Microsoft Surface 3 review: the vision of versatile computing realised

13 May 2015

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Microsoft Surface 3

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The Surface 3 hybrid computer from Microsoft represents Microsoft’s determined vision for how versatile computing should be. It also sees the return of the Intel Atom processor, with surprising results.

The Surface 3 represents the latest step in Microsoft’s push for versatile computing, combining the convenience of a tablet with the horsepower of a laptop.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Microsoft doesn’t get enough credit for what it has achieved with the Surface family of devices. While we witness the slow death of the pureplay tablet computer genre, the promise of versatile networked computing has been realised in the Surface devices.

Let’s be clear – Surface didn’t get off to a good start. The first device, the Surface RT, gave a tantalising glimpse of what is possible but unfortunately while it had a lot of Windows functionality, it wasn’t the full monty. The subsequent Pro devices were the real deal, and went to great lengths to show what was possible in terms of full desktop power in a versatile and light device. I was a big fan of the display on these devices, and in particular the ClearType pixel-free display on the Surface Pro 3. I particularly loved the 3:2 aspect ratio and high resolution display on the Pro 3.

Look and feel

The fundamental achievement with Surface 3 is the fact that this is a descendant of the RT but is a fully realised and powerful machine that comes with full Windows 8.1 and aside from the fact that it has a smaller 10.8 screen compared to the 12.1-inch bigger brother Pro 3, is virtually indistinguishable from the Pro 3.

This is quite surprising because believe it or not the Surface 3 comes with an Intel Atom processor! Yes, remember the Intel Atom processor, which powered the ill-fated notebook form factor? Well, the Surface 3 comes with an Atom x7-Z8700 system on a chip that is capable of performing at 1.6GHz and includes Intel Burst, which boosts it up to 2.4GHz.

When you consider the Pro 3 came with Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and was targetted to compete with the Apple MacBook Air, you can’t help but admire Microsoft for bringing the game forward with an affordable device that can also compete with the MacBook Air.

Microsoft Surface 3

Microsoft Surface 3

As I said, the Surface 3 is virtually indistinguishable from the Surface Pro 3 except for the screen. The only other physical difference is the positioning of the power and volume buttons, the audio port and the fact that the Surface 3 uses a microUSB port to charge the device, which is as far as I can tell a first for a device that is to all intents and purposes a fully performing laptop.

In terms of power the battery can give you a full 10 hours of work and it comes with RAM options of either 2GB or 4GB and storage options of either 64GB or 128GB.

surface3_2

Another plus is that in addition to a USB port the device’s storage can be expanded through a discreetly-located microSD port.

Unlike the Surface Pro 3, which has multiple settings for the kickstand at the back, the Surface 3 comes with only three settings, which in any case is adequate for most tasks.

The device weighs only 622 grams and comes with the attractive magnesium alloy that Microsoft introduced with the Pro 3. The key difference this time in appearance is the ceramic finish and the addition of a very attractive Windows logo with a mirror finish, suggesting this could be the branding for all future Microsoft mobile hardware devices.

The road to Windows 10

The Surface 3 runs Windows 8.1 and is ready to be updated to Windows 10 when it arrives this summer.

The one drawback that has dogged the first three generations of Surface devices is the absence of cellular connectivity. True, there is no cellular connectivity in the rival Apple MacBook devices either, but it is something that could give Microsoft some edge in the marketplace. As I understand it, however, Microsoft plans to bring out a 4G version of the Surface 3 and no doubt the Surface Pro 3 in June.

The Surface 3 went on sale last week at prices starting at €609.99 along with a year’s subscription to Office 365 Personal and 1 terabyte of cloud storage.

And this is where I have a quibble. On first glance €610 for a powerful computer with all the bells and whistles seems good value. However, I have to warn you that the device doesn’t come with the Surface 3 Type Cover, which comes in black, blue and red, but which will set you back an additional €154. This increases the cost of the device to around €784 for the 64GB version, which erodes the instant sense of value for money somewhat.

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

I think Microsoft deserves full credit for blending laptop and tablet computing into a versatile and fun device.

The machine is powerful, versatile and resilient and sets the tone perfectly for the arrival of Windows 10.

While I quibble at the price of the keyboard in addition to the device itself, I still can’t help but recommend that this is still value for money compared to forking out money on a pureplay laptop be it a PC or a Mac, or around the same amount for an iPad that can only do so many things.

This is an achievement when you consider it is a fully-functioning personal computer that you can use as a tablet whenever you want.

Hopefully in time will people realise the contribution that Surface devices have made to the march of computing.

The device starts at €609.99 and is available online from Microsoft as well as at various Harvey Norman, PC World and Currys stores.

 

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com