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The Great Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Identity Crisis

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The Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It’s a Tablet. No, it’s a laptop. No, it’s a tablet!

Laptop!

Tablet!

The tech media has never really been sure how to classify the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft’s tablet-laptop (convertible?) hybrid, ever since its release in April 2014.  Gadget sites have placed it in side-by-side comparisons against a range of devices: Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga,  Apple’s iPad Air, and various ultrabooks, to name a few.

To add to the confusion, Microsoft’s marketing efforts pit the Surface Pro 3 against the MacBook Air laptop computer—you have likely heard the ubiquitous advertisements proclaiming the Surface Pro 3 as “the tablet that can replace your laptop” this holiday season.

The reviews coming from the tech community are even more conflicted than the marketing team.  At first, it was hip to pan the device. This spring we saw headlines like: “3 ways the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Still Fails” (NetworkWorld.com) and “Three Reasons the Surface Pro 3 is Struggling” in Forbes.

Despite this, Microsoft posted solid sales numbers for the device in October, and come December, Surface Pro 3 had become every reviewer’s darling. Forbes changed its tune in its long-term review: “Microsoft Proves Its Third Time is Lucky” says one headline. On the 20th of the month, Business News Daily penned  “5 Reasons It’s the Best Business Tablet of 2014.”

But wait, isn’t it a laptop? Nevermind.

Since marketers and reviews aren’t really sure what to make of the Surface Pro 3, here is our take on the conversation—six points that define what the Surface Pro 3 brings to the table. Or the desk. Or the crick of your arm. However you choose to deploy it.

 

Still heavy for a tablet. The Surface Pro 2 caught flak for its bulky stature—weighing nearly 2 lbs. with a 13.5 mm thickness. Microsoft trimmed the Surface Pro 3 down to 9.1 mm, and reduced the weight by 100 grams. Next to an iPad Air, it is still relatively clunky, especially when used standing up for extended periods of time.

Large enough screen to run two apps side-by-side. The tradeoff for a bulkier feel is a larger screen size. The Surface Pro 3 boasts a 12-inch screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. A screen of this size can accommodate spreadsheets and other types of production work, as well as being able to open document-sized windows side by side. This gives the Surface Pro 3 the feel of a business laptop more than any other discernable feature, aside from the computing power.

Yes, there’s a big SSD under the hood. Speaking of computing power, a mid-range Surface Pro 3 boasts 128 GB of solid state drive (SSD) memory. This powerful type of internal storage differentiates the Surface Pro from other small-form laptops available, like the Chromebook for example, which has a small amount (4-16 GB) of disk space. This enables offline work, and adds faster boot times and responsiveness when running multiple production applications simultaneously. When you’re at home surfing the Internet, it’s like taking a Porche on the Autobahn, according to InformationWeek’s users.

The price tag is definitely more laptop than tablet. With price points around $1,000 depending on the processor and SSD size, you are paying laptop prices for laptop performance. Here is where Microsoft is choosing its battleground wisely pairing the Surface Pro 3 against MacBook Air. The price point would appear too lopsided next to an inexpensive ($500-$600 range) Windows 8 tablet like the Lenovo ThinkPad, for instance.

The truest way to experience Windows 8.1 Surface Pro 3 ties together the UI for the Windows 8.1 experience, and comes with Windows 8.1 Pro installed. Whereas this OS comes off awkward in a desktop environment where touch features are unavailable, the Surface Pro 3 offers users simultaneous touch screen and mouse-and-keyboard interfacing—bear in mind, however, that the Microsoft Type Cover Keyboard is sold separately. This type of hybrid control is what Microsoft developers had in mind when creating the operating system, which is why reviewers like Forbes’ Ewan Spence applaud the efficiency it creates.

But you still have to purchase Office 365 separately. You would think that Microsoft would entice users to look at Office 365 by bundling in a six month subscription with the hardware. But alas, it comes separately.

Hopefully this distills the meandering conversation a bit. Understand that Microsoft gears the Surface Pro 3 for serious production work, and when it comes time to kick off the shoes, it does a fine job in a consumption role as well.

If you use a Surface Pro 3, please let us know how you like it in the comments below.

Summary
The Great Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Identity Crisis
Article Name
The Great Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Identity Crisis
Description
Since marketers and reviewers aren’t really sure what to make of the Surface Pro 3, here is our take on the conversation—six points that define what the Surface Pro 3 brings to the table. Or the lap. Or the crick of your arm. However you choose to deploy it.
Author
Adam Lovinus

Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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