Reviewing gadgets is a lot of fun but it can be an overwhelming experience too. The amount of time that goes into using a product and then thinking through all the use-cases and trying to simulate (or at least try to empathize with) those can be cumbersome and frankly, it can give you tunnel-vision about the purpose of a device or its target market.
This past week my wife, Corrine, took the Pro 3 on a business trip and she has provided her feedback of the device that, I believe, provides a more genuine look at the device than you can get from someone who makes a living critiquing devices.
Before we start, I should point out that my wife is not a technology enthusiast. If you ask her what Threshold is, she would say that it is the piece of wood between our kitchen that has tile and our dining room that has wood floors. She does not care about Windows Phone GDRs and if something isn't working correctly on the PC, she yells at me for breaking it. Corrine, in short, is a perfect example of the average consumer who is (luckily?) married to someone who has documented her use of the device at a conference in Texas.
I charged up the Pro 3, gave it to my wife and off she went - alone in the wild with Windows 8.1, a Pro 3 and what I hoped would be enough training on how to use the pen to not get a frantic call that she somehow keeps launching OneNote by accident.
The form factor is fantastic for using at a conference. Corrine took tons of notes and to no surprise, the Pro 3 was ideal. The battery life was more than adequate and the Type Cover worked quite well as a keyboard. Pen input felt natural and OneNote, which my wife had not used much previously, received high praise for its organizational features.
The high-resolution screen was easy on the eyes and allowed her to get everything she needed on to the screen. The device also allowed her to leave the iPad at home as the Pro 3 filled both needs while traveling; tablet for watching movies and laptop for getting work done.
Using the device on her lap worked quite well too when taking notes and she had no issues with the stability of the device on her legs. She did not mention any issues about performance, which I interpret to mean that the device had no issues running the tasks she threw at it.
Of the things that she did not like about the device, most notable was that the pen was heavy. I should point out that Corrine has small hands and generally uses pen and paper but I thought that was an interesting issue as for me, the pen weight is fine. Also, she wanted the ability to re-map the buttons on the pen to have one button turn the pen into a highlighter.
Other complaints were that the track pad was not easy to use and that if she were to use her mouse, then the only USB port would be occupied, leaving no space to plug in a USB drive to share documents.
The on-screen keyboard was not responsive to the content that was shown, having to manually launch the keyboard is a step-backwards compared to the iPad.
The bottom line:
The interesting thing about Corrine taking the Pro 3 is that she had been using an iPad/laptop setup for years. So, to even think about wanting to use the Pro 3 set me back a little bit but it paid off. She loved the Pro 3, but more so, her co-workers who traveled with her loved it as well - so much so, in fact, that her department is looking into purchasing a few, which is the ultimate win for Microsoft, when it comes to people trying out their device.
The fact that the Pro 3 met the needs of my wife while traveling and that she would recommend the device to others - over an iPad and laptop setup - is precisely the kind of scenario that Microsoft would have hoped for when developing the device. The previous iterations, like the Surface RT or Pro 2, did not receive such praise from her as the Pro 3.
The Pro 3 has gotten good reviews from the press - not perfect, but better than the past. Given that my wife was taken from skeptic to fan in only a few days of use, this shows that the device clearly has potential with 'ordinary' users, which means that it is now up to Microsoft to communicate the value proposition of the device effectively.
The reason I say that Microsoft needs to work on its communication is that she was the only one at the conference using a Pro 3. There were plenty of iPads with Bluetooth keyboards and those are all users who Microsoft should be able to target with its marketing campaigns.
Microsoft was able to win over one consumer who had been an iPad + laptop user, so they are heading in the right direction; the question that remains is how quickly they can convert a large number of users to turn Surface into a household brand.