Microsoft Surface 3: Australian Review

It used to be that the baby Surface was a compromise. It used to run crappy software, slower hardware and produce a less than spectacular experience. With the Surface 3, Microsoft has performed a radical about-face.

What Is It?

Specifications
  • Processor: 1.6GHz quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700
  • RAM: 2GB-4GB
  • Screen: 10.8-inch, 1920x1280
  • Memory: 64GB-128GB
  • Camera: 8-megapixel rear-facing w/auto-focus, 5-megapixel front-facing
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0

Whereas the Surface Pro 3 was pitched as the tablet that can replace your laptop, the Surface 3 is designed to be the tablet that can do the things other tablets can't. Microsoft wants you to use it primarily as a tablet, but also wants to give you the specs and software you need to use it as a laptop so you don't have to switch when it comes time to work.

Personally, I think that's underselling it a bit. The Surface 3 is a proper crack at the thin-and-light, 2-in-1 tablet market.

It's powered by a 1.6GHz quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor and packs in either 64GB or 128GB of solid state storage. The Surface 3 also has a slightly smaller display than the Pro 3, measuring in at 10.8-inch. It has a resolution of 1920x1280 and a 3:2 aspect ratio. Other goodies include an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with auto-focus and Wi-Fi 802.11ac.

The battery is one of the more curious aspects. Microsoft listened to the fact that the Surface Pro 3's battery was disappointing at best, and replaced it with a cell that can reportedly handle up to 10 hours of video playback.

Curiouser still is how it charges: Microsoft hasn't switched up the charger again for its new Surface, instead it's practically done away with it. You'll be able to charge the Surface 3 on MicroUSB. Obviously if you don't have Microsoft's 13W brick it'll be slow going, but it's as universal a charger as it gets.

The legendary infinite kickstand we loved on the Surface Pro 3 has been replaced on the Surface 3. Instead of infinite bend-back you'll get three default kick positions. The OG Surface kick position, the Surface 2 kick position and one that's as near as makes no difference as far back as the Surface Pro 3 goes. I'd argue that you'll hardly notice.

You also get a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 bundled in with your purchase of the Surface 3, which is something the Pro 3 was sorely missing. It ships with Windows 8.1 and comes with a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it comes out in a few months.

It's also astoundingly cheap.

The differences in the units come in the form of installed RAM and on-board storage. The 64GB SSD/2GB RAM model comes in at $699, while the 128GB SSD/4GB RAM model comes in at $839.

There's an LTE model coming later on in the year that Microsoft will sell through resellers and its online store rather than carriers. The 64GB SSD/2GB RAM/LTE model comes in at $839, while the 128GB SSD/4GB RAM/LTE model comes in at $979.

There's a new range of Type Covers in a variety of colours, and for the first time the Surface Pen will also be coloured. Unfortunately you won't get a Pen in the box: that one sells separately.

What's Good?

Let's be honest. The Surface RT and the Surface 2 were crap. They had decent hardware that was hamstrung by crappy software and a relatively high price tag.

So how do you fix a problem child? Make it more like its well-behaved big brother.

What's awesome about the Surface is how Microsoft continues to listen to the gripes of its users when designing new models. Ever since the original Surface Pro and Surface RT (ugh) were minted, Microsoft kept its collective ear to the ground and turned user complaints into a wishlist for the new model. That history of answering customer concerns means that the new baby Surface is better than any of its predecessors. It may even be better than its bigger brother, the Surface Pro 3, in some respects.

Rather than stuff a power-hungry Intel Core i5 or i7 processor into the new Surface, Microsoft has opted for a small yet mighty Atom processor, which can do almost everything its big brother can do without needing to be cooled. That's right: the Atom processor means the new Surface is fanless, and thinner than ever. It's also a quieter experience thanks to the removal of the fan, and the power-conscious Atom manages to keep a lid on its own heat generation, meaning you won't be scalded if you keep the new gadget on your lap while you use it.

