Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review

Jun 18, 2015

About the author: Joe reviews hardware based on how it fits into his life. Joe is a sales professional that manages a team, travels weekly, a part-time professor and gamer. He is a father and husband who also has the privilege of being GWW’s President.

Over the past year I’ve been struggling to find a trusty travel companion. I started with a Windows hybrid by Lenovo. It was highly portable with decent battery life, but was pretty slow. I tip my hat to Lenovo – it was inexpensive. I thought moving to a more scaled back OS like Android would naturally yield a faster experience. Unfortunately, as gorgeous as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S is, Microsoft Office doesn’t deliver a complete experience. There is no spell check capability and you can’t have more than one document open at a time, even within the same application. My requirements are not that stringent:

  • Native support for Microsoft Office
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • 5+ hour battery life
  • Bright screen for eye comfort
  • Fast processing (subjective)
  • Fits into my Tumi bag

To accomplish this, I settled on the recently released Microsoft Surface 3, powered by an Intel Atom processor. Like other reviewers I raved about it. It met all of my requirements and fit comfortably into my Tumi cross-body bag (it’s not a purse, it’s European). Naturally, I introduced a new requirement that was always there, but I kept it at bay in order to make a purchase decision. I need to game. I can’t help it – I’m a geek (with a wife!). I didn’t try to run The Witcher 3 or anything crazy like that, but games like Invisible Inc., Mark of the Ninja, and Torchlight II were pushing the little Surface 3 to the its limits, even with settings at “low” across the board. On a whim I decided to try out the Pro line, specifically the Microsoft Surface Pro 3…and my mind is now blown.

surface pro 3 specs

I purchased the Surface Pro 3 with a 128GB SSD, 4 GB of RAM and an Intel i5 CPU. It weighs 1.7lbs, has a 12” screen and a rated 9 hour battery life. The screen is 1.2” larger than the Surface 3 – that may not sound like a big gain but on a percentage basis that is more than 11%. This is better for spreadsheet manipulation and general multitasking. Additionally, the keyboard is larger, increasing comfort for my gentle fingers and wrists. The trackpad still leaves a lot to be desired despite it’s increased size. The most noticeable difference between these two sibling devices, with regard to comfort, is the ever-adjusting kickstand on the Pro 3.

Further comparing these two devices, you really are comparing apples to apples, but different varieties. Say, Fuji vs. Gala. One is bigger, the other is sweeter. The Pro line is tremendously more powerful but you sacrifice battery life and quietness. Yes, the Surface 3 is fan-less and doesn’t get too warm. While the Pro 3 has a fan that isn’t very discrete. I can’t say it’s distracting but it is noticeable after prolonged use and while gaming. Yes, it’s possible! It’s not uber-powerful but it gets the job done. And, frankly, I’m confident I’ve found the most powerful system that meets my needs. Sure, I could go for an i7 model but that won’t make a big impact and the cost-per-frame gain in gaming is a diminished return.

I have 2 use cases for gaming: on a plane or in a hotel and in-home streaming via Steam’s built in service. The Surface 3 struggled to crunch frames, while the Pro line has no issues whatsoever. I’m able to connect the Pro 3 to my TV via HDMI and a wireless XBOX 360 controller via USB. The Pro 3 has just 1 USB port – although you can connect a device to the charging block via USB but it only charges devices; they are not recognized by Windows. Considering Microsoft built a proprietary power interface, I think they missed an opportunity here. In terms of gaming locally on the Pro 3, I’m now able to game with better results. Granted, I have to lower the settings of most games, but it’s a better experience than the Surface 3. In fact, the Pro 3 is a better experience in every way that I’ve measure it.

If I could change anything with the Pro, it would be a fanless architecture. The Surface Pro 4 is rumored to be fanless – hopefully Microsoft is not sacrificing performance to achieve further comfort. Price is typically where people balk at the Pro line of Surface devices. I can’t say this model is not worth the MSRP of $999.99. It’s not uncommon to find them on sale as much as $200 off. When combined with an educator’s discount of $100, the Surface is quite valuable. It includes the narrowly useful Surface Pen but does not include the absolutely necessary Surface Keyboard ($129.99). If you feel you don’t need a keyboard and want to use the Surface strictly as a tablet, I believe you’ll be disappointed. Windows 8.1 is not a comfortable tablet experience. Windows 10 appears to be solving that problem, but without an app store as developed as Apple’s or Android’s, it’s hard for me to encourage anyone to consider Windows as a comparable ecosystem.

Note that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Surface 3 and Pro owners.

I’m traveling in comfort now thanks to Microsoft’s impressive Surface. The future is bright for current and future Surface owners. Each successive Windows 10 evaluation build is more impressive than the last. My hopes are high – everything coming from Microsoft since Satya Nadella succeeded Steve Balmer as CEO has been impressive to say the least. Meanwhile, the Clippers are overrated. Sorry Balmer! Go Warriors!

All images courtesy of Microsoft Corporation.