Microsoft Surface Pro 3 User Review

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

*This is a review of a loaned product unit from Microsoft Malaysia*

I waited quite awhile to get my hands on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. In fact, the device was launched and announced globally a year ago in May 2013. I am super late to the review party. Nevertheless, I was thankful for Microsoft Malaysia for allowing me the opportunity to still get my hands on time with it.

And hands on time I got. I had the Surface Pro 3 for a little more than 2 long months!!! Boy – was I happy! And now, sad to let it go…

Here’s a quick specifications overview of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 :-

  • 12″ ClearType Full HD Plus Display (2160 X 1440)
  • 4th generation Intel® Core processor family (i3, i5, i7)
  • 64 / 128 GB storage with 4GB RAM -OR- 256 / 512 GB storage with 8 GB RAM
  • Powered by Windows 8.1 Pro OS
  • 5 megapixel front- and rear-facing camera
  • 9.1 mm thin, weighing 800 grams
  • Non-removable battery (up to 9 hours of web browsing)
  • Ports : full size USB 3.0, micro SD reader, Mini DisplayPort
  • Connectivity : WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0

For more information, you can check out Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Malaysian Product Page at https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-my/products/surface-pro-3

See Also : Microsoft Surface Pro User Review

The Surface Pro 3 is one of the device that I’ve been contemplating to purchase as a replacement to my Acer laptop that I’ve been using for over 2 years now. While there’s very limited laptops (or hybrid devices) out there that’s worthy of my consideraton (ahem). this Surface Pro 3 did keep my fingers itchy for a long time.

I was glad to be able to test the Surface Pro 3 for such a long time, “The tablet that can replace your laptop” – the same byline that Microsoft uses for both their Surface Pro 3 and recently launched Surface 3 tablet / laptop hybrid. And here goes my honest review.  

 

Hardware Overview

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 - unboxing
Unboxing Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Inside the box packaging, you’ll find the Surface Pro 3 tablet/laptop hybrid device itself, along with a 3-pin power adapter charger, Surface Pen (aka stylus), user manual and warranties. Of course, my review unit came with the Type Cover (aka keyboard) which is sold separately and come in multiple colours (more on this later).

MS Surface Pro 3 - Front Back
Front & Back of Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 houses a 12″ touchscreen display, which is a huge bump up from its predecessor with only a 10.6″ screen. This time round, Microsoft wants to  truly position the Surface Pro 3 as a credible laptop replacement. Hence, the bigger screen is much welcomed. For me, at least. I no longer need to squint and struggle working with spreadsheets etc, and have much more space for work.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 retained the best of previous Surface with its VaporMag magnesium alloy material that gives it a solid, firm and premium feel and build.

MS Surface Pro 3 - Ports & Buttons
Ports and buttons around the Surface Pro 3
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 - Type Cover port
Type cover connector

A huge plus is that the Surface Pro 3 is equipped with a full size USB 3.0 port on the right, which means you can fully plug in any thumb drives and peripherals like external hard drive, mouse etc. Right above it, a mini Display Port for you to connect to any external monitor setup. The rest are the standard affair for tablets or laptops – Power On/Off button at the top left, volume rocker on the left side of the device along with the 3.5 mm headphone & microphone port. 

Minimal branding for “Surface” at the back kickstand, along with the Type Cover connector ports.

 

Mutli-angle kickstand

It has to be pointed out that Microsoft has done an amazing thing with the Surface kickstand. In the Surface Pro 3, you’re no longer boud by the single (or 3 position) kickstand anymore. 

SurfacePro3kickstandp_Web
Multi-angle flexible kickstand

You can now adjust the kickstand to any angle you want – whether you’re on a desk, resting it on your lap, on a high bar table or any angle at all.

MS Surface Pro 3 - Flexi hinge

I love this little improvement made to the kickstand. Although you don’t get the satisfying “click” sound of the kicstand anymore, it’s still satisfying that you get to adjust your screen positioned at any angle.

