SLIDESHOW

Surface Pro 3 hands-on: thin, light, lovely

Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 3 tablet on Tuesday, and we went hands-on.

Surface Pro 3
Credit: Mark Hachman
Almost a PC

By moving from a 10.6-inch form factor with the Surface Pro 2 to a 12-inch screen with the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft’s tablet feels more like a PC than ever. Really, the only thing differentiating it from a traditional notebook are the strength of the hinge and the weight distribution. Otherwise, the Surface grows closer to a notebook with each iteration.

Surface pro 3
Bigger, brighter

By itself, the tablet looks like it would be ungainly to use. But the larger screen size and excellent new hinge options make this a viable device to kick back and watch a movie on. You will get some letterboxing, though, with the new 4:3 screen ratio, though it’s not too bad.

At just 0.35 inches thick, though, this reminds me a lot of the Galaxy Note Pro—and that’s a good thing. It’s thin, relatively light, and big.

Surface Pro 3 type cover
New Type Cover

We have yet to see a Touch Cover for the Surface Pro 3. But the new Type Cover carries over the backlit keys of the Type Cover 2, and it's just as comfortable to type on. The key spacing appears to be a bit wider as well, making it even more useful for those with larger fingers. You’ll also notice a dedicated clip for the stylus—a nice touch, since I had a tendency to lose the one I received with the Surface Pro 2.

As a bonus, yes, the new Type Cover will work with the older Surface Pro 2!

Surface pro 3 type cover
Wider touchpad

A subtle improvement. The touchpad on the new Type Covers is significantly wider than the previous generation. It's a convenience that I may appreciate over time, although the addition didn't really impress me on first blush.

Surface Pro 3 stylus
Surface Pro 3's new stylus

I'm not one for digital inking, so I can't say yet how the new stylus will play out. You sync it by holding down the top button for about eight seconds, and the two buttons on the side essentially replace the two mouse buttons. And yes, the ink "flows" where the pen touches. If you're an inker, I don't think you'll have anything to complain about.

Surface pro 3 stylus
The stylus clip

While the stylus clip appears to be a handy addition, it does look like it will tear off eventually, doesn't it? I think a bit more engineering could be exerted here.

OneNote Surface Pro 3
Credit: Mark Hachman
OneNote

OneNote certainly gives you a lot of space to work with on the Surface Pro 3. The two buttons on the stylus can be used to select (and move) a block of text as well as to erase what you've already written.

Surface pro 3 hinge
The new, terrific hinge

Honestly, we can really forget about talking angles and positions with the new Surface Pro 3 hinge. Yes, it slides easily to the first Surface Pro position, at about 20 degrees. But after that, the hinge kicks in. Suddenly, there's a great deal of resistance, and the hinge is stable out to its maximum of 150 degrees. If the Surface Pro 3's hinge can hold up to repeated use, this might be the best integrated "kickstand" in tabletdom.

Surface Pro 4 hinge
"Lap-ability" and the new Surface Pro 3

Yes, I despise the word, even though Microsoft’s Panos Panay insists on using it. But I’ll grudgingly admit that it measures a real “thing”—how easily the tablet rests on your lap. And yes, with this iteration, it’s gotten better. There’s still a side-to-side wobble, but the stability towards and away from you has improved. Throw in a truly rigid keyboard, and you practically have a laptop. Maybe for the Surface Pro 4.

Surface Pro 3
Thin is in

I've mentioned this earlier, but I think it's worth reiterating. The thickness of the Surface Pro 3 is almost ideal, and the fact that Intel can hide a Core i7 inside of it is amazing. I will say that the 800-gram weight could still stand to come down a few ounces. Although the weight may be distributed evenly across the tablet, I still can't imagine using it one handed for that long. You'll need to curl it in to your waist, using your bicep to support it. But Microsoft is almost there.

Surface pro 3 Touch Cover keyboard
Raised keyboard

Another subtle difference is the way the Type Cover snaps into the tablet. With the Surface Pro 3, there appear to be two magnetic connections. The first occurs when you connect the two together, as has been the case with the previous two Surface generations.

The second occurs after you "back up" the keyboard, folding a tab over and underneath. This slightly raises the keyboard at an angle. Why does this matter? It's an additional option for those who like to adjust their keyboard, just like the additional hinge positions make the tablet a bit more ergonomic. I like it. It shows attention to detail.

Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro 3
Credit: Mark Hachman
A difference in thickness

On the left, the Surface Pro 3, with its new Type Cover. On the right, the older Surface Pro 2. Notice the difference in thickness. 

Surface Pro 3 Surface Pro 2
Credit: Mark Hachman
Surface Pro 3 versus Surface Pro 2

Back in my hotel room, I played around with the Surface Pro 2 as well as the Surface Pro 3. Some differences are obvious: While I carry my Surface Pro 2 as a backup PC, it tends to feel cramped, in part because of the smaller keyboard and screen. The Surface Pro 3 is both wider and taller than the Pro 2, making the screen size feel spacious, and making it easier to type, to boot. 

Surface pro 3 thinkpad twist
Thinkpad Twist vs. Surface Pro 3

The real question: would I give up my ThinkPad Twist for the Surface Pro 3, or would I tote the tablet along as a separate device? Well, sorry—old habits die hard. Right now, I’m typing these captions on my Twist, on my lap, and the Surface Pro 3 doesn’t quite measure up. Now, if I had a docking station on my desk, with support for an additional monitor or two? I don’t know. If Microsoft loans us a docking station, I’ll give it a try!