Review

Three months with the Surface Pro 3: Using it more and less than expected

It's hard to believe that it has been three months since the Surface Pro 3 was announced in New York. That event, which took place on May 20th, was when I first got my hands on the latest tablet from Microsoft and since that date, my own usage has been a bit surprising.

The Pro 3 really is an interesting device as it deviates the past ideology that you need to have both a tablet and a laptop. By combining two devices into one product, some sacrifices have to be made. At least, that's what the pessimist in me will say and for the most part, that statement is true.

The Pro 3 is good at a lot of things, but not everything. For example, if you are a writer who likes to take your device to the park to sit under a tree and write novels, this is not the device for you. But if you are a person who goes to a lot of meetings, takes notes, fires-off emails in the airport lounge and enjoys watching a movie on your laptop while cruising at 30k feet, the Pro 3 becomes an interesting option.

For me, though, my use-cases are about as diverse as they come. When I am not creating content for Neowin, I am the CEO of my own startup and that has me constantly writing down marketing execution strategies, or heading off to meetings with potential users or investors. Admittedly, I love my Acer S7, it is my go to machine for many activities but the Pro 3 has changed up some of my habits in ways that I would have not expected.

My current setup has my Acer S7 permanently plugged in and 'docked' to two 27 inch monitors and prior to the launch of the Pro 3, it would be unplugged daily to travel with me around the house (my office is in the basement) and out on meetings. Since I have had the Pro 3, I have stopped 'undocking' my S7 in favor of grabbing the Pro 3 when I walk away from the office.

Before the Pro 3, I never used OneNote; I was a diehard basic text editor kind of person. I could keep notes on a single sheet, and had my own organization methods that worked quite well. But the pen with the Pro 3 is fantastic. So much so that I decided to give OneNote a serious try and have found that the newer versions are huge improvement over what the product was about two years ago.

And that's when it hit me, OneNote is the Pro 3 killer feature. This is what makes it not just another tablet or a laptop, it's OneNote and if you are not in the OneNote world, the competitive advantage of this feature diminishes the use of the device. But here is where it all made sense and not just with the Surface Pro 3.

About a week ago, I was chatting with my co-founder and I opened OneNote on my Acer S7 (on one of the 27in screens), opened OneNote on my Pro 3 and shared the OneNote page with my co-founder. It was then that I started sketching in OneNote on my Pro 3, and it was showing up in the online version of OneNote in near real time on the screen in front of me and on the one in front of co-founder; this is magic. Pure, authentic, Microsoft magic. You want to talk about having an 'experience', this is what Microsoft and every other vendor is trying to create; a seamless collaboration on multiple screens and devices.

It was this experience that Microsoft had been building towards for decades, if not longer. In this case, literally, it was three screens and the cloud driving the experience that starts with the Pro 3. Yes, I know I am a bit late here but at the same time, I suspect that not many have had this insight into what Microsoft has created with its online version of Office apps, OneDrive and its hardware products like the Pro 3.

What I am getting at is that for me, my Pro 3 is the ultimate note taking machine. In fact, it sits on my desk next to my mouse for note taking purposes, random sketching, idea plotting and much more. But it has yet to become my daily driver, mostly because I need to use the pen.

I was asked why I don't use a dock with the device and sell the S7. It's because I need the pen, writing on the screen in OneNote when docked looks like a recipe for carpal-tunnel. 

I take the Pro 3 with me nearly everywhere and it spends just as much time on my coffee table as it does next to my mouse. It's portable, lightweight and has excellent battery life. What I find most interesting is that I do not have a keyboard attached 75% of the time. Combined with the pen and the on-screen keyboard, I don't really need it. And yes, I have written long posts with the on-screen keyboard; this entire post was written only with the Windows 8 virtual keyboard.

I think the lack of keyboard usage might be the biggest 'discovery' for me as I have been a proponent of buying one from the on-set of the Surface family. Even the majority of Microsoft's commercials feature the tablet with the additional keyboard; their marketing makes it seem like it is a required peripheral 

If you are still on the fence about the Pro 3, let me try to help you in your decision making conundrum. If you have an ultrabook that is less than 12 months old, you don't need a Pro 3; simple as that.

