Microsoft Surface 3 User Review

Surface 3 Review (Featured)

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

Almost a month back, Microsoft Malaysia launched the Surface 3 in Malaysia. The Surface series with the tagline, “a tablet that can replace your laptop”, is indeed a sexy hybrid device that transforms between a tablet and a laptop.

Microsoft Surface 3 Malaysia Launch
Microsoft Surface 3 at Malaysian Launch

See Also : Microsoft Surface 3 Launched in Malaysia (Pre-Order Available Now)

As a refresher, here’s a quick specifications overview of the Microsoft Surface 3 :-

  • 10.8″ ClearType Full HD Plus touchscreen display (1920 x 1280) (235 ppi)
  • 1.6 GHz Quad Core Intel® Atom™ x7-Z8700 processor (2 MB Cache, up to 2.4 GHz)
  • 2 GB RAM with 64 GB storage -OR- 4 GB RAM with 128 GB storage
  • Powered by Windows 8.1 OS (FREE upgrade to Windows 10, when available)
  • 8.7 mm thin, weighing from 622 g
  • Non-removable battery (up to 10 hours video playback)
  • Ports : 1 x USB 3.0, 1 X mini Display Port, 1 x microSD card reader, 1 x micro USB charging port, 1 x mic/headphone jack
  • 8 megapixel rear camera (with autofocus); 3.5 megapixel front camera
  • Connectivity : WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0

For more information and specifications, check out the Microsoft Surface 3 Malaysian product page at https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-my/products/surface-3

 

In case you missed it, I got to spend a brief time reviewing the Surface 3 before it was officially on sale. And I promised a review – along with answering some of your queries about the device.

Having reviewed the bigger (and more powerful) older brother, Surface Pro 3, HERE not too long ago, my expectations were set with this more affordable version, targeted to students, mobile professionals and parents. Here’s my review…

 

Hardware Overview

Microsoft Surface 3 -Unboxing
Unboxing Microsoft Surface 3

It’s a familiar packaging of grey cardboard box with the Surface device inside. You’ll find the Surface 3 itself, along with a 2 piece 3-pin power adapter, micro USB cable (yes, it’s finally a standard micro USB charging port, so you don’t need to carry too many extra cables), Surface Pen (sold separately) and user manual.

Surface 3 - Front & Back
Front & Back of the Surface 3

The Surface 3 looks almost identical to the professional Surface Pro 3. You get the same build material and quality (VaporMag magnesium alloy material), but in a much thinner and lighter device. It’s, of course, 10.8″ display (versus the 12″ on Surface Pro 3), which makes the device a lot more portable.

Surface 3 - Ports & Buttons
Ports and buttons around the Surface 3

Looking around the ports and buttons, you’ll find the Power On/Off button at the top left, side by side with the volume rocker. Most of the ports are at the right, with the mini Display Port (to connect to an external monitor), full USB 3.0 port,  micro USB charging port and 3.5 mm headphone and audio jack. Nothing on the left and the Type Cover connector at the bottom.

I’m almost always disappointed that there is onlhy 1 full sized USB port in devices that are supposed to be laptops these days. But at least, this is not USB-C port like in the 2015 Macbook, which has limited devices support today. Beauty of the full sized USB 3.0 port on the Surface 3 is that I can plug in a USB hub (adapter) to have more ports for more devices like speakers, wired mouse, USB to Ethernet adapters, external hard drive and more.

Microsoft Surface 3 Review
Micro SD slot

The Surface 3 comes in 64 GB  or 128 GB internal storage options. In case that’s not enough for you, you can either opt to plug in an external Hard Drive, or use the hidden micro SD slot for extra storage, hidden under the kickstand.

Surface 3 - Docking Station
Surface 3 Docking Station (RRP RM 769)
Microsoft Surface 3 Review
Surface 3 Docking Station has additional USB, Ethernet ports and more

Alternatively, you can purchase the added accessory of the Surface 3 Docking Station, where you can turn your device into a more powerful desktop PC for extra battery and extra ports like USB ports, Ethernet LAN (wired internet connection), micro HDMI port, headphone jack and more.

