If you can even believe it, the Surface 3 was released back in 2015, which whilst that doesn’t yet make it a 2-year-old device, as it was late 2015, it remains even today as Microsoft’s latest budget conscious and truly portable Surface, and we’re still loving the thing today!
It’s not a powerhouse, but it does enough?
Even at its launch, the Surface 3 was always meant to be the option for light users, those that do the basic everyday things and don’t push it too far, and that’s the thing to really remember about the Surface 3, it was never meant to be a Gaming PC, or a PC you multitask with double figure of Applications, but if what you do is some Word processing, occasional browsing whilst listening to Music, watch videos, and the odd light Gaming session, this device can more than still cut it in today’s standard.
Right now, we’re typing this in Microsoft Word on the Surface 3, listening to some Music and getting some very acceptable Battery readings of around 7-8 hours realistic. Whilst we do see many reports claiming they get 10 hours plus, which sometimes the device does claim or report at 100% or the late 90s, that’s simply very unrealistic and not true. Whilst the Battery also features one of our biggest gripes about the device, which we’ll talk about later, it’s still very competitive in terms of Battery life to an Ultrabook, and one with a HD display and backlit Keyboard with the Type Cover.
Type Cover is a requirement, rather than an option
Speaking of that Type Cover, we say this about every Surface device we touch, be it the original Surface Pro, to the latest, you really do require the Type Cover to get the experience of using a Surface device, something which even today doesn’t come with the devices annoyingly. Whilst, yes Microsoft there are different colour options, it wouldn’t hurt to make it a purchase then simply allow users to choose which Type Cover to deliver with it, not rocket science, the only thing about the Surface experience which we think is a bit of a rip-off.
Speaking of that Type Cover, wow, what a typing experience though naturally your experience will vary. Just like the Surface Pro 3 (and 4 today) you’ve two choices of Typing angles, the flat angle, or you can dock the keyboard to the bottom of the screen to create an ark, which we’re thankful is optional as depending on how you’re sitting or whether it’s on a desk the other position works better in almost every case. The keyboard is rather mushy, but very precise. Naturally, those looking for a firmer feel keyboard will likely prefer the newer redesign which debuted in the Surface Pro 4, though to us both offer a more than acceptable typing experience which compared to nearly all Notebooks these days is easily one of our favourite typing experiences still out there. Oh, and did we mention it’s also backlit!
What adds, or detracts if neither are for you, when it comes to typing on the Surface 3, is the multiple angles of which the Surface 3 Kickstand. Unlike the Surface Pro 3, and Pro 4, the Kickstand on the Surface 3 offers 3 set positions to hold up the device, which in our case all were suitable for us, though naturally having the anything-goes option you have with the Pro devices can’t compete, though to be fair we do find we’re using the equivalent of the set positions anyway, so maybe its actually not too bad.
Probably the only thing not quite great about the Type Cover, which we can honestly say is based on size alone, is the Trackpad. It clicks well, gestures work accurately, just that it’s very small. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not looking for the monstrosity that’s on the 2016 MacBook Pro, but it’s still very workable.
As we said though, it really is all about size as it literally squeezes on the Cover, and the larger Pro series have a much more adapt Trackpad. By default, the Trackpad also acts as a Right Click by clicking at the bottom right of the Trackpad, which works fine on larger Surface devices, but simply can’t cut it on the Surface 3, so we recommend disabling that in Settings, and instead having Right Click set to 2 fingers, as that will prevent accidental Right Clicks and specify between the two.
Design and build
For what seemed like nearly forever, Apple had the more than clear lead in terms of Computer design and build quality, with only (what was) Sony VAIO coming remotely close. Honestly, it was pitiful, you had these desirable Desktop and Notebooks from Apple, then some gritty plastic rubbish for Windows … but, not anymore, by a long stretch!
In fact, we’d go out there and say that the entire Microsoft Surface line, be it the 2 in 1s like the Surface 3 we’re talking about, or the Notebook Surface Book, to the beautiful Desktop Surface Studio, all of which make Apple’s iPad, MacBook and iMac, respectively, look rather old-school and living in the past.
The design is both iconic and premium, plus whilst it naturally stands out, it doesn’t too much, which is just what you want, and certainly feels worth more than the Surface 3 retails for.
Performance … or is that lack there-of?
The Surface 3 comes with Intel ATOM x7 Processor, backed up by either 2GB of RAM for the 64GB version, of 4GB of RAM on the 128GB version (which we’re using and highly recommend over the 2GB RAM version). The Processor powers the just right sized 10.8” display with a 16:10 aspect resolution of 1920 x 1200, which whilst isn’t the best panel on the planet, is still crisp and we’ve certainly no complains about the thing! The Display is very reflective, more so than competing Tablets with black bezels such as Apple’s iPad or MacBooks, though nothing you can’t see through.
