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Can the Surface Pro 3 Replace Your Tablet and Laptop? First Impressions

Today in New York, Microsoft announced the newest member of the Surface family – the Surface Pro 3. Since the beginning, the question of how much of a laptop versus how much of a tablet the Surface Pro is, has dogged Microsoft’s crack at computing hardware, with previous iterations leaning a little too far towards laptop for some. So, how does the Surface Pro 3 fare? Well, from all appearances, it’s more laptop and more tablet than its predecessors, along with specs that make its price pretty attractive.

The biggest change to the Surface Pro 3 is that it’s bigger. The display is now 12”, up from the roughly 10.5” of the Surface Pro 2. It’s a much better display, too – a 2160 x 1440 resolution display with an 3:2 aspect ratio, as opposed to the 1920 x 1080 16:9 display of the Pro 2. Microsoft is calling the new display a ‘2K’ screen, presumably to differentiate it from merely being 1080p. It sounds like the aspect ratio switch was for the sake of making the Pro 3 a more attractive device for getting work done, but probably at the cost of those who usually use their devices for watching movies.

Bigger doesn’t mean bulkier, though. Microsoft made a pretty big deal about the Surface Pro 3 being thin and light, namely by putting it on a scale with the MacBook Air. Shockingly, the MacBook Air proved to be heavier. That’s good news if you’re looking at the Surface Pro as something you’d like to use consistently as both laptop and tablet, though – at .36 inches thick and 1.76 pounds (finally got in under 2 pounds), the Surface Pro 3 just might be light enough to serve as your go-to tablet, although the 12” screen might be a turn-off in that sense. The same magnesium coating that’s been on the Surface since the beginning is still there.

Specs are solid. You can get a Surface Pro 3 with as good as an Intel Core i7 Haswell processor, along with as much as 8 GB of RAM. There are 1080p 5 MP cameras on the front and back, along with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. Around the sides, you’ll find a USB 3.0 port, a DisplayPort, and a microSD card reader. For extra security, there’s TPM 2.0 for BitLocker encryption. And, there’s the key promise that, if the Surface Pro 3 lives up to it, could make it a huge success – a nine-hour battery life (for web browsing).

As for the hinge, there are now three different positions – the standard laptop position that’s been there from the start, the more lap-friendly configuration introduced with the Surface Pro 2, and now a position where the display almost lays flat.

And, of course, there will be accessories. You know the Type Covers are coming, with magnetic hinges that hold the Surface Pro 3 in place (and, you know, make it a laptop). There are some new goodies, though – in particular, the Surface Pen. The Surface Pen is a stylus with an aluminum finish and made to look and feel like a fountain pen. You can click a button on the “stylus” to instantly open OneNote, or double-click to take a screenshot. There’s also Microsoft’s Palm Block technology, which makes it possible for you to rest your hand on the screen without registering a touch. Besides the stylus, a 1 Gbps ethernet adapter might also be of interest to some folk.

Microsoft is saying the Surface Pro 3 can replace your laptop, and as long as you’re a Windows person, that might very well be true. Being lighter and thinner than before, it’s also even more of a viable tablet alternative, although 12” might be too big of a tablet for some. As for the price, the Surface Pro 3 is pretty competitive at its most basic configuration. The configuration with an i3 processor, 64 GB of storage and 4 GB of RAM will sell for $800, which goes all the way up to a bit under $2,000 for the configuration with the i7 processor, 512 GB of storage, and 8 GB of RAM.

First Impressions

After handling the Surface Pro 3 in person, it’s clear that Microsoft has really listened to their users’ feedback. Pretty much all of the Surface Pro 2’s pain points have been addressed. The system is thinner, faster, and more importantly, even more practical, thanks to improvements like the updates to the kickstand and the pen. The lower $799 starting price is also a welcome change. But is the Surface Pro 3 the ultimate laplet? We’ll have a full review up soon of the Surface Pro 3.