Surface 3 review roundup: Honey, I shrunk the Surface Pro


— 4:40 PM on April 14, 2015

Microsoft's Surface 3 is a major course change for the company's lower-end tablet. ARM processors and Windows RT are out, replaced by an Intel Atom processor and Windows 8.1. The Surface 3 also gets a couple nice features from its bigger brother, like a 3:2 display with a built-in pen digitizer. The first reviews of this new tablet are hot off the presses today, and it seems that Microsoft has mostly made the right changes with its latest Surface.

Reviewers praise the design and build quality of the Surface 3. Tom Warren of The Verge says the Surface 3 "looks beautiful, modern, and premium," and Napier Lopez at The Next Web says "its build quality is just as high-end as the Surface Pro 3 I’ve been using for nearly a year. "

Warren and Lopez are both impressed with the quality of the Surface 3's screen, too. Warren says "the color reproduction is actually better than the Surface Pro 3, and the screen is brighter," while Lopez says "you’ll be hard pressed to find a Windows PC with a better display at this price range."

While the Surface 3 is an x86 PC, its Cherry Trail Atom x7 isn't going to break any speed records. Peter Bright of Ars Technica warns that "this is not a CAD machine or a gaming rig," but he found that "for browsing, common day-to-day chores in Office, and taking notes in OneNote, the processor is up to the task." He benchmarked his Surface 3 (with the optional 4GB of RAM) against the iPad Air 2, and his findings were interesting:

That the Surface 3 gives up performance compared to PCs with hotter, hungrier processors is no surprise. More surprising is that it's giving up a lot of performance relative to the processor in the iPad. The gap isn't too big in multithreaded workloads, with the quad core Atom being in the same ballpark as the tri-core A8X in the iPad Air 2, but in both singlethreaded and GPU workloads, the Apple custom processor is far ahead.

Bright does note, however, that "if you wanted to, you could install, say, Visual Studio on the Surface 3. You can't do that on an iPad, no matter how well it scores in benchmarks."

As for battery life, the results are mixed. Lopez reports that "if you stick with Modern UI apps as much as possible, chances are you’ll have no trouble getting through a full day of work. Once you start loading desktop apps, things are a little iffier." His testing results follow:

With adaptive brightness set to about half intensity (the screen is really bright, so you shouldn’t need more) and Wi-Fi on, a day spent mostly in the touch interface netted me around 8-10 hours of use.

When I spend most of my time using Chrome instead, battery life is closer to the 6-7 hour mark. Throw in some serious Photoshop and Lightroom sessions, and you could be in the realm of 4-5 hours(although my brightness is set higher with those apps).

Another problem is that the Surface 3's price still doesn't include useful accessories like the stylus or Type Cover. Bright tallies up the numbers, and finds that "the $499 base unit with 2GB RAM and 64GB storage has no keyboard, no pen, no dock. They'll cost $129.99, $49.99, and $199.99, respectively."

Overall, the Surface 3 seems to be more useful and compelling than its ARM-based predecessor, while bringing some of the Surface Pro 3's mojo to a lower price point. Time will tell whether consumers respond to the changes.

   
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