My Surface Pro 3 just arrived. Having just spoken about the KingSing tablet which is about the cheapest full Windows device on the market – I’ll now talk about this one which must be about the most expensive tablet you can buy.
I’ve been a huge fan of the Surface range since they were launched – I’ve had the original RT and both the original Pro and the Pro 2. They’ve all been pretty good devices, but each one has had a few flaws…. I’ve talked extensively about RT not quite cutting it for my needs – so I’ll just compare the Pro 3 to the Pro 2. This will be a bit superficial because I’ve only had it for a few days – but I really wanted to get a review about it out from an ordinary punter in UK. I’m also taking it as read for this review that I think Windows 8 tablets are a really good option for an IT professional who wants a single device that does everything.
I bought the Core I7 with 8G RAM and 256G disk space. The memory is not expandable but it will take an SD card for extra storage. It weighs 798g and has a 12 inch display running at 2160 x 1440.
In the picture below the Surface Pro 3 is in the middle with the Pro 2 to its left and the original RT to its right.
I have to say from initial perceptions this has to be the nicest device I have ever used.
All the Surfaces I have used have had nice displays and decent touch screens – but this one is by far the best. I’m heavily reliant on using an attached monitor – particularly for report writing, and I’ve struggled slightly with having the Pro 2’s 10 inch display as a secondary screen – it is really a bit small to use next to a desktop monitor. The extra 2 inches of the Pro 3 really make a difference (so size does matter). The slightly different form factor and large screen makes it brilliant for reading a pdf or an ebook of a technical document – it renders a whole page from the book on a single screen in one column.
The screen is bright, with good contrast and easy to read – it is also very smooth and responsive to touch. The only disadvantage is (like all this type of panel) it is hard to use in bright sunlight as it is pretty reflective.
The battery life seems to be about nine hours of medium use.
Having read some of the very detailed performance reviews of the Surface from the US tech sites – I decided to do some basic performance testing of my own. I used Passmark Performance Test 8.0 for this – it runs a suite of tests against CPU, memory, disk, graphics etc. The other machines tested were as follows:-
Surface Pro 2 – last year’s model. Core I5-4200U @ 1.6GHz 8 G RAM. Touch screen.
Laptop 1 – old school power laptop – weight 2.6kg. Core i7-4800MQ @ 2.70GHz 16G RAM. No touch screen.
Laptop 2 – smaller laptop – weight 1.6kg. Core i7-4600U @ 2.1GHz 16G RAM. No touch screen.
Desktop – Gigabyte mini PC – Core i7-4500U – @1.8GHz 16G RAM. No screen or keyboard built in – so not an option for travelling.
Tablet – weight 320g – Atom CPU 1.33 GHz 1G RAM. Touch screen.
I also wanted to include the Apple MacBook Air in my benchmarks, but unfortunately the testing software is Windows only, and my partner reneged on letting me upgrade it for him :).
The results are pretty much what I expected. Laptop1 with its huge weight and large chassis for cooling fans can run a full fat processor and pretty much kicks the others in raw performance. Laptop2 and the Surface 3 are almost identical performance wise apart from Laptop2 has a very expensive high end SD which was bought separately in it so scores well exceptionally well on disk. Neither of the two other laptops have a touch screen. So from a performance perspective – a lot would depend on whether you need the raw performance of Laptop1 – the only thing I can think of which you would really need this for as a tester would be password cracking where you are on site. For me – the light weight and touch screen of the Surface win out over the other two every time – particularly as I am largely an application tester. For interest (because it isn’t a fair comparison) the Surface Pro 2 scored 1500 on the same test, and the Tablet scored 400 – it is to its credit that it managed to run the software at all. Here are the results in graphical form.
A few other features I like about the Pro 3 compared to its predecessors.
a) It is much thinner and more elegant than the Pro 1 and Pro 2 and has lost their slightly clunky feel.
b) The power cord fits into the machine easily without having to fiddle about with it. The fact that it isn’t backwardly compatible with the other two is a small price to pay for this because it was definitely a weakness of the original design.
c) The built in trackpad on the keyboard is about 1000% better – actually a pleasure to use.
d) There is a mechanism to lock the keyboard into place by snapping it up towards the screen. This makes the unit a great deal more stable for using it on your knees – and much more like a laptop with a fully rigid keyboard when used in this mode.
One small negative comment – more aimed at MS than the machine itself. My pen is not working correctly (which is why I have not reviewed it). I’m pretty much sure this is because the two coin batteries in the top of the pen need replaced as this is mentioned as the probable cause in the manual and meets with all the symptoms. It would be nice if someone had thought about including a couple of replacements with the pen because this type of very small coin battery is not the sort of thing everyone has in their house, and it is a bit frustrating not to be able to try it out – particularly when you live right out in the wilds like we do. So I will need to order some batteries and review the pen when I get them.
So in general, this seems to be a lovely machine. I’ve bought four Surfaces in total (so far). The original Surface RT was fine as a tablet (I still use it) but didn’t run proper Windows programs so not that much use for testing. The original Pro didn’t have a great battery life. The Pro 2 was getting there but was a bit clunky and the screen size and keyboard had distinct limitations which meant it was fine as a tablet, but a bit awkward as a laptop when taken out on site as the only machine you would be using for weeks at a time (I actually did this recently when I had an on site engagement for two weeks – and it did start to become a bit of a strain to the eyes and fingers after a while). At the moment the Pro 3 seems to me to press all the buttons as a tablet/laptop/desktop replacement that a tester could use. It combines the ability to run all the testing tools you need, heavyweight IDEs like Visual Studio, and MS office for those all important reports. It is lightweight, stylish and a pleasure to use.
Of course because I now have a super stylish machine with a silver chassis and a bright red keyboard which matches my Lumia 1020, I have come in for a whole load of flak from my partner about preferring style over substance. But I can cope with this – I wouldn’t go back to having the kind of boring PC laptop with a bad display which was about the only thing available a few years ago.