How the Surface Pro 3 changed the way I work

For the first time in 20 years, I don't own a conventional clamshell laptop PC. The Surface Pro 3 has taken over all the functions that I used to need a laptop for, and it makes an excellent tablet, too. Here's how I use this device in PC and tablet modes.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor on
From PC to tablet and back again

When I'm in the office, I'm usually working on a desktop PC with full-sized keyboard, mouse, trackpad, and two large displays. The Surface Pro 3 sits in a docking station at the side of the desk.

While it's in the docking station, it's being charged and keeping itself up to date with the outside world over a wired network connection. It also does regular File History backups to an external drive that's connected to one of the docking station's USB ports. I can switch monitor inputs to temporarily devote one or both of the big displays to the Surface Pro 3 and use it with a full-sized keyboard, mouse, and monitor to do work.

But for the most part I use the Surface Pro 3 by removing it from the docking station and taking it out the office door.

The device's unique ability to switch from PC to tablet and back makes possible a range of other scenarios.

It's a powerful laptop PC

The Surface Pro 3 has completely replaced my old laptop as a go-to portable PC capable of running the latest version of Microsoft Office, Adobe's Creative Cloud apps, and just about any other Windows desktop programs you want to throw at it.

I've used the Surface Pro 3 on a half-dozen hotel desks, and the continuously adjustable friction hinge has made it easy to get the right viewing angle every time. The 3:2 aspect ratio makes it possible to see more of the content in Office documents compared to the 16:9 aspect ratio common to most modern notebooks (including the Surface Pro 2).

The Type Cover has a solid feel, especially when the top is snapped magnetically to the screen, elevating the keys slightly. The backlighting is effective. Even with my sloppy typing habits the keys move smoothly, without the occasionally erratic action in earlier Type Cover designs. I usually bring along a Surface Arc Touch Bluetooth mouse that snaps flat when not in use.

The trackpad is small, but more than adequate for occasional use, especially in cramped Economy class seats.

It does a very good Chromebook imitation

Because the Surface Pro 3 runs the full desktop version of Windows 8.1 Pro, you can install Google Chrome and add as many Chrome apps as you'd like.

If you're fully invested in Google's family of apps and services, that means you can turn the Surface Pro 3 into a Chromebook. (And before you complain about the cost, compare it to Google's Chromebook Pixel, which runs $1299 for a Wi-Fi configuration that weighs twice as much and comes with a mere 32 GB of storage.)

Of course, if you prefer other web-based services, including those from Microsoft and Apple, they're available as well.

It's an infinitely expandable reporter's notebook

I attend a lot of conferences, meetings, and tradeshows, where I spend a lot of time taking notes. Sometimes I type those notes, but I'm just as likely to write things down in longhand, often with accompanying audio recordings.

The Surface Pro 3 with its accompanying pen is, by far, the best platform I have ever used for note-taking. My collection of OneNote notebooks goes back for more than a decade, including many years I spent taking notes on early-generation Tablet PCs. OneNote is my infinitely expanding reporter's notebook. It's also my lab journal, and a searchable repository where I store useful information about life, the universe, and everything.

I still have handwritten interview and conference notes I created in 2004. With the Surface pen and a lightweight device that works comfortably in legal tablet mode, I find myself returning to that mode more these days. Being able to click the button on the top of the pen and instantly open a new OneNote page is extremely convenient.

For many events, I use OneNote's ability to embed an audio recording on the same page as my handwritten notes. The Surface Pro 3 microphones do a very good job of picking up audio so that I can go back and listen when my notes aren't clear.

It's a very thin, fully stocked newsstand

For me, the single best feature of the Surface Pro 3 is reading magazines using the excellent Nook app. The image above highlights one of the killer features of this underrated app. On the left is a page from The New Yorker, as it appears in the Nook app (I've swiped from the top edge to show the Nook menus at top and navigation thumbnails along the bottom).

From this "just like the magazine" view, you can double-tap to zoom, pinch to zoom even closer, and then double-tap again to return to full page view.

But for easier reading, you can tap the Article View button at the bottom of any page, which hides graphics and reformats the article text for easy reading, as shown on the right. Tap Page View to return to a view of the page as laid out by the magazine designer.

I subscribe to a big, diverse stack of magazines: The New Yorker, Wired, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetit, Rolling Stone, Sunset, Architectural Digest, and National Geographic, all of which are available on the Nook. For most of those titles, you can pick up a discounted subscription to the physical magazine and then register the subscription with the publisher to get free access to the digital edition.

I have used both an iPad 3 and a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 for reading magazines, but the larger screen and the 3:2 aspect ratio on the Surface Pro 3 make it easier to read.

There's also a Kindle app installed on my Surface Pro 3, for reading books purchased from Amazon's store, and I read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal via Windows Store apps.

It's a digital media hub

The Xbox Music and Xbox Movies apps for Windows 8.x have (thank goodness) evolved significantly since the first feature-deprived versions appeared two years ago. Both sites have excellent online stores. For travel, I can choose from an excellent selection of movies and TV shows for playback in full HD. It also supports personal video files in H.264 format, and for files in alternative formats (such as MKV) I use the free VLC app.

I also have an Xbox Music Pass, which means I can download any album from the Xbox collection from offline listening using the Xbox Music app (included by default with Windows 8.1). It also supports music files in standard unprotected formats (MP3, WMA, AAC) so I can carry my personal collection as well.

Because I've added a 128 GB MicroSDXC card, there's plenty of storage for even a large library.

It connects wirelessly to a big screen in the living room

Microsoft announced its own Miracast adapter last month. It's available for preorders now and is shipping soon.

I got my hands on an early production unit, and as expected it works very well with a Surface Pro 3, which supports Miracast as a default feature. (For more details about this feature, see )

Setup took literally seconds, and streaming full HD content with surround sound worked well, with no dropouts or glitching. There's also a companion app, shown in the screenshot here, which allows some extra control over the device properties.

But you don't need that app to broadcast the Surface Pro 3 display to a bigger screen.

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