Microsoft has launched its flagship Surface Pro 3, a Windows 8 tablet it says can help ‘take away the conflict’ between a laptop and a tablet. Notably, the Pro has a 12-inch screen (one of the biggest screens around), which, alongside the kickstand and stylus, is designed to make the Pro better for the sort of everyday computing we still prefer to do on laptops.
Despite the bigger screen, the Surface Pro 3 is thinner than its predecessor, 9.1mm vs 10.6mm, and lighter, 800g vs 923g. The i7 processor and cutting edge 2,170 x1440 display give the Surface Pro 3 the potential to be one of the best tablets on the market. It will, like its predecessor, also be one of the most expensive.
Tablet reviews – find out how the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 scored in our lab tests
Surface Pro 3 – three key features
A laptop killer? – Microsoft wants the Surface Pro 3 to be the sole device you carry – no more taking a laptop and tablet wherever you roam. The Surface Pro 3 is therefore designed to be thin and light like a tablet, but sturdy like a laptop. At 9.1mm thick, and weighing 800g it certainly manages the former (though note the iPad Air easily wins here at just 469g). As for sturdiness, the Pro 3’s detachable keyboard can now magnetically seal itself to the screen to make it rigid, therefore enabling you to comfortably use the device on your lap in concert with the kickstand.
3:2 ratio screen – Microsoft has introduced the concept of the 3:2 ratio screen to its 12-inch device – something quite different to the more traditional 16:9 ratio screen of the 10.6-inch Surface Pro 2. Microsoft claims that the change creates what it calls a ‘pixel free’ display. In real terms the 2160 x 1440 screen should look vibrant and crisp, though the resolution is only really what we’re already used to on premium tablets such as the Samsung Note 10.1 (2014) and iPad Air.
A pen, not a stylus – the Surface Pro 3 comes with a pen which Microsoft is hoping will redefine the concept of a stylus. It attempts to do this in multiple ways, first by reducing the latency that can make writing on a screen feel like an odd, time-delayed process. You can also rest your hand on the screen as you type – like you would on paper – to anchor that position of the page, meaning the content won’t move as you type. Finally, by ‘clicking’ the pen, you can turn the Surface’s screen on (even when it’s switched off) to open a basic note taking app to scrawl down any lists or ideas. The pen can also be used to instantly save any notes to the Cloud.
Which? expert verdict – ‘the return of the netbook?’
It’s easy to forget that Microsoft makes tablets. Since the Windows RT was launched back in 2012 I’ve seen just one Microsoft Surface tablet out in the wild. That’s not a scientific study but a story borne out by the anemic sales numbers for the Surface Pro 2 and the RT.
Beyond the prohibitive price tag, the Surface Pro struggled because of the domination of Apple and Android in the app store market. The Windows Store has improved a great deal in recent years but it still lags behind and there are still key apps missing.
With the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft is, in a way, taking itself out of direct competition with Apple, Samsung and other rivals by offering something that’s different.
There is a growing market for tablet/laptop convertibles and with a 12-inch screen the Surface is likely to make writing documents, online shopping and anything else that benefits from a little more screen real estate than you typically get on a tablet easier.
But while it will probably be one of the more convincing tablet/laptop hybrids the screen is also a significant drawback. The Surface Pro may be lighter and thinner than its predecessor but it’s also big. It’s the sort of tablet that is going to sit at home or at work rather than get taken on the bus every morning. That’s not the sort of tablet most people want.
Like the 12-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, the Surface Pro 3 will be perfect for a niche audience but it’s built too big and is too expensive to take on the iPad, Nexus and other 10-inch and 7-inch tablets.