Surface Pro 3 early reviews: Impressive device, but not a full tablet and laptop replacement

May 21, 2014
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These early comments from a dozen of tech blogs are based on the use of Core i5-4300U review units provided by Microsoft.

Overall look and feel

  • “It is indeed thin and lightweight.” (Dana Wollman, Engadget)
  • “It does feel remarkably light in hand.” (Melissa Grey, IGN)
  • “Ridiculously light and impossibly thin.” (Ed Bott, ZDnet)
  • “Light enough to hold in one hand and use like a tablet, though I can’t imagine you’d be able to hold for too long.” (Natt Garun, The next web)
  • “So thin that it’s hard to believe it’s a full-fledged Windows 8 tablet. Despite its 12-inch display, it’s easy to hold with one hand – though it’s certainly not as portable as a smaller tablet like the iPad Mini.” (Devindra Hardawar, VentureBeat)
  • “The magnesium chassis is nice-looking and solid-feeling.” (Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica)
  • “It looks thinner and feels lighter than a MacBook Air. Unfortunately, it also has to compete with the iPad Air, and next to that, the Surface is huge and heavy. The new 12-inch design is bulkier than an iPad in every dimension and weighs about twice as much as Apple’s tablet, with its keyboard attachment on.” (Jeffrey Van Camp, Digital Trends)
  • “The thickness is almost ideal, and the fact that Intel can hide a Core i7 inside of it is amazing. Although the weight may be distributed evenly across the tablet, I still can't imagine using it one handed for that long.”  (Mark Hachman, PC World)
  • “While it drops the thickness to an impressive 9.1mm. it still doesn't feel quite as thin and ethereal as, for example, the iPad Air.” (Dan Ackerman, CNET)

Screen display

  • “Clear and bright.” (Dan Ackerman, CNET)
  • “Reasonably bright and sharp.” (Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica)
  • “Quite sharp, though the glossy finish means you will still encounter some screen glare.” (Dana Wollman, Engadget)
  • “Bright and beautiful. ClearType fonts don't look as blurry around the edges as they have done in the past, too, which is a considerable improvement.” (Vincent Nguyen, Slashgear)
  • Gorgeous — looking just as sharp and high-contrast as Microsoft claims.” (Pete Pachal, Mashable)
  • “Gorgeously sharp. Sadly, desktop applications you might install like the Chrome Browser, Spotify, and others may not look sharp with the new resolution. Some apps just look blurry.“ (Jeffrey Van Camp, Digital Trends)
  • “A big improvement over the previous Surface Pro generations, but it's still behind iPad Air territory in terms of color reproduction which is disappointing.” (Anand Lal Shimpi, Anandtech)
  • “While using Chrome, an app that doesn't support Windows' high-PPI scaling modes properly, text and images was noticeably blurrier compared to Internet Explorer, but not so blurry that it was unusable or even immediately noticeable if you didn't know what you were looking for.” (Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica)

Screen size and ratio

  • “The 3:2 aspect ratio doesn't feel weird, even though it is.” (Pete Pachal, Mashable)
  • The 3:2 aspect ratio works nicely here. It’s a smart choice that provides a nice horizontal view and a functional vertical experience. Side-by-side computing worked nicely.” (Melissa Grey, IGN)
  • “This display makes it substantially more laptop-like. Particularly with Windows 8.1's split screen mode, the larger display ends up working extremely well.”  (Anand Lal Shimpi, Anandtech)
  • “Feels much more natural in the hand when held in portrait mode, where its dimensions are downright paper-like.” (Ed Bott, ZDnet)
  • “Using the tablet in portrait mode isn't really any more comfortable than with any other large widescreen tablet—it's just a little too large to be as comfortable as the paper notepad that Panay compared it to.” (Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica)
  • “Thanks to its larger screen, browsing the web and using Windows 8 apps felt far more comfortable than with past Surface models. The Surface Pro 3 doesn’t feel any different than my 13-inch MacBook Air.” (Devindra Hardawar, VentureBeat)
  • “The bigger screen makes the Surface even less comfortable on your knees.” (Jeffrey Van Camp Digital Trends)

