Review

The lay(wo)man's review of the Surface Pro 3

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 Pros:

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. 

The Cons:

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.

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73 Comments

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I really want SP3 but the only thing that holds me back? The windows key on the bezel, give me an option to turn that off and I'm getting one.

ffMathy said,
You can just delete it from your device manager. No big deal.

How about just disabling it? Deleting seems a bit drastic.

Potato potarto. Right-clicking and pressing "Scan for hardware changes" will re-add and install it automatically. I see no reason for drivers to be there when they are not really being used anyway.

That's all subjective though. Cheers!

You delete it from device manager and Windows will add it back automatically next time you restart. Disabling it is actually what you need to do.

Silly question: Why did you have your wife write up her own opinions? This article is basically what you understood from talking to your wife and essentially what you interpret her thoughts and opinions are. There is room for differences here between what she really liked and what you understood she liked.

My wife just replaced her MacBook air 11 (mid-2012) for a Surface 2, really. Mac Os X has been too puzzling for her and she never achieved to adapt. Plus, she only need Office for work, and use an iPad for fun.

Now, she is looking to replace her iPhone 5s with a Windows Phone, despite what I told her about apps and stuff. The Surface 2 really pleased her, and she just don't use the iPad anymore.

Maxime Tremblay said,
My wife just replaced her MacBook air 11 (mid-2012) for a Surface 2, really. Mac Os X has been too puzzling for her and she never achieved to adapt. Plus, she only need Office for work, and use an iPad for fun.

Now, she is looking to replace her iPhone 5s with a Windows Phone, despite what I told her about apps and stuff. The Surface 2 really pleased her, and she just don't use the iPad anymore.

The owner just brought his daughter on board. I recommended a Surface Pro 3 with a docking station and she is so thrilled, she wants a Windows Phone as well. Like you, I explained that it won't have local banking apps, baby monitor app, etc. she uses and she was OK with that. So I imported her iPhone pictures to OneDrive and setting up her new Lumia Icon now. :)

I REALLY like the suggestion that the buttons on the pen be able to be remapped. In fact, the highlighter idea is spot on. I pre-ordered the i3 version of the SP3, so I'm very anxious to see that show up at my doorstep soon.

sl@nw said,
I am thinking about i3. How do think about 64G SSD. Is it enough?

If you're going to use it for store apps primarily and the occasional desktop app, then yes. If you're installing Office on it, maybe.

Anything more than that, or if more than one person will be using it then you'll want to look at getting an SD card or just staring with the 128GB model.

I think MS has great products, but they need to do a much better job at 1) getting stores and their employees (i.e. carriers, BestBuy, etc.) to give the products the attention they deserve, 2) getting their products in the hands of kids.

Their ads have gotten much better actually. The ads are much more real world and they show how the Surface and Surface Pro perform the tasks people care about.

Manually invoking the on-screen keyboard is necessarily only when you're using desktop applications. If you're using Metro apps, it comes up automatically if a keyboard isn't detected.

Was she used to Windows 8.1 to begin with? Do you have the desktop as the dominant screen or the Start Screen? I'd love to know if the majority of her time was spent in desktop for Metro. Also was she using desktop or touch version of OneNote? I found the touch version unusable for my purposes until I discovered that you could enable pinch to zoom in settings, now I use the touch version on the Surface 3 exclusively. Surface 3 rocks, MS really nailed this one.

I bought a Surface Pro 2 and the Touch mouse. Played around with it some until my daughter-in-law saw it, she liked it. It was decided that since she had given me 2 grandchildren, I should give her the Pro. Hard to argue with that logic :-)

My grandson decided his mom wasn't using the Pro correctly, so he should have it, this logic did not stick as well. I told him when he gets his Master's Degree in a few months I'd buy him a Pro 3.

So here are 2 more Surface fans.

I think MS has done a terrible job up to now in promoting the Surface, but what do I know, I lost mine to a girl... :-)

I also have a wife experience to share. My wife often makes PPT presentations with videos...rather large ones. So, I gave her my Surface Pro and downloaded the videos, inserted them in the PPT and crossed my fingers. She was presenting before about 250 educators. I was awaiting a call, which in the past was a panic call because her laptop was not connecting to the hotel system. NO call. Super success. She loves the Surface. I got her a Bluetooth mouse (we both hate track pads on any computer) and the connection to the hotel system went on without a hitch. We're both very pleased with the Surface.

