Microsoft Surface 3 Review

Rating:

I haven’t touched a Windows PC in the 5 years since I had Windows 7 installed on my Asus W3V laptop PC from 5 years back. But with the Microsoft Tablet series churning out some really good-looking products, they’ve raised an eyebrow amongst the savviest technology consumers – from business professionals and students alike.

Surface 3 - box and keyboard

Surface 3 Tablet

Surface 3 charging cable

Understanding the Bands

You really need to untrain yourself if you’re used to the iOS or Android way of doing things.  It seems that with the added feature of being able to use Windows as it was up until Windows 7 sometimes gets in the way.  It’s having to shift between two different mindsets and mixing the two together seems to be rather counter productive in the first day or two of use, especially if you’re trying to empower the user to be productive as possible.

Instead of fading into the background and assisting the user in intuitive ways, sometimes it feels as if it’s getting in the way because you’re so used to doing things a certain way. I feel there’s a missed opportunity somewhere to educate the user in terms of onboarding tutorials to let them understand and recognize the big differences and differentiators with iOS or Android, but I’ll digress. If you give the Surface 3 a chance, you’ll notice how Microsoft has blended two OSes in one is quite genius from a productivity perspective.

Two OSes in one.

Even as an adept user when it comes to the latest tech devices, having both the Tablet UI as well as the classic Windows mouse/keyboard interface, will take a while to get used to.  Some of the transitions can be abrupt if you haven’t encountered this unique combination of both user interfaces – touch and classic Windows desktop mode that require keyboard and mouse to navigate.

After a week of use and a bit of struggling at first to get used to the UI/UX, I can see how it can enhance productivity while allowing the user to toggle between tablet and desktop mode.

Tablet mode seems that it’s meant for purely consumption. The gorgeous live-tile interface, which is different but refreshing compare to the iOS and Android layout. Still takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you’ve stuck with either of the OSes, you’ll find that you need to battle against your muscle memory of how you expect the design patterns will be like.

The Gestures

Outside of gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, you won’t find gestures like you would on iOS such as the ability to “scrunch-to-close” a window or a four-finger swipe to the left or right to switch between running programs.

For Windows 8.1, you’ll find that you can accomplish the same by utilizing the four edges of the screen to be able to accomplish the same and do even more by learning Windows’ library of gestures. It’s just too bad that the onboarding didn’t have a clear tutorial to teach these gestures at the beginning or have a live tile leading to a tutorial, as the feel completely natural and intuitive.

However, if you give it a little patience, I assure you that there’s a light at the end of the funnel of re-configuring your brain to work the “Windows 8.1 Way”.

While not specifically a gesture, this has to do with Windows allowing a side-by-side Window mode.

For example if you’re opening a link in an email, it’ll pull up a second pane for a browser to load that link that’s right beside the Mail app, so you don’t lose context. If you want to focus on one of the programs, you can dismiss it by dragging down at the top of the screen to the bottom and you can focus back on your emails or on the link that you opened up in the browser, which is quite nice productivity wise.

Surface 3 software

Hardware

Upon first glance, the Surface 3 looks like it’s a derivative of the iPad. However, upon holding it and closely examining the design choices the industrial design team had made, the similarities are all but superficial. The Surface feels as if it was chiseled out of a solid block of steel and crafted with precision with its sharper edges, compared to an iPad.

As for specs, you’ll be looking forward to:

  • Intel Atom x7-8700 CPU
  • 64GB of storage (with 52.2 GB at your disposal)
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 10.8″ 1920×1280 display
  • USB 3.0 connector
  • Micro-USB power connector
  • Headphone jack

With all that hardware packed into its diminutive 10.8″ frame, it weighs in at a feather light 622 grams. Perfect for the mobile warrior, adding to its versatility.

The CPU

It’s not a heavy hitter in terms of performance compared to desktop class CPU’s, the onboard Intel Atom CPU powers the Surface quite nicely, and especially in mobile contexts keeping battery life in mind automatically throttling down and skimping its energy consumption when less intensive programs are running. With that in mind it makes the Windows experience buttery smooth.

Storage

While advertised coming with 64 GB of storage, it’s a little misleading because of only 52.2 GB of that is available for general purpose storage, due to the almost 10 GB footprint that Windows 8.1 takes up. Its RAM comes in at a reasonable 2 GB. As long as you’re not running 100 applications at once, and you’re paring down the number of applications running simultaneously, for the average user, it’s more than enough.

The Display

You’re getting the full HD 1080p experience with this screen with its 1920×1280 display. Text is sharp, and the screen handles all situations whether indoor or outdoor quite nicely with its automatic brightness settings.

Battery Life

Because of the ultra efficient Intel Atom onboard, you’re be looking at 10 hours or so of battery life or a full day’s work, with the screen set to automatically re-adjusting its brightness levels, which includes playback.

Outside of work, of course I’m mostly using apps like Netflix or browsing my favourite news sources on Flipboard.

Gaming

While not meant to be a gaming machine, the Surface 3 does have Xbox integration if you’re a gamer to be able to see a leaderboard as well as your Xbox Live stats in their gorgeous interface.  There you’ll be able to see your friends stats as well, along with your progress with whatever games you’re playing at the moment.

While I haven’t given the Surface 3 a run for its money in terms of pushing its gaming limits, save for a few 2D based strategy games, you won’t be playing the latest Call of Duty games on your Surface. Save those pursuits for a Gaming PC or perhaps an Xbox One.

