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Microsoft Surface Pro 3

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What's Hot: Stunning thinner and lighter design, lovely display, much improved kickstand, full laptop performance.

What's Not: Type Cover keyboard not included in price, limited ports on tablet. Fan can get loud.


Reviewed July 7, 2014 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the latest in MS' line of tablets with the brains of a laptop. It's a power user tablet that's on many folks' wish lists, even if it isn't entirely practical as a laptop replacement, because it's just so darned sexy and cool. This time, Microsoft ups the ante with a more mainstream 12" size that might just steal a few buyers who were pondering 12.5" Ultrabooks like the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga and Dell XPS 12.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Specs and Configurations

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 are available now, but the Core i3 and i7 models won't be available until August 1. 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 tablet runs Windows 8.1 Pro 64 bit, has dual band Marvell WiFi 802.11AC and Bluetooth 4.0. It has front and rear 5MP cameras that are a big step up from previous Surface Pro models.

Design and Ergonomics

This is the lightest and skinniest Surface Pro yet, despite the significantly larger 12" display (previous models had a 10.6") display. It has a light silver magnesium alloy casing and is just 0.36" thick, which is pretty impressive for a machine with an Intel Core CPU and fan inside. It weighs 1.76 lbs., which is close to the weight of the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 running a mobile OS with no fan. No, it doesn't feel as light as the iPad Air or the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5, but this is a 12" tablet, and one with Ultrabook internals. As a travel companion, it's crazy light compared to even the lightest Ultrabooks, even with the 10 ounce Type Cover attached. Carrying it around and holding it for short periods of time is no chore, though when reading for an hour, you'll probably want to rest it on your legs or a table.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The design is as stunning, modern and lust inducing as ever, and Microsoft fixed our one big pet peeve: the limited two position kickstand. Now the kickstand offers infinite positions, and there's even a position that's well suited to drawing with the tablet on a table. The variable position tilt and redesigned Type Cover make the Surface Pro 3 "lap-able", unlike prior models. I'm writing this review with the Surface Pro 3 and Type Cover sitting on my lap (I do recommend a lap desk or magazine as an intermediary surface if the kickstand digs into bare legs).

Like most Windows 8 tablets, the Surface Pro 3 has just one USB 3.0 port, which road warriors may find limiting. It has a mini DisplayPort (you can buy a mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter for around $20 at consumer electronics stores) and a 3.5mm combo audio jack as well as the usual built-in mic and stereo speakers. Speaking of speakers, we hear improvements in this latest gen Surface Pro, with audio that's as good as any Ultrabook's in terms of fullness and volume.

Microsoft will offer a $199 Surface Pro 3 dock with three USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm audio and an additional mini DisplayPort.

Surface Pro Type Cover

Microsoft introduced a new keyboard cover for the Surface Pro 3, simply called Surface Pro Type Cover. It's a bit larger thanks to the greater diagonal dimensions of the tablet, and it works in conjunction with magnets along the tablet's lower bezel to offer a second, slightly ramped position for more ergonomic typing. As with all Surface keyboard covers, it's available in a variety of colors including cyan, black, red and magenta and the keys are backlit. It is not included with the tablet, so it will set you back an additional $130.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Unlike the Touch Cover for older Surface and Surface Pro models, the Type Cover has traditional moving keys rather than capacitive touch sensitive keys, so the typing experience is normal. Granted, the keyboard will seem cramped if you're accustomed to desktop or large laptop keyboards, but I found it easy enough to adapt even though I have long fingers. The keyboard is surprisingly noisy, so much so that you probably wouldn't want to use it in bed next to a sleeping spouse. The key clicks are audible in the slightly raised position where the secondary magnets engage to create that ergonomic lift. The keys are much quieter if you don't engage the secondary magnets and leave the keyboard resting on a flat surface.

Key travel and feel is surprisingly good as (obviously) is auditory feedback. It's certainly Microsoft's best Surface keyboard yet. The trackpad is necessarily small, but it handles gestures well enough. When you're at your desk, you can use a full size Bluetooth or USB keyboard, but you probably wouldn't want to lug those on the road.