If you are looking for a new laptop, the Pro 3 should be on your short list, but know that the keyboard  (which is extra) is still not great. It gets a modest grade of 'acceptable' for typing, so if you are heading to the park to write novels under a tree, look elsewhere.

But for the jet-setter, the business pro who can use a dock and takes lots of notes, the Pro 3 represents a unique option. More so, if you use OneNote, the Pro 3 offers up the best OneNote experience on any device since the dawn of computing.

It still pains me that Microsoft hasn't released an app that allows you to re-map the buttons on the pen that comes with the Pro 3 but that aside, it is a damn good pen. 

I've said that since the first Surface has been launched, that it was a product looking for a problem, and I did not truly know that market Microsoft was targeting with a jack of all trades, master of none device. But the Pro 3 is finally different, if nothing else, it masters OneNote and that's something that is easily marketable.

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I'd love to use the Surface 3 as a note taking device. I'm a huge note-taker. However, I also do not want to be locked down into the OneNote ecosystem. My notes do not need an ecosystems. They need to stay as private and confident as they were when I wrote them down.

The only way to take control over this data is to hijack OneNote's server calls through DNS poisoning and reimplementing the back-end yourself. That is a little too much effort just for notes. But this would have been the perfect system had it not been for everyone's insistence on magical ecosystem unicorns.

Aeyoun said,
I'd love to use the Surface 3 as a note taking device. I'm a huge note-taker. However, I also do not want to be locked down into the OneNote ecosystem. My notes do not need an ecosystems. They need to stay as private and confident as they were when I wrote them down.

The only way to take control over this data is to hijack OneNote's server calls through DNS poisoning and reimplementing the back-end yourself. That is a little too much effort just for notes. But this would have been the perfect system had it not been for everyone's insistence on magical ecosystem unicorns.

Actually, you don't have to hijack anything, OneNote is able to work with any SharePoint document portal, that you can have on your own work or home network, or even in the virtual machine. Second is that desktop OneNote can do even more - it can open notes from the local file system. The OneDrive is just a one of the options.

At some point, someone's going to make a weighted base for the tablet part with either a dock keyboard or a bluetooth one (hopefully the dock) and that would eliminate the lapability issue by turning it into something closer to a standard laptop.

Personally, I never use a laptop on my lap, so this isn't an issue to me - but apparently a lot of people so type that way... very strange... :)

Have a mobile site as well please! Dumb arse size website. Neowin gone titsup!
Main image takes up most of my 1920 res monitor!

Edited by Midnight Mick, Sep 4 2014, 12:02pm :

First of all, nice article so thank you!

After reading all comments here I start to wonder where all the trolls are. I have not been on new in for some time because my interest where elsewhere but the article from windows phone goes big pulled me back in. Great article BTW also.

I own the pro 3 I7/256 since august 1(pre ordered in in June), I had the RT, the pro 1, the pro 2, the surface 2, Lumia 810, 520, 925, 1020, 1520 from ATT (the stripped down version and hate ATT for that) and I have the 1520.3 CV which truly is the best phone ever made, this phone really has it all. But, back to the subject...

The pro 3, my daily driver for whatever I do. I would like to say that the overheating issue is blown up by the press/media/ the "haters" as an excuse to say bad things about this machine. Of course it get warm when you push it but that's it, it gets warm, as any other device when pushing to the limits. Besides that, I have never been so capable of doing EVERYTHING I need to do and that's why I love this machine. Screen size is almost perfect, quality of the screen is just AWESOME, speed is unmatched (by any tablet maker), windows 8 is just necessary and works very well in tablet mode and with 8.1 also really good in desktop mode, weight is not even discussable for what you get and apps? Please.... stop the nonsense, this machine can do EVERYTHING (including the apps from the store). I have to admit that I am not using one note so much because I just don't have the need for it but this article made me realize that I should invest some time to figure one note out because it is clearly a selling point

Thank you all for well thought out comments, it almost feels like I am home without somebody trolling the things I say.. Is it me or are there just not so many trolls around on Neowin? Or do they just don't know what to say anymore ;-)

Regards
t

I think in terms of overheating it seems to be down to really the i7 models and even then its only a certain section of them. Possibly one bad batch of chips. I know some people who had regular overheating which was resolved after replacing the units. So it is not a general design fault, possibly just a bad batch from Intel. Nothing to be worried about.

