What's right (and wrong) with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3

What's right (and wrong) with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Summary: Yesterday Microsoft unveiled its next-generation Surface tablet – the Surface Pro 3. But does it have what it takes to be a success?


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.

(Image source: Microsoft)

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. 

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Windows, Microsoft Surface, Windows 8

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Seriously?

    That is your list of what is wrong?
    • Agreed, this is rather pitiful.

      The list of negatives is absurd, on nearly every point.

      The price. The Surface Pro line has always been priced at a premium. Yes, they're expensive, but that simply comes with being a highly optimized design with high build quality in a somewhat small market segment. When you consider that smartphones are STILL going for $600+, these are an absolute steal for the capabilities they provide. And both the Surface Pro and the Macbook you mention use Intel processors and both Apple and Microsoft are holding to a high profit margin with their devices. I fail to see what point you're attempting to make here.

      The keyboard. Here, I completely agree. They cost like $20 to manufacture, they should be included. I only got one for my Pro 2 because they were offering a discount when purchased with the Surface, bringing the price down to a still expensive $50.

      Thermals. The Pro 2 has a fan, it only kicks in when doing heavy processing. It's not loud and it keeps the tablet reasonably cool. I've done Photoshop, ZBrush and 3D rendering on mine. It'll get warm, but not anything near what I'd consider hot. It's simply not an issue.

      The pen. It makes it more of a hassle??!?!??!!? What. Are. You. Smoking? Beside Apple's you-know-what. If you don't need the pen, you neither need to use, nor carry it with you. There's no hassle. Period. If you do need/want it, it's invaluable.

      The rebranding. The Surface Pro *IS* a PC and a notebook replacement. Better they market it as such than have people comparing it to $300 iPads and $150 Android tablets.

      Windows 8. I was highly critical of Windows 8 too, but seriously, it's long past time to get over it. I've been using 8/8.1/8.1 Update 1 since each of their releases. There was, and surly remains, some growing pains, but with the current 8.1, these are minor and the OS overall works incredibly well over a wide range of tasks and form factors. Still complaining at this point is to not sound like, but actually be, a broken record.

      Short lifespan? This isn't Apple we're talking about here, it's Microsoft. They support their OSs with updates for eons compared to pretty much everyone else, and their OSs are compatible with hardware going back decades. To suggest the Surface Pro line won't be able to run Windows 9, or even 10 and beyond is to not be living on planet Earth.

      Attention will shift to Apple. Of course media attention will shift to other companies who subsequently introduce new products. How is that a negative on the device itself? Is Apple making their own tablet form-factor MacBook? If they do, how will it not suffer from any of the issues you apparently have with the Surface? Will it be cheaper? Not likely. Will it be thinner/lighter/without a fan? Not likely. Will it have guaranteed longevity? Not likely beyond Apple's standard 2-3 years of OS support.

      Budget version. The i5 versions aren't THAT much more than the i3 versions, but offering a range of processors is a great idea. The i5 is a fantastic all around processor, and I think the sweet spot between performance, price and battery life.

      The Surface line surly got off to a rocky start, but we should all appreciate Microsoft's determination (and financial ability TO BE so determined). Just as Apple (initially) pushed the boundaries of what a smartphone could be, and introduced us to the modern (albeit far from first) tablet, so too is Microsoft defining a category of device. Aside from Wacom's even more expensive unit, no other company us building such capable tablets. Few have pen support, the vast majority are Atom based, none have near the build/construction quality. There's no doubt Apple will ultimately follow this form factor sooner than they otherwise would have. It's not for everyone to be sure, but the Surface Pro line is a truly fantastic device for those who want or need the capabilities of a full PC in an ultra portable form factor.
      • Keyboard

        I have a Windows tablet that came with a plug-in keyboard, okay not a case keyboard, but a proper keyboard base. The thing is, I rarely use it - once every few months.

        On the move I use the onscreen keyboard and back at my desk it plugs into a docking station with an external Razer Blackwidow keyboard.

        I don't miss the keyboard 99% of the time when on the move.
        • I'll agree... but...

          I do agree that I rarely use the keyboard with my Surface, so in that respect, ok, maybe they shouldn't be included. No point including something that most will just stick on a shelf and rarely, if ever, use.

          On the other hand, the price of these keyboards is outrageous and unjustifiable. People *are* spending a premium on the Surface itself, and it is a little insulting to have to spend an even greater premium for a keyboard.