The Surface 3 is meant to be a tablet first and a laptop second, but as soon as I unboxed the Surface 3 I began using it as a laptop replacement. The remarkable thing is that I didn't find any noticeable lull in performance from the new Atom processor compared to the Surface's bigger brother. Under the weight of 30+ tabs in Google Chrome, Adobe Lightroom, Spotify and a whole mess of peripherals, the Surface 3 held up admirably.

The Type Cover is back for another go around which makes typing a breeze (despite the fact it looks a little yellowed under the keys), and the (optional) Surface Pen still has just as many points of touch and sophisticated palm rejection for all your sketching needs.

There are also a few modifications to the now iconic Surface kickstand with the new model. In order to make the Surface 3 cheaper, Microsoft opted to install a three-angle kickstand rather than the infinitely adjustable kickstand installed on the Surface Pro 3. The infinite kickstand was a fantastic bit of kit, so there was a bit of a worry when Microsoft opted to reintroduce the fixed model. Our worries evaporated as soon as we started to use it, however. It has the two angles of kick introduced on the Surface and Surface 2, as well as the third angle which makes the whole thing more "lapable" than ever, especially with the Type Cover attached.

The infinite kickstand on the Surface Pro 3 also allowed you to use the device while lying down on a bed or other flat surface as well as on your lap. With the third angle of kick on the Surface 3, that's still possible, but you may have to adjust your legs a little bit to get the perfect spot.

To help you get all your work done, Microsoft has opted to include a free year of Office 365 Personal with the new Surface, righting the wrong of not including it with the last model. Another example of Redmond listening to the complaints of users. It would be nice if Microsoft went back and retroactively gave Surface Pro 3 owners free Office 365 subscriptions for their purchases, but such is life.

By far the best thing — the absolute best thing — about the Surface 3 is its operating system. Windows 8.1 is a godsend compared to the useless Windows RT OS that the smaller Surfaces have shipped with in the past. We said Windows RT was dead a few months ago, and now we know it to be true.

Microsoft have managed to squeeze a little more juice out of the battery on the smaller Surface 3. The tiny tablet managed seven hours of life under normal use, meaning it's on par with its big brother, the Surface Pro 3, despite its diminutive size. It's an impressive feat, but still not the battery life we were expecting from the new Windows tablet.

What's Not So Good?

One thing we hated about the Surface Pro 3 was that it didn't even come close to its quoted battery life time, instead lasting just seven hours with normal use. Microsoft claims that with the new low-power processor on the Surface 3 that it has solved the conundrum of poor battery life, but we're yet to see that come to fruition. The life is certainly better than it was, averaging around six to seven hours of life with normal use, but that's still nowhere near the rich claims of 10 hour battery life.

Another thing that's rich about the Surface 3 is its price.

As frustrating as it is to see, there's a bit of a premium on buying the Microsoft Surface 3 over buying another convertible tablet from a third-party manufacturer. A cursory glance at Aussie retailers and you find that you're being bilked out more than a few extra bucks for the Microsoft hardware.

The slightly better specced Dell Venue 10 Pro costs just $498 and comes with a bundled detachable keyboard; the identically specced Asus T100 also comes in at $498, while the much better-featured Dell Inspiron 3000 Series X510792AU with its Core i3 processor and 500GB hard disk costs just $798 compared to the Surface 3's $839 price tag. Getting the picture? You're paying a premium for pretty with the Surface 3.

At the end of the day, that's ok: profit isn't a dirty word and Microsoft is charging what it thinks the market can bear. It would just be nice if Microsoft matched the prices of its competitors for similar hardware.

Speaking of the hardware inside the Surface 3, we should point out that you'll never get a decent gaming experience on this new Microsoft tablet. Admittedly, the experience was shaky on the Surface Pro 3 with its Core i5 processor, but it's almost out of the question with the Surface 3's Atom-based chipset. I tried everything from Cities: Skylines through to Tomb Raider, all on the lowest settings and found the Surface 3 chugging through its duties in single-digit frame rates. The only way you're going to game on this is if you get something light from the Windows Store to run on the tablet.

I'm willing to forgive the Surface 3 for poor gaming performance. It may look like a Windows PC, but not all devices were created equally. As it turns out, the Surface 3 is less equal than the rest when it comes to getting your game on.

