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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Alexvrb - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    Actually in many regards the Surface 3 has the superior display. Sorry! Also in terms of SoC performance, the CPU side of the x7 is great and very competitive. If you're looking for 3D performance it's not as impressive but this would not be the best device for that workload - you'd be better off with a laptop/hybrid or a Surface Pro!
  • Speedfriend - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    "And people buy it because it doesn't run windows, too."

    Increasingly people don't buy the Ipad if the plummeting sales are any indication. My iPad stay on the sofa for basic web browsing, email and videos. Anything else I have to get my laptop for, becuase the iPad is basically pretty useless. And having recently bpought a cheap Android tablet to carry to work to watch movies on, I have realised that an iPad offers nothing that a cheap Android tablet can't do. I will never buy another iPad, it is just an overpriced toy. I wil buy a Surface though as it can actually replace my laptop for almost every task.
  • romprak - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    The iPad is showing its lack of utility even in Apple's lineup, where large phones handily do most of the stuff an iPad used to be relied upon, and cheap tablets do web browsing as well as an iPad. Tablets are great for families, but why buy a $500 tablet for your child, when devices that can do almost as well are available for much, much less - and your children are unlikely to care too much whose logo is on the device?

    Apple is in trouble with the iPad, they need to either update the OS or come up with something killer for it.

    In contrast, my family can use a Windows machine for all sorts of stuff - from programming (my 10 year old son is programming now), all the way to playing games on Steam. So, why iPad? Seems superfluous.
  • akdj - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - link

    I wouldn't call the 'slack' quarter sales of 17 million iPads 'trouble for Apple'. They sold more iPads then every Surface sold in aggregate, since its birth....last ¼ Alone! And that's six months post release.
    I like the SP3 Pro, I think MS nailed it. Surface 3 looks like a very nice step forward. That said, Apple HAS updated the OS and as an ambidextrous user or both Windows and OS X, I've found the continuity/handoff features built into iOS 8/OS X 10.10 to easily be the biggest advancement in some time --- especially between devices; phone, tablet and desktop or notebook.
    Funny thing, I've got a ten year old as well. Also coding right now --- and I'm learning with him. He's building a cross platform app for his science fair.
    He's coding on iOS only. Although he's got access to the iMac and MacBook Air, he's much happier learning both Objective C/Swift on iOS, using the free university lectures, notes and information along with a couple very excellent 'touch' coding 'apps'

    It's funny to listen to rehashed arguments about the iPad and how it's for the couch potato only. I've flown 22 hours since Saturday morning, around Alaska with tourists looking to fish, shoot stills or motion, capture audio or wrap production in other areas of the state. My iPad is my kneeboard; plans my flights and files my plans, distributes weight and balance of the A/C, shows me real time weather, traffic, and up to date Jep charts and plates. It's been invaluable as a 'display' for small field edits, using as a remote viewfinder to capture sketchy wildlife and there's never a concern with battery life.

    I do enjoy reading on the iPad, creating, invoicing clients or paying my utilities. I can take calls, use MS Office (whoever said it's a stripped version obviously hasn't used iOS Office, it's amazing!) Dropbox or iCloud, Box or Google Drive (I've found many Google apps to be better on iOS than my Android devices, currently using a Note 4), as well a plethora of powerful apps like iMovie, GarageBand, Pages Numbers and Keynote...all optional, none are bloated. iOS takes up a ½ dozen GBs, not two dozen! And if the RT3 suffers this much graphically, there's a LIMIT on 'all those X86' programs that actually WILL run on the rig
    Sure, you'll be able to run CS3 efficiently and it sounds like games from a decade ago might work, but Iike the iPad, you're not gonna be manipulating 50megapixel Raw images nor creating killed effects in AE or transcoding video any faster. There's a trade off either way and IMHO, it's cool to see this significant a jump in performance on the new RT
    I was also impressed with the SP3. That said, the iPad Air 2 is one helluva tablet at one pound and using TCAS and ADS-B with three dimensional moving maps with weather and traffic, GPS and nav aids that were easily 50-60 pounds for each pilot to carry around or avionics to add... Now in less than a one pound package, it's definitely NOT in trouble.
    I think it's such an excellent device --- my original as well as iPad 2 are working great and the kids love them...most folks aren't updating them like phones. They're still selling nearly a 100,000,000 a year! That's hardly trouble. Even if the slip YoY spooks you, just remember how many are already out there, that the mini is only two and half --- 1 ½ with retina, and the Air 2 was the tick. Not that tock...yet they've managed to sell more in their worst quarter than every other tablet manufacturer combined! (Not to mention their mind blowing 6 & 6s sales, I'm sure their just fine canabalizing their own iPad sales with 6 and 6+ sales which are also pocket computers).
    Times have changed and 'most' folks have everything they need in today's tablets. Today's smartphones. Regardless of which OEM they've decided on. Once they're happy, it's kind of a pain to 'change over' and these are extremely personal devices when compared to the home computer

    Sorry about the length. But I enjoy and love using both OS X and (one of about six or seven dolts that enjoy using) Win 8.1. I've also used Android since 08 (still have my Xoom!) and iOS since '07. I currently use a Note 4 and 6+. Biz. Personal. As much as I enjoy Windows, OS X is certainly the 'go to OS' in our house.

    Not to mention, OS X comes complete with training wheels for someone like romprak. It's called Bootcamp and you're welcome to install any OS you'd like. Unlike Windows.
  • bobjones32 - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    For your claim of better performance, how well does the iPad run Win32 apps?
  • mkozakewich - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    That's not performance, that's functionality. If the exact same chip magically supported dual-booting x86 Win10, I'm sure it would do slightly better. That's not the power of Atom, though. It wasn't designed to blow everything else out of the water. (I'm sure it'll get better power characteristics on heavy load tests, for instance, because of its conservative power use.)

    What it all boils down to: This is a great device. It's different than an iPad, though, and different people will need different things from it. I feel a premium tablet can live at $500-$600, but a slightly-compromised tablet that runs Windows and is only truly complete with a $120 accessory will need to sweeten the deal to have obvious value to the common consumer.

    It's a close game, but Surface needs a nudge. I suppose it'll get that in a couple months when it goes on sale for a bit.
  • MrTetts - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    I never understand people who say this device is overpriced.. I just don't. For what it does, I would say it is very well priced.
  • Stevegt87 - Thursday, May 7, 2015 - link

    While the surface 3 is more capable than an ipad. A new ipad runs 100% of ipad software perfectly. Surface 3 is low on cpu/gpu/ram/disk for much of the desktop experience that it enables.
  • Stevegt87 - Thursday, May 7, 2015 - link

    Game are made to run perfectly on an ipad. Games will humble surface3
  • augiem - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    This thing is already $100 cheaper than a 128GB Air 2, does WAY more, has more memory, etc. How cheap is cheap enough? Would you really want them to sacrifice something like build quality, screen quality, or other necessities to reach a price point lower than this? They do have to stay in business after all. Running full Windows in the tablet space is completely unheard of and adds far more than $50 worth of value to this product compared to its competition.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now