Microsoft Surface 3 hands-on

Microsoft Surface 3 hands-on
The Surface 3 was announced by Microsoft about a month before Build 2015. The tablet is all-new and is currently available for pre-order on Microsoft’s web-site. The Surface 3 rings a formal end to Windows RT as a platform, and instead, the new tablet will run the full version of Windows, opting to run slightly lighter weight hardware on the inside to manage the workload.

Of course, the Surface 3 is more than what is on the inside, what is on the outside matters too, and the 3:2 aspect ratio makes the Surface 3 a lot more “tablet-y” (read as: square-ish). That is a good thing. As nice as the 16:9 aspect ratio looks on the previous generation Surface tablets, there was a lack of vertical working space, which made for a bit more time scrolling through a document or a web-page.

Microsoft applied the lessons learned from that reality with the Surface Pro 3 last year, and now the middle-line Surface gets the same treatment. The package is far more appealing now, because of what is on the inside, and outside.


Microsoft’s line of tablets have kept the same design language which makes them instantly recognizable as a “Surface” of some type. The utilitarian look means these tablets can serve as more than a simple media consumption device. The beveled edges give the Surface 3, and indeed all Surface tablets, a modern look.

The frame is made from what has become a mainstay of Surface tablets, lightweight magnesium. The Surface 3 weighs less than a pound-and-a-half, 1.37 to be exact, which translates to 622 grams. That makes the Surface 3 less than half-a-pound heavier than an Apple iPad Air 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1.


The display on the Surface 3 with a clear looking 1920x1280 pixels. At 10.8-inchs, that gives the tablet an excellent-for-a-tablet 214ppi. For the expected use-case of the Surface 3, that resolution is more than adequate for media consumption or productivity.

Processor and memory

The Surface 3 has “Intel inside,” an Intel Atom x7-Z8700 quad-core CPU which runs at 1.6GHz and has Intel Burst technology up to 2.4GHz. Microsoft says this set-up will provide more than 80% of the performance you would expect from a Surface Pro 3 equipped with a Core i3 CPU.

The unit we were looking at was running a technical preview of Windows 10, so it is impossible to know how well the silicon manages (the unit froze a couple times, and crashed once while were looking at it). The Surface 3 will ship with Windows 8.1 initially and Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it comes to market.

On the memory and storage front, the Surface 3 is available with 64GB or 128GB of microSD card expandable storage. Accompanying that is 2GB or 4GB of RAM. Those that buy the Surface 3 get a one-year license to Office 365 which also adds 1TB of OneDrive storage.

Interface and Functionality

When it ships, the Surface 3 will be running the full version of Windows 8.1 and upgrade to Windows 10. The interface out of the box will be what we know now with Windows 8.1, desktop with a start button triggering Microsoft’s Live Tiles. Windows 10 will enable a hybrid between the two as we have seen in previews of the new operating system.

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Functionally, the Surface 3 will have full-blown PC capabilities compared to its predecessors. The hardware will not necessarily be optimal for crunching through a graphically intense game or heavy 3D rendering of an Autodesk program, but such applications can be installed an run. Office 365 is included for the first year, so you get to install and access the entire Office suite of apps.


Tablets are not the go-to platform for cameras, but the Surface 3 has them anyway. The main sensor is 8-megapixels, and the front-facing camera is 3.5-megapixels. As this unit was running Beta (and in some parts Alpha) software, we opted not to get into the interface since the environment and user-interface is sure to change as Windows 10 develops.

Pricing and availability

The cost of admission for the Surface 3 is one of its most appealing features. The 64GB model starts at $499 and the 128GB model is a hundred dollars more. Those prices are for the Wi-Fi only models. The Surface 3 will be available with the option to add 4G/LTE connectivity, but pricing and availability for those has not yet been announced.

A Type Cover keyboard is an additional $130. Even with that option, at $630, a 64GB Surface 3 costs as much as an LTE connected 16GB iPad, and less than a Wi-Fi-only 128GB iPad. The main difference is that you get the full power of a PC with expandable storage and an equally manageable tablet form factor.

The Surface 3 Wi-Fi models are available for pre-order now, and ship dates are expected to begin on May 5th. By May 7th, the Surface 3 should be available in 26 different markets.

Even though it is not ideally situated as a desktop or full-laptop replacement, for the money, the Surface 3 is going to be a great option for students, small business owners, mobile individuals, or people that simply want an extra computer or tablet in the house. Given the features and price, we expect the Surface 3 to enjoy success at least as good as its big cousin, the Surface Pro 3, has enjoyed.

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