Finally, it's also worth noting that while MicroUSB charging is a godsend compared to the USB Type-C adapter on the new 2015 MacBook, the Surface won't charge in a timely manner without the power brick that comes bundled with the device. It can charge with any MicroUSB input, but if you want it to work quickly you're still stuck clinging to Microsoft's bundled hardware.

Should You Buy It?

Microsoft Surface 3
80

Price: from $699

Like
  • Beautifully designed.
  • Surprisingly powerful.
  • No Windows RT.
Don't Like
  • Expensive compared to its competition.
  • MicroUSB charging is slow without the provided brick.
  • Poor gaming performance.

The Surface 3 does more than it says on the tin.

It never set out to be a productivity-focussed Windows convertible tablet. It was meant to be a consumption tablet first and a laptop if it needed to be. It's a reluctant hero, and like most reluctant heroes, it's plucky, capable and stronger than it looks.

The difference between the Surface 2 and the Surface 3 is like night and day, and that comes from having the right tools for the job.

Windows RT is dead and buried as far as the Surface range is concerned, and ARM chips have been replaced with power-sipping Intel Atom processors that can more than hold their own. The accessories are on point, it's smaller and lighter than its bigger brother and lasts just as long as a day-to-day productivity machine.

The baby Surface is finally ready for prime-time (provided you can justify the cost), and that's awesome.


Comments

    Pre-ordered a week ago, looking forward to replacing my RT... which was fine. I know the hate train is still at full speed but for split screen documents, browsing the net, basic apps... you know work and tablet stuff it was just fine. Seriously, the hate is just boring now.

      I still use my Surface 2 RT, love it, best tablet I ever had. Admittedly paying $500 is a lot for it, but I'd buy it over a Android tablet around the $200-300 mark (which you can pick one up for these days) any day of the week.
      I'm not seeing anything on the Surface 3 that's gonna make me shell out that kinda cash. Of course I have a proper desktop PC, i'd like to ditch it and go tablet all the way, but the Surface 3 ain't quite there yet, perhaps Surface 4 will do it.

      One of the biggest gripes is the weight of the Surface 2. Go on yer sofa, portrait mode, and see how long u can hold it for before you get pins and needles in yer hands..

      Sub 300g please.

        Seriously? How did you ever manage to read a book?

        It might be useful if you let us know how you use the Surface 2. What applications?

          Wife uses the Surface 2 for work stuff, she gets citrix (there is an official citrix app), MS office, full internet browser and a desktop mode environment (that she is familiar with) so saving and getting files from one drive etc is a breeze.
          There is a HD video app that seems to plays every 1080p (10+gb) .mkv file I've thrown at it. You can even stream 720p successfully to it, tho depending upon yer modem and network u might get stuttering (ethernet fixes that, but that's to be expected).
          I use it in portrait mode for reading mostly, I use Pocket on my main pc browser and bookmark pages to read later in more comfy locations (such as bed or sofa) with the S2. Facebook performs fine etc.
          The 1080p 16:9 screen is nice, and 10hr battery for the above tasks is nice.
          It's been an interesting experience. I won't do laptop again, it's too convenient to take the screen only around with you (from getting to a>b) and using a keyboard of yer own choice (even wireless) via the usb port (or BT). Even just being able to type and move the screen away or at an angle that's different to the keyboard is enough to now think of laptops as being prisoner to the keyboards they come stuck with (as well as the extra bulk to transport).
          But everyone uses tech differently, not enough people ask themselves what they want a device to do, are they over paying $500 for stuff or features they will rarely touch?
          Tbh i didn't need the Surface 2 to do more than what it does above. No it cannot replace my desktop gaming rig, but at the time i think i spent the $500 I had in my pocket as best I could.
          Luke thinks RT is awful, but he doesn't see the Surface 2 as a tablet that should be directly compared to Android and iOS, he keeps looking at it from a proper computer perspective which is unfair.
          I have owned an ipad, I use Android, and the Surface 2 trumped them all (both in terms of productivity and value for money). At that time I doubt there was a better option for doing the above with $500.
          I'm kinda sad RT is dead, I think the Surface 2 struck the right balance between something that can be used for composing and consumption whereas all other non proper computing tablets like ipads are too heavy on consumption and shit on composing side of things.
          I kinda wanted the Surface 3 to still be RT but have more screen size alternatives, 7-12 inch variants etc.

