Read between the lines and one thing about this Surface Pro 3 becomes clear: Microsoft is gunning for the notebook market, and no longer competing with the iPad. Apple won the war for the mobile tablet, and Microsoft won’t try to win it back. But the Mac OS X side of Apple, as well as Dell, Lenovo, and other laptop makers, should pay close attention to Microsoft’s latest and greatest.
This was evident at the Surface Pro 3 launch event. The Apple MacBook Air was mentioned more than Microsoft’s own Windows RT, all in comparison to the Surface Pro 3’s extremely thin and light build. In fact, Microsoft’s Panos Panay demonstrated as much by placing both a MacBook Air and Surface Pro 3 on a scale, showing definitively which was the lightest. Whereas the original Surface and Surface 2 are what Microsoft might describe as “tablets that are also great notebooks,” the Surface Pro 3 is most certainly a thin-and-light notebook that can function as a tablet.
That said, it makes for a large tablet, thanks to its 12-inch display, and 3:2 aspect ratio. It’s no coincidence that those dimensions closely resemble a yellow legal pad. The Surface Pro 3 can function as a “tablet” in the more traditional sense, one built for inkers and artists.
Said inkers and artists may be disappointed to see that Microsoft ditched Wacom for N-trig for the Surface Pro 3, but according to company reps, it had to be done. To keep the Pro 3 as thin as the Surface 2, it needed a thin display element, and Wacom’s, thanks to its on-display digitizer technology, was just too thick. Reps also praised N-trig’s accuracy, and cited that as a reason for the switch.
Really turning the Surface Pro 3 into a laptop requires the Type Cover, a $130 optional add-on. There apparently won’t be a SP3 version of the cheaper Touch Cover.
So Microsoft isn’t going after the iPad anymore, and according to Panay, that’s just fine. He claimed 96% of those with tablets also have notebooks, and he pointed to the vast array of notebooks (most of them MacBook Airs) in the crowd as evidence.
Thin, Light, and Powerful
The Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest Intel Core product, according to Microsoft. It’s powerful, running up to a Core i7 processor, and impossibly light, comparable to the Surface 2. In fact, it feels lighter in the hand thanks to its larger size and weight distribution. It’s also tough, sporting that same excellent build of the previous models.
Panay claims the Surface Pro 3 is also both quiet and cool, and that users will never feel or hear the fan. TabletPCReview will have to test that out when we put the Surface Pro 3 through the rigors, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the hardware, including the new kickstand, which can be adjusted to any position, and works better than the two-stop kickstand for literal lap use, at least based on TPCR‘s brief hands-on time and a direct comparison.
Sliming the casing down didn’t force designers to skimp on the ports. Like its predecessor, the Surface Pro 3 has a full-size USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, and microSD card slot.
Microsoft also improved the touchpad for the new, larger, Type Cover, which frankly, it needed to do as the touchpad on all the Surface cover keyboards is borderline awful.
Sympathy for the Pro 2 User
So what should Microsoft’s partners think here? Well, according to Microsoft, they have nothing to fear. “Our goal is to create new categories and spark new demand for our ecosystem,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
And what should those that bought a Surface Pro 2 think? It just launched last September, and Microsoft is still selling it. When asked, reps wouldn’t comment on pricing, but the base-model, Core i5 Surface Pro 2 starts at $899, while the base-model Surface Pro 3 starts at $799, but sports a Core i3 processor (both 4th-generation Intel processors). Something tells me the Pro 2 is due for a price cut.
What about accessories, like that Surface Pro 2 docking station TPCR reviewed a few months back? That won’t work with the Surface Pro 3, and Microsoft is offering a new docking station for the new device. However, old Touch and Type covers will work with the new model. They won’t cover the screen, but they will attach and work. The old Pro 2 pen won’t, however, owing to the change to N-trig technology.
Microsoft used this opportunity to redesign the pen, adding a button to the end that launches OneNote. There’s still no silo for this pen built into the tablet, nor even any method to directly attach the pen to the tablet. A loop on the Type Keyboard will hold it, however.
Taking all of the refinements in, and the Surface Pro 3 is certainly an impressive piece of hardware that leaves the team at TabletPCReview feeling good about its chances against… well… the thin-and-light notebook market. Come review time, maybe our friends at NotebookReview are going to have to help with this one.