The Surface lineup for Microsoft has been extremely interesting to watch. What first launched in October 2012 as the Surface RT has been constantly iterated upon, and of course the Surface Pro line has evolved even faster. Surface Pro 3 has finally provided Microsoft with something that critics and consumers alike seem to have bought in to, and sales have been very strong since the Pro 3 was launched on May 20th 2014. However there has always been questions about the “consumer” version of Surface. Surface RT was, frankly, a sales disaster. The much improved Surface 2 fixed many of its shortcomings, but certainly did not set the world on fire. So now we have the third generation Surface, aptly named the Surface 3. There are a pile of changes that Microsoft has made to this generation of device, and obviously their hopes are that Surface 3 will be as popular as the Surface Pro 3 has been, but extending the device back down to a lower price point.

That price point is important. As much as the Surface Pro 3 has gained its share of fans, it is far from cheap. The most inexpensive model starts at $799, and for that you still do not get the keyboard. Surface 3 moves that bar down significantly, and the starting price is the exact same as the original Surface RT, at $499. Microsoft had to trim down the Pro model to hit this price point, but the cuts were well placed.

Surface RT compared to Surface 3

I think looking at the Surface 3 in a vacuum would be improper, since the device now is really an evolution of the previous two Surface models. From a build quality standpoint, the original Surface RT was top notch, with its VaporMg case, the revolutionary kickstand, and high attention to detail for all of the aspects from buttons to display. I think in 2015 it is pretty obvious what the shortcomings of the Surface RT were though. Performance was less than acceptable with the Tegra 3 SoC on board, and Surface RT was handicapped with the confusingly named Windows RT operating system and the lack of software compatibility that goes with using an ARM CPU instead of traditional x86. Surface 2 fixed the performance issue by moving to NVIDIA’s Tegra 4 SoC, and while not the outright fastest tablet chip, it was at least in the ballpark. However it kept the Windows RT operating system at a time when everyone else had abandoned it.

Surface 3 has fixed that final issue and at the same time made some amazing improvements to the overall design and feel. Full x86 Windows is on tap, for better or for worse, and powered by a brand new SoC. This must be a special moment in history where a Microsoft built device is the launch vehicle for a brand new product from Intel. The Surface 3 is powered by the 14nm Intel Atom x7, in this case the x7-Z8700 model which is the current top of the line Atom processor. Codenamed Cherry Trail, this is the massaged Bay Trail cores now built on Intel’s now mature 14nm FinFET process, and they include the same GPU cores as Broadwell.

Microsoft Surface Comparison
  Surface 3 (Base) Surface 3 (High) Surface 2
Size 10.52 x 7.36 x 0.34 inch
267 x 187 x 8.7 mm
10.81 x 6.79 x 0.35 inch
275 x 173 x 8.8 mm
Weight 1.37 lbs - 622 g 1.49 lbs - 675 g
Display 10.8-inch ClearType Full HD Plus
1920x1280 resolution, 3:2 ratio
10-point multi-touch
Surface Pen Support
10.6-inch ClearType Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution, 16:9 ratio
5-point multi-touch
Battery 28 Wh, 13 W AC Adapter 31.5 Wh, 24 W AC Adapter
Storage 64GB 128GB 32GB or 64GB eMMC
CPU Atom x7-Z8700
Quad Core 14nm
1.6 GHz Base Frequency
2.4 GHz Burst Frequency
NVIDIA Tegra 4
4x ARM Cortex-A15 @1.7GHz
WiFi Marvell 802.11ac + BT 4.0
LTE Models at a later date
802.11n + BT 4.0
Ports USB 3.0, Mini-DisplayPort, microSD,
Micro USB charging, 3.5mm Headset Jack
USB 3.0, micro-HDMI, microSD, proprietary charging
Software Windows 8.1
Office 365 Personal with 1TB OneDrive (1-year)
Windows RT 8.1
Office 2013 RT Home & Student Edition
Front Camera 3.5 MP 3.5 MP
Rear Camera 8.0 MP with Autofocus 5.0 MP
Operating System Windows 8.1 64-bit Windows RT 8.1
Warranty 1-year limited 1-year limited
Price $499 $599 $449

In addition to the new SoC, Surface 3 can be purchased with up to 128 GB of eMMC storage, and the higher storage models also come with 4 GB of RAM. This compares to the base model which is 2 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, which is already one of the big improvements Microsoft has made with Surface. 32 GB of storage on a Windows tablet is really the bare minimum required, and the move to 64 GB as the base is going to make this tablet far more usable. You can of course add more storage with a micro SD card, but until Windows gets the great SD card support from Windows Phone, it still means that you need to manage your storage more than you should have to.