Honestly, really happy with my surface. It is what windows 8/.1 was designed for. I was put off windows 8 for a long time using it on a traditional laptop but it all just clicked into place using this device. Love it. In fact today I have to bring a package to the post office as I am shipping off my old MacBook I sold after going all-in for this thing !

But yes I have to agree I too am surprised by the lack of trolling in the comments in here. Seems to be people with actual experience posting rather than blind hate nonsense. Hope this filters through to more of the site :)

I don't have the SP3, I got the SP2 a few weeks before the SP3 popped up in the news around the world but this thicker SP2 with a smaller screen has been a blessing. It has become my one and only device except for some gaming from time to time. Docked in the office with a large screen, keyboard and mouse and with the type cover on the go. I have the Logitech K800 wireless keyboard in the office but I think the type cover still is a very good keyboard to write a lot of text on something I do pretty often.

I also run virtual machines for some testing and the SP" is really coping well. The 128GB SSD demand some file moving from time to time.

Of course the Onenote is constantly in use :).

30% of the time I use the extended on screen keyboard, it took some time to get used to but it's really good. I love my SP2, it's a fantastic tool, just wish I had waited for a few weeks longer and gotten the SP3 instead.

Besides also considering buying a Surface Pro 3 for my parents when it becomes available here in Hong Kong, I'm also genuinely impressed by the website, this article, and the layout. It's great!

Umm. Y'all do realize that for well under $200, you can get the OneNote functionality - and much, much more - that resulted in Brad's epiphany, with the much maligned (and overly so IMHO) first gen RT, right?

Even if it's just to check and see if his revelation can be yours, that's a pretty low entry point.

...it's the change in perspective that is the delimiter on those first impressions methinks. Hindsight being 20-20 and all that.

...and Groupon will sell you the Asus T600TF with LTE for, like, $160 lol.

...writing this on an RT using the online KB btw. Selling both the ultra-light laptop and the Nexus 7. For onerous PC work, I've always got the 8 core workstation. But the more I use the RT, well, the more I use the RT lol.

And. I absolutely concur with his epiphany and speculations.

True, but with slower performance and no pen. The no pen thing is a pretty big deal IMO. I love my RT, but I have decided that its replacement must have a pen.

I am split between the SP3 and an Air. As the author notes the SP3's keyboard isn't great for typing extended documents on, but the convenience and versatility it offers, combined with having the power of a notebook, not a tablet, make it invaluable. I still have a Lenovo laptop for presentations that may require more compute power, but every time I lug that bag around, I am reminded why I switched.

I've been using the SP3 as a complete workstation replacement at work. I have replaced my desktop with a Toshiba Dynadock and SP3.

I am able to complete all of my work with the SP3, when I need to go to a meeting I being the machine with me. When I want to f*** off it works smoothly. And when I go home I bring it with me.

I haven't had a single moment where I went 'Gee, I wish I had a /real/ computer'.

Whilst true it is also true of all devices. A MacBook air doesn't suit everyone. Nor does a MacBook pro. Nor does an iPad. It is about finding the right tool for the job, and I think the important thing to take away is they have now created the device which has the ability to be the right tool for more jobs than other devices.

Quite the opposite, I think. The SP3 is the general purpose device that can do everything reasonably well. If you're a writer and you want a writing machine, you go for a niche device more dedicated to writing. If you want the lightest most portable tablet with the most tablet apps, you go for the niche, most tablet-focused device. If you want an all-arounder, you get a SP3.

I find mine is amazingly useful for traveling. It fits in a seat-back pocket on a plane perfectly. I have everything I need with me, no compromises. I also use it as a tablet daily, for reading Kindle books, and the like. I love it.

I could not agree with you more. I have a decent desktop at home and a standard laptop at work. Both now stay plugged in and I travel and go to meetings with only the Surface Pro 3 and take notes on it.

Apple has the opportunity to develop a MacPad that would have both a Mac and iPad in one device. Add in Parallels and you have all three in one device. Until Apple comes out with that type of device I am sticking with the Surface Pro 3.

A few weeks ago I wrote this on my Facebook status.

