Surface 3 Review

Surface 3 will be available to purchase on May 5th, 2015. If you are on the fence about purchasing one I hope this will help you out.  Especially if you are using a Surface Pro 3 right now.  It’s my final look at Surface 3.  I suppose we should catch up on what I’ve done on Surface 3.

First Look and Photo Gallery

Podcasts on Surface 3

Battery Testing the Surface 3

Initial Thoughts on Surface 3



Movie Mode Battery Testing

The Surface 3 is getting battery life numbers all over the place. I’m testing my own way so let me explain it. I want to know how it performs if I have a video on the device. Playing a movie and screen on time. Almost like if you grabbed the Surface 3 and hopped on a plane. Just for fun I did the same test on both of my Surface Pro 3’s, the Core i3 and the Core i5.

Here are the details on the video loop. I have a MP4 of the movie Office Space. It’s 720x 464,
23 FPS. The data rate combined of video and audio is 1633kbps. It’s a comedy and it’s 1999. Let’s test.

No Surprise the Surface 3 outlasted the two Surface Pro’s. Here is how long they lasted:

Surface Pro 3 Core i3 – 7 Hours 45 Minutes
Surface Pro 3 Core i5 – 7 Hours 00 Minutes
Surface 3 128/4GB – 9 Hours 45 Minutes

The display was set to 35% on all three and I changed the power plan to keep the screen on and not to sleep the machine. I would say the error correction is around Plus or Minus 15 minutes. The other thing that was working in favor of the Surface 3 is it was completely stock software. The Surface Pro 3 had other software installed even though I tried to go through each one and stop services to try to make them even. Wifi was on an they sat side by side and played a movie. I’m betting you would see the same if you jumped on a 10 hour flight and watched a few movies.

Everyday Usage and Standby Battery Tests

I know you have probably heard of Surface RT and Surface 2 draining the battery when it was supposed to be hibernating or sleeping.  Surface 3 fixes that as you will see from my usage and testing below.

This kind of testing is subjective.  Your mileage may vary kind of warning here.  I’m simply using Surface 3 and taking notes.  I’m going to show you some of my raw notes on this test instead of summarizing it.  Here is how I set it up.

Starting with 100 % Charge.
Stock Surface 3 running IE with two tabs, and Onedrive. One or two other tabs open with light browsing of internet.
Running Event viewer because I’m a geek and I look at that stuff and using notepad to take notes with.
Running Windows Mobility Center to see battery status.  This is a cool app.
Display set to lower 1/3rd around 30 to 35%. Lower than what you would need outside. I tend to conserve when it comes to display brightness. Power set to balanced, default. I never changed anything.
No apps loaded. No installs. Windows Update ran twice after initial boot.
WiFi is on and connected. Bluetooth is on but no connections to devices. Not even the pen at this point.
Touch Keyboard connected.

6:45 PM Went on Battery
Closed the cover at 10:45 PM and it was at 95% Battery
At 8 AM the next morning it was at  92% Battery.
Life took over and I didn’t pull the Surface 3 out for another 36 hours.  Thirty Six hours it was cover closed.  When I turned it back on it was at 85%.

I used it on and off for 2 hours and ran it down to 78%.  Cover closed and picked up the next morning and it had only lost another 2%.

Casual use and standby battery use are awesome on Surface 3. Hopefully you can decipher my notes but it should be clear that it only sips a few percentage points overnight and is generally good at managing battery usage day to day.



I wanted to test the Wifi on the Surface 3 vs. the Surface Pro 3 just for grins. I as well as many others
had trouble with SP3 and WiFi early in its life.  My home Wifi is pretty freaking hideous and I’m waiting on the promised land of eero.  More on that here if you are interested.  I found Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3 very similar if not identical in my testing.  I’ll spare you the details.


I love the differences of this keyboard.  It’s hard to put in words what the differences are.  Yes it’s smaller and sometimes I do feel a little cramped on it.  I don’t know how I would feel about it if I was on it 24/7 as a writer.   I talked about this keyboard in my initial look but have a few things to add to that.  I like how the function key lights up much like the Caps key does.  Surface Pro 3 does not have this.  It allows you to use old keyboard commands like Alt – F4.
If you have ever hit the Function 1 or 2 button on the SP3 keyboard and tried to get the screen to dim but
only managed to dim the keyboard backlight you are in luck. The S3 keyboard has both keyboard dimming and screen dimming.  Yes, you can change the brightness of your keyboard.  That is cool.

I already told you that i keep my screen dim. Now I don’t have to fumble
with the OS to brighten it outside. It’s on the keyboard. Share buttons are gone but honestly I always used the swipe in from right to access share. We’ll address Windows 10 later so don’t go there!
Print Screen! Yes, finally. Capture the whole screen or don’t forget Alt-PrtScn grabs the top windows.
Funny that Alt-Print Screen worked with the Fn lit.


