From the moment that Microsoft announced its innovative Surface Pro 3, I've been steadily documenting my experiences with the device as I use it and learn more. This guide provides access to everything I've written about Surface Pro 3, and will be updated as I publish my review and other articles in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Note: I'm serious about Surface Pro 3. So serious, in fact, that I'll also be writing a Surface Pro 3 Field Guide this year. Stay tuned for that, but enjoy what's unfolding here on the SuperSite in the meantime.
Real world usage
On June 20, 2014, Microsoft released the Surface Pro 3, and the company has since filled out the product lineup with additional models and dramatically expanded availability around the world. I've been using Surface Pro 3 since day one—which actually dates back to May—and was thinking it may be time to follow-up my Surface Pro 3 Review with some longer-term thoughts.
For the past two weeks, I've put the new Surface Pro 3 through the wringer, using it as often as possible and in as many ways as possible. And while my tests will continue through the product's initial release date later this month, I feel comfortable stating now that Surface Pro 3 is the premium Ultrabook/tablet hybrid that I've been waiting for. And it's an excellent, if expensive, choice for anyone who needs both types of devices.
Microsoft's bigger and thinner Surface Pro tablet is indeed called Surface Pro 3, the firm confirmed on Tuesday, and is positioned as a device that can replace both a tablet and a laptop. It certainly appears to be the first Surface Pro device that can accomplish this long-stated goal, and it's bolstered by a new click-in keyboard design, an improved kickstand, a new desktop dock, and other improvements.
When my new Apple MacBook Air arrived earlier this month, I could feel the waves of jealousy coming off the Surface Pro 3. But it shouldn't have worried. While your needs may vary, the Surface Pro 3 instantly catapults Microsoft's hardware into the same league as Apple's well-respected MacBook Air. And that's quite an accomplishment.
With all five models of Surface Pro 3 now shipping in the US and Canada, we're going to start getting some answers about how each differs. Obviously, the various models get more expensive as you move up from an Intel Core i3 processor to an i5 and then an i7. But how do these upgrades impact performance, battery life, heat and fan noise, and other important metrics?
One of the most common questions I receive about Surface Pro 3 is whether this device is suitable as a tablet. That will depend on your needs, of course, but it's fair to say that the device's large size and PC innards presents a problem for anyone who wishes to use this device as a tablet regularly.
For the most part, Surface Pro 3 excels on the road. This is a thin and light travel companion that can keep up with the best Ultrabooks on the market and do double duty as an entertainment tablet, offering several hours of battery life and a great looking screen.
Well, we got the bigger Surface Pro we were all clamoring for. But how does the larger form factor impact the size and weight of this device? Will it be a beast in your bag, or is it something you can happily carry without worrying about injuring yourself?
I'm a little uncomfortable discussing this topic since it's early and because I believe that a coming firmware update will improve matters. But I've received many questions about the battery life situation with Surface Pro 3. So here's what I've seen so far.
While most have focused solely on Surface Pro 3's suitability as a replacement for both a tablet and a laptop, Microsoft highlighted an interesting third possibility when it launched the device: a desktop PC replacement. To that end, the firm will soon start selling a Docking Station. But since that's not available yet, I've begun testing Surface Pro 3 in this configuration as it did originally with its predecessor, using a USB 3.0-based docking station.
While I tend to think of a portable PC like Surface Pro 3 as something to use on the road, many users will of course use this device as their sole PC, whether they're at work or on the go. For such people, Surface Pro 3 should work very well, thanks to its thin and light form factor, PC compatibility, and OneNote integration.
Having now used Surface Pro 3 for some months, and on multiple lengthy trips, I feel like I can begin evaluating Microsoft's durability claims for the device. As owners of previous Surface models can attest, the industrial design of Surface has always been impressive, and certainly Surface Pro 3 follows in that tradition. But some have reported that these devices also seem prone to scratches, cracks, and other issues. That doesn't match what I'm seeing, at least not yet.
For Surface Pro 3 to succeed as a tablet, it needs a superior reading experience. And while this isn't fully Microsoft's fault, Surface Pro 3 does comes up a bit short because of its large size and a few software-related issues. It works, but it's not ideal.