          So ok, don't include them, but they should be priced in the $35-$40 range for the touch covers and maybe $50-$60 for the type covers, not 2 to 3x those amounts.
          • Missed the Point

            I think most of the reviews and comments really misses the point. This unit and the price premium are about Digital Ink. The pen is not as gimmick here. The hardware and software have really made it useful feature. The pen is also the most common way to record information. Man has been using one for well over 2000 years.
          • Huh?

            While I completely agree on your comments regarding the pen, I'm not seeing how that makes faulting the exorbitant price of the keyboards missing any point.
          • To keyboard or not to keyboard, that is the question... (sorry bill)

            Now the comment about including the keyboard.... that is going to be interesting to see if the market is ready to transition away from the typewriter just yet. We have been hedging on that one for a decade now. (touch screen keyboards) The question at hand? Is the world ready to accept a new way to interface with machines? Smartphones have people touching screens all the time now. (even when they aren't touch screens LOL).
            Voice and facial recognition is getting quite good, albeit still expensive.
            Where do we go from here and who will lead?
            These are the next big questions. Are we moving away from desktop PC's is hardly a question in most major companies these days. (Most folks at my company "lock" their workstation by putting it in a drawer and locking it with a key. Very few still have CPU based systems and they bring tablets to meetings so....)
            If Microsoft has taught us anything in the last 20 years, its the business world that will move us in the next direction. Who doesn't take their work home?
            Michael Reeser
          • Interesting points...

            On keyboards, I don't see it as we either stick with them or move away from them. Typing on touch screens will never be as precise as on physical keys, but the form factor has other advantages. Where the pros of touch screens outweigh their cons, even if it's down to simple convenience outweighing the compromised experience, people will use touchscreens. But there will also be areas when the advantages don't outweigh the compromises, and people will plug in, or attach, physical keyboards. People didn't stop listening to the radio once TV was invented... they each serve a purpose and fill a need.

            Voice recognition? It's far better than it's been in the past, actually usable now, but mostly for dictating, not for anything beyond the most basic of actual interaction with a computer - set an alarm for 12:30, etc. It'll never be an efficient way to open or move windows, pick a location in a document to begin editing, etc. and can you imagine an office of people all talking to their computers? Ugh... not a pleasant thought.

            Other forms of input? I'm astounded at how well the handwriting recognition "keyboard" works on the Surface. I have serious chicken scratch, and it gets it right 95% of the time.

            And sure, business are moving away from tower-type PCs. Most issue notebooks to employees. But a notebook is still essentially a PC. People might bring their iPads to meetings, but the number who use them as their sole computing device is small, and it's mostly people who's job doesn't require much PC use to begin with. The number will likely grow, especially with Office now available on the iPad, but on the other hand, tablets like the Surface Pro have the potential to slow that uptake since they offer most, if not all the advantages of the iPad with none of the compromises.
      • Re: Agreed, this is rather pitiful.

        I agree with most of your points about the cons being silly until you went off track at the end with "Microsoft defining a category of device".

        Sorry, but ASUS has had their Transformer Prime series of tablets for a while now.

        If you had said that Microsoft was upping the ante or improving on the transformer category, I would have agreed with your entire post.
        • It's not all about form factor.

          The Transformer Prime is and Android tablet with a detachable keyboard - a very different device than a full i5, Windows based PC in tablet form. THAT is what Microsoft is defining with the Surface, not simply a tablet with a detachable keyboard.

          Name a single comparable competitor to the Surface. Most Win 8 tablets are Atom based, including the Asus Transformer Book. Not to knock the Atom, it's a great processor for light tasks, my wife has a Venue 8 Pro and it's awesome, but it's simply not in the same class as an i3/5/7. There are a few iX based tablets, but they're either lacking in key features the Surface offers, and none have the same material/build quality.

          So when I say Microsoft is defining a new category, it's not simply a form factor, but cramming a fairly high spec and very high quality PC into that form factor.
          • The 'Tablet for power users' device category

            I would agree that Microsoft with Surface Pro 3 is creating a 'Tablet for power users' device category. I don't see any real alternatives to this device today and am certainly willing to spend the money to get one. I don't see compromise, but rather the elimination of compromise and new functionality/features. I agree with AHKs positive points and if what he list as negatives is the best he can come up with I can certainly live with those.
      • Windows 8 complaints ad infinitum

        "Windows 8. I was highly critical of Windows 8 too, but seriously, it's long past time to get over it. I've been using 8/8.1/8.1 Update 1 since each of their releases. There was, and surly remains, some growing pains, but with the current 8.1, these are minor and the OS overall works incredibly well over a wide range of tasks and form factors. Still complaining at this point is to not sound like, but actually be, a broken record. "

        And we WILL continue to complain about Windows 8 until they they FIX it on desktops -- put the Start Menu back, put the taskbar back, thank you very much.

