One year with the Surface Pro 3: The best computer I have ever owned

While phones come and go, I purchased my Surface Pro 3 last year and it is my constant companion. Here's why.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Computers are tools that help us get things done with efficiency. We use them for work, and sometimes for play, but most people I know don't have any special affinity for their computer. My feelings have changed thanks to the Surface Pro 3 and I actually look forward to using it every day.

It is the best computer I have ever purchased.

I bought my Surface Pro 3 in May 2014 and it quickly became my primary computer for my home office, while accompanying me on 20 out-of-town trips. It's my only tablet, with an iPad Mini and Nexus 9 coming and going because they were redundant and offered less. I've used my Surface Pro 3 in a number of different ways and in different situations so let me take you through my last year of usage.

Engineering consulting work

My education and primary job is working as a professional engineer in the marine field. I previously wrote about using my original Surface Pro for engineering work and the experience is even better on the Surface Pro 3 thanks to the larger display, longer battery life, and better keyboard.

On the project management side of the house, I use the Surface Pro 3 to log in to my work VPN and then access Microsoft Project to check on milestones, resources, and work to develop proposals.

While I do have a Dell Ultrabook as my work computer, it sits in the dock when I leave the office or travel for work while the Surface Pro 3 goes with me.

ZDNet writing

My second job is writing here on ZDNet and the Surface Pro 3 is excellent as a writing tool, especially when I pop it into the Microsoft Docking Station connected to my Dell touchscreen monitor, wireless keyboard, and wireless mouse.

I have a web browser open on the Dell monitor while I write HTML code in TextPad on the Surface Pro 3 display. I've been writing in HTML forever and trust it more than the CMS online form.

The Surface Pro 3 is useful for photo editing, task management with Wunderlist, research, and discussions with editors using instant messaging and email.

ZDNet's Kevin Tofel and I record the MobileTechRoundup podcast a couple times a month. I record using Skype and Audacity on the Surface Pro 3.

Out-of-town travel

While there are light and compact laptops, I haven't found anything that pleases me as much as my Surface Pro 3 while traveling in airports and staying in hotels. It amazes me how compact the Surface Pro 3 is with the keyboard attached, especially after years of traveling with six to ten pound laptops. The battery life is also pretty amazing and the new charger brick is easy to pack along and carry in my gear bag.

I have the i5 model with 128GB SSD. One thing that used to always frustrate me with my other laptops was the standby mode failures. I would open my bag to a dead laptop and lots of heat. My Surface Pro 3 has performed flawlessly in this regard, always turning off and then back on when I need it.

The Surface Pro 3 is one of the only laptops I have been able to use in tight airplane seats, even when the passenger in front of me reclines. If I'm feeling squeezed at the sides, I can always pop it into tablet mode and use the stylus to get work done.

I often rent movies when I travel and view them on the airplane or in my hotel after work is done. I wish I could download Google Play movies for viewing on my Surface Pro 3, but I haven't yet found a solution for that. I also stream content via Netflix or Hulu in hotel rooms if I can't find anything good on the hotel channels.

Daily commute

The Sounder train is a wonderful commuter vehicle with tables for four. Since the Surface Pro 3 is so light and compact, I place it in my gear bag and work on articles as I travel 42 minutes into Seattle at speeds up to 80 miles per hour.

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There are also sections without tables and if I am in one of these spots, I'll flip the Surface Pro 3 into tablet mode to enjoy a magazine or ebook, write notes using the stylus, catch up on a movie or TV show, or browse the internet.

Tablet mode

I rarely used my original Surface Pro with the stylus, but I'm finally understanding the power of the pen on the Surface Pro 3. It is especially useful in meetings where I can handwrite in tablet mode within OneNote and not have to type away on the keyboard in laptop mode. It's much less intrusive to write on the display just like everyone else writing notes with a pen and paper. The ability to have those notes accessible from anywhere after the meeting and also be able to search those notes is awesome. Not to mention the power of turning on voice recording while writing down notes.

After work on my two jobs is done, I like to pull the Surface Pro 3 out of the docking station and write down my thoughts or browse the internet while watching TV shows.

As you can see, my Surface Pro 3 is my constant companion and after a few early hiccups with the WiFi driver, it has served me extremely well. I still get excited daily when I pick up and use my Surface Pro 3. There are plenty of other very nice, even lower-priced, laptop alternatives. However, the slim form factor, amazing design, functionality as a laptop or tablet, and pure Windows aspects of the Surface Pro 3 convince me its the best computer I have ever purchased.

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