I can lap the SP3 like nobody’s business. It’s very versatile and the ultra position-able kickstand does make it more lapable than the Surface 3. Surface 3 is good, don’t get me wrong. I also prefer the 3 position stand over the stiff Surface Pro 3 one. The SP3 has that last little angle needed to get a perfect position while sitting on the couch.
The Pen
I rarely used the pen with Surface Pro 3 but I wanted to try it out on the Surface 3. I paired it up manually because in the setup it didn’t ask for the pen. I assume that is because it is an optional accessory. Duh.
Surface 3 has an app on it called Drawboard PDF. I gave it a try and it was great for reading a PDF manual. It struck me how awesome it was at reading when I pulled the keyboard off and put it in portrait mode and handled it like a book. The Surface 3 does this very nicely where the Pro 3 is just too big and heavy.
Back to the pen, I annotated on a PDF with this app and it(the app) was an average experience. The erase was very blocky unlike OneNote. Example, if you write the word Pen and hold the erase button and tap the “n” it will erase the whole word. In OneNote you have more granular control and would be able to erase the “n” and be able to re write it neater. UPDATE: Drawboard contacted me and informed me there is a setting in the app to enable more granular control of the eraser. Good on them.  Don’t forget that this is a Free app on Surface 3 that normally costs $9.99. I’m going to continue to use it and will keep you informed.

I’m not knocking on the pen however.  There are more apps in the store to take advantage of the pen including Word and OneNote.  I loaded up a ton of photos in Word and made notes with the pen.  I found it a good experience and will probably use the pen more with Surface 3.  I can’t give you a “Pro” experience with apps and pen but will probably do a podcast on it with some of my colleagues.

Ports and Buttons
If you are coming from the Surface Pro 3 like myself you are going to hate the location of the volume rocker. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned my Surface screen off while just trying to turn the volume up. I mentally tell myself that it’s close to the power button, don’t hit the power button. I’ll still hit it by accident sometimes. I would prefer the volume be on the left side but understand that it might not have fit there due to internals. (Update: It was reported this change is due to the dock.)

General Use
I’ve been trying to max this thing out. Kill it, another words. I can bog it down pretty good but I have not been able to melt it. There is noticeable lag in browsing and use if you have a lot of stuff open at once.

My typical day includes 10 to 20 tabs in Chrome. Sometimes that many in IE. Tweetium, Evernote, and OneNote always open. Several explorer instances, a Chrome Facebook Messenger plugin, and more. I do file copies, Remote Desktop sessions, and Paint. Yes, paint. More often than not I’m doing all this at once. Memory has been my issue on Surface 3 with all those Chrome tabs. (i can’t wait for the new Edge browser) Chrome is a killer on memory no matter what you are using so take that with a grain of salt. When I’m in the middle of a day like this I’m at 75% memory usage and most of it is the browser.

It holds up well. Yes, the Surface Pro 3 i3 is better at it but this Surface 3 holds its own.  I have a Core i7 desktop for heavy lifting so for me the Surface 3 easily replaces the Pro 3 i3 as my portable device.

Section Follow Up: I decided to finish up the review on the Surface Pro 3 to get a feel for the change.  Ahhhhhhh, more room! The size is nice.  The keyboard is not as “clickie” as the Surface 3 but still nice and roomy.  The extra .5″ of trackpad is also a plus.

Who is buying Surface 3?

I paid $666 for my Surface RT 32 and a touch keyboard. I paid just as much for Surface 2 when it came out. Ugh. Surface 3 starts at $499 and the Type Cover is $129. If only Surface 3 had started from the beginning! I would be much thicker in the wallet but I know you have to start somewhere.
You can still find Surface 2 in the online store but it’s not available for purchase.

I don’t want to take the Surface Pro 3 away from anybody. It’s a great device. However, if you are a Surface Pro 3, Core i3 user and are looking for more portability the Surface 3 is for you. I have easily converted from the i3 to this. If you are a web surfing, email checking, facebook posting, i3 user then you will love this new Surface. If you do it mainly from your comfy chair or couch you might want to check the lapability section above. Test the Surface 3 at the store.

Maybe you have the Surface Pro 3 docked and are looking for a more portable solution? Keep it docked and go with Surface 3. It fills that gap. If you don’t, get a dock for your Pro 3 and park it at a desk. Take it out when you need to but keep Surface 3 floating around the kitchen. (yes, my poor SP3 Core i3 is lonely and jealous)

Touch is king.  Don’t even think about buying something that doesn’t have it.  I’m talking you Macbook and Air!  This new Surface will fit so many needs I can’t begin to list them all. It’s not a little brother to the Surface Pro 3 as it stands on it’s own and fills a need that was left open by the price and power of Surface Pro 3.  It’s a great device at a great price. Don’t forget Office 365 comes with it. Surface Pro 3, not. Don’t expect to install Office elsewhere. It’s for the Surface 3 and one tablet only.

I’ve only tested the 4 Gb of RAM version of the Surface 3. I might have a different opinion of the 2Gb less expensive version. I know it’s $100 more but the 4Gb version has 128Gb’s of storage. I’m going to recommend this version.

There is only one reason I can tell you not to buy Surface 3 right now. If you need even more portability the 4G LTE version will be relased Summer 2015.

David McCabe

Surface MVP

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