I had one of those heart-stopping experiences this morning when Surface Pro 3 wouldn't power on despite my best efforts. The good news? The issue is related to the power management bug that Microsoft knows about and will fix before Surface Pro 3 becomes publicly available. As good—for me, at least—Microsoft told me how to make it right.
On the heels of Microsoft's recent Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington D.C., I swapped the final night in my perfectly serviceable midtown hotel for a night at the upscale Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which is conveniently located between both the National Mall and Reagan National Airport. I didn't do so to abuse my expense account—indeed, the stay was provided free of charge—but rather to experience an interesting new fusion of two of my top interests, technology and travel. You see, Mandarin is piloting the use of Surface Pro 3 in its rooms. And I was curious to learn how that would work.
Well, they finally did it: With the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft has delivered on a bigger-screened Pro device, as I and so many others had requested. But Surface Pro 3 exceeds expectations in this regard in several ways, with the 12-inch unit offering a "pixel-free" resolution of 2160 x 1440 and a 3:2 aspect ratio. These unusual qualities come together to provide a unique computing experience that could very well put Surface Pro 3 over the top.
While Surface Pro 3 falls short of offering a true configurator for mixing and matching components during the online purchase process, it still provides more options than any previous Surface device. This time around, you can choose between product editions with different CPUs that span the range of Intel's Core mobile processor lineup. Which makes the most sense for you?
If there's one thing about Surface Pro 3 that's proven controversial, it's Microsoft's use of a pen that is ostensibly less sensitive than the unit it provided with Surface Pro 2. But the new Surface Pen is in fact superior, overall, and it appears that the decision was the write, um, right one.
To say that the kickstand Microsoft provided with the original Surface RT was innovative is an understatement: Once you've experienced it, it's a feature you miss in every other device on the market. Surface 2 improved matters with a two-position kickstand, which was of course even better. So how does Microsoft improve on such a wonderful feature with Surface Pro 3? Three positions? Oh no.
The Surface Pro 3's internal construction is both innovative and an industry first, in particular the custom-designed power and cooling systems. But on the other hand, it is of course an evolution of the original Surface Pro design, reinvented for a much thinner form factor. So what's it like in the real world?
Microsoft has evolved its power supplies since the first Surface RT device, but until Surface Pro 3, the devices and power supplies were all interchangeable. Not anymore: The power supply that comes with Surface Pro 3 retains the basic design from previous Pro devices, but when you look at it closely, you find that everything, in fact, has changed.
While Surface Pro 3 is primarily a productivity device, it also seeks to satisfy the user's consumption needs with a superior screen and tablet experience that is optimized for reading and content consumption. And it is in this less essential, entertainment-focused side of the fence where the device offers up some subtle but nice improvements: From an A/V perspective, Surface Pro 3 is a small step up from its predecessors.
Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 Docking Station—available for preorder and due in stores in the US and Canada starting next week—is exactly what you were hoping for: An elegant and efficient way to turn the ultimate mobile computer into a desk-bound workstation that can connect to multiple peripherals, including multiple displays. If you were hoping to consolidate everything around Surface Pro 3, you'll want to pick up the Docking Station as well.
With the general availability of the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station on Friday, Microsoft has also provided some more details about how you can use a Surface Pro 3 and/or the docking station in tandem with external displays. This information will be useful for anyone who wishes to use Surface Pro 3 in a third configuration, as a desktop workstation.
The Surface Pro 3 Docking Station provides ample expansion and can turn Microsoft's latest tablet into a real desktop PC. But there are some important differences between this device and its Surface Pro 2-based predecessor. And from what I can tell up front, they're mostly positive.
I will post some proper first impressions tomorrow, but I know you want to see it. So here's the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station, which will be arriving publicly starting on August 15.
Offering the same backlit keyboard that debuted in Type Cover 2, the new Surface Pro Type Cover is of course resized to match the unique new size of the device it serves. But this Surface Pro 3 accessory isn't just a bigger version of its predecessor, it also offers a unique new magnetic connection that keeps the keyboard at a stable, more useful angle.