    Let’s be honest. The Surface RT and the Surface 2 were crap.
    Let's be honest, I gave my wife a Surface 2 as a laptop replacement that she uses for work & leisure and she loves it. It does everything she needs in a work sense (Office, email, Citrix, etc.), has good battery life and is very practical as a consumption device.

    Microsoft listened to the fact that the Surface Pro 3’s battery was disappointing at best
    While we're being honest, the SP3 falls just short of being a true all day work device but using it in a 9-5 job, discounting lunch, meetings and general time away from my desk, I can get the whole work day out of it. For it's size and weight I think that compares favourably to other devices of the same generation. For general web browsing, email reading and other 'lounge chair' activities I'm always surprised how much battery I have left.

    I understand if you didn't like Surface RT & Surface 2 and that you have issues with the SP3 and your review is the perfect place to express your opinion. But you're stating these things like they're fact, and they're not.

    Last edited 28/04/15 12:17 pm

      Yep, but if they'd been made by Apple he'd have been all over them, like his review for Watch.

    I'm confused on what you think about it's price.

    Under "What is it", we read this:

    It’s also astoundingly cheap. The differences in the units come in the form of installed RAM and on-board storage. The 64GB SSD/2GB RAM model comes in at $699, while the 128GB SSD/4GB RAM model comes in at $839. There’s an LTE model coming later on in the year that Microsoft will sell through resellers and its online store rather than carriers. The 64GB SSD/2GB RAM/LTE model comes in at $839, while the 128GB SSD/4GB RAM/LTE model comes in at $979.

    Then under "What's Not So Good" we read this:

    Another thing that’s rich about the Surface 3 is its price. As frustrating as it is to see, there’s a bit of a premium on buying the Microsoft Surface 3 over buying another convertible tablet from a third-party manufacturer. A cursory glance at Aussie retailers and you find that you’re being bilked out more than a few extra bucks for the Microsoft hardware. The slightly better specced Dell Venue 10 Pro costs just $498 and comes with a bundled detachable keyboard; the identically specced Asus T100 also comes in at $498, while the much better-featured Dell Inspiron 3000 Series X510792AU with its Core i3 processor and 500GB hard disk costs just $798 compared to the Surface 3’s $839 price tag. Getting the picture? You’re paying a premium for pretty with the Surface 3.

    I understand that you're saying for what it is, it is cheap. Then you're trying to say that, compared to other things, its expensive - or we're paying a premium for MS hardware. But given the structure of the article, it's quite confusing to read that it's "astoundingly cheap" and then that its price is rich.

    However taking on board the other things you discussed, I'm happy to resign to an understanding that you like the tablet and would buy one if compared to other similar Windows OS devices.

    If I've misread this, please let me know.

    Last edited 28/04/15 12:49 pm

    Up the top you say it's astoundingly cheap and then gripe about the price further down the article. Make up your mind.

      I wouldn't worry.

      Last edited 28/04/15 8:50 pm

    Sorry I don't understand, why the Pre-Order? isn't this device about to be superseded this week end by Surface Pro 4 with as a minimum USB-Type C if MSFT still want to mock the MackBook in their commercials?

    I thought any extra stock is being sold without calling too much attention, like a bare 10% discount from MSFT Australia store online.

    Anyone can clarify?

      The review is of the Surface 3, which was only recently released, and not the Surface Pro 3, which may be replaced this year (but unlikely this weekend).

    Never had any issue you describe in your opening lines.. My surface 2 RT pretty much gets hammered constantly with work and office on it is just brilliant.

    Its certainly a laptop replacement. I still rock a SP1 and it quickly replaced my laptop. I'd love to get my hands on the SP3

    "It would just be nice if Microsoft matched the prices of its competitors for similar hardware." It's interesting that I don't think I have ever seen any journalist suggest Apple should do that, why hold Microsoft to a different standard?