Hardware wise on the Surface 3, you’re certainly far ahead than its competitors, with a microUSB port (used for Charging), USB 3, microSD Card Slot and a Mini DisplayPort.
Whilst the Surface 3 can certainly handle Web browsing, streaming 1080P (Flash will be a natural exception), and it does it all very aptly with Audio firing forward from the dual Front-firing Speaker set-up. The Speakers are okay, volume is just about there, but the sound is very tinny, but acceptable for watching TV/Videos through.
However, push it further than that, you’re going to see some hiccups. The Intel ATOM chip inside the Surface 3 doesn’t feature a Fan, which is great when it comes to holding the thing and for silence, but what that does mean is it’s under-clocked, meaning anything greater than a Casual Windows Store Game will be too much for it. However, don’t let that turn you off running high profile Apps on it, there’s plenty of videos online showing the Surface 3 running Apps like the full Adobe Photoshop very decently with Pen (sold separately). Plus, don’t think you can’t run any Games, we’re a bit Sparkle fan, and the Surface 3 handles that very well.
There’s also an LTE Cellular version of the Surface 3, which whilst we’re not testing, have been informed the battery life is naturally slightly less with that but performance is unaffected.
Microsoft claim “all day battery life” out of the Surface 3, like everyone does, however we’re going to elaborate on those claims with our own experience as battery life has been rather inconsistent.
I mentioned earlier around 7-9 hours in our experience and here’s where that comes from. If you’re using the Surface 3 with rather low brightness (we’re talking 25% max), simple browsing of the Web or doing Word Processing, you’ll easily get 8 to 9 hours *maybe more* of battery life, but the second you start watching Video we find that dips a few hours to around 7 hours of battery life. Which isn’t terrible, but far from the all-day claims to most people.
Now, if you also do what we do sometimes, and pair up a Wireless display casting to a TV, that battery life will turn suddenly in to more than 5-6 hours of battery life. So, it’s something to keep in mind.
MicroUSB Charging – Why adopting a standard isn’t always the best
Both a blessing and a curse about the Surface 3 is the fact it charges via microUSB. This is a blessing as these Cables can be found practically everywhere for next to nothing, but bad because it’s going to charge rather slowly … very slowly. Even with the higher voltage included Charger, it takes around 2-3 hours to fully charge from dead. That’s a long time in today’s standards! Sure, if you can get through that “all-day”, and charge your devices overnight you’re going to be fine, just it’s not exactly ideal and very different to our experiences charging with the Surface Pro line of devices.
Also, whilst it might seem fussy, it is rather annoying that there’s no indicator for when it has actually charged, on the Charger, just a plain white light.
Windows 10 Home
Launching in 2015 meant the Surface 3 launched with Windows 8.1, meaning this device has gone through a full OS upgrade in its time, but let us tell you now this has been a great benefit to the thing. Whilst typically you find devices get worse after a OS upgrade, looking at you Apple, Windows 10 offers much better performance threshold than Windows 8.1 ever did, meaning this thing feels so much better than the hardware would lead you to believe, though we do expect the SSDs inside will be the biggest contributor and helping it along nicely too.
Plus, Windows 10 introduced a wave of new features to aid devices such as 1-in-1s like the Surface 3, such as automatically going in to Tablet mode and back to Desktop mode upon disconnection and connection of the Type Cover, things which just add such an extra layer to the experience. Not to mention the system wide Dark Mode from the Anniversary Update makes it look so slick with those black bezels. One thing we will say for sure, is that we can’t wait for the Creators Update too.
So, should you get a Surface 3 in 2017. Well, you can get a 128GB / 4GB of RAM model like ours for around £300, which considering what you get for that in terms of even performance, you’re getting a fantastic full featured Windows 10 2-in-1. Naturally, that does need to include a Type Cover, which can be found online for £30-50, much less than the £109 retail price from Microsoft, which means you’re left with easily the best thing you can buy for £350, in terms of productivity and the full featured experience.
The Surface 3 is perfect for students as it runs professional applications decently, is fantastic for it’s battery life (be it sketchy if you go too far) and it’s portability. But, its also good enough for those who may have been considering an iPad or an Android Tablet, as you’re guaranteed to get more out of the Surface 3 than those devices can provide. Whilst, the iPad Pro sounds like a great option, it really is just an iPad Air with a Keyboard, whereas on the Surface 3, you can get that Tablet experience on a PC.