Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 Tablet hit stores in the U.S. and Canada August 1, and already tech experts are hailing it as a significant improvement over the Surface Pro 2. While Microsoft is positioning the Surface Pro 3 as "the tablet that can replace your laptop," it could also become a viable desktop PC replacement when used in conjunction with its docking station.
One of the biggest advantages for business users, as well as students, is the ability to run Windows programs, especially Microsoft Office apps including Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets, and Powerpoint for presentations.
What many experts also like about the Surface Pro 3 is the variety of configurations available. Rather than a one-size-fits-all model found in most tablet offerings, the Surface Pro 3 is available in 5 different models with different amounts of memory, a variety of processors, and prices to match.
The Core i3 model, for instance, is designed for users who need the device primarily for simple tasks -- note taking, Web browsing, Skype calls, and undemanding apps. On the other hand, the Core i7 is aimed at users who require a lot of power from their computing devices for tasks such as music and video editing. The Core i5 model, which Microsoft predicts will be its most popular Surface Pro 3 version, meets users somewhere in the middle, especially for those who are looking for a tablet capable of replacing their laptop.
On the Desk and Under the Hood
The lightweight Surface Pro 3 weighs in at 1.76 pounds and features a 12-inch multi-touch display with 2160 x 1440 resolution, a kickstand, and optional click-in keyboard (both shown above). By comparison, Apple's iPad Air weighs about 1 pound, with a 9.7 inch screen.
One unique feature of the Surface Pro 3 is the Surface Pen, which allows the user to write naturally on the screen. Microsoft says the pen gives the most natural writing and drawing experience available on a tablet. It can be used to mark up presentations, sign documents, and take handwritten notes, as well as for drawing and design applications.
The Surface Pro 3 comes equipped with the Windows 8.1 Pro operating system, a 5.0 megapixel rear-facing and front-facing camera, and multiple ports, including a full-size USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort, and a microSD card reader. Microsoft's product page estimates a battery charge can provide up to 9 hours of web browsing, with certain caveats, such as keeping auto-brightness turned off.
The tablet uses Intel's 4th-generation family of Core processors -- the i3, i5, and i7 -- and also a 'TPM' chip for security.
Pricing for the Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 with 64GB of storage space and the Intel i3 processor. Mid-range models with the i5 chip are priced at $999 for 128GB, and $1,299 for 256GB. Power users in need of the high-end i7 processor can choose between models with 256GB for $1,549 or 512GB for $1,949.
Notable accessories include two versions of the click-in keyboard -- the Surface Pro Type Cover ($129) and Surface Power Cover ($199) -- as well as the docking station that turns the tablet into a desktop workstation ($199).
Bright Spot for Tablet Sales
Release of the Surface Pro 3 Tablet comes on the heels of news from Gartner research analysts indicating that tablet sales have been slowing. At the same time, Gartner says, hybrid tablet/laptop models like the Surface Pro are seeing a bump in sales and popularity.
The popularity of these hybrid models and so-called 'ultrabooks' can be attributed to several different factors. First, Gartner points out, the end of Microsoft support for Windows XP has sent many users looking for a new computing device. Being able to use the Surface Pro 3 with a docking station to serve as a desktop PC could be the incentive these legacy PC users need to invest in a new device.
In addition, ultrabooks tend to have larger screens than more traditional tablets have. The larger display makes them more practical for those who want the easy portability of a tablet combined with a large-enough workspace.
Good But Room for Improvement
Where the Surface Pro 3 has room to improve is in its connectivity. While WiFi is included, the Pro 3 is not yet equipped with built-in 4G / LTE connectivity. That could be a real disadvantage for some.
All in all though, the Surface Pro 3 is expected to be a hit with business users as well as students who will appreciate its 12-inch display, its flexible configurations, note-taking features, and perhaps most important, its ability to run Microsoft Office and other Windows programs.
Is this the tablet that will truly replace the laptop? Yes, say some experts, and not only that. This could even be the tablet that replaces the desktop.
The Surface Pro 3 is available now for sale in the U.S. and Canada, and Microsoft expects it to be available by the end of August in Europe, Asia and Australia.