Surface Pro 3 Preview

Surface Pro 3 Preview

This ... looks really good

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.

The event was MC'd by Microsoft's newly-minted CEO Satya Nadella, but as with past Surface events, it was Panos Panay who handled the heavy lifting. Panay stepped through the firm's rationale for the device, which he said accomplished the core mission of Surface (which, oddly enough, is the core mission of my "Field Guide" books as well: "Get it done."

The tablet has not replaced the laptop as we were all so sure would happen three years ago, he said. Instead, over 96 percent of iPad users also own a laptop. So what's really happening is that virtually all tablet owners have both a tablet and a laptop. So why not create a single device that can do both?

If we had been having this conversation a year ago, I'm pretty sure Microsoft would have argued that Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 both accomplished this goal. But as I've written again and again—most recently, less than 24 hours ago in Is This When Surface Turns the Corner?—neither of these devices were in fact ideal for this task. And now Microsoft, finally, is agreeing, at least publicly.

And they might have actually pulled it off. Because Surface Pro 3 takes the Surface Pro 2 and makes everything better.

What I've written here is based on very early hands-on use. Expect things to potentially change as I use it more.

The screen is bigger, and higher resolution, which Panos called "pixel free" in what I took was an attempt to steer the conversation past Apple's "Retina" branding. In real world terms, it's 2160 x 1440, which is unusual, as is its 3:2 aspect ratio, rather than the 16:9 screens that are so common with PCs but look terrible in portrait mode. (Desktop scaling is set to 150 percent if you're curious.)

The device is much thinner than Surface Pro 2—9.1 mm vs. 10.6—and while hands-on time will establish this thought more clearly, a quick comparison shows it to be closer to the Surface 2 than the Pro 2 from a thickness perspective. Near ideal, in other words.

Surface 2 (left) and Surface Pro 3

It's lighter than Surface Pro 2 at just 800 grams, compared to over 900, and is designed to be balanced so that there aren't heavy corners or areas, and is usable—at least for a little while—with one hand.

The performance is up by about 10 percent on the i5 review unit, Microsoft says, and more so with the Intel Core i7 processor option. In fact, there are i3, i5 and i7 models happening. This is a Pro device. Not a mid-level device.

You can get a dock, of course, and while it is surely a bit bigger than the current Surface Docking Station, it looks just like its predecessor. But supports 4K displays.

The available Typing Covers are improved too. Now, you can kind of fold the Type Cover up into the bottom of the device and additional magnets hold it in place more securely than before. Most of the people I was hanging around with at the event don't have big enough laps (or long enough upper legs, I guess) to use it on a lap, but if you do, it works much, much better than with previous Surfaces.

Obviously, the new Type Cover is bigger than its predecessor, but the actual keyboard is the same (and the same size). The trackpad, however, is a HUGE improvement. Which wasn't hard, but this one actually looks useful and usable.

In another nice improvement, the Surface Pro 3 kickstand is significantly improved. So rather than two positions, as with the previous generation, you can lay the device back, back, back to an almost horizontal position Microsoft calls easel mode, using a range of angles. This will be huge for artists, of course, but also for those who want to write notes with the bundled pen or simply don't want to block out others in meetings.

Speaking of the pen, it's new, and not the same unit from Surface Pro/Pro 2 (and is not compatible). I've not tested it yet, but it has a nice OneNote integration that works from the lock screen so you can click a button and just start taking notes. Very natural.

Obviously, I'll have a lot to say to say about the new Surface Pro 3 in the days ahead, but its busy here and I need to cut this one short. For now, know this: This device answers most of my criticisms of the existing Pro devices while seemingly achieving that goal of being both a good tablet and a good laptop. That's no small achievement. But let's see how it holds up over time.

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