Surface Pro 3, Core i5 128GB Model

I really wanted to buy a Surface 2 (non Pro version), but when I had the opportunity to actually buy one, I find out the device has been discontinued and I don’t want to go down the refurbished route to get one.

So I went down to Best Buy and had a 10 minute play with the Pro 3, I tested the core i5 128GB version and it seemed pretty snappy and worked well in desktop and modern UI interfaces. So I took the decision to stump up the $1000 for it but skipped the optional $130 Surface 3 Type Cover. I was offered a Best Buy credit card at checkout, so I put the cost of the Surface on the card with 12 months interest free credit.

Let’s start with the positives, the Surface Pro 3 is relatively light and a good size to hold comfortably. The 12in 1440p display is very bright and crisp although a little reflective, viewing angles are excellent. The touchscreen is very responsive and the included N-trig stylus pen works well, although in my testing missed the odd “click” here and there. The Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD combination is fast, using the tablet feels zippy and I’ve not noticed any slowdown plus it’s completely silent most of the time. Battery life is good, I managed about 6.5 hours of mixed use, streaming, web browsing, Photoshop, Word etc. The Surface Pro 3 includes a full version of Windows 8.1 Pro, although it doesn’t come with a copy of Office, just a link to buy/download Office unlike it’s now discontinued stablemate, the Surface 2.

After getting the Surface 3 Pro home, I powered it on and the first thing I did after setup was check for updates, it’s a Windows machine after all and yes, there was nearly 70 updates plus a firmware update. After the updates were done, I installed Microsoft Office 2007, I really can’t be bothered with subscription based products like Office 365. Plus Photoshop CS 6, AVG Free, Chrome, Firefox and OpenVPN software.

The Surface is a good product in general, every bit as powerful as the equivalent Core i5 based ultrabook, but there are a number of issues for me that make the Surface 3 not a replacement for my i5 laptop. The first thing is a stupidly high resolution 1440p screen (2160 x 1440), there really is no need for such a high resolution display on a 12in tablet. elements are too small for touch use, even with scaling enabled.

However there is a solution if you like to delve under the hood of Windows, which I do, I definitely like to tinker. In simple terms you need to download the full driver set for the Intel graphic chip, create a custom resolution (height x 1.5) to get 3:2 ratio. See the following link for info on how to change resolution. You can use the existing presets to change resolution, but none of them are 3:2 aspect ratio and you will end up with black bars either top/bottom or left/right and in some cases both, something I can’t live with.

Second, when using the desktop, with the exception of Google Chrome, the onscreen keyboard is not automatically invoked when touching inside input elements such as URL boxes and form input boxes. I have to touch on the keyboard icon in the system tray each time I want to input something. Apparently this is by design according to some, to force us to use the new touch optimized modern UI, but even in the modern UI, there are problems, for example, when trying to search YouTube in Internet Explorer’s modern UI, the on screen keyboard disappears after 1/2 a second, not allowing time for any input.

If this is by design, it truly baffles me, why would anyone pay $1000 for a tablet when functionality is limited on the desktop side, although it would explain why Microsoft elected to discontinue the $450 Surface 2 which has zero desktop usage being limited to modern UI applications through the store.

The third thing is not so much a problem, but it’s kinda annoying, in some graphics application the Surface 3 pen does not work fully, no pressure sensitivity in many cases. But there is a fix, the pen manufacturer N-trig have created a WinTab driver for Windows 8.1 which restores that functionality. Download the driver and install it on your Surface like any other application, reboot and you’re done.

So overall, I like the Surface Pro 3, but I think it’s a little expensive, if we are shelling out $800 to almost $2000 for this device, I think the keyboard should be included as Microsoft like to claim this as a laptop replacement, which it is not, I have tried to use it like my laptop and I don’t feel as productive as I do using my laptop. Unless you specifically want the surface keyboard, I would recommend buying a small wireless keyboard and using that instead using the Surface’s USB3 port. Alternatively you can buy a small Bluetooth keyboard, such as the HP K4000 for $30 from Best Buy, which frees up the single USB3 port.

But, if you just want a tablet that allows you to play games, use social media, streaming media, Email and browsing, save your money and buy a cheaper Windows RT tablet, for example the Asus Transformer Book T100TA, which is less than half the cost and comes with a detachable keyboard. I opted for the Surface Pro 3 so I can take all my work applications with me without taking a 17.3in laptop, for most this is overkill, don’t waste your money unless you need the extra horsepower and desktop application access.

Update [Apr, 7 2015, 21:51]: Since purchasing the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft has announced that it will be releasing a Surface 3 tablet for half the price at $499 with most of the same functionality. Which leaves me feeling a little angry as I wanted a Surface but didn’t need the core i(x) Pro 3, I feel like Microsoft has cheated me after discontinuing the Surface 2 months before the Surface 3 was announced.

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