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Microsoft Surface Pro 3: In-Depth Review

Wendell takes a very good look at the Surface Pro 3. Is it finally awesome or are there still some rough edges?

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The Nerdiest Surface Pro 3 Review Ever Created

The aptly named Surface Pro 3 is the third major hardware iteration of Microsoft’s Surface line of computing devices. While the Surface Pro was an interesting and capable machine, the main design innovation was around the ‘laptop/tablet hybrid’ concept. Reception was somewhat lackluster with consumers, but somewhat more promising in the business sector. The original Surface Pro was also interesting because it was like as if Microsoft was saying to its OEM hardware partners “Let us show you how to build a good windows experience.”

The Surface Pro 3 is the first machine where I feel like the OEMs can learn significant lessons from Microsoft. It is an extremely well executed piece of hardware with only a few deeply frustrating fumbles. Even though this has been a bit of an R&D black hole for Microsoft, I hope they continue investing in the Surface. The improvements from the first generation are perhaps hallmarks of a new arms race in the quest to build powerful portable and personal computing devices. 

 

posted 1 year 4 days ago

What is this PoweShell command that you speak of?
posted 1 year 4 days ago

page 3

posted 1 year 4 days ago

Seems like a good tablet, but is a bit too expensive and really should include the keyboard.

My main concern is that it is incredibly difficult to repair. They thinned the glass so much that it breaks extremely. virtually all internal components are glues, with the battery being glued  to an insane amount.This makes me wonder, what will happen when after 1-2 years when the battery only has like 60% of its original capacity? Or when you need to clean the heatsink? The heatsink has a pretty high fin density so it will clog more easily.

Overall, they really went out of their way to prevent users from servicing the device.

 

If they could release a model where I have access to the RAM, SSD (which is replaceable on the surface 3 but good luck getting to it), and battery. I would also like some reasonable access to the heatsink so that I can clean it. it is not hard to do, either they can put the screen on a hinge like with the new HP all in one, or add some access panels on the back.

Other than that, they are asking far too much for a tablet where they made many functionality and durability sacrifices in favor of aesthetics.

posted 1 year 4 days ago

Great review Wendell. I'm seriously considering buying one now. 

posted 1 year 4 days ago

Really in depth, ty Wendell! How about upgrade-ability? Does it come apart so you could install a larger ssd or laptop memory? Just curious!

posted 1 year 4 days ago

And just saw that you can't lol... oh dear me

posted 1 year 4 days ago

zero repairability, zero upgradability. I did get a coupon for $100 for accidental damage coverage which I am totally going to do.

 

posted 1 year 4 days ago

Yea saw the ifixit video, looks like a nightmare... real bummer, would have been nice to actually open it up.

posted 1 year 4 days ago

Didn't read it yet, but it's from you so I know it's a great review!  Really appreciate a written review because some times I'd rather read something than watch.  

-Cheers! 

posted 1 year 4 days ago

would you recommend this or a normal laptop for mobile code editing? normal laptop would have a 1080p screen, so that puts an i3 surface pro 3 and a laptop in about the same price bracket

posted 1 year 4 days ago

If they put PCI-e on a docking station for this thing, This will definitely be a mobile gaming rig for me. I'm not looking to do ridiculous resolutions or top end graphics but I do play MMOs with a bunch of RL friends. This would be great and lightweight to carry around and all you would need is one wall plug. :)

posted 1 year 3 days ago

awesome review... very much appreciate the detail and usability testing.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

Very well done review. I have a surface 1 and this looks like an upgrade but probably going to have to wait for the 4 before I want to give them more money. You would defiantly be an asset to Microsoft if they hired you for as an consultant.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

Great review Wendell, just curious it looked like Surface was being used in the video primarially as a laptop replacement but what is it like as a tablet replacement? I assume it uses the Windows Phone OS or some other OS with a tile based GUI for tablet mode?

posted 1 year 3 days ago

I want one. Maybe some day

posted 1 year 3 days ago

I loved how you went into the nitty gritty with this.  No garbage about rear-facing camera comparisons or whatever.Riddle me this though, can you boot another OS to it through the usb?  Does it run Linux at all?  Can you try Elementary or Sabayon?