While Surface Pro 3 doesn't offer a truly integrated port for storing the Surface Pen, you do get a cute little pen holder called Pen Loop with a Type Cover. The only issue is what happens if your Pen Loop ever detaches. No problem: Microsoft will sell you a replacement in any of five different colors for just $5.
Microsoft's new Arc Touch Bluetooth Mouse is a travel-friendly pointer and a great companion for any Windows tablet, 2-in-1 or Ultrabook. Styled to look right at home next to your Surface Pro 3, the Arc Touch Bluetooth mouse doesn't require a dongle, won't take up space or add bulk to your bag, and provides a more precise pointing experience than the touchpad that ships with your device.
Like previous Surface models, Surface Pro 3 comes with a bare minimum of expansion ports, perhaps in a bid to keep the device as clean and elegant looking as possible. But given the size of this device, and the real world needs of typical users, just a few additions would have made a huge difference.
OK, it's no surprise that Microsoft's new Surface Pro 3 ships with the very latest version of Windows. But the timing of these releases is interesting and, I think, not coincidental. With Windows 8.1 with Update 1, Microsoft is acknowledging that a big percentage of its user base still wants to use Windows efficiently via keyboard and mouse. And with Surface Pro 3, Microsoft is applying the same logic on the hardware side, providing a device that is a wonderful Ultrabook first, instead of a compromised sort-of tablet. More so than ever in the past, this software and hardware was made for each other.
If you still use a lot of desktop applications as I do, you know that some handle high DPI displays and the desktop scaling functionality in Windows 8+ better than others. To date, the worst offenders, by far, have been Adobe's creative apps, like Photoshop. But with this week's release of Adobe Creative Suite 2014, the company finally enters the 21st century. So what's the experience like on Microsoft's "pixel-free" high PDI Surface Pro 3?
I've had my review loaner Surface Pro 3 for over a month now, but with the device finally hitting store shelves and arriving for those who preordered, today's the day it goes public. So here are some resources to help you get started with your new Surface Pro 3.
When Microsoft first launched Surface Pro 3, it touted some interesting integration features between Surface Pen and the Modern version of OneNote. But some reviewers wondered about using OneNote desktop instead, so Microsoft promised a way to configure that. With Surface Pro 3 now arriving in stores, the firm has come through on that promise, and you can now choose between OneNote Modern and OneNote for desktop. Here's how.
A newly released Microsoft app for Surface Pro 3 allows you to customize how the Surface Pen interacts with your device. The Surface Hub app lets you configure what happens when you press the top button on the pen as well as the pressure sensitivity of the pen tip.
While you probably won't need to do this very often, it's a good idea to understand how you can access the firmware on all of your PCs. And this is a bit non-obvious with Surface Pro 3, which provides a unique access method that can work without having an attached keyboard or a properly running version of Windows.
Surface Pro 3 has attracted interest from a wide range of new user types, including IT pros, business travelers, developers, creative professionals and more. But this expansion of the user base often results in obscure issues that impact certain users doing certain things. And here's a great example: The Hyper-V functionality in Windows 8.1 doesn't play nice with Surface Pro 3's Connected Standby functionality.
Microsoft today delivered a new set of firmware updates for Surface Pro 3, fixing issues with UEFI, Surface Pen, the Home button, and the wireless adapters. The firm had previously revealed that it would deliver November's firmware updates a bit later in the month than usual, and not on the normal Patch Tuesday schedule. But since today is the day after Patch Tuesday, that wasn't a particularly long wait.
Following through on its early October promise to deliver another Wi-Fi fix for Surface Pro 3 "in the coming weeks," Microsoft today delivered a sweeping set of firmware updates that does include Wi-Fi fixes as well as several other updates. Surface Pro 3 firmware updates generally ship on Patch Tuesday, but this one is arriving two weeks later than usual.
If you've got a Surface Pro 3, you'll want to head into Windows Update and grab this month's surprise new firmware update. It's a big one, improving the Surface Pen to accommodate future configuration options, whatever that means. It's also a weird one, since Patch Tuesday is next week.
