First Impressions: Surface Pro 3 - The best of both worlds?
By Alex Choros
Today's been a good day; after months of anticipation we've finally had the chance to go hands on with the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. On paper, the Surface Pro 3 is most refined device in Microsoft's line of hybrids, and arguably, more refined than any other hybrid on the market. The level of power that's been crammed into this bad boy is unprecedented, in fact, the design and manufacture of over 100 custom parts was required. Microsoft have been very eager to tout the Surface Pro 3 as the only portable device you'll ever need; after all, why carry around both a tablet and a laptop? So the question is, does it offer the best of the both worlds?
In terms of build quality and aesthetic, everything about the Surface Pro 3 feels premium; it's a beautiful device. The Surface's 2160x1440 screen looks amazing, especially at maximum brightness; it does however share the Lumia 930's (first world) problem of making certain programs and websites look a bit low resolution. One of the biggest improvements over previous iterations is the kickstand. Rather than being locked to one or two angles, the kickstand is now "continuous" and offers 150 degrees of flexibility. Importantly, is hinge is really solid, meaning the device doesn't slowly slant down over time.
Using the TypeCover keyboard feels great. While it takes a bit of time to get used to some of the key positions, such as the smaller up and down arrow keys, this is a fairly minor learning curve. After getting used to it, I've been able to type just as fast as I can on any other keyboard. To be honest, the keys on the TypeCover feel much nicer than the ones on the Logitech keyboard I've currently got on my desk. One quirk is that what appear to be screen brightness keys are actually used to adjust the keyboard's backlight. I didn't realise this, so I thought the functionality might have been broken. Turns out brightness is actually adjusted using a Fn + Del and Fn + Backspace. A bit unintuitive, but works fine when you know.
The only real issue I've encountered is that trackpad on the TypeCover is a little bit fiddly. One finger navigation is fine, but scrolling with two fingers can be a bit hit-and-miss, and doesn't feel as natural as on the MacBook Air, the laptop Microsoft insists on constantly comparing the Surface Pro 3 too. At the same time, it's always possible to use a USB or Bluetooth mouse instead. It should be noted, the device only has one USB port.
Using the Surface Pro 3 doesn't feel that different to using a laptop - and that's a good thing. We've been testing one of the midrange models, rocking an Intel i5 processor, 8 gigabytes of RAM and 256 gigabytes of storage. Performance has been nice and responsive; I haven't put the device through anything too intensive yet, but it's done admirably with my day-to-day work, which is mostly a lot of writing and a bit of Photoshop. The TypeCover's updated design also means you can now actually use the Surface Pro 3 on your lap, which is great.
As a tablet, the Surface Pro 3 is a little heavy for one handed use - it's no iPad mini or Nexus 7, but I suspect it was never trying to be. When in portrait mode, the hybrid is about the same width as an iPad Air, just a little taller. While it does have a 12-inch screen, it's still more than usable as a tablet. Windows could use a little more touch screen optimisation, but it's getting there.
The Surface Pro 3 also comes with a battery powered, Bluetooth stylus. Tapping its top button will open up OneNote, even when the device is locked, which is pretty nifty. The stylus is pretty nice to write with; I'm a fan, it's just a shame that my handwriting is atrocious. Windows can struggle converting it to text, but to be fair, it does an admirable job and gets it right about 75% of the time. Given how messy my scrawls are, that's actually kind of impressive. Most importantly, the stylus features palm blocking technology, meaning you won't get any unwanted input from resting your hand on the screen.
The Surface Pro 3 is almost completely silent, the only time I've heard the fan kick in was when I was running updates. On the subject of updates, Windows doesn't manage them quite as elegantly as either iOS or Android. This isn't a problem for me, but could be a hurdle for some.
The Windows Store ecosystem isn't as strong as Apple's App Store, but that's a bit of a non-issue considering the wealth of software available for Windows 8.1. Windows RT this 'aint. Windows touchscreen support is becoming more common-place in utilities and games too. Hearthstone, Blizzard's massively popular online card game recently added touch screen support to the desktop version, meaning that Surface Pro 3 users can play it without the need for a mouse or keyboard. Civilization V also is also fully touch enabled, although I'm not sure if having that game on a tablet is a good idea; it would definitely put my productivity at risk. In addition, Photoshop has been updated with Surface specific features, optimising the UI for touch and the Surface's stylus.
Based on the half day I've spent using the Surface Pro 3 so far, it feels like fewer compromises have been made to get the laptop tablet balance. It's not a perfect laptop, it's not a perfect tablet, but it does a pretty damn good job at being both.
We'll have a full review of the Surface Pro 3 in the next week or so. The Surface Pro 3 launches in Australia on August 28. In the meantime, check out our face off between the Surface Pro 3 and the MacBook Air!