Surface 3 hits sweet spot for both business pros and consumers

The latest member of Microsoft's tablet line runs full Windows, delivers all-day battery life, and is sized and priced to compete favorably with the iPad.

The Surface 3 unveiled this week has excited the tech world, and for good reason. The new tablet is the first from Microsoft with a size that competes favorably with the iPad. It looks how we believe a tablet should look, and has the ability to be used as a laptop with the keyboard cover.

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Surface 3 (Image: Microsoft)

The new Surface should appeal to both the consumer and the professional for several reasons. It is the total package for both groups as it runs full Windows, and not the shackled Windows RT that put off prospective buyers of the Surface RT.

It's about mobility

The Surface 3 is the right size for tossing in a bag and taking everywhere. The 10.8-inch touch display makes the tablet just wide enough to show a lot on the screen, and the proper width for using with a keyboard. The light weight means a comfortable experience using the Surface 3 in the hand as a tablet.

CNET Hands On: Surface 3 cuts the price, keeps the killer keyboard

Looking around at coffee shops and other public venues you see a lot of iPads being used with keyboards. They are productive tools when used this way, but the width of the iPad makes the keyboards a little too narrow for some.

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Surface 3 Type Cover (Image: Microsoft)

That shouldn't be the case with the Surface 3, due to the slightly wider tablet in the landscape orientation as used with a keyboard. The iPad Air 2 is only 9.4 inches wide in landscape, compared to the Surface 3's 10.52 inches. That's not much of a size difference, but the extra 1.12 inches should provide a better typing experience on a keyboard that's spread out over it.

The Surface 3 is an appropriate size for using around that house, and as a laptop replacement in the home or office. The fact it can run for 10 hours means it can do either all day.

Hardware the perfect compromise

The Intel Atom processor in the Surface 3 is not a screamer, but as we've previously noted it is powerful enough to run Windows 8.1. It isn't as stout as the processors available for the Surface Pro 3, but for the intended uses the Atom is certainly sufficient.

By using the Atom in the Surface 3, Microsoft is able to reach that all-day battery life without seriously compromising the performance running Windows 8.1. This also makes it possible to sell the Surface 3 at price that allows more shoppers to put it on their list of candidates.

The price is right

The $499 starting price of the Surface 3 brings the tablet into affordable range much more so than the Surface Pro 3. This price is low enough that those on the fence about the suitability of the Surface 3 can take the chance. That's in the ballpark with pricing of the major competitor, the iPad.

The low price also gives buyers better opportunity to purchase important accessories with the Surface 3. The keyboard cover is not really optional to get the most use of the Surface 3, and that's an extra $130. There's also the pen for $50. The Surface 3 used with a pen is a powerful tool for both work and play, and shouldn't be overlooked.

While the $499 is the price of the lowest configuration, those planning to use the Surface 3 for work might consider getting one configured with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. This is a much better setup for running lots of apps in Windows 8.1, and a bargain for an extra $100. When running heavy apps, Windows can be a bit sluggish at times with only 2GB of RAM.

Mobile professionals would do well to get integrated LTE for connectivity everywhere. The extra cost for this option is reported to be $100 and you'd need your own data plan with a carrier for LTE.

A top of the line Surface 3 as described would cost $879 which may be too rich for some folks. The basic configuration with the keyboard and pen is only $679 which gets a full-featured tablet with pen input and a laptop, which is a pretty good deal. Don't forget the microSD slot which can be used to expand storage.

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The deal is even better when you throw in a free one year subscription to Office 365. This provides full Office capability, perfect for work usage. A note on the Microsoft online store indicates this free subscription is for a limited time only.

Compelling device

The Surface 3 is a nice piece of hardware that can serve the needs of many. The pure tablet form is great for home use, and turning it into a laptop with the keyboard cover is fitting for both work and play.

The pricing is comparable to that of the iPad, while pen input makes it a better deal. It runs Windows 8.1 which is suitable for work, and touch operation is good at both the office and at home. This will be even better once Windows 10 ships, a free upgrade for the Surface 3. This will keep the device a viable solution for a long time.

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