Tuesday, December 7

Microsoft Surface 3 is a tablet running full Windows 8.1 with a price like an iPad


The Surface Pro 3 is one of my favourite tablets launched in 2014. With a powerful chipset and a more appealing form factor, the Surface Pro 3 is closer to a full-fledged laptop than a tablet and its high price definitely reflects that. So here comes the Surface 3, the new member in the Surface family with lesser power and a smaller body, but with much more affordable price tag. More importantly, it runs full Windows 8.1 and it has an interesting price tag.

The biggest difference between Surface 3 and Surface 2 is the operating system it runs. Rather than the limiting and confusing Windows RT, this new iteration of Surface is running a full version of Windows 8.1. This means that you can install legacy software like other Windows machines without solely depending on the Windows Store with very limited offerings in applications. It will can be upgraded to Windows 10 later this year, free of charge. With the Surface lineup ditching the Windows RT, this really indicates the death of the ill-fated, ARM-based OS.

While using a better software is important, the changes in hardware are welcomed too. The 3:2 aspect ratio like the Surface Pro 3 is brought over here and this paper-inspired ratio will make the screen useful in both portrait and landscape orientation. The larger 10.8″ display has a 1920×1280 resolution. While the body is slightly thinner and lighter, the built-in kickstand now supports 3 different angles. While it is a step backwards from the one found on Surface Pro 3, it supports one more angle if compared to Surface 2. Microsoft claims that the compromise is necessary to cut down the cost and the thickness.

Under the magnesium alloy body, a Quad-Core Intel Atom x7 processor is powering the whole device. A USB 3.0 connector, a microSD card slot and the mini DisplayPort are the ports available. The processor is not the top of the line in terms of processing power, but it should have no problem to handle day-to-day tasks such as creating documents, browsing the Internet and checking emails. Playing graphic-heavy games and video editing will be too demanding for the Surface 3.

The battery life is rated at 10 hours, which is reasonably long for a full Windows machine. The proprietary charging port has been done away and a micro USB port is used. A 13W charger will be provided for faster, but you can use any charger with lower power ratings for emergency. This subtle improvement can be extremely useful if you left your charger at home and your Surface 3 is running out of juice. It also has an 8MP rear camera and a 3.5MP front facing camera.

You won’t call it a Surface without the Type Cover, isn’t it? This time, Microsoft is only selling the Type Cover with physical buttons and the Touch Cover will not be available. Older covers can be used, but they will not fit the body well when you close them up. The Surface Pen is another optional accessory you can get. The N-trig based digitizer debut with the Surface Pro 3 supports 256 levels of pressure sensitivity and it will be useful for sketching and notes taking. The Surface Docking Station can be bought to expand the ports.

The Surface 3 is available in 2 storage options. The 64GB storage/2GB RAM option will be available at $499 (Officially RM1,879 in Malaysia) and the 128GB storage/4GB RAM option will be selling at $599 (Officially RM2,249). The LTE models will be available later for an extra $100. If you are buying the new Surface 3, you will get one-year subscription of Microsoft Office 365 Personal which allows you to use Outlook, Office, OneNote and OneDrive for a year. For the accessories, there are the Type Cover ($129, around RM477), Surface Pen ($49, around RM182) and the docking station ($199, around RM736) as mentioned above.



The Surface 3 is closer to a “mini” version of Surface Pro 3 rather than a successor to Surface 2 and considering how good the Surface Pro 3 is, this is certainly a good thing. Running the full Windows 8.1 means that you have a wide selection of programs and applications. It is future-proof too, as Windows 10 update will be available for free.  The improvement in hardware also makes the Surface 3 more useful in different usage scenario.

The next thing to consider is the price. The Surface 3 has the same price with the 16GB iPad Air 2 in the US. Due to the recent drop in Malaysian Ringgit, the Surface 3 is more expensive than the iPad launched last year. In Malaysia, the price for the 64GB Surface 3 is similar to the 64GB iPad Air 2. While these tablets are comparable in price, they are really different. The Surface 3 running full Windows with the combination of the Type Cover will be more useful for serious work. Multitasking is better too as you can use multiple apps simultaneously. iPad, on the other hand, will be better for entertainment as the selection of games are much wider. So your decision will largely depend on your nature of usage.

While I opine that Microsoft got it right for the price for the Surface 3, the accessories are overpriced in my opinion. The Surface Pen is bundled with the Surface Pro 3 and you have to pay an extra $50 for it for Surface 3. The Type Cover for the Surface 3 costs another $129. These accessories are essential to get the fullest experience on the Surface 3. I really hope that they can be much cheaper in the future.

Nevertheless, the Surface 3 is a solid option for people who are searching for a low-powered tablet for some serious work. If gaming is not a priority for you or you do not need to do some heavy work, this is a tablet for you.