The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the latest in MS' line of tablets with the brains of a laptop. A power user tablet that's on many folks' wish lists, even if it isn't entirely practical as a laptop replacement, the Surface Pro reviews are among our most popular. This time, Microsoft ups the ante with a more mainstream 12" size that might just steal a few Ultrabooks buyers who were pondering 12.5" Ultrabooks like the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga and Dell XPS 12.
Today we take a first look at the $999 Surface Pro 3 with the 4th generation Intel Core i5 ULV CPU and Intel HD 4400 graphics, 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 gig SSD. As ever, upgrading and even opening Surface Pro is a trial, so if you want more RAM or a larger SSD, opt for Microsoft's 8 gigs of DDR3 RAM model with a 256 gig SSD or the Core i7 with a 512 gig SSD. Note that the Core i5 models will be available June 20, but the Core i3 and i7 models won't be available until August 31. As ever, RAM is soldered on board, so you won't be able to upgrade it, even if you're up to the advanced surgery required to access internals.
The Surface Pro 3 has a 2160 x 1440 display that's stunningly crisp and quite colorful. This is our first look where we visit Microsoft to play with the device, and once we get our very own review unit in house for thorough testing, we'll measure color gamut using our Spyder 4 Pro colorimeter. To my eye, it looks markedly better than the Surface Pro 2 in terms of color gamut.
This is a pen and touch display, and Microsoft switched from Wacom to N-Trig for the pen technology. Graphic artists who rely on art apps that only support Wacom and WinTab will be disappointed, but the good news is that more and more programs use the Windows Ink API that supports N-Trig nicely. There are still a few holdouts like Corel Painter, so your feelings about Surface Pro 3 with N-Trig vs. Surface Pro 2 with Wacom will hinge on the programs you use. In any case, the pen will work in all programs; it's just a matter of getting pen pressure registered. That means the N-Trig pen works fine in OneNote, Word and Fresh Paint, though we noticed the pressure curve was way off in Fresh Paint (MS makes this Metro app, and we assume they'll update it by release). This isn't a brand new technology; it's a very slightly updated version of the pen and tech used in the Sony Vaio Flip series of convertible Ultrabooks among others. The N-Trig pen has less tip offset and better corner accuracy than Wacom, but the hover distance (and thus palm rejection) is shorter so you have to make sure the Surface Pro 3 sees the pen tip before resting your hand on the glass. The N-Trig digitizer offers 256 levels of pressure sensitivity vs. 1024 with Wacom-equipped Windows tablets, but those levels are sufficient for reasonably natural drawing.
We loved the integrated kickstand on the Surface Pro models, but not the limited positions. Now the kickstand has infinite positions and the hinge is firm enough to hold up taps and hands resting on the glass. Good stuff. The body is as ever magnesium and stunning looking. The design and even size are close enough between Surface Pro 2 and 3, that if you saw the Pro 3 alone, you might mistake it for the Pro 2. In fact, Surface Pro 3 is thin at 0.36" and light for a 12" tablet at 1.76 lbs. and it feels so well balanced in hand that you might think it weighs less. Obviously, it's bigger and heavier than an iPad, but this is a full Windows PC, so that comparison isn't entirely fair. The 3:2 display aspect ratio does make portrait mode feel less ungainly, though 4:3 still feels the best for portrait mode use.
Here's our Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Hands On First Look Review video. Our full written review will follow in the coming weeks, and we'll do a deep dive with the pen in various art and note programs and compare it with the ThinkPad Yoga and others.
Curious about battery life for the various processors, particularly between the i5&i7 models. My experience has been that jacking up performance usually imposes a penalty (expected) on battery life. But in a Reddit AMA discussion Microsoft states that all the models across the line will have similar battery life, regardless of processor - no explanation given. Can you verify if this is really true, and if so how they manage to do this? In this particular case the i7 SP3 models will be paired with Intel HD 5000 graphics, putting a further stress on battery life when compared with the i5 / Intel 4400 combination. This makes me somewhat skeptical of The Microsoft statement. Any info you can dig up appreciated. Also curious about how observable the performance difference between i5 and i7 will be. Microsoft quoted a 15-20% performance increment in the Reddit AMA. This of course sounds quite significant. Your thoughts?
For ULV Core i5 and i7s with HD 4400, the performance difference is even smaller at 10% or less. The CPU architecture is really very similar with the same number of cores, watts and power consumption. Moving up the HD 5000 does increase performance gains, obviously depending on what you're doing (graphically intensive or CPU bound). Microsoft and Intel would have to tell us how they achieved similar battery life to the Core i5 with the i7 and HD 5000, their comment was that Intel worked hard to manage that on the i7 model. I'd say it is possible given the MacBook Air with HD 5000 manages crazy long runtimes. Will it pan out? We'll have to wait until early September to see.
-------------------- Lisa Gade Editor in Chief, MobileTechReview
Thanks- great insight. My projected use is a fairly do-it-all machine (like Microsoft wants!): web browse; email; watch movies; some work spreadsheets (small); PowerPoint; family photo editing & some family video editing (occasional). Think i5 is adequate for all that, or hold out for the i7? Cost difference not important for me. Battery difference would be if significant.
Nice review: I value mobiletechreview for professional and unbiased information. I'm really looking forward at the comparison with the ThinkPad Yoga, as I will eventually choose between these two devices for my next "laptop". What I'm looking for is a hybrid device with active digitiser with a good screen of max 13-14 inches and at least decent speakers. I will do quite some typing on it, thus the keyboard should be backlit and preferably have full-size cursor keys and dedicated PgUp/PgDn and Home/End keys, preferably on the right (the Ideapad Yoga keyboard would be ideal, but alas it has no active digitiser option). I'm mostly interested in the differences that are not obvious from the specs sheets, i.e. keyboard, touchpad, and screen quality (I may have already bought the Yoga were it not for the image retention issues and the non-stellar gamut), speaker quality, and precision of handwriting pen input.