The hinge for the kickstand is sturdy as well. No worries about some flimsy part that will break. It holds the device firmly in place, at whatever angle you choose. The little things like this, makes the Surface Pro 3 another strong contender as my next laptop replacement. 🙂  

 

Software and Performance

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Runs on Windows 8.1 Pro

All current laptops are running on the latest Windows 8.1 Operating System. This is the OS from Microsoft that enables a grid based interface, previously called Metro UI but currently called Modern UI. It allows you to place shortcut apps on a grid based layout, that’s also touchscreen friendly. 

Surface Pro 3 - Windows App
Windows app on touchscreen friendly, Modern UI

It’s very similar to the Windows Phone OS with it’s design, theme and layout. And it’ll all be a lot more familiar and similar with the upcoming Windows 10 OS to be released by end of the year. With Windows 10, there’ll only be 1 interface for smartphones, tablets and laptops (and hybrids or convertibles).  But I digress…

The Windows app, touchscreen friendly, is handy when you’re using the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet. Weighing at only 800 gram, it’s a rather heavy and bulky tablet, but a super light laptop. As a tablet, it’s still not compelling enough a reason to make me a believer. I’m still not sold on the quantity and quality of apps available in Microsoft Store to convert me to a Windows tablet supporter or convert. Still waiting for that day since I tried the 1st Gen Surface Pro. *sigh*

See Also : 6 Things You Need To Know About Windows 8

Surface Pro 3 - Multitasking
Multi-task & runs full desktop software

The Surface Pro 3 has this Metro UI, touchscreen, grid based interface, for all shortcuts (and notfications) to your installed Windows apps. You also get a full desktop mode, and the device runs full desktop software. This includes full Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) as well as other desktop programs like Photoshop, Chrome desktop browser etc.

Surface Pro 3 - Snap
Windows “Snap” allows split screen multitasking

As I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. One of my favourite features of Windows 8 is the “Snap” function, that allows me to do split screen mutli-tasking. I can, of course, adjust the width of each screen according to my preference. 

With the Surface Pro 3’s 12″ screen, I enjoy this feature a lot more, since there’s more screen space and real estate to view more on both programs running side-by-side. One function I use often with Twitter on one side, and whatever I’m working on the other side. 🙂

Surface Pro 3 - Config
My review unit is an Intel Core-i5 configuration

The review unit I had was equipped with an Intel Core-i5 processor, which is a good mid range one (Core -i7 being the most powerful processor), along with an 8 GB RAM memory.

I would consider my usage pattern a moderate to heavy usage – from multiple browsers running with over 10 tabs open each, 3-4 other software running (Photoscape for photo editing, MetroTwit for Twitter updates, Skype for messaging, Evernote for note taking), I usually opt for Core-i7 processors so I don’t get frustrated with performance and lags.

In my whole 2+ months using the Surface Pro 3 as my primary device, with a Core -i5 processor, I’m happy to report I didn’t experience any performance lag at all.

I was thoroughly impressed that the Surface Pro 3 took to my moderately heavy usage with ease. I don’t see major performance issues, programs hanging or anything of that sort.

There was maybe, a couple of times, when I noticed the device struggling. It’s usually when I have multiple YouTube video tabs running, with photo editing software running and mutliple tabs open for my research for my blogposts. I didn’t really get to test video editing (yeah – my YouTube channel’s been a bit quiet lately, sorry) but I reckon if I had equal softwares running, video editing might not be a smooth experience.

Nevertheless, if you’re using the laptop for work – running MS Office mostly, with some browsing and video watching, the Surface Pro 3 will work perfectly as good as you’d expect from a mid- to high-end laptop.

 

Type Cover (Keyboard) Experience

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 - Type Cover connector
The Type Cover connector port

The Type Cover, as you know, doubles as a Bluetooth keyboard and flip cover in one. With the magnetic connector, it clicks perfectly in place.

MS Surface Pro 3 - Type Cover
Surface Pro 3 Type Cover (with full size keyboard)

I’ve always liked the felt material on the Surface Type Covers. Nice grip and premium feel.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 - Type Cover keyboard layout
Type Cover keyboard has great tactile feedback & typing comfort

The keyboard itself is a full sized one, with a trackpad at the bottom. 

In Malaysia, you can purchase the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover in 5 colours – Black, Cyan, Blue, Red, Purple. For more info, visit the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover product page at https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-my/accessories/surface-pro-typecover

The keyboard itself has nice, spacious, chiclet design and feels awesome to type on. I love the tactile feel when I speed type, and it has good travel. One of the better keyboards I have ever used in any laptops (or tablet/laptop hybrid, in this case).