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The Surface Pro 3 has a 2160 x 1440 display that's stunningly crisp and quite colorful. It has significantly wider color gamut than Surface Pro 1 and 2, and it finally matches the best laptop displays with 95% of sRGB and 75% of Adobe RGB as measured by our Spyder 4 Pro colorimeter. The aspect ratio is 3:2 rather than the usual widescreen 16:9 or 16:10. That makes Surface Pro 3 easier to handle and better suited for portrait use, though I'd say that 4:3 is still ideal for portrait viewing. 3:2 is an excellent compromise where movies don't have large black bars as they do on iPads, yet you don't feel quite so much like you're staring at a tall, skinny bar of text when reading in portrait mode.

As ever, the Pro display has wide viewing angles that match any IPS panel, and it's reasonably bright at 276 nits after color calibration (it approaches 300 nits uncalibrated). This is a gloss display, so reflections and glare are an issue, but no more than on the myriad other glossy touch screen tablets and Ultrabooks on the market. Gorilla Glass offers scratch protection, as does the optional Type Cover when transporting the tablet.


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 programs that only support WinTab won't be disappointed, since N-Trig now offers WinTab drivers on their website. That said, the pressure curves and 256 levels of pressure sensitivity vs. Wacom's 1024 are noticeably less rewarding than Wacom in some programs like Corel Painter X3. Photoshop CC and CS6 feel pretty good and Manga Studio 5 is also competitive when compared to Wacom. Programs that use the newer Windows Ink API like Fresh Paint and Sketchbook Pro support N-Trig nicely.

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 and MS Word 2013, complete with pressure palm rejection (you can rest your hand on the glass while writing). This isn't a brand new technology; it's a slightly updated version of the pen and tech used in the Sony Vaio Flip series of convertible Ultrabooks among others. Microsoft went with a softer nib (pen tip) for a more natural feel and less of those clicking sounds when the pen tip contacts the glass. The N-Trig pen has less tip offset (parallax) 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. For note takers, the N-Trig digitizer and pen might seem better than Wacom thanks to the reduced parallax.

The pen feels similar to the Sony model, and in fact they're interchangeable. Microsoft added Bluetooth to their pen and it's used for the top click button (where the eraser would be on a pencil). The button launches MS OneNote (your choice of the Metro or desktop version). Microsoft wanted it to work like a retractable ballpoint pen where you click the button at the top of the pen before writing. Two side buttons provide features like erase (application dependent). The pen is similar in size to a traditional pen, and as with previous Surface Pro models, there's no silo in the tablet body. It's made of metal and has a pleasing feel in the hand. Unlike Wacom pens, there are active components in the pen itself, so it uses a single AAAA battery that should be good for a year or more. N-Trig claims 2 years, I've so far gotten 9 months to a year with their pens.

Horsepower and Performance

As noted, this is an Ultrabook that lives in a tablet's casing. You have the same 4th generation Intel Core CPU selection, Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics (there's no room for dedicated graphics in such a small chassis) and SSD drive. Note that the Core i3 versions have HD 4200 graphics and the Core i7 models impressively boast HD 5000 graphics. Our Core i5-4300U 1.9GHz mainstream model with 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 128 gig mSATA SSD scored a bit above average on PCMark 7, a benchmark that takes into account all subsystems, including drive speed. Doubtless, Microsoft did a good job of optimizing the machine and the complete lack of bloatware helps. As noted, the 4 or 8 gigs of RAM isn't upgradable because it's soldered to the motherboard, and given how hard it is to open up the Surface 3, it's unlikely you'll be doing RAM or other do-it-yourself upgrades.

Anything you can do with an Ultrabook, you can do with Surface Pro 3, from software development to MS Office (not included, though OneNote is) and 4k video playback. It can handle Metro Live Tile games like a champ as well as less demanding desktop games like Civ V, Diablo III and Left4Dead 2 (watch our video review to see Civ V running at native resolution with touch controls).

The fan is generally silent when the machine is unplugged and handling tasks like web browsing, MS Office, email and even Photoshop CC. The back of the machine stays cool for these sorts of tasks. When playing games like Civ V or exporting 1080p video, the fan kicks in and the back gets very warm but not painfully hot. The fan isn't obnoxiously loud and it sounds similar to Ultrabooks doing the same tasks, but comes across as loud for a tablet. We have noted that the fan randomly kicks on loudly when doing light work, then settles down-- odd.


