You've got Surface Pro 3 questions, I've got answers

Microsoft's latest entry in the Surface family is part tablet, part laptop, and it's significantly different from its predecessors. Here are some more details in response to reader questions.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Yesterday, I posted my first impressions of the new Surface Pro 3. Via email and Twitter, readers asked some good questions, which I answer in this post.

Will Touch Cover and Type Cover accessories made for earlier Surface and Surface Pro models work with the Surface Pro 3?

Yes, but…

The click-in connectors on the Surface Pro, Surface 2, and Surface Pro 2 are identical, so you can mix and match covers to your heart’s content. The catch is that the devices are different sizes, which means the older covers are built for a 10.6-inch screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, whereas the Type Cover 3 (no Touch Cover 3) is the size of a 12-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio.

If you click a Type Cover or Type Cover 2 or either Touch Cover into a Surface Pro 3, it makes a perfectly good keyboard, although it looks a bit strange because it’s about 2.5 cm narrower. Unfortunately, the vertical dimension is off as well, which means a similarly sized strip at the top of the display is unprotected when you close the cover. The Surface Pro 3 cover is, naturally, a perfect fit.

Does the Power Cover accessory work with Surface Pro 3?

The Power Cover is a keyboard with a built-in battery that extends the time you can use a compatible Surface device. On my review unit, the keyboard on the Surface Pro 2 Power Cover works, but the Surface Pro 3 didn't recognize the battery. Microsoft has confirmed this is a known issue at this time; presumably cover charging capability will be enabled via Windows Update at some point in the future. Microsoft has not announced plans for a Power Cover for Surface Pro 3.

Ed Bott's first look:
Surface Pro 3: Thinner, lighter, more flexible

Will earlier Surface power adapters work with the Surface Pro 3?

Short answer, no.

For the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft redesigned the magnetic power connector. On the Surface Pro and Pro 2, there’s a square-edged five-point connector that clicks into a matching slot. The new adapter style is a thin "blade" that goes into a similarly thin slot, with a magnetic assist. The new design addresses the frustration some owners of current Surface Pro models have for the occasionally balky connector.

Here’s a picture of the old and new connectors side by side.

Surface Pro 2 power connector (left) versus Surface Pro 3 design (right)

The downside of the new connector is that it is not backwardly compatible, so if you have an older Surface you can’t share its power adaptor with the new model.

What are the differences between the new docking station and the older Surface Pro 2 dock?

The dimensions of the machine and the change in power connector mean that the two docking stations are incompatible.

The Surface Pro 3 dock, which is not available for preorder now but should be shipping by end of August, is sleeker than its predecessor and has more ports. Detailed specs have not yet been published, but the biggest difference is that the old dock had a single USB 3 and three USB 2 ports. The new model has two USB 2 ports and three USB 3 ports to go with its mini-DisplayPort connector, which can output at 4K resolution. The new dock also has a Gigabit Ethernet port instead of a 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet wired connection.

Which specific CPU/GPU model numbers are in the different Surface Pro 3 configurations? Do any of the models support multiple external monitors?

See my follow-up post: Which CPUs will you find in the Surface Pro 3?

What's the display resolution on the Surface Pro 3?

The native resolution is 2160x1440. That's a 3:2 aspect ratio, and the width is exactly enough to allow you to snap three apps at equal widths, side by side, in Windows 8.1.

Because of the screen size, Windows scales the display by a factor of 1.5, which makes the effective resolution on the device itself a very sharp 1440x960. If you plug an external monitor in using the mini-DisplayPort adaptor, you can drive a 4K display.

Can you increase the number of icons on the Windows Start screen?

Yes, there's a "more tiles" option on the Settings menu from the Start screen. With that setting off, you get four rows of tiles in landscape orientation. With it on, you get six rows.

How good are the cameras?

Both the front- and rear-facing cameras offer 5 MP resolution capable of capturing at 1080p. There are microphones on the front and rear as well.

Mary Jo Foley: Can Microsoft create a new market with Surface Pro 3?

Is there a MicroSD slot?

Yes, you can insert a MicroSD card of up to 128 GB capacity, and an option in PC Settings allows you to automatically configure Windows 8.1 to save music, pictures, and video to the removable drive by default.

What kind of battery does the pen use?

The pen uses a single AAAA battery and two (tiny) #319 coin cell batteries.

When will the hardware ship to customers?

All models of Surface Pro 3 are available for pre-order today. The Core i5 models with 128 GB or 256 GB of storage are promised to ship by June 20, 2014, to customers in the U.S. and Canada. If you preorder an i3 or i7 configuration, Microsoft says your order will ship before the end of August. All Surface Pro 3 configurations, as well as "select new accessories," will be available for purchase begining in August in 26 additional markets: Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

When preordering a Surface Pro 3, how do you specify the amount of RAM?

The models available for preorder are in set configurations. Those with 64 or 128 GB of storage come with 4 GB of RAM. Those with 256 or 512 GB of storage include 8 GB of RAM. You can't mix and match.

How much disk space does Surface Pro 3 use out of the box?

The documentation for the Surface Pro 3 still includes a disclaimer: "System software uses significant storage space…" The new model is much less greedy than its predecessor, however. The two Recovery partitions on the original Surface Pro, running Windows 8, take up 600 MB and 7.81 GB, respectively. On the Surface Pro 3, with the Spring 2014 Windows 8.1 Update preinstalled, the corresponding Recovery partitions are only 350 MB and 4.98 GB. That's a net increase of more than 3 GB of free space just from the Recovery partitions.

According to the spec sheets, a 64 GB Surface Pro 3 has more than 36 GB of available disk space; for the  128, 256, and 512 GB configurations, the corresponding amounts are 96, 211, and 450 GB, respectively.

My review unit has Office 365 Small Business Premium installed, along with a couple dozen Windows 8 apps, a handful of utility programs, and just under 2 GB of data files. The 256 GB drive still has 222.8 billion bytes free (that’s reported as 207 GB in File Explorer).

Is there a 4G or LTE connectivity option?

Not at this time.

Is it true that the only available power plan for this device is Balanced?

Yes, that's true. The Surface Pro 3 supports the InstantGo standard (formerly known as Connected Standby), which allows for extremely quick suspend and resume while still allowing apps to update in the background. A support document, Power plans: frequently asked questions, notes that "The only power plan that Windows provides for PCs with InstantGo is Balanced." The same document provides instructions for manually creating alternative plans.

If you've got more questions, use the contact form at the bottom of this post to send them to me via email.

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