Another user who recognizes the significant limitation of the Surface line of tablets. As long as one recognizes those limitations, disappointment will be minimized. Yes, Surface does have its "place," but, it is hardly the "end all and be all" in future personal computing.
Regrettably, where MS really screwed up was when they designed an Operation System for the Surface and other touch-centric devices, to the apparent abandonment of traditional laptop and desktop users. We can only hope that Windows-9 will correct this omission.

TsarNikky said,
Another user who recognizes the significant limitation of the Surface line of tablets. As long as one recognizes those limitations, disappointment will be minimized. Yes, Surface does have its "place," but, it is hardly the "end all and be all" in future personal computing.
Regrettably, where MS really screwed up was when they designed an Operation System for the Surface and other touch-centric devices, to the apparent abandonment of traditional laptop and desktop users. We can only hope that Windows-9 will correct this omission.

What "significant limitation"? A docked Surface will outperform probably 80% of the desktop PCs sold today. That number goes up fast if you compare to systems sold during the last two years and still in service.

Microsoft in NO WAY has abandoned anyone. My game machine is MUCH nicer with Windows 8 -- as was my laptop before my Surface REPLACED it.

What exactly are you expecting Windows 9 to "correct"? If you'd take the time to learn the new paradigms, you'd have a chance to see that there a LOTS of advantages to this new OS.

Of course, those arguments continue to this day...

Care to elaborate on the "limitations" as you put it? I fail to see how flame-baiting with the whole Microsoft screwed up with windows 8 on the desktop etc etc, that has nothing to do with Surface, or more specifically this review. You are living in a world of the past and need to live in the now. 8 is fine on the desktop and I fail to see how traditional laptop and desktop users are abandoned. Rather than spark a debate here on that matter, feel free to PM me or join the conversations in the forums regarding this.

Windows XP and Windows 7 tablets did not sell well. I firmly believe a major reason for that was the fact that the OS and most desktop software was a terrible experience on a tablet that requires primary interaction via the screen - pen or touch.

Its fine if you want a laptop, but the rest of the world is moving to a more diverse way of working with our devices. Tablets and touchscreens are a big part of that. Accommodations had to be made. I think the only mistake MS made with Windows 8 was in trying to push people too aggressively into the new paradigm. They should have made the new stuff optional to let people ease into it.

TsarNikky said,
..... same damned tired comment I post on every Surface / Windows 8 article.....

Do you actually take the time to rewrite this drivel or do you copy and paste from a source?

not a major ding but, in order for surface to replace laptops, it would have to include the ports, more USB, HDMI and so on. the extra USB port would allow for low profile USB drives to be added for local storage. Is this the change of mobile computing?

surface still has alot to accomplish or add to beat out a laptop.

How many USB ports does it need? My laptop only has 2, and most of the time one of them is open. I just connect a hub if I need more.

And the Surface already has an HDMI port - I use it all the time.

Well it already has HDMI via mini displayport. I could see one additional usb port being great, but really what do we need to use them for other than usb drives? A nice BT mouse takes care of that aspect, it has a built in microsd card slot for additional storage if you require that.

You've listed two things, one of which is already on the product and state it has "a lot" to accomplish or add to beat out a laptop. Could you explain and maybe go into detail, I'd like to hear your ideas.

Edited by Circaflex, Jul 28 2014, 6:22pm :

chrisj1968 said,
not a major ding but, in order for surface to replace laptops, it would have to include the ports, more USB, HDMI and so on. the extra USB port would allow for low profile USB drives to be added for local storage. Is this the change of mobile computing?

surface still has alot to accomplish or add to beat out a laptop.

Not to big a deal if you get the Surface dock with the Surface.

chrisj1968 said,
not a major ding but, in order for surface to replace laptops, it would have to include the ports, more USB, HDMI and so on. the extra USB port would allow for low profile USB drives to be added for local storage. Is this the change of mobile computing?

surface still has alot to accomplish or add to beat out a laptop.

This doesn't make any sense to me. If you are mobile, and carrying around USB accessories, why can't you also carry one of the tiny USB hubs that are available?

I'd much prefer to have the device cleaner than to have ports all over the place. I'd rather have an Ethernet port than another USB.

techbeck said,

Not to big a deal if you get the Surface dock with the Surface.

