Hands-on with Microsoft's Surface Pro 3

The new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet after it was unveiled May 19, 2014 in New York. (AFP...

The new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet after it was unveiled May 19, 2014 in New York. (AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda)

, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:17 PM ET

When Apple first launched the iPad in 2010, the "end of the PC era" fell upon us. Four years and three generations of Surface later, it’s now Microsoft’s turn to declare war on notebooks and laptops. The Surface Pro 3’s mission is ambitious: compete with Apple’s MacBook Air and, at the same time, with high-end tablets, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Pro. So, is the third time a charm for Microsoft?

One thing is certain, the Surface Pro 3 specifications are impressive, from a PC and from a tablet perspective. Only 9.1 mm thick, 800 grams, with enough battery power to last a little over seven hours, and sporting all the connectivity one can hope for (including a MicroSD slot at the back). It embodies all the best of today’s mobile devices. Without overheating too much…

After the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2’s mitigated success, Microsoft wanted more than a mere evolution, and it shows. On the hardware side, ports have all been moved to one side : USB 3, Mini DisplayPort and charger. The kickstand can now be adjusted to almost any angle. The removable keyboard cover has a new hinge underneath the screen so it can be elevated slightly, for a more comfortable use.

The combination of that keyboard and the kickstand can seem superfluous compared, for instance, to an Asus Transformer tablet PC, which clicks into a hinged keyboard when necessary.

On top of that, a large 12-inch display of 2,160 x 1,440 pixels, a fourth-generation Intel Core processor, and accessories, such as the detachable ultrathin (and backlit) keyboard and the Bluetooth digital pen, make this device a very versatile personal computer.

This time round, Microsoft’s integration of the pen is well executed. Click the top button and the tablet will turn on, automatically creating a blank page (in OneNote) to write on. The pen tip’s precision is also improved, and it works flawlessly even if you happen to be left-handed.

The display has an unusual 3:2 ratio is not necessarily ideal for watching full screen, 16 :9 video (or even those older 4:3 clips), but for everything else, it does very well. Microsoft also improved the Wi-Fi antenna’s sensitivity and signal strength, so it can detect and connect to wireless networks more easily, and more rapidly.

The new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet with detachable keyboard after it was unveiled May 19, 2014 in New York. Click here for more photos. (AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda)

A mobile worker’s best friend

The Surface Pro 3 comes with Windows 8.1 and the Office suite pre-installed. This will appeal to people who need a device for work or those who would like to do more with their tablet than sort e-mails, photos and music. Microsoft admits this is not the best device for high-end gaming, but it does pretty well with most software.

On the apps side, you can obviously find several thousands of them in the Windows Store. There are more apps available on the iPad and on Android tablets, still, so this is not the Surface Pro 3’s strong suit. Multitasking, on the other hand, is a big thing on the Surface, whose split-screen mode will soon be copied by the iPad.

In addition to the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft still sells the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, both at a discount. This makes for an unusual lineup of productivity-oriented tablets, which could change whenever Redmond decides to launch a more affordable, more versatile 7-inch Windows tablet, possibly sourced from Nokia.

And right now, it seems like this is the main reason why Microsoft is not gaining that much momentum in the tablet segment: a lot of people seem to be shopping for that compact, portable second-screen device for using while on the couch, rather than a full-fledged, albeit ultraslim PC for working remotely.

That might come soon, says Microsoft. But with news (yet again) of layoffs and reorganization, it’s probably all up in the air for now.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is available at major electronic retailers and Microsoft.com, starting at $849 for the 64 GB model and going up to $1,999 for the 512 GB model.


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