Written by Philip Magson
When Microsoft first unveiled their Surface tablet back in 2012, it didn’t quite deliver the knockout blow the tech giant had been hoping for. The Surface was styled as a device combining the portability of a tablet with the power of a laptop but, on its release, didn’t capture consumer imagination in the way the iPad had. Now in its third incarnation, the Surface 3 is beginning to hit the right notes… has Microsoft’s tablet finally come of age?
We’ve written previously about Microsoft’s venture into tablet territory: back in 2013, the Surface Pro 2 improved on the original Surface in a number of ways – most notably, by packing more power into a unit that was portable and convenient for everyday business use. I have to admit, while some of my colleagues were positive, I was hesitant – my iPad still beat all-comers when it came to portability, even if its processing capabilities and sometimes-frustrating enterprise integration persisted as issues. While the Surface 2 was an improvement, I found it to be a little on the bulky side, despite its much-lauded advantages.
The increasingly positive buzz around the Surface 3 however, might be enough to make me change my mind. First off the bat are the tablet’s dimensions, which bring it closer in line to its Apple competitors – not quite as slim-line as the iPad Air, but definitely sleeker than the MacBook Air. Obviously none of these devices are ever going to be briefcase-busters, but that’s sort of the point: Microsoft, is shooting for a tablet that balances aesthetics and performance.
Talking of which, the power of the Surface 3 is another strong selling point. Getting technical for a second, you have a choice of processors in the Surface 3: the lesser (but affordable) i3, the mid-range i5 and the heavyweight i7. The different models come with different memory and storage configurations, too – ranging from 1.5GHz and 64 GB in the low-end model, to an impressive 3.3GHz and 512 GB at the top of the scale. The one consistent criticism of the Surface, across all versions, is its battery life – the Surface 3 has boosted its charge-life to around 9 hours (of web-surfing), better than before but not iPad strength… Still, that length of time is usually more than ample for any kind of business trip – whether you’re planning to work or watch Netflix…
It’s worth remembering that a huge part of the Surface 3’s appeal as a laptop replacement (to me at least) is its keyboard. The latest Surface keyboard is an undeniably impressive bit of tech, clipping smartly to the tablet and offering very satisfying feedback and functionality. It also brings in the Surface ‘Pen’ (read: ‘stylus’) which is incredibly useful for note taking. The only catch…? The Surface isn’t bundled with the keyboard. If you want to take advantage of this aspect of its functionality, prepare to pay extra. This is a nit-pick, I know, since the iPad isn’t bundled with a keyboard either – but then, the iPad isn’t selling the same idea of ‘laptop replacement’, which is so mouth-watering to business users like me.
Ultimately, what the Surface 3 does is bring us closer than ever to that milestone: the power of a laptop, with the benefits of a full Windows OS, folded into the mobile convenience of a tablet. It’s a bold and positive step for Microsoft, since they’ve suffered something of a tough year or so: Windows 8 stumbled, the X-Box One launch backfired… but the Surface has made the brand relevant again – and, dare I say, essential. When I’m travelling – for business or pleasure – having this kind of power at my fingertips is certainly going to be hard to resist…