Microsoft only issued firmware updates for Surface Pro 3 this month, ignoring its older Surface RT, Surface Pro, Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets. This might be for the best, however, since it needed to fix a lingering Wi-Fi problem on this newest of Surface devices. And it looks like they may have finally done so.
Microsoft has quietly rolled out a second firmware update this month for Surface Pro 3. This isn't the first time Surface Pro 3 has received two separate firmware updates in a single month, which is strange enough given the device's short lifetime, but it is the first time this has happened without any warning.
It will probably be several days before I fully catch up from my recent vacation, but here's one story I didn't want to put off any longer: As part of Patch Tuesday this past week, Microsoft issued firmware updates for Surface RT, Surface Pro, and Surface Pro 3. So if you own one of those devices, be sure to get updated.
I was reminded by a reader that Microsoft shipped the Surface Pro 3 Wi-Fi fix two days ago: Thanks to all the excitement this week around WPC and the Microsoft layoffs, I had completely forgotten about it. If you use Surface Pro 3, however, you'll want to fire up Windows Update and install this update. It's an important one.
Well, this is unprecedented: This month, every single Surface model ever made—Surface RT, Surface Pro, Surface 2, Surface Pro 2, Surface Pro 3—received a set of firmware updates. So fire up Windows Update, folks. It's time to get busy.
With just hours to spare—the firm had promised this in time for the device's public release on Friday—Microsoft delivered its first firmware update for Surface Pro 3. It's not clear yet what changes and improvements this update provides. Yet.
News and commentary
Newest stories first
Microsoft quietly updated the Surface Hub modern app this week, adding the ability to disable the Windows button on the Surface Pro 3. The odd placement of this button—it's on the right bezel when used normally in landscape mode—has been a source of frustration for artists and others who use the device with Surface Pen.
Microsoft announced this morning that both Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Austrian Airlines have adopted Surface Pro 3 for their pilots. The two airlines join Delta Airlines in using the Microsoft devices as Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) in airline cockpits, replacing heavy packages of important flight documents.
It's hard to call Surface Pro 3 anything other than a success: once seen as a side-story to the Surface mini, Surface Pro 3 has exceeded all of Microsoft's internal expectations and has singlehandedly turned around the business. But there's one big problem with Surface Pro 3 and it's been lingering, malignantly, since the product launched this past summer. The device has had rampant Wi-Fi issues, and despite several updates aimed at fixing them, nothing has worked. So this month, Microsoft is going to try again.
Microsoft today touted the use of Surface Pro 3 in business, something that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the product. But the firm also revealed various details about how it intends to take Surface Pro 3 and its accessories forward. Surface Pro 3 will fully support the coming Windows 10 upgrade, for example. And Surface Pro 3 accessories are guaranteed to work with the next generation of Surface Pro devices.
At the Surface Pro 3 announcement back in May, an Adobe executive promised that his firm's Creative Cloud applications, starting with Photoshop, would be updated to support the Surface Pro 3's high-DPI display. But aside from a pretty lame experimental feature in Adobe Photoshop CC (2014), we've seen nothing to indicate that Adobe was really onboard. Today, finally, that all changed.
Thanks to its PC innards, Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is starting to replace both paper-based documentation and iPads in plane cockpits. And this week, that process is now formalized, with Surface Pro 3 achieving device qualifications as FAA and EASA Electronic Flight Bags (EFB).
Microsoft made an interesting claim today, though it didn't back it up with any hard figures: Demand for Surface Pro 3 has surpassed the supply, leading to shortages in some markets. So Microsoft is asking for your patience while it gets more into the marketplace.
Over the next 24 hours, Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 will be released in 25 new markets around the world, bringing the total to 28 markets including Canada, Japan and the United States. All five Surface Pro 3 models will be available in these new markets simultaneously, Microsoft says.
Microsoft contacted me today about a Surface Pro 3 issue that many attribute to the device overheating. Apparently, that's not what's happening, but the company will issue a fix for the device regardless, because there is an underlying problem that is triggering the temperature gauge icon some users are reporting seeing on Intel Core i7 versions of Surface Pro 3.