posted 1 year 3 days ago

page 8 of the review

 

posted 1 year 3 days ago

Oh, I just watched the video.  I'll have to read the whole review.  Thanks!

posted 1 year 3 days ago

I love this long format review. I also love how the entire review is available in the RSS feed as well. Keep it up guys, this is the best review I have seen in a long time. Straight to the point information about important stuff that IT and media professionals value. No camera  comparisons and android vs windows  arguments. Thanks for the review, my laptop finally fried, so this gave me some information which I can actually make a decision with.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

Great review. My school gave us Surface RTs and needless to say RT is awful. Might consider picking up one of these now.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

TL;DR: I hope this pushes tablet market towards:

Bigger onboard storage capacity.

Faster read/write speeds.

Faster I/O.

Official Android version for laptop, instead of Google Chrome OS.

Absence of Asus Transformer-style dock is a deal breaker and makes it not a true laptop replacement.

After seeing Android phones and tablets being stuck at 16-32 GB (a few on 64GB) of internal storage for the past 2.5-3 years, I kind of have given hope on Android OEMs or Google itself doing something about it, especially since Google is pro-SaaS. 128-256 GB should be the standard by now.

I hope Microsoft does push the tablet market, not just Windows-based ones, in a PC direction.

But the deal breaker with Surface Pro 3 for me is the absence of an Asus Transformer-style dock. This would really make it a laptop/ultrabook replacement, whereas the keyboard cover / station dock that Microsoft made just makes it a gimmicky tablet, rather than a true laptop replacement.

Another thing I hope Microsoft succeeds in doing is pushing the mobile market towards adopting faster read/write storage and faster IO. The Surface Pro 3 has SSDs and USB3. "Mobile-based" tablets have much slower onboard storage and much slower IO.

I also hope this forces Google to ship an official version of Android for laptops/clamshells instead of the SaaS Orwellianism known as Google Chrome OS.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

These MS tablets have one big advantage, and that's finally a decent OneNote integration, the one that was promised by Microsoft to business users back in 2002. OneNote is the only MS-Office feature that is better than open source alternatives or the likes of Kingsoft Office. I used to be a fanatic OneNote user with MS-Office 2003, on a Fujitsu Tablet PC at that time (stylus lag was then about the same as it is now with the Surface Pro 3, and since Microsoft doesn't use Wacom digitizer technology anymore to make sure the stylus isn't fully functional in linux, precision isn't at the same level any more either). Then Microsoft did that thing that they always do: they brought out MS-Office 2007, and the OneNote notes format was changed without backward compatibility with OneNote 2003 note or database format, and all my notes (800.000+) were suddenly pretty much useless. And not only that, but they also changed the business contact manager for Outlook so that compatibility was broken. They also replaced the perfectly fine MS-Office GUI with the hellish chaotic clickfest they standardized everything on these days. That's when I stopped using MS-Office altogether.

Other than that, I'll take the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.3 LTE-A over the Microsoft Surface Pro as soon as that comes out and custom ROMs are available for it. The passive Wacom stylus is much more precise and useful, the battery life is much longer, the device is much slimmer and lighter and cooler to hold (which is a BIG thing), it works flawlessly with multiple external 4k displays, has perfect GUI scaling, can also run full linux distros, and it's security-compliant so can be used to work for government and security-compliant industry jobs. I'd prefer a 1.5 Gbps internet speed Galaxy Note Pro 14.3 LTE-A later this year or in a few years a > 2 Gbps Galaxy Note Pro 14.4 5G though, of course with custom ROMs.

All things considered, Microsoft has just made the device they wanted to make in 2002. Times have changed, I'll take >2 Gbps network speeds with MP-TCP on an Octocore linux device with full-day battery life now for work.

The workflow has changed. Business people now use multiple devices because their entire life is now supported by computers, they don't just use computers during work hours anymore. People use wireless APs with NAS to bring all of their devices together. The intercompatibility requirement of all of their devices pushes them away from one trick ponies like the surface pro.

