Microsoft

Surface Pro 3: The tablet that can replace your laptop

Microsoft has had some problems framing the marketing for the Surface tablets, but "The tablet that can replace your laptop" tagline nails it.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3
 Image credit: Sarah Tew / CNET

Yesterday, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 3, which is an impressive piece of hardware. The Surface and Surface Pro 2 were good, but the larger display (12.1 inches vs. 10.6 inches) and shift in aspect ratio (3:2 vs. 16:9) make the Surface Pro 3 much more capable when you need to use it with the Type Cover keyboard as an "ultrabook hybrid" for extended periods of time.

This is not your average tablet. Internally, the architecture of the Surface Pro 3 didn't change substantially from the previous model. The tablets still use the fourth generation Intel Core processor line, codenamed "Haswell." The Haswell chips enable the Surface Pro 3 to go for up to nine hours on a single charge. Surface Pro 3 comes with either 4 GB or 8 GB of RAM, and a 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB SSD. It also has 5 MP / 1080p HD cameras on both front and back, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a microSD card slot, and a full-size USB 3.0 port.

I pointed out a couple weeks ago that one of the reasons the Surface tablet line has struggled is because of a branding and marketing failure by Microsoft. Microsoft focused on the fact that the Surface is a tablet and even ran commercials -- rather clever ones, actually -- comparing the Surface against the iPad. That was a mistake, and Microsoft has adopted a new strategy for the Surface Pro 3.

The problem with pitting the Surface Pro line against traditional tablets is that it costs substantially more. No matter how awesome you make it seem, somebody in the market for a tablet is going to walk into a Best Buy and see a $500 iPad Air, a $400 Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1, and a $900 Surface Pro 2 -- and the vast majority will walk away with one of the tablets that are thinner, lighter, and cost half as much as the Surface.

When you pit the Surface Pro tablet against a laptop, though, it's a much more level playing field -- one where the Surface has some distinct advantages. As far as I'm concerned, the Surface Pro 2 was already "the tablet that can replace your laptop," but Microsoft failed to position it that way.

There are 2-in-1 hybrid laptops that cost half as much as a Surface Pro 3, but they come with significant tradeoffs in both form and function. For example, you can get a Lenovo Yoga hybrid for $500, but it has an older, slower Intel processor, only 4 GB of non-expandable RAM, a traditional 500 GB hard drive, 802.11n Wi-Fi functionality, it weighs three pounds, and you only get an estimated five to six hours of battery life. That's a choice you can make, but it's a choice that comes with some consequences and caveats.

At the media event that unveiled the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft stopped comparing the device to the iPad and instead focused on the more apples-to-apples comparison against the MacBook Air. The two devices share much of the same architecture, but the Surface Pro 3 display has greater pixel density. The Surface Pro 3 is also 40% lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air and 25% lighter than the 11-inch MacBook Air. The MacBook Air boasts longer battery life, but the Surface Pro 3 has a better front-facing camera and identical rear-facing camera.

When it comes to price, the Surface Pro 3 is basically on par with the MacBook Air. The Surface Pro 3 starts out cheaper at $799 -- but that's for a Core i3 model with only 64 GB of storage. The Core i5 Surface Pro 3 with a 128 GB SSD has both the same basic hardware and the same $999 price tag as the base 13-inch MacBook Air.

The high-end Surface Pro 3 models actually cost a little more than a comparably equipped MacBook Air, but not unreasonably so. The Surface Pro is lighter, thinner, and has a touchscreen display with pen input. More importantly, the flight attendant won't make you put your Surface Pro 3 away during takeoff and landing, because it's a tablet.

I was already a fan of the Surface Pro 2. The Surface Pro 3 is a substantial improvement in the device itself, but the shift in marketing is what will really make the difference. The Surface Pro 3 really is "the tablet that can replace your laptop." Microsoft finally got both the device and the marketing right.

Does the Surface Pro 3 have what it takes to replace your laptop? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

About

Tony Bradley is a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. He is a respected authority on technology, and information security. He writes regularly for Forbes, and PCWorld, and contributes to a wide variety of online and print media outlets. He...