Internal fan

  • “It has been quiet during our early testing.” (Vincent Nguyen, Slashgear)
  • “It was definitely audible during the Cinebench run.”  (Anand Lal Shimpi, Anandtech)
  • “I couldn't hear it or feel any air even when pushing the CPU.” (Ed Bott, ZDnet)
  • “Certainly felt cool and ran quietly during our initial hands-on testing, but the same can be said of many Windows 8 tablets, some of which are truly fan-free.” (Dan Ackerman, CNET)

Kickstand

  • “A particular triumph. It's a great balance of support and yet easy adjustment, opening and closing smoothly.” (Vincent Nguyen, Slashgear)
  • “Viewing angles are fully adjustable and feel sturdy.” (Melissa Grey, IGN)
  • “The kickstand hinge is impressive. The level of resistance is just right — light enough for you to manipulate with one hand, but hard enough to stand up to everyday tapping and writing.” (Pete Pachal, Mashable)
  • “New, terrific hinge. Yes, it slides easily to the first Surface Pro position, at about 20 degrees. But after that, the hinge kicks in. Suddenly, there's a great deal of resistance, and the hinge is stable out to its maximum of 150 degrees.” (Mark Hachman, PC World)

Type Cover and keyboard

  • “Just as comfortable to type on as Type Cover 2. The key spacing appears to be a bit wider as well, making it even more useful for those with larger fingers. The additional hinge positions make the tablet a bit more ergonomic.” (Mark Hachman, PC World)
  • “The new cover has a dramatically improved design. It honestly feels a lot like a MacBook touchpad.” (Pete Pachal, Mashable)
  • “The thinness of the keyboard-cover combo still made it a bit bouncy to type on.” (Natt Garun, The next web)
  • “Push the keyboard up, slightly, toward the body of the tablet, and it hinges and clings magnetically to the bottom edge of the slate. It's a small movement, but it has a big impact on both how stable the tablet feels, and how comfortable typing is.” (Vincent Nguyen, Slashgear)
  • “Before you fold the magnetic strip running across the top, the Type Cover is usable but uncomfortable and wobbly. After folding it, it's still not as rock-solid as a non-removable aluminum base, but it's a much more laptop-like typing experience.” (Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica)
  • “Merely good, not great. It's a relatively shallow chiclet keyboard with mostly full-size keys, though the up and down arrow keys and some on the left and right of the keyboard are a little squeezed to conserve space. The backlight is nice, and I was quickly typing at my usual speeds, but the key travel is too shallow to be as satisfying or responsive as a normal keyboard.” (Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica)
  • “The best add-on tablet tablet keyboard you can buy, while falling short of a decent budget laptop keyboard. It's an excellent ergonomic improvement, although it makes typing louder and clackier.” (Dan Ackerman, CNET)

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Trackpad

  • “A lot better, but still not in laptop-territory as far as experience goes.” (Anand Lal Shimpi, Anandtech)
  • “Bigger and more precise” (Dana Wollman Engadget)
  • “Better but still still too shallow to easily navigate all around the screen.” (Dan Ackerman, CNET)
  • “Didn't really impress me on first blush” (Mark Hachman, PC World)
  • “Pretty small even for my petite hands, and I found that my thumb often got in the way of the index finger while scrolling around.” (Natt Garun, The next web)
  • “Seems reasonably good. My only complaint is that it's a little small.” (Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica)

“Lap-ability”