There is a market for the Surface Pro 3 though. Big corporations with typical old-school IT gods that are now looking to get rid of their Windows XP with MS-Office 2003 Dell laptops to keep their ISO9001 certificates, and are looking for an alibi to spend the money of the staff's X-mas bonuses on something more tax friendly...

posted 1 year 3 days ago

From a sp3 owner week 1 observations. Sorry for wall text the guy in the vid wanted to hear from users so here you go:

I got a SP3 on launch day after playing with it side by side to my Samsung Series 7 slate. This is a slick device, I use it much more than my last slate already since the keyboard snaps in and the screen size is perfect. The pen is as good as the Wacom for my uses with better screen edge detection. I'm not an artist but I do take lots of notes or annotate things so the pen is important to me as its my mouse as well. The different buttons takes a little getting used to as they are flush with the case. The Wacom button sticks up so you don't have to reach to press it, more like roll your finger a bit. It's an adjustment but the new pen feels better because it's thicker and weighted right. I had to teach the MS store techs how to change the BT batteries as they said they were non serviceable, just the AAAA was changeable as far as they were told. That is not correct. Pull out the spring in the cap to reveal a Phillips-shaped hole. It unscrews a metal tube in the cap holding the 2 #315 coin cells, they are $2 each at the drugstore where they sell hearing aid batteries usually. Given what its used for the batteries will last months if not a year or more I would guess.

The device is great but I do have one issue that I do hope is fixed. The reviewer talked about the power management being locked to one profile without a PS trick. To get the battery life I'm sure they tweaked the crap out of it. If you install Visual Studio you might discover your machine gets unstable WiFi/BT behavior after that. You may also note all your power options turn into what you normally see on a laptop with all the modes except Sleep is no longer available. Even with the override in the control panel or PS hacks to get Sleep as a option it does not really work; it Hibernates instead. This makes the pen's one-note/wake button useless as it only works when the machine is running or in sleep mode. The WiFi becomes unstable and requires many resets to keep running as its turning off on its own sometimes. The reason seems to be another repeat from SP2 if anyone remembers the deep sleep/no boot issue with the power management S modes. I went nuts trying to figure what I installed to make the machine unstable. I do IT and networking and use Hyper-V in the field for disaster recovery or testing. Visual Studio uses Hyper-V to test-run your programs sometimes and gets installed in some configurations. I don't use VS but wanted to throw that out there as a known issue. When you run virtual servers sleep is usually not a desired power mode and gets killed for safety as your host OS could shut down too soon and corrupt your VMs because the machine turns off before they shutdown when going to sleep. Fast wake/sleep is a demanded feature... When I un-installed Hyper-V the power management automatically went back to the factory style settings. Wireless stability and Sleep mode was back as good as new. I replicated it for the tech at the MS store but the device is so new no one knows much about them yet. I hope they fix, or can fix, the power management bios mode detects in H-V or I have to keep the old Samsung around for a little longer when I need a portable VMs. I'm not doing the dual-boot hack to fix H-V as I ditched Android because I had to install hacked ROMs & mods/loaders to get the full use of the hardware. It could be a Intel architecture thing that is a limiting factor as these are mobile processors optimized for battery-life and lower heat not desktop power usage. There are trade-offs to make things small and have battery life.

This is a neat device that does work like a good laptop but is more net-book/ultra-book feeling. The i5 8G w/256Gb SSD is a nice mix for me. It is more powerful than my laptop at work and I can be be equally productive in the field secured with TPM. I have tethered to my 4G phone and ran VPN over it with 0 effort. This is a professionals device that has wow'd in the boardroom and the service truck so far. Having said that; with a little more tweaking this thing is, so far, the best of both worlds IMHO.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

"However, it is impossible to press down on the touch pad to get the click on the top 1/4 of the touchpad. Apple users may find this annoying, but this sort of hinged-click trackpad design is common in the PC world."

As is in the Macbooks. I don't know about the latest models, but my MBA from mid 2012 suffers the same issue. It can be annoying, but overall I got used to it.