(1.9 GHz Intel Core i5-4300U, 4 gigs RAM and 128 gig SSD)

PCMark 7: 5111

wPrime: 19.98 sec.

Geekbench 3: single core 2908, multi-core 5695

PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 5111
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 4905
Microsoft Surface 3 (Intel Atom) 2872
HP Spectre x360 (Core i7-5500U) 5304
HP Envy x2 13t 4508
Dell XPS 13 - 2015, 2.2 GHz Core i5-5200U 4952
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro 4673
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5028
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro 4737
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga (Core i5) 4769
HP Spectre 13 4826
Sony Vaio Flip 13 4434
Dell XPS 12 (Core i5, Haswell) 4889
Asus Zenbook UX301 5828
Sony Vaio Pro 13 (Core i5 Haswell) 4549
Samusng ATIV Book 9 Plus 5050
Acer Aspire S7 (Core i7-4500U) 5075
Asus Transformer Book TX300 4495
Acer Aspire R7 3981
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch (Core i5) 4670


Battery Life

Microsoft claims 9 hours of actual use time on a charge. The battery is sealed inside, and as mentioned, it's not easy opening the tablet up for repairs. When battery runtimes diminish 3 years down the road, you'll have to send it to Microsoft for a battery replacement. I'm not a fan of such difficult to upgrade and repair designs, but such is the price we pay right now for cutting edge thin and light designs. In a mixed use test that included working in MS Office 2013, playing a 50 minute episode of Mad Men via Netflix full HD streaming, drawing and editing images in Photoshop and exporting a 7 minute 1080p video, the Surface Pro 3 lasted 6.5 hours with brightness at 50% and both WiFi and Bluetooth on. When using the tablet simply for checking email, browsing a few websites and writing this review in Word 2013 (with the Type Cover backlight on), we got a healthy 7.4 hours. That's competitive with similarly equipped Ultrabooks on the market, and it does beat Surface Pro 2.


Once again we applaud Microsoft: the Surface Pro 3 is a glimpse into the future of computing, and it's both exquisitely good looking and perfectly put together. While the MacBook Air continues on with a solid but stale design and computing paradigm, Microsoft has at least taken a chance at something new. And it mostly works well. One can fault Windows 8.1's schizophrenic two-UI design, and there's certainly work that needs to be done, but the Surface Pro 3 is nonetheless enjoyable to use with Metro apps as well as desktop programs. It's fast, has a gorgeous display, a very practical 3:2 aspect ratio and a pen for note takers and art types. The debate over N-Trig vs. Wacom for art is a work in progress, and it will be interesting to see where they stand in a year. I'm bullish given N-Trig's quick progress, but some artists might want to stick with Wacom for now for its more consistent pressure curves across the gamut of art applications.


Price: starting at $799 for the Core i3, $999 for Core i5 and $1,549 for Core i7. Surface Pro Type Cover $129.99 additional.


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Microsoft Surface Pro 3


Microsoft Surface Pro 3


Microsoft Surface Pro 3


Microsoft Surface Pro 3


Microsoft Surface Pro 3


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Display: 12", 2160 x 1440 display with 10 point multi-touch and N-Trig digitizer with included pen. Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics (HD 4200 on Core i3 models, HD 5000 on Core i7 models). Has wireless display and mini DisplayPort.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside.

Performance: Available with 4th generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs. 4 or 8 gigs of RAM (soldered on, not upgradable) and 64, 128, 256 or 512 gig mSATA SSD drives.

Size: 11.5 x 7.93 x .36 inches. Weight: 1.76 pounds.

Camera: 5MP 1080p cameras, front and rear.

Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated Marvell Avastar dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.

Software: Windows 8.1 Pro.

Expansion and Ports: 1 USB 3.0 port, 3.5mm combo audio, docking connector for keyboard and dock, magnetic charging connector and microSD card slot. TPM module for security (no fingerprint scanner).



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