Microsoft unveiled the new Surface 3 tablet yesterday rather than the Surface Pro 4 everyone was expecting. The new Surface 3 dumps the ARM processor and Windows RT to deliver an economical Surface tablet that still has the power and capabilities users need. It looks like Microsoft has finally hit the nail on the head.
The Surface 3 will be the device that finally drives serious mass adoption of the Microsoft tablet. Surface RT and Surface 2 are cheaper Surface tablets but never really caught on, because they run on an ARM processors and Windows RT. The Surface Pro line has a traditional Intel architecture and runs the full Windows operating system, but the cost has placed it out of reach for many consumers. The Surface 3 looks to deliver the power and capabilities of the Surface Pro line with the affordability of the Surface RT line. This is a win-win combination.
I was a fan of the Surface Pro 2. I thought it included all of the improvements it needed to deliver a better hybrid tablet / PC experience than the original Surface Pro. I was blown away when Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 3, because it was better than the Surface Pro 2 in virtually every way. I have used the Surface Pro 3 as my primary PC since it launched, and I highly recommend the Surface Pro 3—but it's not cheap.
A recent survey asked consumers what they were hoping for in the expected Surface Pro 4. Lower cost and better battery life were the top requested features. Thinner, lighter, better cameras, and 4G / LTE connectivity also received a fair amount of votes. When forced to choose just one element as most important, lower cost was the dominant winner... by a long shot.
Surface 3 delivers on lower cost. The entry-level model is only $500 (USD) and comes with 2 GB of RAM and 64 GB SSD storage capacity. For another $100, you can double both of those to 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSD. It also has better battery life, plus it's thinner, lighter, and has better front- and rear-facing cameras. The Surface 3 even offers optional 4G / LTE functionality.
At $500, the Surface 3 is still on the high end of what people are willing to pay for a tablet. As a computer, though, the $500 and $600 Surface 3 models fall well within the $500 to $1,000 most people plan to spend on their next PC. When you consider that the Surface 3 is both a tablet and a PC, $500 is a ridiculously affordable price to pay.
Do you need more incentive? Microsoft is including a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal with the purchase of the Surface 3—a $70 value that effectively makes the Surface 3 just $430. Office 365 Personal gives you Office 2013 Professional (and Office 2016 Professional, once it's launched) along with other perks and benefits like Skype calling minutes and unlimited OneDrive storage.
The Surface 3 is affordable, powerful, versatile, and flexible. It isn't an engineering or gaming machine, but for the vast majority of Windows PC users, the Surface 3 seems to offer an ideal combination of features and functionality at the right price. It looks like Microsoft finally got it right with the Surface 3.
Does the Surface 3 have the specs that you need at the right price point? If not, how could Microsoft sweeten the deal to entice you to make a purchase? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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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 has authored or co-authored a number of books, including Unified Communications for Dummies, Essential Computer Security, and PCI Compliance.