Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Review round-up

 

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Microsoft’s Surface series is leading the line for Windows-based tablets, and with the latest iteration show its desire to keep things competitive in an ever-improving market. The Surface Pro 3 comes with a number of improvements to do just this, and thankfully they’re not just restricted to barely noticeable performance upgrades.

Perhaps the most important is the larger screen – there’s a 12.1 inch display here, which is a significant upgrade on the 10.6 inch Surface Pro 2. Importantly this creates a clear gap between the Surface and other non-windows tablets, underlining Microsoft’s ambitions to make it a true laptop replacement. The aspect ratio has also changed, being 3:2 rather than 16:9, which may or may not appeal depending on its intended use.

With a bigger display you need better resolution, and Microsoft pushes past the 1080p barrier with a 2,160 x 1,440 display at around 214ppi – just about enough to ensure that there’s no drop in sharpness due to the increased size. The Surface Pro 3 is also lighter than the Pro 2, and with a slightly thinner bezel around the screen makes for a more immersive user experience.

Elsewhere speakers have been improved and are allegedly 45% louder, Microsoft claims 20% better battery life which should push nine hours, and yes there should be a performance boost, albeit a small one, thanks to an Intel Core i5-4200U chip (the top-end model gets an upgrade to Core i7).

So an impressive list of upgrades then, but how does it fare when you slap it all together? We did the rounds to find out.

Anandtech provides a typically detailed technical analysis of some of new features, with a focus on the display and performance. Though it admits there’s a lot more work to do before it draws any firm conclusions, there are mixed results from the early tests. The display varies from “Max brightness drops a bit compared to Surface Pro 2, likely due to the Pro 3 having 50% more pixels to light” and “Grayscale accuracy is the biggest issue with the new display, green levels are just way too high” to “Full saturation color reproduction is excellent”, so a bit of a mixed bag. Performance improvements seem significant though, as it reported “seeing a 3 – 20% increase in performance over the Surface Pro 2.”

TechRadar’s hands-on is more focused on usability, and enjoys the new smarter cover, which “made for a much more comfortable typing experience” and “deeper travel and punchier rebound in each key, making for an experience quite close to that of a laptop”. The only problem here is that it’ll cost you an extra £76 ish. The Pro 3 also works very well with a stylus, or Surface Pen, which feels more natural in the hand and combined with the LCD screen being brought closer to the glass makes “writing feels more natural – plain and simple.” It concludes by admitting that this is still quite a pricey device, and questions the concept of a laptop-replacement tablet in general, stating “Price and barely optional accessories aside, I’m already bullish on what this hybrid device is capable of. And I’ve been skeptical bordering on critical of the category since it popped up a few years back.”

Docking station
Docking station

There’s a fairly detailed review over at CNet, who decides that while the Pro 3 is somewhat stuck in the middle of the tablet/laptop space, “it’s more successful as a tablet than a laptop replacement. “ This is largely because of design shortcomings, such as some ergonomic difficulties when balancing it on a lap and various niggles with the touchpad. It’s also a fair bit behind performance-wise, as a trial of Bioshock Infinite showed. “We gave BioShock Infinite a spin at high settings and our standard 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution, and got single-digit frame rates. Running at the native resolution on low settings, the game still chugged unacceptably.”

It does offer praise for the optional keyboard upgrade, which is beginning to sound less like an option, and the digital pen. The battery life impressed when pitting it against rivals such as the Yoga 2 Pro and HP X2 hybrid: “The Surface Pro 3 did, however, best most of the competition in battery life, even if only by a small margin”, and comments on the slim design and display were generally favourable.

We’ll sum up with MacWorld’s conclusion in a comparison between the Surface Pro 3 and iPad Air. Although there are similarities in design and size, the consensus here seems to be that the Pro 3 will score more points with professionals who don’t want to carry around a laptop and a tablet (Microsoft says that 96% of iPad owners also have a laptop) where the Air will be better for consumers who really just want a tablet. This seems to be the overriding point, and surely one that Microsoft is aware of with these new improvements. Moving away from the tablet space towards the laptop with a larger screen and strong focus on a usable stylus and keyboard could be a risky move, and only time will tell whether there’s enough interest here to make it a success.