APPLE - LOOK OUT

The new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is by far the best computing device I have ever used, again.... by far. The combination of a laptop and a tablet in one device with enough horsepower to do everything I want to do will result in this form factor taking over very shortly for the vast majority of users as they look to get a new computer. Watch, Apple will have one in 2015. In this case Microsoft clearly beat Apple. It is gorgeous, even to Steve Jobs level with great build quality. The screen is sharp and bright. The iPad with its smaller screen feels slightly better to hold it certain ways but the Surface feels very natural when you cradle it on your forearm and on a desk writing. The built in stand is so nice, again something Steve would appreciate. The larger size gives you much more extra screen real estate and is well worth the trade-off as the Surface Pro 3 is like getting a Mac Air and an iPad in one. Oh, and is it ever fast and responsive. 

The killer app that differentiates the Surface Pro 3 from every other device right now is note taking with the new pen and OneNote. It feels natural to write on the device. No need to hold the pen above the screen. Your palm can rest on the screen. Finally no need for pad a paper ever again. I have added OneNote to my iPhone and Samsung Note 3 and I both read and update OneNote from all my devices.

I was hoping that using the pen experience would been everything I have been looking for over 20 years and it is. That is why I bought the device but after using it for six weeks, I am totally impressed with everything else it has to offer. I had been debating between the i5 4GB 128GB and the i5 8GB 256GB version. Even with 10 apps open and memory at 70% utilization the 128GB version does not slow down, amazing. This is where the i5 processor and the SSD really shine.

I never got the whole touchscreen thing on a laptop but on the Surface Pro 3 it totally makes sense. I have pleasantly surprised by the Windows 8.1 Modern UI apps that are available. Nowhere close to the iPad in number but most of my core apps are readily available and if they are not, I just use the Windows app or website. 

Four years ago I bought an iPad on the launch day and declared it an amazing device that would change the way we use computing. 2 years ago Microsoft tried to show the world that a single UI for all your computing needs was possible and they have taken a lot of heat over the past 2 years but with the Surface Pro 3 they have delivered in a big way.

If replacing the paper notepad is the goal ... we're so close. The SP3 needs to loose the bulk and thickness first. I bought a thin 8" writing tablet, but for perfect writing even it's too thick (needs an 8.5x11 cover/dock for comfortable writing).

I picked up an i5/8gb/256 model 4 days ago. From using it over the weekend it has impressed me so much both my retina Macbook pro and iPad have gone up on eBay.

It is an incredibly powerful machine in terms of usability. Granted, a lot of things which I have found most useful come from a combination of having Windows 8.1 and a touch screen. For example. My entire life has pretty much lived in One Note for the past few years. As an IT Technical Consultant I am forever making little notes of little things I might need in future. Dumping screenshots either for my use or capturing for documentation later on. With the Surface I now pretty much always have One Note snapped to one third of the screen whilst the second two-thirds is either desktop, IE or Remote Desktop. Then whatever I am doing at the time I just swipe and adjust how much each thing is taking up of the screen at any time.

Being able to just pick the machine up and use it as a tablet is amazing. During meetings I was always in the habit of writing things down rather than making notes on my laptop purely because the act of writing things down help me commit them to memory. Now I just bring my Surface, click the pen and i'm writing in One Note. I even have it set to have lines like paper. Just scribble away and One Note OCRs it for searching and even will convert it to text if I want (in the desktop app anyway).

I have been a Mac user for about the past 5 years and in one fell swoop the Surface Pro 3 has revolutionised the way I work. So much of what I do is now faster. The build quality is great (for the device anyway, not so much the type cover). Premium materials and the feel is such that I really don't feel like I have taken a step back from the build quality of the macbook pro. And the thing is LIGHT. Just 800g and due to the size/shape feels a lot less.

It also has the power under the hood to back its claims up too. I do photography as a hobby and the thing has no problems churning through hundreds of RAW files in Adobe Lightroom. The fans kick in sure but it handles it fine.

That's not to say it is all great though. That type cover. It shouldn't be an extra purchase, it should be included. And whilst it is a good cover, it is only an acceptable keyboard and awful trackpad. As it stands I use a bluetooth mouse but will also be getting a bluetooth keyboard for periods of extended use at my desk.

Also there is an odd bug where Metro IE just kicks in CPU to 50% even if its not doing anything. Hopefully MS patch that soon.

