Yesterday Microsoft unveiled its next-generation Surface tablet – the Surface Pro 3. Coming eight months after the release of the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets, this is Microsoft's bid at making the tablet the new PC.
But does it have what it takes to be a success?
What's right with the Surface Pro 3:
- The hardware – Good range of hardware, spanning Core i3 to Core i7, 4 to 8GB of RAM, and storage options going from 64GB to 512GB.
- The screen aspect ratio closer to 3:2 – Far better for tablets than the 16:10 that most Android tablets opt for, and is a more web friendly ratio (16:9 and 16:10 are more suited to video).
- No Windows RT – I see removing this confusion as beneficial.
- The target market – Microsoft is clearly aiming this as a competitor to the likes of the MacBook Air and other ultramobile systems, rather than the iPad.
- Long battery life – The nine-hour battery life brings it into the realm of an "all day device."
- Light and thin – In a market that appreciates light and thin devices, Microsoft has certainly worked hard to deliver. The Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest Intel Core product to date.
What's wrong with the Surface Pro 3:
- The price – The $799 to $1,949 price range is staggering, even if this is being pushed as a laptop replacement. A 15-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pro is only a stone's throw away from this price, at $1,999. I believe that part of the steep price is because of the Intel chip, and the company's desire to hold onto a high gross margin for components.
- The optional keyboard – The keyboard – which adds a further $130 to the price – really should be bundled with the tablet. Making this an optional extra will mean a lot of people will pass on it, and their enjoyment and productivity are likely to suffer as a consequence.
- The thermals – The Intel Core processors generate so much heat inside the Surface Pro 3 that Microsoft saw fit to kit it out with a fan. While I don't see the fan itself as a cause for concern, I would be worried that this is going to mean the tablet can get hot during use, and that the exhaust vents built into it could make it awkward to use. Microsoft demoed Photoshop CC running on the Surface Pro 3, a very demanding application that can make notebooks and desktops run hot. How will this heat feel when held in the hand?
- The pen – Microsoft's obsession with pens and styli continue. While I don't see the pen as a negative in of itself, it does make the package more of a hassle. You need the tablet, the pen, and possibly an optional keyboard. Oh, and if you don't get the Type Cover keyboard, you have nowhere to park the pen when carrying and storing the tablet.
- Keyboard worries – If the Surface Pro 3 is to replace a notebook, that Type Cover keyboard better be brilliant.
- The rebranding – Microsoft is insistent that the Surface Pro 3 is a PC, and a notebook replacement, and not a tablet. But to everyone else, it's clearly a tablet. I see this as a potential source of confusion.
- Windows 8 – Even rebranding to Windows 8.1 doesn't feel like enough to distance the OS from the fog of negativity surrounding Windows 8. This could be a weakness, especially as businesses seem to be taking a very cautious approach to Windows 8.
- Potentially short lifespan – The Surface Pro 3 is not cheap, and the tablet it replaced was only released eight months ago. Microsoft also didn't make any guarantees of it being compatible with Windows 9, and hasn't announced any plans to make the OS a free upgrade for the platform.
- Attention will shift to Apple soon – WWDC is around the corner, so Microsoft time in the media is limited.
- Budget may be too budget for business – The Core i3 processor lacks certain features – such as Trusted Execution Technology – that businesses might need, pushing them to the higher-priced Core i5 versions.
- Long wait time – Some variants won't ship until late August, which is eons in tech time.
Bottom line: The Surface Pro 3 is an interesting play for Microsoft, but success relies heavily on the hardware getting traction. Some metrics suggest Surface usage has slipped recently, so this could adversely affect the new tablets.
There's no doubt that the new Surface Pro 3 is far ahead of the original Surface, and a huge leap forward from the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets, and people who have played the waiting game before jumping onto the Surface bandwagon are getting a far superior product.
Price certainly is a worry, especially given the absence of any assurances of future support. The guarantee that all Surface Pro 3 tablets would get an upgrade to Windows 9 would help on this front.
The quality is now there – for a price – but we have to wait and see whether it will tempt buyers to adopt Microsoft's take on the tablet.