True. I just wish there were a dock for the Surface RT. Although with a USB hub, keyboard & mouse I can easily replicate the function, it would be nice to have things a little more self-contained.

HDMI can't really handle 4K displays - only at a low framerate. Displayport is actually the best for ultra-high resolution, so the Microsoft boffins made a good decision here.

As an owner of all 3 generation of the Surface Pro, Microsoft really needs to rethink/redesign the trackpad. It is my only negative and has been ever since the SP1. I have also owned the Type and Touch version 1 and version 2 of both and the trackpad is just a huge pile of crud in my opinion, other than that it is a great product for my uses.

Haven't used the latest one but the last versions of type ones and they just aren't up to it. Arguably Macs have the best trackpads and I think it is crucial Microsoft get on par or better, otherwise it's just a niggling issue. Still think they should do a proper laptop eventually.

I tend to disagree with the idea of doing a "proper" laptop as many put it. I think 2 in 1's like the Surface Pro are the next type of laptop that should take off, to me the benefits outweigh any negatives. I think what Microsoft should do is create a keyboard accessory that has extra room towards the top of the keyboard, but have it overlap into the back of the device so the kick stand can sit on something flat and sturdy, compared to trying to fiddle with it on my thighs

I don't think they should give up on the current philosophy but would love an option of a proper laptop, that hardware finish all around would be amazing. I think neither design is perfect so do both.

Circaflex said,
As an owner of all 3 generation of the Surface Pro, Microsoft really needs to rethink/redesign the trackpad. It is my only negative and has been ever since the SP1. I have also owned the Type and Touch version 1 and version 2 of both and the trackpad is just a huge pile of crud in my opinion, other than that it is a great product for my uses.

I'd really like to understand this complaint -- if only to advise my clients of it. Please help me to understand.

I just don't get this need for a trackpad. Just about everyone who brings it up compares it to the MacBook. As a Windows user, I've ALWAYS used a mouse. If I've had to use my laptop at length, I brought a mouse. But with my Surface, 90% or more of my pointing is done using the screen -- even in desktop apps. For me, the trackpad is an alternative device that I use during those rare occasions where using the screen is less desirable (very small things, or desktop apps that just don't work well with touch).

As I stated in a previous comment, the Surface Arc Touch Mouse fills my need for precision pointing far better than any trackpad ever could.

Those of you who are clamoring for a better trackpad. Do you use the screen? Do you actually prefer a good trackpad to a good mouse?

Well if I am traveling and mobile its one less thing to carry around, but I don't mind too much. When I am in class, it is awkward using a mouse on the desk, some do not even have room for a mouse. For space constraints I want a trackpad that works, buttons do not always respond and sometimes the track pad doesn't either, it seems to be really picky.

Circaflex said,
Well if I am traveling and mobile its one less thing to carry around, but I don't mind too much. When I am in class, it is awkward using a mouse on the desk, some do not even have room for a mouse. For space constraints I want a trackpad that works, buttons do not always respond and sometimes the track pad doesn't either, it seems to be really picky.

OK. Space constraints makes sense. But to my other question -- do you use the screen? I find it much faster to touch what I want than to drag a cursor.

Sometimes, but not often when it is in "laptop" mode, I guess it is just more of habit to use the mouse over the screen. I guess I would wager its about 70% mouse and 30% screen, honestly I have never paid attention to how often but I will and see the results.

Circaflex said,
Sometimes, but not often when it is in "laptop" mode, I guess it is just more of habit to use the mouse over the screen. I guess I would wager its about 70% mouse and 30% screen, honestly I have never paid attention to how often but I will and see the results.

That is consistent with what I have suspected. Those people who try to use the Surface without the screen tend to be frustrated with the trackpad. Those who make the mental change and use the screen rarely use the trackpad and don't notice it's shortcomings.

I agree with Forjo. I must say though, my experience with the touchpad hasn't been bad on the typecover. Two finger swipes register fine, as do simple point/click ops.

What exactly don't you like about it? The texture? Not registering actions? Per the comments regarding OEM trackpads, its normally not the hardware or the drivers, but the default options that create headaches (like enabling edge swipes for example).

Apple/OS X is touchpad focused out of necessity, so its not hardware or driver superiority beyond the lux feel. And you get the tradeoff of ###### mousing.

Same here...i read about complaints like these and wonder what am i missing? The touchpad is responsive and does everything smoothly for me....i dont ever think "i sure wish the track pad was better". Do unicorns appear whenever the trackpad on a mac gets rubbed? It makes me think this is something that is getting repeated because the internet started it, and people keep it going without accuracy.