Really a great review wendell, thanks for that! I also think the conclusion is very well laid out.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

What is the wallpaper on the right side of the monitor @ 8:15?

posted 1 year 3 days ago

I wonder if the program "Throttle stop" or something similar would work in order to fix the throttleing issues. 

posted 1 year 3 days ago

As far as tablets go (spoiler: they suck), this seems pretty awesome. Great in depth review Wendell, you beastly tech god.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

It's not a work machine, but my ASUS T100 (full windows tablet) is great for light weight portability, office, and media.. 100 times better than carrying a laptop. If this trend of surface pros keeps up, I will be buying one as my next work machine.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

I wonder how propitiatory that bottom keyboard/dock connector is and if its possible to make one of those cloth keyboard covers with a lenovo keyboard with a trackpoint. While the track pad may be improved I would find a trackpoint to be much more useful. maybe i'll just have to pick one up and tinker while i'm at it maybe a fingerprint scanner would be a nice addition...

posted 1 year 3 days ago

Nice revieuw, my only question is why didn't you test the old driver that came pre installed with your 4k monitors. Maybe there is a fix there from microsoft itself that would. Or maybe a custom installed driver made by microsoft right out of the box.

posted 1 year 3 days ago

who said I didn't? :) 4k 30hz works, but that's it. 

 

posted 1 year 2 days ago

Aha, maybe someone in the community that can compile a custom driver that can fix this? Or is that to difficult. Because if we need to rel on Intel it's gonna take a while i think...

posted 11 months 4 days ago

Which Dell 4k is it? I think the P2815Q is only capable of 30 Hz anyway?

Very, very helpful and informative review--thank you very much for all your time! It's filled with the type of stuff (devil-is-in-the-details stuff) that matters to so many of us. Your time was definitely not in vain!

posted 1 year 3 days ago

Good review! Still using the original Surface Pro, which was pretty easy to get my hands on since pretty much everybody was upgrading to the then just released Surface Pro 2. The Surface Pro 2 never seemed like a big deal to me but THIS though, despite all the flaws, I really want. The stand and change in aspect ratio is enough for me really, everything else is just sugar coating.

I'm not sure how well it works to draw seriously on the thing with N-trig, but then again, The SP1 wasn't exactly a perfect Wacom experience either. It's almost funny how much better and easier to use my old Intuos 3 (non 16:9 aspect ratio version!) is than the Wacom-tech in the SP1.

With that higher resolution, I wonder if it can still play UT2004 as well as my Surface Pro 1 can...? Really like the way that my "tablet" transforms from lazying around on my friends sofa-mode to pure frag fest, as long as I remember to bring a mouse.

 

posted 1 year 3 days ago

Nice review! Really like the new hinge they made, I'm glad to see more versatility.

posted 1 year 2 days ago

Well done Wendell, very detailed!

 

posted 1 year 1 day ago

Am I the only one who reads this in Wendells voice?

ONT: Why, Microsoft? Why? I was looking forward to this, but unfortunately you made it to be utterly crap. Is there another tablet wiith the same specs that has W8.1 on it?

posted 1 year 1 day ago

Am I the only one who reads this in Wendells voice?

ONT: Why, Microsoft? Why? I was looking forward to this, but unfortunately you made it to be utterly crap. Is there another tablet wiith the same specs that has W8.1 on it?

posted 1 year 20 hours ago

n-trig?

fuck that, all hope lost for illustrating on a windows tablet.

posted 8 months 14 hours ago

No, it's quite good. The Surface Pro 2 had a Wacom digitizer, and was not even better, compared side by side.

posted 11 months 3 weeks ago

I'm trying to decide between this and the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga (with basically the same specs but a 1080p screen to avoid scaling issues with Chrome) for college.  I've already gone through pretty much all the info I can find on each.  Can anyone give me some firsthand knowledge of either one?  I'm thinking I'll use the pen extensively for note taking.  Is that realistic?

posted 11 months 2 weeks ago

Hey, any progress on getting hold of a dock for the Pro 3 yet? I'd love to see a review! I got a Pro 2 for my mum recently, and absolutely fell in love with the thing. Very cool piece of kit, and I really want to get a Surface myself now. Cheers!

posted 9 months 5 hours ago

Wendell, did you got and test the Dock yet?

posted 8 months 14 hours ago

The links in this review are broken.

"how does it perform" brings you not to the right side.

 

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Wendell, have you got any reply from Microsoft so far?