Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: a tablet for work

Microsoft needed a couple of practice runs to get it right, but the tech titan has finally nailed it with the Surface Pro 3. This device redefines what tablets are capable of, proving they can be just as effective as laptops with the right mix of hardware and software.

The Surface Pro 3 marries a vivid 12.1-inch 2160 x 1440-pixel touchscreen with the Windows 8.1 Pro operating system and a set of specs that leave the iPad for dead.

The souped-up screen makes the Surface Pro 3 large enough to work from all day, with ample screen resolution for multi-tasking. To use it as a proper workhorse, however, you'll need to pair it with an external keyboard. Microsoft offers the optional $150 Type Cover, which squeezes a full-sized keyboard into a thin cover that magnetically clips to the tablet. The typing experience is good, but it's let down by a shallow typing action and rattly keys.

It's no coincidence that the Surface Pro 3 has the same footprint as an A4 notepad. An N-Trig digitiser lets you write on the screen using the bundled pen with almost the same accuracy and precision as writing on paper. Microsoft has also removed the speed bumps for digital note-taking: just click the end of the bundled digitiser pen, and it opens a new note in OneNote. You can also use the pen in Word and a handful of third party apps.

The Surface Pro 3 is available in various models, starting at $979 for a 1.5GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD. Power users can bump it up as high as a 1.7GHz Intel Core i7 processor with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, but this costs a whopping $2279.

Stuffing PC components into a sleek 800g, 9.1mm-thick tablet is a feat of engineering, but battery life takes a hit. While smaller tablets with made-for-mobile Qualcomm processors average at roughly 10 hours of run-time, the Surface Pro 3 managed only 6.5 hours of web browsing and word processing.

Ironically, the Surface Pro 3 performs better as a laptop than it does a tablet. The larger screen makes it clumsy to hold with one hand, and both the app selection and tablet interface in Windows 8.1 is still pretty lousy compared to iOS and Android. It has access to the massive library of standard Windows software, of course, but these aren't optimised for tablet use and can be difficult to use with a finger.

The flip side is that the Surface Pro 3 isn't hamstrung by the limitations that prevent iOS and Android tablets from being proper laptop replacements. Its large display and superior inking capabilities also set it apart from the hordes of Windows 8.1 Pro tablets.


There are plenty of cheaper tablets available for basic web browsing and media consumption, but if you're looking for tablet to get the job done, the Surface Pro 3 is the best on the market. 

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This article Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: a tablet for work was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.