The Keyboard

Surface 3 keyboard red

Surface 3 pen

Surface 3 keyboard back

I would say in large part, the power of the Surface 3 is the optional Type Cover keyboard. Connecting the two together is simply aligning the left side of your Surface 3 with the keyboard. You’ll know that you’ve connected the two properly when you hear a very satisfying “click” as you may or may not have saw in Microsoft’s big marketing push for their Surface launch a few years back.

The material for the other side of keyboard feels like high quality suede that feels soft to the touch and feels “premium” for a keyboard that comes with a price tag of $158.  The keyboard itself has all the standard buttons you would expect for a regular PC keyboard, but I found it just as comfortable as any other keyboard with a 13″ screen and up.  The buttons on the keyboard have a very tactile feel and do not add to the keyboard’s heft or profile for that matter.  They provide a quite a satisfying experience as you’re doing writing or editing content.

One of my main questions and concerns with the keyboard is if you’re swiveling the keyboard behind the tablet would key presses register? Thankfully the Type Cover keyboard is able to recognize and not recognize any keystrokes when you’re doing so.

The touch pad is much smaller than what you would find on other keyboard or on what you’d find on other competing notebooks, but I feel it’s the perfect compromise in terms of thinness and portability.  Given the added functionality and productivity that a Microsoft designed keyboard affords the Surface 3 is quite a compelling option that blows away anything an iPad or Android tablet would deliver.  Almost so that I think that I think it’s a detriment to the Surface 3 and its higher end sibling the Surface Pro 3 should have the Microsoft Type Cover included.  It’s like having only a peanut butter or only a jelly sandwich. The two BELONG together.

The Surface Pen

Surface 3 pen ontop of Surface

While I haven’t been able to investigate the Surface pen as much as say, a graphic designer or an artist, the Surface pen feels as if it was one of the primary considerations in building this tablet from its inception.  The fit of the Surface pen alongside the Surface 3 feels like they go hand in hand and natural as you would a pen to notepad.

One of the default apps that you can use with the Surface pen is Microsoft’s OneNote app that already comes pre-installed. There you can start marking up your typed notes with your pen, highlight, as you would with a normal pen or highlighter. If you’ve made a mistake, you can use the erase button and clear out any mistakes you’ve made or simply use the “undo” command.  If you want to change the mode or colour of the pen, you could press the “mode” button and there you’ll be able to select from a variety of colours to choose from for you pen, highlighter mode or eraser mode.

Finally, the most impressive thing that I found about the Surface pen is that it can actually recognize the pressure you put the pen. Somehow, the pen recognizes that the harder you press against the screen, the thicker the pen stroke should be, which should be a neat discovery for those who identify as being the artistic sort.

While coming in a $50, the price of the Surface pen isn’t something to scoff at, but somehow I feel this should have been included as well with the Surface to provide as a primary differentiator with competing tablets. As support grows for the Surface, I can only imagine possible the applications it has, including the app I’m writing this review in – Evernote for Windows 8.1.

The Software

I think with all the power underneath the hood, it should be harnessed by the creativity and the strength of their developer ecosystem. While the Windows Store has a good amount of showcase apps from top tier developers, they simply don’t have the gravity that competing platforms have … yet.  I strongly feel that while Apple loses touch with their developer ecosystem, this is where Microsoft can really outpace their competition.

With the release of their new SDKs at their BUILD Conference in April 2015, it will allow Apple and Android developers to quickly and easily port over their apps to the Windows Store.

This only means more apps for the Windows Store, which should translate to more world class apps that weren’t previously available to the Store, soon to be available, which should be an exciting development for the Windows ecosystem, and of course, the end consumer overall.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a mobile professional or a has expectations of a world class consumer device with the added versatility of true office productivity, then the Surface 3 is a solid option. Coming in at a featherweight 1.37 pounds, you won’t notice it at all in your briefcase or backpack.

While on the pricier end, coming in at $639 CDN, you’re getting a premium device with a well thought out device, while stumbles a bit on the onboarding, you’ll find that the entire experience is nicely wrapped with versatility and productivity in mind.

Despite the pen and keyboard being main components to the overall experience, it would have been nice to have Microsoft have an upgrade option to get these two pieces that make for the entire Surface experience whole at an affordable price, rather than selling them as separate add-ons

The Microsoft Surface 3 is Perfect for:

Mobile professionals, always on the go, whose companies are bought into the PC and Windows ecosystem but want the latest in cutting edge Microsoft built technology without sacrificing any style and performance to boot. The student who want the best of both worlds – a world class tablet experience for browsing the internet, watching videos, listening to music as well as productivity workhouse to churn out presentations, papers and numbers for school.

Key Things to be Aware of:

  • Will take a while to get used to gestures along with switching between Microsoft Tablet and desktop UI
  • 52 GB onboard storage available out of 64 GB because of Windows 8.1 and other pre-installed apps
Summary
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Microsoft Surface 3
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Will obsesses over the latest and greatest in gadgets, startups, does CrossFit and writes about technology, growth marketing, programming and personal development. He curates the Startup Digest in Toronto and is a coffee enthusiast.

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2 Comments

  • 2015 Gold MacBook Review | Staples Tech Hub November 5, 2015 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    […] iPad “Pro” version to square off against more functional productivity based tablets like the Surface 3  or a Retina Macbook Air. It turns out while not exactly that, there was something else brewing at […]

  • Jaztin February 13, 2016 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Just what the doctor oreedrd, thankity you!

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