 

3 Position Kickstand

Let’s talk about the kickstand. From the original days of a satisfying “click” sounds of flipping out the Surface kickstand, Microsoft has done much modifications here. In the Surface Pro 3, the kickstand is multi-angle and you can adjust it to whatever position you want.

Surface 3 - Kickstand
3 position kickstand

In the Surface 3, however, Microsoft has decided to limit it to only 3 positions. Personally, it’s disappointing for me. I don’t know why they wouldn’t just stick to the multi-angle design from the Surface Pro 3. Microsoft states that these 3 positions are researched to be the most used positions, and will serve most users – whether it’s on the table, on your lap or any other surface. Pun intended. 🙂

In my review, I find that statement to be mostly accurate. Most of the time, I’m in the middle position of the kickstand when I work on my desk. Then, the furthest kickstand position, where it’s flatter helps give me a good viewing angle when I have the device on my lap.

 

Still, I would’ve preferred to have it more adjustable than just these 3 default position. With my bad back, I sometimes sit in weird angles where I’d adjust my screen viewing angle accordingly. Every now and then, when I try to push the screen back or forward on my desk, I’m reminded that I’m limited here.

 

Type Cover (Keyboard) Experience

Surface 3 Type Cover
Surface 3 Type Cover (RRP RM 479)

The Surface 3 Type Cover comes in only 3 colours for the Malaysian market – Black, Bright Blue and Red  – and is sold separately.

Surface 3 Type Cover
Surface 3 Type Cover / Keyboard

I have the Bright Blue version for my review unit and have to say that the colour is indeed very vibrant and stands out in my otherwise bland wardrobe.

The Type Cover that doubles up as a keyboard cum flip cover for the Surface 3 is one of my favourite accessories. From the first gen Surface, I liked how Microsoft designed this piece of hardware to completement the Surface so perfectly. The felt back material gives the front cover a nice matte feel and grip. The keyboard has nice chiclet spacing and travel when I type.

Surface 3 - Type Cover (position)
Flat or elevated position of the Type Cover keyboard for better angled typing

Similar to the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover, there’s an additional magnetic strip at the top of the Type Cover, to allow you to snap the keyboard to the bottom screen of  the Surface device. This provides a good angle for an elevated keyboard and much better typing position. The little details and improvements is much much appreciated.

Once again, it doesn’t disappoint. I absolutely love the Surface 3 Type Cover keyboard for awesome, satisfying typing.

Surface 3 Type Cover - Backlit keyboard

The whole keyboard is now backlit for typing in the dark. Although I noticed the light bleeding out of the keys from the sides. Functionally, it doesn’t interfere with performance, but visually this can get a little distracting and annoying.

The space bar key is wider. The Function keys are permanently lit with one tap, just like the Caps Lock key, so you don’t have to press 2 keys simultaneously to access Functions. And the trackpad is slightly bigger and more responsive.

Personally, once again, I was rather disappointed with the sensitivity of the trackpad. Just like the Surface Pro 3, maybe the sensitivity settings should be adjusted here, but I find the cursor jumping all over the screen when I tried to navigate and make selections. Two finger scrolling and pinch-to-zoom function works fine. Just the single finer navigation gets frustrating as the accuracy just isn’t there.

Once again, I had to resort to pairing my Bluetooth mouse throughout the review after an hour of frustration with the trackpad.

I know it’s improved sensitivity and all, but there’s just something very off with the Surface Type Cover trackpads, in almost every Surface I have reviewed. Why? :(((

 

Software and Performance

Surface 3 - Windows app
Powered by Windows 8.1 OS

The Surface 3 is powered by Windows 8.1 OS, upgradeable to Windows 10 when it becomes available.

With Windows 8 OS, you have access to Microsoft Store to download touchscreen optimised Windows App, with the grid based Modern UI. As a tablet, downloading Windows Apps allows you to maximise your tablet experience with the Surface 3. I find touchscreen Windows apps like Twitter and Flipboard works perfectly, for when I use the Surface 3 as a tablet on-the-go.