Overall though this device has been a revelation. Although I was mostly a Mac user I tried Windows 8.0 for a while on a non-touchscreen device and it really put me off. I am so glad I gave this device and Win 8.1 a chance. It is a game changer.

If there is much interest in a review of the Surface Pro 3 from the perspective of someone who is an IT tech consultant and also has varied home use requirements and wants to consolidate to one device, I might knock together a full review.

I am in transition in making my Surface Pro 3 Core i7, 512GB my full time machine. I have the docking station and I've connected my desktop components (mainly keyboard, mouse, speakers, monitor) to it and am starting the transition of my desktop to be my main media server. I also have 3 NAS units (which I also swap backup drives and take offsite) which aid in keeping my Surface Pro 3 mobile. I don't worry about all these overheating stories because it will get hot because the Core i7 is right there by your hand. Even when playing STEAM games, it always remains in comfortable heat levels and I never have that throttling issue. I am pretty excited about this machine.

OneNote's capabilities are tremendous. We're looking at switching from using Word docs for training/lab manuals at my company to OneNote notebooks. There are a couple of minor layout/formatting hurdles to cross, but layout wise it makes more sense with the tab/page layout than a monolithic word doc.

This is my first windows tablet
http://www.notebookreview.com/assets/5993.jpg
Windows XP Tablet Edition

I started using the pen then and until today, I am a big fan of OneNote, it is nice to see how smaller and lighter the tablets became with Surface 3, thank you Apple for pushing Microsoft to improve it's PCs :-)

But I guess still it's not very possible for MS to improve so greatly from pro 1 to 3 without the push of Apple. One evidence is their comparing the SP3 with MacBook Air 13". That is why we call it push ;)

Enron said,
Hopefully they add a port on the SP4 so I can plug in an external Nvidia GTX Titan.

Hopefully they also allow you to plug the external Core I7, External Memory and External Hard Drives, or maybe an external motherboard as well

you know what, get a case and put everything external together and it will work :-)

Don't have SP3 yet but love working in Onenote on my SP2.

One other fantastic Onenote trick I learned was when I was writing notes at a conference. I wanted to drop in a picture of the speaker but felt like a geek holding up the tablet to take a picture. No problem. I opened the same Onenote document on my Lumia phone and took the picture from inside Onenote with that. A few seconds later the picture synced with the document on my SP2 - exactly at the right spot too. How cool. I use this all the time now.

An RT version of this with same screen size and pen input would sell really well I think. For me it has been all about the pen since day one. And I never expected that at all. I now have a stand up desk in my kitchen that I use periodically with the docking station. What a fantastic device. Pricey yes, that would be the only thing to complain about, but I'm not complaining. I do have issues with the pen sometimes, but I just unscrew the cap and shake it a bit, and that solves most issues. MS really nailed this one. Hate to say it but they really always do get it right on the third try. So lets see, Windows 8 strike 1, Windows 8.1 not a bad strike 2 really, Win 9? Bring it on.

While I get the the gist of the article and you point out pros and cons, I have to say its still up to the the tastes of people. I use my surface pro 3 for everything including wow every so often. I use mine at the park, the subway, in the car, etc. I user it sometimes with the keyboard and sometimes without (I do wish they would Swype style keyboard). Over all is has become everyday driver, my only con is that it doesn't come with an lte antenna.

And I totally agree. OneNote on a SP3 would totally wipe the floor with a Mac especially for two groups: students who need to take notes in class and business people who go to meetings.

That is essentially why I want one desperately at work. That being said, I'm put off that there is no integrated cell modem (for LTE) options. I know there are USB options, but for something I would use regularly I just don't want something sticking out of the tablet.

yeah, once I bought my Spro I haven't stop using it with one note! its great for information organization and sharing, having your files on the go, not I cant imagine my self without it

Shadrack said,
That is essentially why I want one desperately at work. That being said, I'm put off that there is no integrated cell modem (for LTE) options. I know there are USB options, but for something I would use regularly I just don't want something sticking out of the tablet.

Agreed...I had to end up buying iPads for our sales force (they have Windows Phones, however) because the Verizon Windows tablet options are basically no there (did not want Windows RT.)

Shadrack said,
......I'm put off that there is no integrated cell modem (for LTE) options. I know there are USB options, but for something I would use regularly I just don't want something sticking out of the tablet.

