Is the surface pro 3 really a laptop replacement?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3I’ve been meaning to write about my experience with the Surface Pro 3 from Microsoft for some time.  I purchased the Surface Pro 3 in August, 2014, just about 4 months ago.  The device has become my defacto mobile laptop and I pretty much take it everywhere I go.

Before getting into some of the technical features and what I like and don’t like about it, I can say that without fail, everyone who sees it loves it.   Some of the comments and feedback I get, many times from complete strangers are “oh wow, that’s the surface”, “how do you like it?”, “is it a laptop?”, “that’s awesome, I’ve been thinking of getting one”.  If Microsoft intended for this device to be a crowd pleaser and head turner, mission accomplished.

Perhaps this attention and curiosity is due to everyone’s familiarity with Apple’s ubiquitous iPad platform and the Surface looks like a far removed and distant cousin? I’m not sure.  What I am certain about, my decision to purchase it, was a good one.

Let’s get some technical details out of the way. The Surface Pro 3 comes in several processor, memory and storage configurations. I opted to get the i5 with the standard 4GB memory option and standard 128GB SSD harddrive. Here are my reasons for this configuration.

I didn’t want to go with the lowest end i3 processor and I didn’t see a need for the i7 as I don’t do anything which requires the additional processing power. I opted for the standard 4GB instead of upgrading as I don’t do RAM heavy things, such as video editing.  As for storage, with both the OS and MS Office applications installed I had plenty of space left.

Surface Pro 3 PortsThere’s also a USB port to which you can connect external storage devices. Everything I do is stored in a cloud, so besides apps, local storage is not that important. 4 months later I have over 50% of my local storage left and don’t expect it to grow much more in the next few years.

And here’s another really great feature, the ports.  In addition to the USB port mentioned above, you also get a display port, a built in SD card reader and a 3.5mm audio jack.  At one point or another, I have used all of the ports and was thankful that they were built in and readily available.

When choosing your configuration, keep in mind that you can’t upgrade the device so it is important to choose what works for you with consideration for future use cases.

Now onto the keyboard. Let me make it clear, if you’re buying the Surface, to not buy the keyboard would be like buying a car without wheels. Yes, you can use the device without the keyboard but if you’re planning on doing anything meaningful with it, like email, do yourself a favor and get the keyboard.

The pen comes with the keyboard. Personally, I think that the pen has its uses. From taking notes in a meeting to using it with OneNote and that’s the crux of it. The pen pretty much only works with OneNote. If you’re committed to usine OneNote, the pen may really appeal to you. I made a significant attempt to use the pen but have found it not as practical as I’d like it to be or as Microsoft would like you to believe.

Microsoft provides you with a sticky pen holder (a loop like contraption) which can be attached anywhere to the keyboard. The stickiness lasted about 3 months. I’m not sure there’s a better way to store the pen, you just have to make sure it doesn’t get lost after the glue wears off.  As I no longer use the pen on a regular basis, this is not an issue for me at this time. Microsoft does sell a replacement sticky loop for around $5, but considering the cost of the device and the keyboard (its not cheap), I would have hoped for a slightly better solution.

I have to say that the keyboard itself is exceptionally easy to use. Considering the size of the keyboard the keys are generously large and have a nice feel to them. I have used the keyboard for many hours and am very happy with it.

The built in mousepad is also not bad. I can’t say its the best, but it works and is responsive. The mousepad has a nice click to it as well and I find that I don’t usually need an external mouse unless I’m stationary with it for an extended period of time.

The screen is exceptional. The resolution is outstanding and the touch responsiveness works really well. The challenge with the screen and for that matter any device this size is that it is physically small. Regardless, I have found that I can comfortably work on it for an entire day without any issue beyond the usual eye strain.

Surface Pro 3 KickstandNext, the kickstand. This is just brilliant. The fact that i don’t need to buy a case with a stand and it just works is awesome. The best part of the kickstand is that it can be freely positioned. This means that you can just as easily use it on a table or lay it at an angle to write or draw or comfortably position it on your legs while reclining or sitting on the couch. Brilliant.

In terms of weight, the Surface Pro 3 is just under 2 pounds (~1.76 pnds).  One of the key factors I was looking for in a mobile laptop replacement device was its weight.  I didn’t want to continue lugging around a 3 to 5 pound device in addition to all of the other stuff I’ve got in my bag.  The device and the keyboard, when snapped up, is very comfortable to carry around and just light enough that I know longer feel like I can use it for strength training.  I’ve actually gotten to the point where the only thing I carry is the Surface (i.e. no bag).

Having a full fledged Windows 8.1 device in a tablet form is fantastic.  I’m often asked “is it a tablet?”, my response tends to be “it can be, but its actually a regular Windows computer”.  This means that all of the software that you’re used to, whether you’re a Microsoft Office user or a software developer, runs and loads as you’d expect.  I’ve had no (read zero) problems with the system running everything from Microsoft Office to Photoshop and beyond.

There are a few kinks in the armor for me personally.  The device does get hot from time to time, especially after extended uses.  This is not unexpected as the processor and configuration is just like a regular computer, including a fan which comes on when things are hot.  The combination of the heat and fan are not show stoppers in terms of usability or holding it, its just important to note that it does happen.  I imagine that with the faster processor, the i7, this may be more of an issue than with the i3 and i5.

All around, I’m very happy with the Surface Pro 3 and would recommend it to anyone who needs a light, full fledged laptop to carry around.  From a price point, its not cheap.  Considering that you can get Chrombooks and now even Windows laptops for between $150 and $500, at $899 and above, this device is not for everyone’s pocket book.

If you have any questions about this review or my experience with it, feel free to reach out to me via twitter @iberkner.

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