I need to clear something up before I get on with this look at Surface 3. As soon as I got back home with the Surface 3 I had to leave on vacation. You know, one of those vacations that you are not supposed to take review gear, laptops, and well…work. I had just a few days with Surface 3. Enough to put out a great podcast about the device but very short from a full review. That means I have a lot of homework items to accomplish once Spring Break is over. I have some of my initial thoughts below and I have a killer gallery for you. I had a chance to get some shots of it in NYC before heading back to Surface Geeks HQ.
I also had to agree to holding any review material or unboxing video until April 7th. Getting the device on March 31st made this very difficult.
Lastly, I don’t want to dwell on Surface RT or Surface 2. I’m not going to lament over RT, apps, and the like. I will however, talk about size and shape a little bit. Sorry RT, Surface 3 is here.
Let’s get into it.
You already know this Surface. If you like the size of the original RT or Surface 2 you will like the overall size of the Surface 3. It is roughly the same size but makes slight changes to move from 16:9 to 3:2. The size is comparable to Surface Pro 3 but about 1.2 inches smaller. It’s the lightest Surface yet at 622 grams or 1.37 pounds and should get you through the day with up to 10 hours of battery life. You can pre-order it now but it won’t come with a pen or keyboard. I hate to say you should get either one and this is what makes this tablet so compelling. Some will love the pen ability with it and others will enjoy tablet with the keyboard. Myself, I could never get by without a keyboard.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the 2 Gb RAM version does in the real world. My model is the 4Gb/128Gb SSD so I won’t have any hands on with the lesser version. The 2Gb/64Gb SSD is $499 and is tempting but I would always opt for the 4Gb of RAM. That pushes the price to $599 and ever so closer to Surface Pro 3. This pricing argument may go on forever especially coupled with the fact you have to tack on $129 if you want the keyboard. Thankfully, prior to launch there have already been deals spotted for bundles.
There are no more options for storage on Surface 3. It’s 64 or 128. The next step up is adding on LTE and that won’t be available until Summer 2015. If you want to move up to 8Gb of RAM that is also in Pro 3 territory only.
Wait, did you say LTE? Shut the front door, Microsoft finally put a mobile chip in a Surface! We don’t know all the details but it looks like there will be a couple of carriers involved. It remains to be seen if there will be any “free data” package with it by default.
You won’t find any cooling vents on the Surface 3. It’s thin and passively cooled Atom x7 processor sits tucked in to the top portion of the tablet while battery takes up the rest of the area in the package.
Externally it offers the same keyboard/cover port on the bottom, Mini Display port, USB, micro USB charging port and a headphone port.
The top of the tablet offers the power button on the left side which you are used to on Surface Pro 3 but it’s in the opposite corner of the Surface 2 and RT. The volume rocker is on the top this time. Surface Pro 3 users are used to finding it on the left side. Much like other versions of Surface the top of the tablet has a WiFi and cellular radio, friendly material for it’s antennas. The left side of the tablet is completely void of ports or features. Just the indent to help pull the kickstand out. Surface 3 still has the Windows button on the right hand side much like Surface Pro 3. I prefer this position compared to Pro 2 and 2 being on the bottom.
The new Surface 3 has a 3 position kickstand that will allow you to put the tablet in an almost vertical position, a nice working position, and a laid back position that is great for a standing desk, tablet mode, or sharing a screen on a kitchen counter. I like the new stand but I need a little more time with it to see if I like it better than the Pro 3 uber-adjustable kickstand. I do like the fact that the Surface 3 is a quick click to open where the Pro 3 usually takes 2 hands to get perfectly adjusted.
One odd and picky thing I noticed is the indentation that allows you to pull the kickstand out on the Surface 3 is slightly higher than the Surface Pro 3. SP3 owners will reach for the kickstand blindly and it will be just a tad higher on the 3. That’s getting picky!
I like the micro USB power port. Microsoft is trying to convince us that we all have several of these charging cables laying around as well as power bricks. It’s true Microsoft. I have tons. The Surface 3 brick is a 13 watt charging brick that comes with a heavy duty cable to get the job done.
One more test I’ll be doing in the coming weeks will be to measure the charging time of the included charger with something like a 5 watt charger that comes with a phone or smaller tablet.
I found the cable a little difficult to insert and get positioned perfectly. It might take a little practice but I’m not sure I prefer the cable needing to angle downwards to the surface it’s sitting on rather than having an option of having it go upwards like you can on Surface Pro 3. It’s nit picky I agree but I like having the option with the Surface Pro 3. The cable is so stiff it was hard to get the adapter to sit flush against the surface bezel.
The charging port is also a data USB port. Another homework item for me is to try an OTG cabling option to see if I can charge and use the USB at the same time. I simply ran out of time reviewing it!
My last thoughts on the adapter is traveling will be lighter. The Pro 3 power adapter includes a lot of cabling and a larger transformer. That should appeal to a certain set of travelers.
The Surface 3 Keyboard
This keyboard is nice. It types different yet it’s virtually the same size. The key layout is only slightly smaller than the Surface Pro 3. I found it comfortable to use even coming from the Pro 3.
How is it better? Is it because it’s new? The keys seem firmer to press but not by much. The also are springier if that is a word. It will take some more time with it to find out but so far I like it.
No big shock that the Surface Pro 3 trackpad is bigger but not by much. It’s 3.5 inches across and about 1.75 inches tall.
The Surface 3 trackpad is 3″ across and a little less than 1.5 inches tall. I don’t have a caliper tool to measure the thickness of the keybard compared to Surface Pro 3 but know that it is a tad thicker and a whole lot stiffer. The bottom is that same material. Yes, the pick up dirt and stain material but don’t forget you can clean it with a damp cloth.
Does Surface 3 keyboard work on Surface Pro 3 and vice versa? Yes, however, I couldn’t get the Surface 3 smaller keyboards magnets to stick up on the SP3 screen. Same with trying the SP3 keyboard on the Surface 3. It will only lay flat and not accordian up to type on a slant.
Hardware by Microsoft
The logo on the back is awesome. Microsoft started out with a flying Windows logo on the first RT, a Surface logo on the 2, and now it’s a polished finish Microsoft logo. Very nice touch to the design. See the photo gallery for what you can do with that mirrored finish!
Finally. The camera on Surface doesn’t suck. Ok, it wasn’t that bad but without autofocus it was limited in my mind. Now the rear facing camera is a 8 Megapixel autofocus lens. Time to whip it out at a concert and make everyone around you jealous! Ya right. Great upgrade though.
Windows 10 will be so much fun on this Surface.
I think if you are a “Pen” person you will love this Surface.
Office 365 for a year. Who doesn’t already have an Office 365 free subscription?
Yep, it’s time to get out some apps and really take this Atom processor for a spin. What can it do? How long does the battery really last? Does Chrome kill it? Does it game? Surface Geeks will be looking into that and more on upcoming podcasts and posts. Hit the Surface Geeks Forums
for more conversations on Surface 3.
Surface 3 and beyond
This is where Spring Break takes over. Give the podcast a listen. John Wiskowski, Jim Collison, and myself talk about Surface 3 and it’s differences and strengths. We get into the CPU choice, RAM, and more stuff that is not discussed in this article. There will also be more to come here on the blog. I know I’ve had it for a while now but I don’t want to rush a judgment on this tablet. You deserve more than that. Just FYI though. I really like this Surface.