Surface 3 003
Runs full desktop softwares

Unlike the previous generation of Surface RT, which runs on Windows RT (limited touch screen based Windows app support only), you can now run full desktop softwares with the Surface 3,  just their professional older brother Surface Pro 3.

So, all your Photoshop desktop, Chrome desktop browser, Tweetdeck desktop UI and more….

The ability to install and run full desktop software on the Surface 3 has got to be the best feature of this new Surface 3. It’s a full blow tablet AND laptop hybrid now – for real work!

See Also : Microsoft Surface Pro 3 User Review

Surface 3 - Config
Powered by Intel Atom processor

As much as Microsoft has now enabled the Surface 3 to work as a full blown laptop, for real work, it’s still powered by an Intel Atom processor. Although the Intel Atom x7 is the latest and highest performance of the Atom processors available today, it’s still a processor that’s originally created to power Netbooks of yesteryears.

Some smartphones today are powered by Intel Atom processors as well. Which means, the processor is good enough to power mobile devices, from smartphones to tablets and (slightly) lower spec-ed laptops.

Surface 3 002
“Snap” feature allows split screen multi-tasking

In my review, I had multiple windows and ~20+ tabs open on my Chrome browsers, running Photoscape photo editing software (Adobe Photoshop would require more power), a couple of Windows app (eg, Twitter stream on “Snap” split screen) which is considered moderate to heavy usage for this machine.

Happy to report – the Surface 3 did not lag or show any stutters with so many activities I throw at it. In fact, it was smooth and performed really well to serve me as a work laptop.

For a device running on Intel Atom processor, Microsoft did a good job optimising the performance of this machine. It performed almost as well as an entry level / mid range laptop powered by an Intel Core-i3 processor. No sluggishness or delay or lag. Good job, Microsoft!

 

Pen Experience

Surface Pen (Black, Bright Blue, Red) (RM 189)
Surface Pen (Black, Bright Blue, Red) (RM 189)

The Surface 3 Pen is the exact same Pen (Stylus) as the one found on Surface Pro 3. This time, Microsoft included additional colour options for the Pen, to allow you better personalisation to match your Type Cover and personality. Me likey.

What was disappointing though, is that unlike the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 Pen is not included in the package when you purchase the device.

You’d have to purchase the Surface Pen separately, at RM 189, but you get to choose which colour you like  – the standard Silver, or Black, Bright Blue or Red to match your Type Cover.

Surface 3 001
Surface Pen tutorial
Surface 3 - OneNote pen
Surface Pen works seamlessly with OneNote
Surface 3 - OneNote
Taking handwritten notes, scribbling and drawing freestyle with OneNote

As pointed out in my Surface Pro 3 review here, I love how Microsoft designed the Surface Pen to work so well with their note-taking app, OneNote.

You just need to click the top of the Surface Pen as a shortcut launch of OneNote for immediate note taking. You can also use the 2 buttons on the Surface Pen to launch other shortcuts, like Erase or Screenshot or Select.

As someone who’s completely digitized my life, including taking digital notes instead of pen and paper, Surface Pen + OneNote is amazing!

Surface 3 Review

I can still draw diagrams, scribble ideas, include screenshots and annotations, while still getting a similar pen on paper experience with the Surface Pen.

Surface Pen slips on Type Cover
Surface Pen slips on Type Cover

While Microsoft has experimented with different ways to store the Surface Pen in the past, this time, they made a little nook for you to easily slip the Surface Pen on the Type Cover. This is similar to the design with the Surface Pro 3, and I like this very much.

 

Battery Life

Surface 3 Review

Microsoft states that the Surface 3 battery can provide up to 10 hours of video playback.

As I was using the device as I would a normal laptop, with so many programs running on a regular basis, I managed a good 4-5 hours on average in a week of review time with the Surface 3.

4-5 hours of use on battery power is a good duration considering my usage was probably pushing the processing powers quite a lot. I reckon if I reduce simultaneous running softwares and apps, with a lighter use of light web browsing, occasional social media browsing, light work, etc, I would be able to get a healthy 6-7 hours out of the Surface 3, which is pretty impressive.