43 comments
joecamaro
joecamaro

Sorry, I don't think Microsoft has nailed it. They're too late to the ballgame with a very expensive tablet and an even more expensive, though not very workable, netbook. There's a reason why all those tablet owners also own laptops. I don't think Microsoft gets it yet. But, they have a huge cash hoard, so they can afford to miss the mark for quite some time.

bill-brown
bill-brown

I bought the Pro 1 too. I was sold on the idea and generally, I like it but one of the problems I have is the fixed viewing angle. It seems like it should be a fairly simple fix but important for usability. I think DELL has figured at least that part out. Don't know about other brands.

bhardjono
bhardjono

I would like to buy it for my wife - but MS has not started selling it in Indonesia, thus if I buy it - I will have no access to local service. This is VERY BAD marketing policy. Microsoft please do something and do not just send Bill Gates to Jogjakarta and let his hand be bitten by local mosquitoes .... LoL

Jason Wetzel
Jason Wetzel

Really, I like the ability to use my laptop anywhere that's not a table.

Jim Ballard
Jim Ballard

If it runs Linux maybe it could replace my laptop.

Dennis Pillow Sr.
Dennis Pillow Sr.

I vote for the I7 and a different location for the power switch.

chris_c_knowles
chris_c_knowles

The Yoga 2 Pro does this already, but I rarely use it in tablet mode.  I was sure I wanted a touch screen with my laptop, but the fully functional touchpad means I rarely touch the screen.  And I simply don't understand comments that say they won't have Windows 8 because they want their desktop.  With Windows 8 you get everything that 7 has plus the goodies that 8 offers on top.  Effectively two operating systems in one.  Who needs a start button when there are better ways to get at your apps?

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

I have a Surface Pro (1) and now regret having gotten into it so early. I would really prefer the 16:9 aspect ratio and a larger SSD. And, yes, MS was always wrong (IMHO) to pit it against a standard tablet. It really is a touch-screen ultrabook--and a very nice one at that.

Nickle28
Nickle28

I was sold on the Surface Pro 2 but didn't invest because I want to have the option to dock with dual monitors.  Does the Surface Pro 3 have that capability?

da philster
da philster

Looks like the device to have when trying to do some real work. Similar devices are just a compromise.

Interesting to see how this pans out.

IWLDY
IWLDY

I don't which airline you fly with but in Europe they certainly will tell you to put it away. Anyway as far as bangs for bucks goes it's way over priced which is why previous models did not sell well in the UK. I was tempted to buy one but when you compare the price / spec you think  HMM

Ramon Soto
Ramon Soto

It won't replace my Mac Air, that is for sure!...

Arnab Roy
Arnab Roy

A better price and launch in India plz :)

Sanders Kaufman Jr.
Sanders Kaufman Jr.

There are OBVIOUS comparisons to a laptop. But some people get very emotional and irrational when it comes to Microsoft - so they'll ignore the similarities and even insist that they don't exist..

deanawarnock
deanawarnock

I couldn't wait any longer and got a Nokia Lumia 2520 for a tablet. But, sometime in the near future, I will look into replacing my Sony VAIO laptop, that happens to be about 5 years old now with a Surface Pro 3.

The Nokia 2520 is impressive, but because of the space limitation and Windows RT and the lower end processor, it just can't replace my laptop. I look at it as a toy and I still have to go get a keyboard/battery pack to make it easier to use. The on-screen keyboard is nice, but man, it takes up over 1/2 the screen when you are typing your notes, email, and/or comments.

Yes, a mid-level Surface Pro 3 will be on my radar screen sometime within the year.

Chirag Leuva
Chirag Leuva

Microsoft hinted at the small device in their invite, which looks like it was done purposefully because they wanted to blog+press world to post about it like the verge did/didn’t think anybody would be excited about a reiteration otherwise. http://www.yudiz.com

fun_to_know
fun_to_know

I have an original SurfacePro and I love it. I have replaced my 6 lb laptop with it and for my it's a functional equivalent !! I willbe trying out a surfacePro 3 soon as well.