There are so many changes with the Surface 3 that really, this is likely the Surface that most people wanted from day one, but did not know it. First up is the new (again) kickstand.

Kickstand and Accessories
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  • TremecsSTi - Friday, May 29, 2015 - link

    I just found there is a very large elephant in the room that in 259 comments nobody has brought up.
    I had read this review and was still on the fence about what to buy but was leaning toward the iPad Air 2.
    I went in to the store determined to walk out with an iPad Air 2 if nothing else so I could learn the ecosystem (This is my 3rd attempt to do so but I always balk at the cost of Apple products).
    After picking up both tablets and comparing them the weight difference did not bother me as much as I thought it would. The 128/4 gb Surface 3 was $599, the 64/2 gb iPad Air 2 was $589.
    Looking at the lack of ports on the iPad I started looking at accessories to be able to connect it to everything, $30 to hook it up to my monitor, $20 to hook up my camera, $30 to hook it up to my TV, $89 for a keyboard, $69, for a mouse! $829 for the iPad Air 2 and I did not even get to the covers. So I am typing this from my $718 Surface 3 ($599 + the $119 type cover) with double the ram and double the storage, micro USB, Micro SD, USB, Micro HDMI built in.
    Looks like Apple lost out again but I just cannot justify the cost versus what you get. The quality of Apple products is hard to beat but the Surface 3 is very close and with twice the storage and ram for less money I could not pass it up.
  • blackcrayon - Saturday, May 30, 2015 - link

    The Surface 3 looks like it's only about half as powerful as the GPU in the iPad, I guess if you aren't doing anything graphically intensive (games) it won't matter... Otherwise I cringe at the idea of trying a 3D game that's expecting what's normally available on Windows (i.e. Windows games aren't going to be optimized to run on such a slow GPU).
  • khanikun - Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - link

    You do know that Windows does everything a tablet does and did it before tablets were on the market? Also anyone who's invested money into any platform will have a hard time moving off that platform to another completely different platform.

    As for mixed bag, it's an all-in-one type device. Every single all-in-one type device has compromises. I don't have the Surface 3, but I do have the Surface Pro 3. Works great as both a tablet and as a notebook, so long as you don't actually want to use it in your lap. That's the only real downside that I find.

    Now, for the Surface 3, I find it being more of a resurgence of netbooks, except in an all-in-one tablet like device. A device that can do it all, albeit not great, but well enough. Not to mention it does it not quickly, as it uses cheap internals, to keep costs down. The problem with this is the fact that MS gave it cheap internals, but decided to build a quality chassis with quality accessories. So the price point was brought down, but not down enough to satisfy everyone's wants. Sure, MS could have built this thing in a cheap plastic chassis and provided no keyboard or stylus option at all and left consumers to fend for themselves and this would have brought the price down below that of less functional iOS/Android tablets, but this would have also infuriated many consumers.

    Really though, I find that MS did this right, minus the keyboard. The price point isn't unreasonable, when compared to less functional iOS/Android tablets. It's size and weight is well below that of convertible laptops. I just dislike the keyboard. Not it's feel or function, just that when you set it up in it's elevated position, it makes using the taskbar via touch, downright useless. I find myself having to remove it from the elevated position to access the taskbar via touch or use the crappy touchpad.
  • Ferrr - Wednesday, December 2, 2015 - link

    I have a Surface 3 LTE, purchased in October 2015 with all updates duly installed. On the screen appear random clicks, like if I was touching it (but I don't) at full speed, making appear menus, opening files, starting apps etc. making the device unusable.

    I had reset the device to no avail.

    Additionally, I experienced other problems:

    - "Autorotate on" appears on the screen when working with the keyboard attached (so, not rotating at all) stopping the device for some seconds.
    - A full charge needs 5-6h, with the device plugged in and switched off. If you want to work while charging the device, you will have a hard time: it charges extremely slowly (12h minimum needed) and in most of cases, if you have 2 or 3 "normal" (not very high energy consuming) apps open at the same time (outlook, word, edge), the device will keep on discharging, even plugged in.
    - The device loses battery when on sleep mode at a very alarming pace (around 5% per hour)

    I purchased the device in the US and I work in Russia. Now, with a worldwide guaranty, and in spite of having a filial in Russia, Microsoft asks me to ship the device, to pay for the shipping, to be delivered the new one in the US, and to pay the shipping again to my home in Russia...

    And the screen problem is known since 3 years, with thousands of people complaining on forums.

    Shame to Microsoft to keep on selling these crappy devices.

    If you don't know how to make computers and how to deal with customers, please stay away and let others like Apple do that.

    I deeply regret the day when I entered the Microsoft store to buy this.

    Someone else is experience the same ordeal?
  • q8wii - Friday, February 19, 2016 - link

    Thank you

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