to mention the inevitable waiting in airports and train stations, should be taking a long look at this instead of a conventional laptop.

    This is also a superb choice for any executive who spends their day going from meeting to meeting. The Surface Pro 3 is light enough to carry around without feeling like a burden. And the fact that it resumes in less than a second means you can be productive instantly.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    I agree

    Businesses that could benefit from Surface Pro 3s will likely have a mobile workforce.  Road warriors that travel to visit customers would benefit from using tablet devices to design, draw or graphically explain concepts to customers. The Surface Pro 3 with its pen, touch and keyboard could give more flexibility to designers and illustrators who want to use graphics to explain their design concepts to business customers.

    Mobile workers that travel to different offices and locations might also benefit from issuing Surface Pro 3’s to their workforce. Its ultra-portability and low weight makes it less cumbersome to carry around

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Reality check

    With more companies embracing BYOD, can Microsoft legitimately hope to see a large number of individual professionals buying Surface Pro 3 and bringing it into their businesses?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    We'll see

    One of the biggest trends of the last few years is toward allowing executives to choose which mobile device they want to use. That could be a MacBook, but increasingly there are other options, powered by Windows. Surface Pro 3 doesn't have to sell 100 million or even 10 million units to be a success. It just has to validate the category of high-end hybrid tablet/PC devices.

    For what it's worth, I suspect that word of mouth and one-to-one demos will be the most important part of Microsoft's marketing for this device. TV ads only go so far, but seeing (and touching) this very thin, light, and powerful device will be invaluable.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Works at home too

    Businesses are becoming more and more amenable to the BYOD way of working. Enterprises with secure, well-managed infrastructures can easily manage an array of devices on their networks. Virtualization – either at the operating system or application -- means that workers can access the line of business applications from any device that connects to the network.

    All workers are consumers in their free time and wish to use the device that they are most comfortable with. At home, users are more likely to sit with a touch device, tablet, phone or phablet in front of the TV than a laptop computer. Their consumer behaviour at home will influence their choice of device at work. Consumers will demand similar devices and specs to the devices they already use at home. This will drive hardware adoption in forward looking organisations.

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Pros

    What does Surface Pro 3 do better than any other tablets?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Just look at that pen

    A few tablets come with styluses. These make decent mouse replacements and they allow artists to do some interesting things.

    But the pen on the Surface Pro 3 is a powerful all-around productivity tool. Yes, artists can create some impressive works with it, but so can business people. The integration with OneNote, including the ability to clip parts of a screen, is first-rate. So is the ability to read and annotate documents while holding the device in a way that feels natural.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Well positioned

    Surface Pro 3 has an array of positions for easy screen reading. There is no kickstand on an iPad meaning an external stand needs to be purchased. Surface Pro 3 has a stand enabling the device to be positioned in any position you want.

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How to beat the competition

    What does Surface Pro 3 do better than the leading laptops?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Travel, of course

    The sheer portability of the Surface Pro 3 is amazing. At 800 grams (1.76 pounds), it weighs as much as the original iPad and about half of the 13-inch MacBook Air. When you click in the Type Cover and place it on a desk or tabletop, it's as functional as any laptop.

    In August, when the Surface Pro 3 is ready for sale worldwide, you'll be able to buy a docking station that lets you connect to external monitors, peripherals, and power with a single motion. Not many laptops have that ability to transform so quickly into a very capable desktop.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Wake up to its assets

    It is lighter and more powerful than most laptops. Changing from touch to type is easy and its wake up time is really fast compared to laptops.

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Start the revolution?

    Is the market ready to embrace a converged laptop/tablet device? What evidence is there to support that?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Why not?

    An IDC study published last fall found that only 8.7 percent of all tablets were being purchased to replace laptops. And if you want confirmation of that data, just walk through an airport filled with business travelers and count how many have a tablet (usually an iPad) and either a Windows notebook or a MacBook.

    Having to carry two devices means carrying two power adapters and having to keep both devices in sync. It means if you take out the wrong device, there's always something you can't do. But up until now there hasn't really been a device that can perform well in both roles.

    I'm pretty sure there's a market of business travelers that will welcome the simplicity that comes with having a single device—not to mention the lighter bag.