That's the only reason I didn't put my iPad mini retina onto gazelle or eBay. I still use the iPad's personal hotspot function. It serves very well though, the iPad has a large battery and is comfortable for extended period of use. Sometimes of course, I will use iPad for movie watching, it's easier to hold.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts for how the SP3 has been integrated into your workflow. This has encouraged me to go through the Surface pen OneNote tutorial. My wife has the i3 and I just picked up the i7. They really are beautiful devices. The pen input capabilities are likely to be expanded throughout the OS. This seems to be a primer for what to expect in the near future.

I think the SP3 would be ideal for me. Because of a disability, it's very tough to carry a computer bag. I use laptops on tables or desktops. This should fit all of my needs. (I have a desktop at home.)

This has been my experience with Tablet PCs in general since the Windows XP days. One Note is MS' best kept secret - it has become even more valuable now with the Outlook.com/OneDrive integration.

I also have the same experience with the on screen keyboard on my Surface RT. Its good enough that I run in full slate mode at least 50% of the time either with the keyboard off or flipped around on the back.

Nice review. I thought about getting one of these when it was launched, to replace a mid-range laptop that rarely leaves the desk. I'd dock the Surface, plug in the keyboard and mouse I already have and would get a very nice tablet as a bonus.
In the end, the £££ factor was the deal maker and I'm replacing the old laptop with one with i5 for £400-£500. If the ebay gods favour me I'll get an i7. The Nexus 7 lives on for another year.

The article just confirms that a tablet is just part of the PC milieu. It does have its place for certain tasks. It certainly won't be replacing any of the existing major players--laptops and desktops--for other tasks. It all comes down to how one uses their PC. Microsoft's attempt at trying to make one UI designed for one form-factor as the "end-all be-all" is foolhardy, as the marketplace has so well shown.

Funny, I took the opposite conclusion from this article. The one OS concept is working. Different people are finding the same OS useful in a variety of situations. This will get even better with Windows 9 as it continues to be tweaked for each type kind of use.

The market has shown nothing other than they have been off to a slow start. Sales numbers don't give you a "why". You just made that part up.

Okay, really? Sit on under a tree and write novels? I refuse to believe any serious writer sits under a tree writing anything more than chapter ideas or similar, even on "the perfect" laptop. It just makes no sense. The rest of the article I agree with. I think you should come up with a more realistic and common example of where a laptop would really be better than the Surface Pro 3. If you regularly require more than one USB port and don't like carrying a bunch of dongle, I think the SP3 would be a bad choice. If you rely on DVD input or output would be another example. Or, if you process a lot of video (where storage is important) would be yet another reason to stick with a laptop.

I was thinking the same about the "under a tree and write novels."

In addition, while I don't have the dock for SP3, I can see the advantages of it. It allows your mobile device to function as a full fledge PC. The SP3 is the most flexible device available out there. Of course you have to undock the device if you want to sketch, but if you have a connected pen input, it would pretty much do the same. :)

Also agree. And as someone who has typed on my legs with the SP3, it's not that bad. LOT'S of people say it's just fine -- and it's nice not having the extra weight on my legs.

As for USB, that argument never made sense. People complain about the number of ports yet are they really carrying around all those USB devices and cables? If so, why can't they carry one of the tiny USB 3 hubs that are available?

And once you start talking about DVDs, then you're (as you put it) in a laptop. His article, I believe, compares to an ultrabook. But then again, external hard drives are very small -- as are portable DVD players. Less compact, but still very much doable.

I agree that the SP3 Pen/OneNote is a killer feature of the Surface Pro 3 workflow. I recently received a laboratory diagram that I wanted to make markups to. I originally tried to describe my changes. After a lengthy, convoluted paragraph, I reached for the pen and easily drew the markups.

You had the advantage of already owning a light laptop. However, I had an HP Elitebook 8470p. It's only a mid-sized screen, but has a max-size weight and thickness. The laptop feels like many pieces of plastic roughly held together with screws. The Surface Pro 3 feels like a thin, solid piece of engineering.

I'm a touch-typist and find the keyboard a passible input device. I find if I put the keyboard in the angled position, the flex in the keyboard gives a satisfying thunk.