  • “Still will feel more awkward in the lap than a conventional clamshell design.” (Ed Bott, ZDnet)
  • “With this iteration, it’s gotten better. There’s still a side-to-side wobble, but the stability towards and away from you has improved. “ (Mark Hachman, PC World.
  • “The new hinge with more stable type cover creates a much more laptop-like base, which definitely comes in handy when typing on your lap. I still found it to be less stable than a laptop, but it's a far closer approximation to the laptop experience than it ever has been before.” (Anand Lal Shimpi Anandtech)
  • “A much better experience than the Surface Pro 2, but using the tablet on your lap isn't an ideal experience. It still feels a bit flimsy on one's lap. And if you're as short, the kickstand has a tendency to slip off the knees. It doesn't approach the stability of a laptop.” (Melissa Grey, IGN)
  • “It's not quite the same as using a laptop. For one thing, the unfolded kickstand and the keyboard cover combined expand to take up a wide swath of one's lap—the whole apparatus extends nearly to my knees, and I'm not a short person. Those with less expansive laps may need to do a little maneuvering to fit the whole thing. You're also going to have to keep your lap mostly level. If one of your legs is raised higher than the other, the kickstand and keyboard become more wobbly again.” (Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica)
  • “I still had a hard time getting the Surface Pro 3 to sit comfortably on my lap. The kickstand either kept the screen angle too severe to see clearly while seated, or else the end of the kickstand was sliding off my knees when I tilted the screen further back.” (Dan Ackerman, CNET)
  • “The extra magnetic seal that you get by folding the edge of the keyboard toward the screen really does improve the lap-ability — you can finally use the Surface on your lap, at any angle, with minimal keyboard shake. The experience felt close, if not exactly like, typing on my MacBook Pro With Retina Display.” (Pete Pachal, Mashable)
  • “We like the many new angles you can position the kickstand at. Still, no matter what we do, the Pro 3 still isn’t anywhere near as comfortable as a standard laptop. The kickstand always feels like it’s about to slide off of your knees. It’s just not a pleasant experience.” (Jeffrey Van Camp, Digital Trends)

Stylus

  • “Offers great accuracy in both writing and touch modes.” (Natt Garun, The next web)
  • “Feels good in the hand, nicely weighted and not at all cheap. The digital inking is smooth and free-flowing. Given how useful it is, it's a shame there's nowhere in the Surface Pro 3 to actually dock it.” (Vincent Nguyen, Slashgear)
  • “One of the nicest I've come across.” (Melissa Grey, IGN)
  • “It does feel more substantial in the hand. The screen has just enough friction that when I write on it, I feel like I'm writing on paper – or as close as you can get, anyway.” (Dana Wollman, Engadget)
  • “I couldn't detect any latency while using the pen with OneNote, but when I switched over to Fresh Paint, the app had trouble properly registering my scribblings.” (Pete Pachal, Mashable)
  • “Metallic, and more substantial than versions I've tried with other Windows 8 tablets. You'll need to either keep in your pocket or bag, or perhaps slide it behind your ear, unless you have a sold-separately type cover and its awkward stick-on stylus-holding loop.” (Dan Ackerman, CNET)

Performance

  • “I'm seeing a 3 – 20% increase in performance over the Surface Pro 2.” (Anand Lal Shimpi, Anandtech)
  • “I was impressed with Windows 8.1′s speed. The swipes and gestures registered smoothly.” (Natt Garun, The next web)

Verdict

Reviewers tend to like the device but don’t think it can replace both their tablet and laptop:

  • “My first impression is very, very positive.” (Ed Baig, USA Today)
  • “A well-designed device that delivers improvements on its predecessors, but I am not convinced the Surface Pro 3 is revolutionary enough to completely replace my laptop.” (Melissa Grey, IGN)
  • “It makes a strong case as a laptop replacement. But it hasn't yet convinced me it's an iPad replacement as well, and to close the deal, it's going to have to do both.” (Pete Pachal, Mashable)
  • “On my lap, and the Surface Pro 3 doesn’t quite measure up as a laptop replacement.” (Mark Hachman, PC World)
  • “It is, at first glance, still a far cry from the Macbook Air. The Surface Pro 3 seemed more like a fair rival to the iPad.” (Natt Garun, The next web)
  • “This isn’t a tablet you’re going to love lugging around all day and the MacBook Air is still better as a laptop.” (Jeffrey Van Camp Digital Trends)

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