Microsoft announce Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro

microsoft-surface-2

Though it can hardly claim to have revolutionised the tablet market, Microsoft’s original Surface was nevertheless an intriguing device. Blurring the line between tablet and notebook, it seems to have done well enough for the software giant to come up with two new models to fit into the ever-improving tablet landscape.

It would be fair to say that the Surface series is aimed at slightly more professional use than your typical tablet, but from the look of the specs, Microsoft certainly hasn’t cut any corners when it comes to all-round capabilities. The Surface 2 is a 10.6” full HD model with an impressive (1920x1080p) display powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor alongside 2GB of RAM, a 10 hour battery life and either 32GB or 64GB capacities. It also offers a full-sized USB 3.0 port, a 3.5MP front and 5MP rear camera that are both capable of recording video at 1080p, with improved low-light performance to make face-to-face conversations a bit clearer. It ships with Windows RT 8.1, which comes with improved personalisation, search, multitasking and of course the full Windows Store experience, as well as being pre-loaded with Office Home & Student 2013 RT and Outlook 2013 RT.

The Surface 2 Pro improves on the more basic model and apes its predecessor by aiming to be a full-on laptop replacement, with a built-in keyboard and Intel Core i5 processor, as well as claiming a 60% battery life improvement over the original Surface Pro. It offers a similar display to the Surface 2 alongside 720p front and rear cameras, and true to form it’s capable of running virtually all Windows software, including the full Office suite. It comes with either 64GB or 128GB of storage with 4GB of RAM, and is also available in 256GB and 512GB configurations with 8GB of RAM.

Microsoft also announced six accessories for the new Surface tablets including three covers – “Touch Cover 2” for those who want to keep things as slimline as possible, “Type Cover 2” for improved lap-typing experience and “Power Cover” which offers a similar experience to the Type as well as boosting battery life by 50%. There’s also a docking station, in-car charger and the Arc Touch Mouse Surface edition for greater control. Microsoft is sweetening the deal on both tablets by offering free Skype calls to landlines for one year, unlimited Skype WiFi at one of over 2 million hotspots worldwide for the same amount of time, and 200GB of SkyDrive storage for two years.

The Surface 2 starts at £359 for 32GB, with the Pro 2 a rather eye-watering £719 for the 64GB model, and both should hit the shelves on October 22nd.

Surface Pro – Battery Life Review Round-Up

surface-pro-battery-test As someone who still carts about a relatively hefty five year old Dell laptop, I’ve been itching to splash out on an Ultrabook or tablet-cum-keyboard for some time now. Initially I thought the Surface RT was the answer, but its lack of compatibility with the large plethora of non-Windows software I run, soon ruled it out. So, like a lot of others, I sat on my hands (or should that be wallet?) eagerly awaiting the Microsoft Surface Pro – with its promise of being able to run pretty much anything your traditional desktop can.

The good news is that, on the whole, initial hands-on reviews of the Pro have been positive – apart from one consistent gripe, the battery life. From my point of view, this is a key decider on whether I buy one. I want a device with iPad-like properties, where you can happily leave it on ‘standby’ for days and still watch a movie without running out of juice.

In order to try and get a full picture of how the Pro’s battery life stacks up, I decided to check out the hands-on battery tests so far. I’m a natural pessimist and therefore decided to focus on the worst case scenario, so the results in the table below are generally the minimum you can expect from the Surface Pro’s battery. The logic being that you should be pleasantly surprised to find it lasts a bit longer than you expected!

Surface Pro Battery Life Results

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Given those results, I think I’ll continue to sit on my hands and see the battery results if/when the Pro comes shipped with the next-gen Intel “Haswell” CPU, which, according to PCPro, promises to include ‘aggressive power management’ not just for the CPU but also the chipset and other internal components.

If you found the table above useful, then you can use the Share buttons below to let your followers and friends know too.

Microsoft Surface: Review of reviews

It may have taken more than a few years for the penny to drop, but finally Microsoft has released its own tablet contender to take on the more established iPad and Android heavyweights. Has Surface, running Windows 8 RT, got what it takes to compete? Many reviewers it seems, have their shovels poised for some serious digging.