    Ed Bott

    I am for Yes

    Why?

    The market is not yet ready for this convergence. Many companies use virtual machines, remote desktop services, application virtualisation, thin clients and embedded operating systems across a range of hardware. Organisations with aging hardware often find that repurposing their legacy devices with Windows thin PC enables them to use their old hardware as thin clients and reduce their new hardware device costs.

    Converged laptop / tablet devices promise that they will become the ultimate and only device that users will need -- but the reality is a little different. Some types of business require desktop devices with massive graphics power to drive CAD / CAM software; other businesses require devices for intensive sessions of data input. There is a huge array of laptops to choose from but a limited choice in tablets that could replace all business needs.

    Companies aiming to incorporate tablets will not only have to buy just the Surface Pro 3’s. Most users will additionally require a Surface Pro cover, pen, pen loop and docking station. These accessories add to the all-up cost of the device – especially when scaled up to thousands of units across an enterprise. All of the added extras mean that a top end configuration of the Surface Pro 3 could be significantly more costly than its laptop equivalent.

    Surface Pro 3 devices are not internally configurable or expandable or upgradeable – unlike the laptop. This could prove challenging for companies recovering from the economic difficulties of the last five years who do not want to purchase a complete new piece of hardware but who might want to extend the life of an aging laptop by adding RAM at considerably lower cost.

    One day we will all be using tablet devices both at home, and at work. But like the introduction of laptops into the office environment, this will be slow, staged and will depend on user adoption and market requirements in the new world of work 

    Eileen Brown

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks for joining us

    I'd like to thank Ed and Eileen for their great work in this week's debate. Thursday morning, our debaters will post their closing arguments and later Thursday, I will reveal my choice for the winner. Please check the great comments and don't forget to vote!

    Posted by Jason Hiner

Closing Statements

They're not making PCs like they used to

Ed Bott

The Surface Pro 3 is the clearest expression yet of Microsoft's vision for what a modern, highly mobile computing device should look like. It has plenty of company in hybrid devices like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, which can also shift from tablet to laptop with minimal effort.

My opponent says, "Users that are tired of lugging around both a laptop and a tablet could consider the Surface Pro 3 as their new primary device." I agree. She says it "works at home, too." I agree. She says it's heavier than a MacBook Air. Sorry, that's wrong. Amazingly, even with the Type Cover the Surface Pro 3 is lighter than the underpowered 11-inch MacBook Air. It's more than one pound lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air.

Her main objection is that "the market is not yet ready for this convergence." Sure, corporate bean-counters won't pay for truckloads of premium devices like these. But you can easily replace your laptop with it and keep working at full speed. In our BYOD world, this ultralight device (or one of its competitors) is a very good fit in the office or on the road.

Consumer behaviour will drag the enterprise to more widespread adoption

Eileen Brown

I’ve had a Surface RT and Pro device since Microsoft first announced its availability. I’ve used tablet computers and pens in an enterprise environment since Microsoft first brought out the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Tablets and pens are not new -- but have yet to see widespread use in the enterprise.

I use my Surface at home from time to time, occasionally when I’m in the office, and often when I travel. But I also take my Sony Vaio with me and I’ll often work using my laptop instead of my Surface.

Look around you at an airport: iPads abound. But look closely and you will find that people are using iPads to read articles and browse social sites – not to type. People in coffee shops are not using tablets to write their bestsellers. They use traditional laptops with keyboards – with a touch device in their bag next to them.

When consumers predominantly use tablets as their primary device, then this trend will pull through to the enterprise. But until then I think that the office based knowledge workers will have to stick with what they have.

Unequivocally, yes

Jason Hiner

The thing you have to admire about the Surface is that it's not a copy-cat product. Microsoft set out to be definitive, which is always a bold and risky thing to do. I believe that Ed is right that this product is Microsoft's vision of the future of the laptop, much more than the future of the tablet. But, Eileen has hit the nail on the head that the enterprise is unlikely to get on board with the Surface as the official device it hands out to employees.
 
The Surface faces an uphill battle to truly become a definitive product. But, the question for this debate was whether it can effectively replace a laptop, and the answer is unequivocally "yes." Of course, just because it can, doesn't mean it will. But it is capable, as Ed forcefully explained.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

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