Thoughts on Microsoft’s New Surface 3 Tablet

May 6, 2015

Microsoft just released the Surface 3, which greatly advances their low-end Surface RT tablet line. Don’t get this confused with the older Surface Pro 3, which is much different.

Why a Windows Tablet?

First, a reminder that I feel lightweight Windows 10-inch tablets are very important because they enable you to use a full desktop copy of Outlook on a highly mobile device. That way you have all the tools you need to accomplish powerful MYN task and email management, while on the move. I’m also a fan of the excellent active digitizer pen capabilities many of these Windows tablets have.

Here are my thoughts on this new Surface 3 tablet:

  • I am glad to see that Microsoft has finally switched to using the Intel Atom processor for its low-end machines. It supports a full copy of Windows OS (not the hamstrung RT), and since it’s using the new Atom Cherry Trail x7 line, it performs much better.
  • At $499 the 64 GB base model is a good price point for this fairly powerful 10.8-inch tablet. However, if your goal is mainly a thin lightweight laptop, you’ll need to add the keyboard ($130) and jump to 128 GB storage and 4 GB RAM ($100). At that total ($729) you can buy a dedicated laptop with a much faster Intel Core M processor, 2X more RAM, 2X more storage, and larger/better touchpad (e.g. ASUS Zenbook UX305F at 2.6 lbs). So consider your goals and primary uses carefully.
  • The pen and active digitizer screen both look very good on this unit (but the pen is $50 extra).
  • At a low 1.37 pounds (without keyboard), Microsoft is finally getting into the “read a book with one hand” weight territory in its tablet line–bravo! This is a good reason to favor this over the heavier Surface Pro line. Still, the iPad Air weighs only .96 pounds and is thinner. But that’s the cost of having a full USB port and of the many other advantages Surface has over an iPad.
  • Microsoft has switched to a more iPad-like aspect ratio 3:2 (rather than the usual Windows 16:9), a switch I highly applaud—it just makes more sense on a tablet.
  • However, reports of battery life are mixed. While rated at “up to 10 hours,” 6 to 7 hours are being reported by reviewers for typical heavy use. I feel a tablet should be closer to 10 or 11 hours these days.

Should you Buy a Windows Tablet Now?

While this is a quite good Windows tablet, right now may not be the time to buy any Windows tablet. Windows 10 is due to be released this summer, and no matter how firmly manufacturers brag about their OS upgrade capabilities, I’ve never in all my years had a good experience with a major Windows upgrade. Rather, I always recommend you buy the machine with the major OS version you want already installed.

Also, the Windows App store is still pretty weak. But the utility of the Windows app approach will jump considerably when the new Touch version of Microsoft Office is released this fall. And many other Atom x7 tablets will be coming out by then with Windows 10 already installed. So, if you can, I’d wait another 3 to 6 months.


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3 Responses to Thoughts on Microsoft’s New Surface 3 Tablet

  1. Vern Goodwin says:

    Once again a very useful article and I shall heed your advice.
    As a person with some problems seeing the smaller print of the smaller screens without wanting to constantly mess around zooming, I will be sticking with larger screen formats until and beyond retirement.
    I started with the dot matrix displays LED displays 1981 and as the eyesight changes with time and computer glasses became necessary to optimise viewing, I found when I renewed my laptop leases every 2 years I was faced with smaller and smaller default fonts and icons. Sure a big monitor helps when standing at my desk, but when working in airport waiting rooms etc, particularly when needing to work in split screen or view more than one application at a time, there is no substitute for a 15 inch screen for my eyesight. I noticed the hunched and squinting fellow travellers around me and was struck by the fact the only ones looking relaxed as they worked on their variety of tablets, large phones and laptops, only one with a laptop with a approx 14 in ch display looked comfortable in her stance. I am surprised at how few travellers one sees using bluetooth keyboards with their phones. They could certainly type a hellovalot faster than their hunt and picking over a phone touchscreen when they are working on documents requiring more than a few lines effort.
    Keep up the great leadership in your field and thanks.

  2. Steve Leighton says:

    Typing this on Surface 3. Just a few thoughts relative to a more traditional PC in the same price range. I have been a Surface 2 user (and original Surface before that). Not a Fanboi, just that this was a form factor I’d been waiting for for a long time. It has evolved to a sweet spot with the Surface 3. From a productivity / MYN stand-point, the Surface 2 did the job for me. What I missed was effective (palm-blocking) pen input and the ability to use just a couple of Windows applications: WebEx and Lync (for connections with customers). Everything else I needed (work almost exclusively with cloud-based apps) was available and worked well with the Surface 2. The Surface 3 solves my last issues and, for me, is the ideal laptop / tablet. It is less expensive, slower (not a gaming machine, but awesome for productivity apps), and slightly smaller than the Surface 3 Pro which is a nice machine. It is also fanless (a huge plus), weighs under 1.5 lbs, and, in my experience, does live up to the rated 10-hour battery life (took a couple of charges).

    As to straight laptop comparisons, a few points:
    1) The display is gorgeous. Not just resolution (full HD), but the optical bonding puts the visible surface almost ON the glass. This makes using touch much easier and more accurate.
    2) The active Surface pen with palm-block works great and makes this the first device that can truly replace paper for me. I have been trying to go more and more paperless, but lack of active pen on the Surface 2 help me back. The difference taking notes on this device is extraordinary. Finally, I can take good, electronic notes AND look at the people who are talking — just like with paper. I can also doodle, which is hard with a keyboard, and proven to be a memory enhancer. I can even convert my handwriting into text with acceptable accuracy, so sharing notes with others is a breeze.
    3) The keyboard is fully usable for touch-typing. Over time, I have shifted from desktop keyboards with a lot of key play to the smaller short-throw keys of laptops. I now prefer the Surface keyboard and portable blue-tooth keyboards to full-size.
    4) My briefcase is now truly manageable. I carry this and this alone. It’s not a backup to my laptop, it IS my laptop. I carry an auxiliary battery back and charge the Surface 3 from it if I need a stretch (rare).
    5) using my phone as an access point makes this a truly portable cloud machine.
    6) Using the wireless display adapter, I can turn almost any monitor or hotel TV into a larger screen when I need it.

    Just one real-user’s point of view. I opted for the 4G/128G version for $100 more — allows me to keep more windows open.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Steve, great thoughts on the Surface 3, thanks! I am a big fan of pen computing (active digitizer), and for that, the Surface 3 may have the best solution/price-point so far. Michael

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