Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Long Term Test Drive Report

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with Touch Cover and Surface Pen.

One of my most popular posts here on Forbes was an initial quick-hit review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. The first few Microsoft Surface-branded devices were all well-built products that featured quality materials and innovative designs, but consumers didn't take to them very well. Microsoft continues to struggle in the mobile hardware market, but the Surface Pro 3 definitely struck a chord with consumers. The device was thin, light, relatively powerful, and the tweaks made to its form factor, in addition to the usability enhancements made to Windows 8.1, easily made the Surface Pro 3 the most desirable Surface product to date.

In my initial look, I gave the Surface Pro 3 high marks for its performance, features, and design. The particular model I looked at fell right in the middle of Microsoft's initial line-up. It was built around an Intel Core i5-4300U processor and had 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state drive. When it first arrived, this particular Surface Pro 3 model sold for $1299, but it is now available for roughly $1199 at various resellers. There are four other models to choose from as well, two more affordable options and two higher-priced offerings, with prices ranging from $799 all the way on up to about $1920. The least expensive model is powered by an Intel Core i3 processor and has 4GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD, while the flagship model is outfitted with a powerful Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. The 3:2 aspect ratio, high-resolution/high-DPI screen, new fully-adjustable kickstand, and pen input were a few of the Surface Pro 3's high-points, as was battery life and the sound quality (relatively speaking) of its built-in, front firing speakers.

The Surface Pro 3's Type Cover was another quality piece of kit, but I wasn't took keen on spending an additional $130 on it. And I also thought the anemic Windows Store and the number of applications that didn't scale properly on the Surface Pro 3's Hi-DPI display were let downs.

Now that I've been using the Surface Pro 3 over the long haul, my opinions have changed somewhat. With the holidays approaching (and potential Cyber-Monday deals coming up), I'm sure many of you may be contemplating the purchase of a convertible device like the Surface Pro 3, so I thought it would be a good time to share some new thoughts on the Surface Pro 3, now that I've had it on hand for an extended period of time.

All of the first impressions I mentioned in my initial review remain true today, but I have additional caveats to share. For all intents and purposes, the Surface Pro 3-when paired to its companion Type Cover-offers an experience much like an Ultrabook in most circumstances. There are, however, a number of scenarios where a full-fledged notebook, even if it's roughly the same size, will be the better choice. I've found that the Surface Pro 3 is ideal for users that will likely fire the machine up when sitting at a desk or when in a conference room-type environment that has a table. The Surface Pro 3's performance is plenty good for everyday computing and office applications, and the screen is top notch. Using the Surface Pro 3 as a notepad with its stylus is also very useful. In fact, over the course of the device's life, Microsoft has issued a number of firmware, driver, and OS updates that have improved the overall responsiveness and usefulness of the Surface Pro 3.

I've also found the Surface Pro 3 to be an excellent media consumption device. I would not recommended dropping this much coin to use the Surface Pro 3 solely as a tablet for consuming content, but watching movies on the thing is great, even if you use the built-in speakers and have to share.

Where the Surface Pro 3 falls down (sometimes literally) is if you're the type of user that likes to fire up your computer whenever you've got a spare minute, wherever you are. The device's kickstand and detachable keyboard work well on sturdy surfaces (like the aforementioned desk or table), but when using it on your lap or on any kind of uneven surface, things can go downhill fast. I've stopped trying to get any real work done with the Surface Pro 3 on my lap, for example, because it's just too precarious when trying to balance it on my legs. I also find the Surface Pro 3 too unwieldy to use with one hand when the Type Cover is attached. Often when I'm in the field-say standing on a step ladder, connected to a router I'm trying to re-configure-I can hold my laptop in one hand, while typing and mousing with the other. I can't do that with the Surface Pro 3. Sure, I can fold the keyboard back and use the on-screen touch keyboard, but it's not the same, since so much of the screen gets covered.

Ultimately, I still think the Surface Pro 3 is an awesome device. The Windows Store still leaves something to be desired, but the situation with scaling on the display is much, much, better now. The Surface Pro 3 is best suited to only certain types of users, though, as outlined above. Keep that in mind should you be shopping for a convertible device like it this holiday season.


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