As a journalist I’m followed everywhere by my laptop. It’s a small Alienware M11x R1, and while I can hear plenty of you laughing already, I do love using it. It’s tiny enough to balance at any press conference or battle the close confines of an economy airline seat. But it’s still a bit of a chore to lug around places, and that’s when I rely on my iPad. If I’m going to a quick press conference I’ll just tag my iPad along and write up the story that way. It syncs with my office desktop so when I’m back all I have to do is proofread it, attach a few photos from the event, and it’s good to publish.
I’ve never quite bridged the gap between my laptop and iPad, since they’re two very different worlds on account of which OS they’re running. I’ve tested plenty of Ultrabooks in my time that claim great things, but fall in one area or the other. I’ve tested laptops that detach from their keyboards or swivel around to form some semblance of a tablet, such as the Lenovo Yoga Pro 2. So I was excited to find out just how well the Surface Pro 3 would do in this regard – as a tablet with the innards of a laptop, is this finally the device I’ve been searching for?
Build Quality and Design
The first update that the Surface Pro 3 brings is in the looks department. Gone is the unfriendly matte-black finish of the previous model, replaced instead by a sleek silvery look. It’s also lighter than previous models, weighing in at just under 800g despite boasting a larger screen size. It’s thinner, and the chamfered edges make it easier to grip when carrying around.
Navigating around the Surface 3’s edges you’ll find a power button at the top left, a volume rocker and headphone jack to the left side, and a USB 3.0 port, mini DisplayPort, and charging port at the right. The power brick has also gotten slimmer, and features a handy USB port for quickly charging your devices. I do wish that Microsoft had at least included another USB port on the device – plug in an external mouse or USB Ethernet dongle and you’ve got nowhere else to plug anything else. There’s also a microSD card reader tucked under the device’s kickstand.
This is where the Surface Pro 3 first demonstrates it means business – with the redesigned kickstand. Previous models of Surface could only be propped up at two angles, but the new Surface introduces a much more versatile kickstand that lets you prop up the tablet in whatever position you fancy. Supported by two incredibly strong (and stiff) hinges, you can position the Surface up to an angle of 150 degrees, making it much easier to type on-screen or position it on your lap. The kickstand is a little awkward to flip out – you have to feel around the edges of the tablet until you find a notch, and then flip it out. Also the kickstand feels very stable and secure now, I wonder what it would feel like a year down the line after being opened and closed much more frequently.
Of course you can’t replace a laptop with a tablet device that doesn’t feature a keyboard, which is why Microsoft also provides a redesigned Type Cover to accompany the Surface Pro 3. Obviously it’s larger in order to cover the bigger screen, but it also features more durable keys and a redesigned trackpad. I’ll talk more about the Type Cover later in this review, but the disappointing truth is that the Type Cover is sold separately. Yes, that’s right – if you’re not comfortable bashing away at an on-screen keyboard and you want to give your shiny new tablet some semblance of protection, then you’ll need to spring for a Type Cover. At $130 it’s not cheap either and for me that’s a massive blow – why market a device that’s aiming to replace your laptop when you need to spend extra to properly type on it?