        Sorry Luke, that's not the same thing at all. I've never read anything that suggests an iPad or iPhone is over-priced compared to its marketplace competitors. Quite the contrary, you guys fall over yourselves to justify Apple's premium pricing for them.

        You keep the company bashing very separate from product reviews and things like the supposed "Australia Tax" are just journalistic click-bait fantasies anyway. e.g. The SMH's Drive section put up a piece about car prices yesterday and produced a table to show how we are being ripped off, by chopping and changing to show that European cars are cheaper in the UK and Japanese cars are cheaper in Japan, instead of showing prices in every market, which would have revealed that we get Japanese cars much cheaper than the UK and European cars much cheaper than Japan.

        Yes he's out of line Luke but maybe don't let rip like that at your readers. The customers not always right but at least be professional about correcting them.

          Of course I'm fucking right. Find one example of any journalist suggesting an iPad or iPhone is over-priced compared to products by other manufacturers.

            Honestly I have no intention of looking cause I have a life. I really don't care. Luke should have been more professional. That was my point.

            Since Apple commands a large market share, they can get away with a premium price. MS tablets have woeful market share and therefore should not be aiming for a premium price. They need as many customers they can get and by having a higher price than the competition its not helping their cause.

            Last edited 02/05/15 11:46 pm

    You Australians have awful language, just calm down and talk like a decent normal person, it was a review by someone who gave us their honest opinion. Nice review, I cant wait for mine! I'm guessing games like Half life 2 are simply unplayable?

      I didn't actually test HL2, but I imagine it to be quite the same result. I'll give it a bash tonight and let you know!

      Please don't use that one Idiot to judge all Australians :-)

    You mention that the pen is not included with the Surface 3 but can you confirm whether or not the Type Cover is included in the box. The "what's in the box" section on the official website makes no mention of it.

      All the reviews I have read say that neither the pen nor the type cover is included. Hopefully the power brick is.

        Just for reference;
        The pen was included in the box when I purchased my pro, but the Type Cover was not; I purchased it separately. So just a rough guess obviously, but probably not. :(

        Last edited 02/05/15 12:22 pm

    It is better than the US Gizmodo review. However to address price for a minute.
    Right now prices are messed up, the SP3 is due for a price increase any day due to the exchange rate (about 20% on average).
    There is no Australia tax, when you convert the US price ex tax to AUD and all GST, it's a few dollars cheaper (score!).
    It is priced competitively to the iPad Air 2 which is really it's true competitor in the tablet space. Tell me which one you think is better value then. The only other premium tablet with a Wacom or Ntrig pen is the Thinkpad 10 priced from $899 with the top of the line baytrail Atom (albeit pen included). The competitively spec'd DELL Venue 5000 10.8" is from $799 on the DELL website, and is thicker and heavier, baytrail, doesn't have pen support, and only Wireless N.
    If 150 g of extra weight isn't important to you, then you could get the 10.1" DELL, but is still 30 g heavier than the Surface 3.
    Personally for me, it's the 3:2 aspect display which makes my Surface Pro 3 much more usable, and should make the Surface 3 compelling for anyone comparing it to the "everything else" section of JB HIFI.

    My wife (for mobile work) is interested in the LTE models when they land, currently what other similar devices to the S3 have LTE?

    Luke, pretty childish public outburst, how embarrassing for you.

    I wonder if this release is the cause of the massive price-jump in the Surface Pro 3 today. Now $1849 for the i5/256Gb/8Gb :(. Might just buy a Macbook. I was looking forward to getting one as a small tax writeoff in June :(

    One of the things I notice about these reviews is that comparable units are often not really.

    For example, the X510792AU you mention does boast a superior CPU and has more storage space, but the space is via a 5400rpm platter drive and the unit sports an uninspiring 1366 x 768 display.

    If your desires include a well-made convertible x86 unit with a 1080 or greater display, 4Gb RAM and enough SSD room to breathe comfortably for about 1k you'll struggle to beat the Surface 3. Having just bought one I am no doubt biased but I DID shop around a lot for alternatives.

    The S3 just ticked too many boxes as a complementary device.

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