If you live outside of the United States, Canada or Japan, and have been waiting to get your hands on a Surface Pro 3, the wait is almost over: Microsoft announced today that its new tablet will ship in 25 additional markets around the world in about three weeks, on August 28. And Surface Pro 3 will launch in all Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 configurations on that day in those markets.
When Microsoft first started selling Surface Pro 3 in July, it only made the Intel Core i5-based models available. But now all five of the Surface Pro 3 models—including the Core i3 and i5 variants—are available for purchase at the Microsoft Store, Best Buy, and other Surface retailers.
With the first Surface Pro 3 tablets shipping today, Microsoft has updated its schedule for delivering the remaining Surface Pro 3 models. And it will deliver all Surface Pro 3 models to 26 additional markets by the end of August, and has opened up the Surface Pro 3 Dock to preorders for the first time as well.
While I like that Microsoft has expanded the number of available Surface Pro 3 configurations compared to its predecessor, and that these choices provide a range of processor options, the firm still falls short by not offering the real configuration options we expect from PC makers. This is likely by design, but I hope to see the Surface Pro lineup expanded to include "build your own" configurations in the future.
While my initial impressions of Surface Pro 3 are overwhelmingly positive, at some point we need to address the less-than-ideal aspects of this new device. Key among them, I think, is the price: Surface Pro 3 is positioned as a premium transforming Ultrabook and as such it is out of reach, financially, for many. So let's step through that and discuss why Microsoft is targeting only the high-end of the market, and which of the Surface Pro 3 models—if any—represent the best value.
Last week, Microsoft introduced the striking new Surface Pro 3, with its unexpected and welcome new form factor, and it didn't introduce its long-awaited Surface mini, after a second last-minute delay. Both of these events are of course related in a number of ways. But the most interesting, I think, is how these products both fit within a subtly-introduced new strategy for the Surface team.
Microsoft corporate vice president Panos Panay and his Surface team took on the masses today in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session. In it, they provided a few more details about the recently-announced Surface Pro 3 that will start shipping to customers. Here's what we learned.
Responding to feedback from its business customers, Microsoft on Tuesday announced a larger and thinner new Surface Pro 3, which it says can replace both a tablet and a laptop. But the firm mysteriously delayed its long-awaited Surface mini for a second time, disappointing those who were looking forward to a smaller device focused on note-taking.
Today, I'll be heading to New York for a Microsoft Surface event, where the firm is expected to announce an 8-inch Surface mini and a larger but thinner Surface Pro. There are all kinds of rumors swirling around this event, which some are thinking of as "Surface 3.0," as in "it always takes Microsoft three tries to get it right." But I'm not sure that the old rules apply anymore.
When Microsoft pioneered the tablet PC market a decade ago, the firm was pushing a digital inking innovation that was personally championed by cofounder Bill Gates. Those efforts, though technically impressive, failed, and when Apple reinvigorated the tablet market with the iPad in 2010, that company eschewed inking and styluses for the multi-touch technologies it had honed first with the iPhone. But Microsoft has never given up on digital ink, a technology that is now deeply integrated in Windows and could provide a key differentiator for devices targeted at students, lawyers, reporters, and note-takers of all stripes. Are we on the edge of a digital ink renaissance?
Sources tell me that Microsoft plans to launch a new Surface Pro model on Tuesday that is both bigger and thinner than the current Surface Pro 2. Beyond that, I don't have too many new details, but I'm wondering whether the new device is an additional model and not a replacement for Surface Pro 2.
Next week, Microsoft will finally launch the Surface mini, a device that was originally slated to ship alongside the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 last fall. The Surface mini should see some success as a note-taking device, thanks to a superior stylus experience and deep OneNote integration, and that's all well and good. But we also know that Microsoft is launching a second new Surface device this month. And I'm hoping for a large format Surface Pro Ultrabook.
Microsoft has invited press and bloggers to a "small gathering" in New York City on May 20. As the invite suggests, the firm will finally launch its delayed Surface mini. But I'm told we might also see another surprise at the event.