        It's not a "broken record" if the problems STILL exist. Sure Microsoft, like some dilettante politician, hopes we will "move on", but we will not move on until the problems are corrected.

        I still urge all my friends and relatives to buy Windows 7. Even Windows 8 with Classic Shell or Start8 intermittently reverts to some Windows 8 stupidity.
        • They're in the process of exactly that...

          The Start Menu is returning, they've demo'd it and stated that it'll come within the 8.X product version. 8.1 and 8.1 Update 1 have largely been Microsoft admitting the "shove it down their throat" approach of 8.0 hadn't worked, and the system overall was deeply flawed.

          But at the same time, the people who demand 8 be *exactly* what 7 was DO need to stop complaining. If all you want is 7, then you already have it... in 7. Windows had to advance or continue down an accelerating path to oblivion. If you're happy with 7, and 7 is a great OS, then use it. But stop demanding 8 be exactly what 7 was, as it's not going to happen. It's like demanding carburetors on your new car... ain't gunna happen, and for good reason.

          You'll get no argument from me that 8 was a disaster, and they have a LOT of work still to do. But in it's current version, it's entirely usable and, in some respects, superior to previous versions. Again, still needs work, but that has been, and continues to, happen.

          I HATED Metro, and banished every scrap of it on my desktops until I used it on the Surface. Once I did that, I realized that while it's still flawed, overall, it's not bad and some aspects of it are quite nice. As we've seen of demo'd start menu, the nice aspects of it are being integrated where appropriate and useful. And that's a good thing. If you seriously think they're going to abandon it in it's entirety, you're going to be disappointed and you will sound like a broken record.
          • The problem is...

            There is this reality distortion field that exists around MS - basically that NOTHING they do is right. They seem to have a huge barrier to climb compared to Apple and Google. Windows 8 is really useable for me. I use it everyday for work and home.

            Using the Metro on a tablet really makes me appreciate Windows 8. I have an iPad mini but I no longer use it. I use my Windows 8 tablets (1 full and 1 RT).

            Using Windows 8/8.1/Update 1 is not that big of an issue on a desktop PC. Yes there were differences but I really stay in the desktop using desktop apps. Have to go to Metro is not really a big deal. However, I fully agree that MS should have left in the option to either switch back to the standard desktop controls or to have those controls in place.

            I have been using the Metro versions of a number of apps (Podcasts!, Bing News, WP Central, etc.) while on my desktop and I really have found them to simple to use and deliver exactly what I want.

            Many people skip versions of programs/OSs/products. Business definitely do this with OSs and programs. The key will be what happens with Win9. I still think that MS lost it mojo about 10 years ago. If they had released an update Win7 they would still be in the a similar place. Of course, they still should have allowed for the Win7 features to be turned on in Win8. Dummies.
        • Your PC is sick.

          'And we WILL continue to complain about Windows 8 until they they FIX it on desktops -- put the Start Menu back, put the taskbar back, thank you very much.'

          Your task bar is missing? You're PC is sick, it needs a doctor.
          • "You're" brain is sick as well.

            "You're PC is sick, it needs a doctor."
            No, "Your" in this case. I'm frequently amazed by the number of people who will continue to put up with Windows when there are alternatives. The most common answer; "What alternatives?" and "Office. I need windows for Office." Pah. No you don't.
        • Ive used Windows 8 for months now.

          Im still waiting to see this terrible problem crop up on my ASUS laptop I keep hearing complainers around here squawk about.

          Havnt seen these desktop problems. Seems to run great for me. Please tell me Im not seeing IT savvy people complain about having to learn a few new things. That would be a really rich one.
          • Well, that's one person who thinks it's just fine

            And yet, many others do not agree with you, mostly because they use the device differently than you do, performing different tasks and are looking to capitalize on what they've already learned instead of dumping it in favor of the paradigm of the week from MS. The complainers are sincere, would that you could see that, and admit that just because it works for you doesn't mean that it works for everyone.
      • surface pro

        Wow...pretty emotional.....!
      • I Agree with you 100%

        Thanks for writing this rebuttal. I was going to write the same comments myself and in addition ask in what alternate reality the article author lived.