Mi­crosoft Sur­face 3

Tech Advisor - - REVIEWS -

Mi­crosoft man­aged to keep the Sur­face 3 launch un­der wraps, so it was a sur­prise when it was an­nounced ear­lier this year. Given that the Sur­face Pro 3 was the first such de­vice we were able to rec­om­mend buy­ing, a cheaper ver­sion should surely be good news.

The Sur­face Pro 3 is a great feat of en­gi­neer­ing, but not ev­ery­one needs the power of a Core i7 for brows­ing the web, send­ing emails and cre­at­ing doc­u­ments in Of­fice 365. So a Core M-based tablet run­ning full-blown Win­dows 8.1 (rather than the ham­strung Win­dows RT) is what we’d been wait­ing for.

Un­for­tu­nately, that’s not what we got. In­stead, there’s an Atom x7-Z8700, the first Cherry Trail pro­ces­sor to be seen in a tablet. It’s a quad-core part, run­ning at 1.6GHz but ca­pa­ble of boost­ing up to 2.4GHz when nec­es­sary.

This is the only pro­ces­sor on of­fer, mean­ing you have a choice of only four mod­els: 64GB Wi-Fi for £419, 128GB Wi-Fi for £499, 64GB Wi-Fi + LTE and 128GB Wi-Fi + LTE. Cur­rently there are no prices for the cel­lu­lar ver­sions, nor a set re­lease date. The 64GB mod­els have 2GB of RAM, while the 128GB ver­sions have a more suit­able al­lo­ca­tion of 4GB.

There’s also a mi­croSD card slot for adding more stor­age, but with a full-size USB port, you can eas­ily connect USB flash drives and hard drives for al­most un­lim­ited stor­age.

One of the great things about the Atom pro­ces­sor is that it doesn’t re­quire a fan for cool­ing, which means the Sur­face 3 is com­pletely si­lent. Since that’s what we’ve all come to ex­pect from a mod­ern tablet it’s not a unique achieve­ment by any means, but it’s still wel­come one.

The cas­ing is made from the same mag­ne­sium as the Pro ver­sion, with­out the vents around the edge. Mi­crosoft says it could have made the Sur­face 3 thin­ner, but chose not to in or­der to leave enough room for the full-size USB 3.0 port.

There’s also a Mi­cro-USB socket: an­other wel­come fea­ture as it means that you can charge your Sur­face 3 with any USB charger and Mi­cro-USB ca­ble. How­ever, you’re best off with the bun­dled power sup­ply, which de­liv­ers 2.5A (or 13W) and charges the tablet much faster than a phone charger can.

We’re big fans of the front­mounted stereo speak­ers, which you can hardly see in the screen bezel. They sound bet­ter than you’d ex­pect, be­cause they’re not shoot­ing sound away from you like most tablets do with rear-fac­ing speak­ers.

Un­for­tu­nately, you don’t get the same in­fi­nite-po­si­tion kick­stand as the Sur­face Pro 3. The baby Sur­face clicks into three po­si­tions, the first two be­ing the same an­gles as the Pro 3, and the third giv­ing much more of a lean – ideal for sketch­ing or an­no­tat­ing.


One of the big­gest at­trac­tions of the Pro 3 is its larger screen: 12.1in ver­sus the 10.6in of the Sur­face Pro 2. It’s still small by lap­top stan­dards, but just big enough to be us­able for pro­duc­tiv­ity and strike a good bal­ance be­tween size and porta­bil­ity.

The Sur­face 3’s screen is a step back­wards, though. At 10.8in, it’s smaller than any lap­top or Chrome­book. Mi­crosoft has changed it to a 3:2 as­pect ra­tio, which makes the tablet nicer to use in por­trait mode than 16:9 Sur­faces as it’s closer to the as­pect ra­tio of pa­per. And since you can use the Sur­face Pro 3 pen with the Sur­face 3, those who want to draw or write will ap­pre­ci­ate the more pad-like di­men­sions.

The res­o­lu­tion of 1920x1280 equates to a pixel den­sity of 214ppi. That’s not par­tic­u­larly high, but if any­thing we’d pre­fer a lower res­o­lu­tion on a dis­play of this size. Usu­ally we’d say the op­po­site, but Win­dows doesn’t scale well and at the de­fault text size ev­ery­thing is tiny. If you’re used to us­ing Win­dows on a large or lowres­o­lu­tion screen, ad­just­ing to the Sur­face 3 can take some time.

Hav­ing swapped a 15.6in of­fice lap­top for the Sur­face for the du­ra­tion of the re­view, we’ve come to the con­clu­sion that it’s pos­si­ble to use a 10.8in screen for work. It’s just not that pleas­ant.

Mi­crosoft says there are sev­eral rea­sons for mak­ing the Sur­face 3 smaller: to of­fer more choice, to give bet­ter bat­tery life and to make it cheaper. So if you were hop­ing for a less pow­er­ful, cheaper Sur­face Pro 3, bad luck. This is ar­guably a bet­ter Sur­face 2 that can run le­gacy Win­dows pro­grams, but it’s not an al­ter­na­tive if you had your heart set on a 12in screen.

An­other cost-cut­ting mea­sure is the fact that you no longer get the pen in the box: it’s a £45 op­tion. As we said in our Sur­face Pro 3 re­view, it’s a won­der­ful gad­get. Tap the but­ton on the end and OneNote will launch even if the tablet is in standby. A dou­ble-press takes a screen­shot, af­ter which you can draw a mar­quee to save only the por­tion you want and then an­no­tate it be­fore quickly shar­ing it.

Some peo­ple may not want the pen, so they’ll save money but sell­ing the Sur­face 3 with­out the key­board makes even less sense than with the Sur­face Pro 3. Yet again it’s an op­tion, but no sane per­son would buy a Sur­face 3 and ex­clu­sively use the on-screen key­board. The only rea­son you’d con­sider a Sur­face over, say, an iPad Air 2 is be­cause you want

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