 

Pricing and Availability

 

Surface 3 Review

The Surface 3 is officially ON SALE NATIONWIDE in Malaysia since 9 May 2015,  at a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) starting from RM 1,989 (2GB RAM, 64 GB storage version) and RM 2,389 (4GB RAM, 128 GB storage version) from Microsoft Malaysia’s authorised reseller lists here.

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

You can also purchase the official Surface 3 accessories such as Surface 3 Type Cover (RM 479), Surface Pen (RM 189), Surface 3 Docking Station (RM 769) and Surface 3 Screen Protector (RM 179).

Pricing at the RM 1,989 price tag is way more affordable than the lowest spec Surface Pro 3 (from RM 3,073). If you’re looking for a hybrid device, there are also more potential devices to consider like the new Acer Switch 10 E or Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi. And there are more manufacturers releasing more tablet / laptop hybrid devices these days, some with the newer fanless, thin and light Intel Core M processor, which is (ever so) slightly more powerful than the Intel Atom processor.

 

Conclusion

Surface 3 Review

I’ve mentioned this before in my previous post here, there are a few killer features that I need to highlight about the Surface 3:-

  • Thinner and Lighter – 10.8″ screen + 622 grams, thinnest ever Surface device
  • Runs full desktop software – Not crippled by touchscreen Windows app, it runs full desktop as you would on a full laptop
  • Improved Pen experience – perfect for handwritten notes and scribbles
  • Accessories galore – better accessories option, with colour options to match Type Cover and Surface Pen
  • More affordable – From RM 1,989 for the lower spec Surface 3, compared to RM 3,073 for lowest spec Surface Pro 3

 

As my usual reviews go, here’s a quick Top 3 roundup of my Top Likes and Dislikes of the Surface 3:-

What I Like

  • Thin and light but still premium build quality
  • Personalisation options with more colour choices for Type Cover and Surface Pen
  • Backlit Type Cover keyboard

What I Dislike

  • Only 3 kickstand position
  • Inaccurate trackpad on Type Cover
  • Intel Atom processor – could’ve tried to fit the newer Intel Core M, in my opinion

Microsoft Malaysia did point out during the launch event, that the processor used is the latest Intel Atom x7, which is the latest and fastest processor in the Atom series. Having recently reviewed the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro that runs on the Core M fanless processor though, I have to say this Intel Atom x7 on the Surface 3 seems way more powerful.

Whether you’re in Intel Atom or Intel Core M processor camp, in my opinion, Surface 3 is a much sexier and better build device overall. For my money, I would recommend the Surface 3.

See Also : Acer Aspire Switch 10 E Launched in Malaysia

 

Surface 3 vs Surface Pro 3

If you’re undecided if you’d need a thinner, lighter, more affordable and slightly lower spec-ed Surface 3 or a more powerful, bigger screen, professional version of Surface Pro 3, I was lucky enough to have the chance to review both devices.

 

Without sounding like a broken record, check out my previous post here for a quick comparison of the 2 devices HERE.

In summary, Surface 3 is a perfect device for…

  • STUDENTS who wants a portable and affordable device that can be used as tablet and can handle the workload of assignments, research and personal consumption of videos, browsing and social media.
  • the yuppie, YOUNG PROFESSIONAL who’s always mobile, but need a machine for sales calls, client visits, etc and powerful enough to stop by the local cafe to finish up some reports, presentations and work emails.
  • the PARENT, who wants a device that’s portable to carry from one room to another to do some light browsing and organisation, and still be able to install and use it as an educational or entertainment machine to be shared with the kids at home.

See Also : ASUS Launched Transformer Book T300 Chi & ZenBook UX305 in Malaysia

Surface Pro 3 on the other hand, would be for…

  • MOBILE PROFESSIONALS who needs a machine powerful enough for real work, but portable enough for traveling and meetings on-the-go
  • Those looking for a TABLET and LAPTOP HYBRID who wants one device for tablet consumption, but capable of real heavy work as a laptop

 

For more information, check out Microsoft Surface 3 Malaysian website at http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-my and *LIKE* Microsoft Malaysia’s Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/MicrosoftMalaysia