Surface-Touch

Luke Westaway from CNet UK  welcomes the addition of Office as standard but suggests there aremore than a few irritating features:

“There are thoughtless annoyances everywhere. If you try to edit a Google doc without the keyboard attached, for example, the software keyboard doesn’t pop up automatically, so you have to go hunting for it in settings. Install an app and you can’t open it from Marketplace — head out to the Start screen and open it there. There’s no battery indicator on the Start screen either — there’s a graphic on the lock screen if you have charms engaged, but to find a battery percentage you have to go to the crusty old desktop.”

Surface-Black

Joshua Topolski at The Verge is initially impressed with the hardware:

“The Surface hardware is handsome indeed. The rectangular slab is a magnesium alloy forged from what Microsoft calls VaporMg, though it feels like thin, stiff aluminum to the touch.”  Not a bad opener, but then thing begin to get ugly, “Overall, Microsoft has designed a beautiful tablet that’s unfortunately more functional as a laptop… on a desk.” And now he is throwing haymaker punches ” It does the job of a tablet and the job of a laptop half as well and it often makes that job harder, not easier. Instead of being a no-compromise device, it often feels like a more-compromise one. There may be a time in the future when all the bugs have been fixed and the third-party app support has arrived. But that time isn’t right now — and unfortunately for Microsoft, the clock is ticking.”

Surface-Touch-Cover

Wired on the other hand gives it 8/10 and some comforting words from reviewer Mathew Honan

“This is a great device. It is a new thing, in a new space, and likely to confuse many of Microsoft’s longtime customers. People will have problems with applications — especially when they encounter them online and are given an option by Internet Explorer to run them, only to discover this won’t work. But overall it’s quite good; certainly better than any full-size Android tablet on the market. And once the application ecosystem fleshes out, it’s a viable alternative to the iPad as well.”

Critics are united about the Surface’s lack of apps and perhaps Microsoft’s misguided strategy of a tablet that doubles as a laptop. The fear is it could end up falling between both stools.

Microsoft Surface: Rumour round-up

The tech world is buzzing with whispers about Microsoft’s first tablet release: the Microsoft Surface. The software giant has taken its time developing a contribution to the competitive market, but that’s only fueled the rife speculation surrounding the device, its features, its pricing, and its launch date.

Microsoft-Surface

Microsoft gave consumers a glimpse of the Surface back in June, when it revealed that the tablet would run on the Windows 8 operating system. The company haven’t yet made any official announcements about the tablet yet beyond its release date, but have let slip snippets of information that have raised more questions than they’ve answered.

Features

Initial feature rumours surround the Surface’s connectivity. Bloomberg reported that the Surface will only be able to go online using a short-range wifi connection. This is a stark contrast to the Apple iPad 3, that has a 3G option, and a faster LTE connection.

Speaking to Bloomberg, Ben Bajarin, an analyst at technology consulting firm Creative Strategies, remarked that the wifi-only status could clash with Microsoft’s marketing attempts:  “The way that Microsoft is positioning this product – that it’s highly mobile but also has the functionality of a notebook – that customer might be more interested in working from any location and not being bound by Wi-Fi,” he said.

Another talking point is the Surface’s battery life. Online tech magazine Computerworld ran some calculations and estimated that the battery capacity was around 25% less than that of Apple’s iPad 3.

Pricing

According to Digitimes, the Surface will have two-tiered pricing. The Windows RT-based model will set you back around $600 dollars, while the Windows 8 Pro-based Surface could be a palpitation-inducing $800. It’s worth noting that these initial pricing rumours set the Surface as a more expensive competitor to the iPad 3, whose retail price starts at $499.

Launch

Microsoft have announced that the Surface launch will coincide with the release of Windows 8 on 26th October.

Follow-Up

Early August saw further rumours surrounding Microsoft’s tablet ventures. This time, the rumours weren’t so focused on the Surface but on its successor. According to the International Business Times, a not-so-cryptic job advertisement posted in Microsoft’s careers section suggested the company are already working on the follow-up to the Surface:

“We are currently building the next generation of devices and Surface needs you! The Surface development team is seeking a talented senior engineer to work on our next generation Surface. You will be responsible for overall system design and system bring-up/ enablement. You will be a critical member of a team that includes firmware, electrical, software, design validation and mechanical engineers; together, you will bring next generation Surface to life.”