Another improvement to the Type Cover, is that now you can prop the top of the Type Cover, with a magnetic lock on the bottom bezel of the Surface Pro 3, for a better angled typing experience. I find this angled keyboard a much better typing position.

 

The trackpad, on the other hand, I can’t profess as much love. It was wonky – with the on screen cursors jumping all over the place when I move my fingers on the trackpad. I know Microsoft has improved their Surface trackpads with every iteration, but I was somewhat disappointed with this one. While the Surface Pro 3 does have a touchscreen display, I spent the most of the first day of my review using mostly the touchscreen interface instead of the trackpad.

The Surface Pro 3 trackpad was so frustrating for me, that I simply resorted to connecting my Bluetooth mouse instead, and relied 90% of the time on the mouse + 10% touchscreen gestures.

Perhaps others have better luck with it than me. Perhaps if I turned down the trackpad sensitivity (which is adjustable in the Settings menu) I would have had better experience. But gah – an external mouse was a more reliable alternative for me, personally.

 

Pen experience

When I reviewed the 1st Generation Microsoft Surface Pro here while back, I talked about how I love the Pen experience. Especially the handwriting to text function. 

Check out the awesome handwriting to text on the #surfacepro

A video posted by Winnie Chen-Head (@winniekepala) on


As one of the “killer features” of the Surface Pro 3, the Pen experience this rime round was equally impressive.

Techie side note : I did have a reader point out his disappointment that Microsoft has chosen to work with N-Trig instead of the standard Wacom for their pen technology. While I agree that most manufacturers have been using Wacom, as they seemingly have a more advanced and accurate technology, Microsoft announced they’ve recently acquired N-Trig, the company behind this Surface Pro 3 Pen technology. So, we’re gonna be seeing ALL Surface models in future with N-Trig Pens.

See Also : Microsoft Surface 3 On Sale in Malaysia from 9 May 2015

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 - Pen experience
Surface Pen compatible with Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3

The Surface Pro 3 comes with the Surface Pen included in the box. Unlike the Surface 3, which is sold separately.

Surface Pro 3 - Pen, OneNote
Basiic on-screen configuration to setup your Surface Pen

Microsoft is careful to not refer to this as a stylus, as it does way more than a traditional stylus to tablet. It’s actually a complementary device that’s connected (via Bluetooth) to your Surface Pro 3 for additional functions and commands. There is a button on top of the Pen and 2 buttons on the body of the Pen.

Surface Pen lets you intuitively mark up documents and creative files, take notes in your own handwriting, and gather electronic signatures. – Microsoft

Surface Pro 3 - OneNote
Microsoft OneNote – their note-taking app

Some of the commands to configure include – click the top of the Surface Pen once to launch OneNote, Microsoft’s note taking app.

 

If you’re not familiar with OneNote, you should check it out. Just like with Evernote, Google Keep etc, it’s a feature rich note-taking app, that allows you to not only take typed notes, but allows handwriting, to-do-lists creation, scribbles, attachment of files, drawings, screenshots and more.

For more info on OneNote, visit their website at http://www.onenote.com/

Back to the Surface Pen…

Click twice to capture a screenshot. For the 2 butons, the default actions include click-and-hold to Select, while the other is for Erase. Very handy when you’re taking notes and making annotations in documents, e-books, etc.

Surface Pro 3 - Scribbling
Did a bunch of scribbling on OneNote with Surface Pen

I find the usage of the Surface Pen with OneNote is spectacular. If you’re one who enjoys drawing and sketching, this is the best experience possible. I can so easily select the pen type, colour, thickness and more.

For fashion designers, graphic students or just the regular doodler, this is am amazing experience, the Surface Pro 3 + Surface Pen combo.

Even if you’ve no need for graphics doodling, you could be like me, still using pen and paper combo to take notes, and scribble diagrams from meetings, ideas and brainstorms. While I have completely digitized my note-taking, the convenience of note-taking using the Surface Pen impressed me.