I am surprised you make a comment like this when you haven't tried Type Cover 3, which does just that - feature a better touchpad in a Mac-style fashion.

I really want one of these for my work. So much so that I might just get one and use it, which would not go down well with IT.
It doesn't matter to me though, this device is quite obviously the best for my work needs.

yeh the pen is crucial. there should be several versions offered so everyone can get the "perfect" one.

ians18 said,
Does it run:
Photoshop CC well?
Autodesk Inventor well?
Video editing desktop app?

Can't speak for Autodesk, but yes to the others.

And it runs Minecraft in full resolution... well. :)

Forjo said,

Can't speak for Autodesk, but yes to the others.

And it runs Minecraft in full resolution... well. :)

Hmm, I'm really wondering about Autodesk, as I believe UT is resource intensive. Thanks tho.

ians18 said,

Hmm, I'm really wondering about Autodesk, as I believe UT is resource intensive. Thanks tho.

AutoCAD LT 2014 runs fine on a couple SP2 we have at work. No issues, quick...responsive. Not sure how Inventor measures up tho.

ians18 said,

Hmm, I'm really wondering about Autodesk, as I believe UT is resource intensive. Thanks tho.

From looking at clients who run Autodesk products, I can say that the Surface will probably work extremely well.

Now if you are doing rendering and need something with CUDA support, then look elsewhere. But if you compare to any laptop, ANY LAPTOP without a dedicated, Autodesk CERTIFIED, GPU, it should be a VERY favorable comparison.

In some cases, it'll be a LOT faster -- like if your drawings have a lot of references and therefore require a lot of disk I/O.

remapping the buttons would be kind of app dependent though.

also, bluetooth mouse ? or maybe one of those HP network mice.

Definitely get her a Surface Arc Touch mouse. And remind her that if she's in a desktop app that she shouldn't expect the keyboard to pop up. Maybe Microsoft can tie it to the I-bar when the mouse pointer changes, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Glad she's enjoying it. I'm still working on my wife. :) Though her objections are more about spending more money than replacing her Dell Vostro.

dead.cell said,

Now that's more like it. Not about to pay $70 for a damn mouse that bends...

It's not about bending, it's about fitting in a slim case without a bulge.

And it does that -- well.

Forjo said,

It's not about bending, it's about fitting in a slim case without a bulge.

And it does that -- well.


I understand that. I don't understand the pricing, and I say this as someone who has no issue dropping $70 on a mouse.

$39.99 is reasonable; $69.99 is not. Considering they priced their awful little wedge mouse at the same price, I feel like they aren't really worried about how much it costs to produce, but rather grabbing you by the balls and saying, "Do you really have much of an option?"

To hell with that I say... :sleep2:

Logitech FTW. As a rule they generally have better battery life than Microsoft's mice. They usually list a battery life on the packet: 12 or 18 months on a single battery depending on how much you want to spend on the mouse.

What about the Microsoft Wedge Mouse Surface Edition? As the name implies, I think they invisioned it as the primary Surface mouse. I have it, and it is awesome.

Another option would be a small USB hub - connect the mouse and whatever else you need. I keep a little one in my Surface bag for just such a need, and have a more decorative one for home use (TARDIS-shaped).

There are plenty of blue-tooth mice around to mitigate the USB issue. There's a nice Surface Mouse that's available that is very small and compact, connects via BT, and works well.

I do believe the ability to remap the buttons on the pen is a feature that is coming. Lots of people are asking for it.

The on-screen keyboard works well in "Modern" apps, but you're absolutely right, it completely falls down in any Desktop usage... and that's pretty inexcusable, IMHO. I really hope they're working on that for Threshold.

pmbAustin said,
There are plenty of blue-tooth mice around to mitigate the USB issue. There's a nice Surface Mouse that's available that is very small and compact, connects via BT, and works well.

I do believe the ability to remap the buttons on the pen is a feature that is coming. Lots of people are asking for it.

The on-screen keyboard works well in "Modern" apps, but you're absolutely right, it completely falls down in any Desktop usage... and that's pretty inexcusable, IMHO. I really hope they're working on that for Threshold.


She could also use a small two or three port USB hub instead of purchasing a Bluetooth mouse. Bluetooth is still a fine idea.