Sam Fedke
Sam Fedke

If it's not a laptop and can't be compared to one.

ejwells
ejwells

Nothing that runs Windows 8 will replace my laptop (or desktop for that matter).

zs450
zs450

My Surface Pro, the original one, replaced my laptop. I skipped the 2 since it wasn't a big enough upgrade to justify the cost for my use, but, I will get the 3!

vjet707
vjet707

What is the thinking (or lack thereof) behind MS's continued failure to incorporate built-in LTE??? Honestly this is not breaking edge technology! $900 ($10000+ in Aus) without LTE? Thanks but no thanks!

egmccann
egmccann

Eh... some of that seems to be stretching. Admittedly for my own use. Camera? Don't care. Lighter? Good. Shorter battery life? Bad. Touchscreen with pen input? I wouldn't be looking at a macbook air for that *anyway.* I don't look for that on *any* laptop (or desktop, for that matter.) I do not care about touch on a laptop.  If I'm looking for a "tablet that can be used as a laptop" (or vice versa,) well... then I'm not looking at a Macbook anything anyway, and pointing out it has touch is like pointing out Ford is selling a car "with real round wheels."


We'll see how it goes. It's definitely better than aiming it at the iPad and similar tablets.

noydbt
noydbt

In order to replace my laptop, It would need to run Windows 7

RCHamilton
RCHamilton

What can I say? They had me with the Surface Pro 1. It continues to serve as both a laptop and a desktop replacement. I'm looking forward to my Surface Pro 3, but not until I can buy it at a store without preordering. As for the built in LTE, I would not be prepared to pay more for it as I already have it on my phone. The combination works fine (actually, the LTE on my phone actually works better than the so-called broadband at my desk).

ryan.dunt
ryan.dunt

The tablet that can replace your laptop...unless your laptop has LTE built in.

surefire69
surefire69

MS needs to add LTE / 4G!!  If I'm mobile I want data 24/7 and don't want to have to rely on WiFi or cell solely.  They fell short again and it's sad.  I really wanted one but won't pony up the bucks until I can connect it to a mobile data plan.  No I don't want to stick a sidecar cell modem in the USB slot either..

zazizou
zazizou

@bhardjono Agreed, Indonesia is actually a huge market for mobile devices...Apple has just opened an office a few days ago?

calzadilla
calzadilla

Oh yeah... the super user friendly Linux.  My grandparents would love that idea.  You should be in marketing.

Tech.360
Tech.360

@Nickle28  For a dual monitor setup with my Surface Pro I'm using a Plugable USB 3.0 Docking Station and HDMI/DVI Display Adapter. The setup has worked flawlessly for me. Check this YouTube http://youtu.be/dH6raQzCV3w

Mjenkins2014
Mjenkins2014

@ejwells  From your statement, I suspect that you don't like change and that is what is stopping you from moving forward.

robert.biehl
robert.biehl

@vjet707  I agree with you on this one. Was wondering and posted about the same. As for plugging in a USB modem, @T3CHN0M4NC3R , that takes away that USB port, and if you suggest a USB hub, then why not just get a laptop with LTE on board already that has multiple USB ports. And using your phone as a hot spot, @Tiger-Pa , now wastes two batteries at the same time. Meaning if I have an important phone call come in towards the end of my battery life, I now have to hurry up and finish the call before my phone hangs up on my customer. @zs450 You have probably the best argument for why MS hasn't gone this route yet, but even then why not try and develop a system with ARM? Already have phone manufacturers using your OS on their phones, I am sure you can develop something now especially after buying Nokia.

Tiger-Pa
Tiger-Pa

You can use your phone as your LTE hotspot. Why pay a provider for a second internet access?

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

@vjet707  You can always plug in a USB modem or connect to WiFi facilities available in more and more places these days.

zs450
zs450

@vjet707 I prefer to not have LTE on board, same with some others I know. An option would be nice but I heard, 2nd hand info so take it with a grain of salt, that getting FCC approval for mobile broadband on an Intel based device is significantly more of a hassle than ARM. Maybe they're working it but churning out hardware in the meantime instead of sitting on something while they stand by for a letter?

Mjenkins2014
Mjenkins2014

@noydbt  Why would that be?  Win 8.1 is way better than 7. Unless you have software that won't run on the Win 8 platform, there should be no reason not to move forward.

silsoy
silsoy

@RCHamilton Agree.  I was calling the Pro 2 a desktop replacement. I have it using dual monitors and running everything I need it to..

Tiger-Pa
Tiger-Pa

When you're mobile, don't you already have a smartphone with LTE to connect as a wifi hotspot. If not you have the wrong phone.

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