Along with their latest Palm Block technology, you can safely rest your hand on the Surface Pro 3 screen and write with the Pen and not worry about the screen registering the distraction of your palm. I like this very very much.

 

Battery Life

The Surface Pro 3 claims the device to last up to 9 hours of web browsing. As I mentioned before, I belong to the moderately heavy usage type of user. I was running so many browser windows and tabs and programs simultanusly all the time, using the Surface Pro 3 as a work laptop.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Super thin and light laptop / tablet hybrid

My expectation was not quite to have the Surface Pro 3 last me a full work day, ie ~8 hours. I only hoped for ~4 hours or use, until the battery runs low and prompts me to connect to a charger.

Unfortunately, I have to report, I didn’t quite manage 4 hours with the Surface Pro 3. It managed just 3 hours + 45 minutes. Just shy of the 4 hour mark.

I pushed the Surface Pro 3. I didn’t turn down the brightness, or configure any power saving mode. I let it run on its default settings, at Balanced mode – where screen goes on standby after a few minutes of inactvity, etc. I didn’t slow down on my usage even when it prompted me “Low battery”. I kept the browser tabs open, kept the programs running, continued my multi-tasking.

I’m sure you can technically get 9 hours of battery life out of the Surface Pro 3. Perhaps, the way Microsoft’s literature claims – through light web browsing only. Perhaps, not when it’s used in semi stress test of heavy usage like I did. So for the light to moderate users, you likely will get better battery life than me.

If you’re a heavy user like me though, to the the “Pro” seriously in the Surface Pro 3, and use the device as a full blown laptop, you’ll at least get almost 4 hours of heavy work done with this. Which is, decent, in regular standard laptops these days.

 

Pricing and Availability

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 has of course been on sale in Malaysia for many many months now, for a Recommended Retail price (RRP) starting from RM 3,073 (Intel Core-i3, 64 GB storage version), through Microsoft’s authorised retailers at https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-my/buy

Some of the retailers will ocassionally run various promotions, either with bundled Type Cover, or bundled softwares.

Pricing for other accessories include:-

 

Conclusion

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 is classified as a thin-and light laptop / tablet hybrid. Portable enough as a tablet, works just like a laptop. Something that I have reviewed with comparison to Ultrabook thin-and-light Intel laptops in the market today.

I was super excited to review this and try it out myself, as a potential replacement to my 2 year old laptop. So, how does it fare? Here’s a quick prox and cons list:-

What I Like

  • Thin and light tablet / laptop hybrid
  • Multi-angle kickstand
  • Great Pen experience

What I Dislike

  • Pricey from >RM 3,000 for the lowest configuration, up to >RM 7,000 for the highest spec
  • Poor trackpad sensitivity
  • Poor battery life

 

 

In conclusion, I am really really tempted to buy the Surface Pro 3 as my next laptop. I like that it is in a portable 800 gram form factor. It makes it a no-brainer to carry the Surface Pro 3 around with me all day in my oversized handbag. I can just pop it out, turn it on and have a full blown laptop workstation. I like that a lot.

If you’re a mobile working professional who needs a device powerful enough to do real work, and portable enough to carry with you everywhere, this is it! However, a few things are holding me back…

Firstly, there’s the rumour that Microsoft will be announcing its successor, Surface Pro 4 soon in May 2015.

Secondly, the price tag. For me, I would definitely want a higher end, powerful processor with an Intel Core-i7 processor machine. And the Surface Pro 3, Intel Core-i7 with 256 GB storage is selling for > RM 5,000 today, with the 512 GB storage option going for > RM 7,000. At this price, many wonder why I don’t just go and buy an Apple Macbook. As a non-Apple user, there are also many other thin-and-light competition out there – like Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, Asus Zenbook series, etc. All of which bears a lower, more manageable price tag. Although not quite the same spec.

Personally, I’m holding back to see what Surface Pro 4 has to offer, and what the price range is gonna be. Also, I have the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro with me for review now, and I’ve yet to test that out!

And… stay tuned for my full review of the younger brother, Microsoft Surface 3 coming soon…

 

For more information, visit Microsoft Surface Pro 3 website at https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-my/products/surface-pro-3 and *LIKE* Microsoft Malaysia Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/MicrosoftMalaysia