Attention tablet shoppers! Microsoft's Surface 3 is finally available for purchase, both online and at several brick and mortar retailers. The 10.8-inch slate runs full Windows 8.1 in an attractive, 1.3-pound magnesium chassis with a kickstand and eye-popping 1920 x 1280 display. An optional Type Cover adds the ability to use the Surface 3 like a clamshell-shaped laptop. However, at $499 plus $129 for the keyboard, Microsoft's newest tablet doesn't come cheap, and its Intel Atom processor isn't nearly as fast as the Core i5 CPUs you'll find in budget notebooks. To determine whether you should rush out and buy a Surface 3 or save your money, read our review and ask yourself the following questions.
What Are you Going to Do With the Surface 3?
Depending on what you intend to do with a new device, the Surface 3 may not be your best choice. If you just want a tablet for media playback, reading, gaming and web / social media, the iPad Air 2 or Android-powered Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro both offer larger app ecosystems for less money. If you just need an everyday laptop, you can find dozens of PCs with faster processors and the ability to balance on your lap for less than $600. However, the Surface 3 offers a unique combination of portability, flexibility and build quality.
In our testing, the Surface 3 was able to handle a modest series of tasks. It had no trouble with a fair amount of multi-tabbed web browsing, HD video playback or productivity work including image editing, email and word processing. Running the Surface 3 through the Geekbench 3 test to measure overall performance, it scored an adequate 3,351. That's better than the average tablet (2,404), but did not compare well to the iPad Air 2 (4,547) or the Surface Pro 3 (5,665), Microsoft's offering for more demanding customers.
With that level of performance, the Surface 3 is both the kind of machine that power users could use to compliment an existing setup, or the multi-function device that a more average user could use throughout their day.
What's Your Budget?
To really make full use of the Surface 3, you need the $129 Type Cover keyboard. That means that the complete Surface 3 experience starts at $629. Add an extra $100 ($729) to get a slightly-better Surface 3 configuration that has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage rather than 2GB and 64GB. Throw down another $50 if you want the Surface Pen. If you just want a laptop, you can find a Core i5-powered laptop such as the Lenovo Edge 15 for $569, and a great tablet experience can be found with Apple's iPad Air 2 for $499 or Lenovo's Yoga Tablet 2 Pro for $469.
Will You Type On It Much?
While the Surface 3 has three positions to set its hinge to, to adjust to your needs, none of them is particularly comfortable if it is positioned in your lap. Our reviewer was able to balance the Surface 3 in his lap, but still felt like it was too top heavy. Using the device on a table solves this problem.
However, when used on any surface, the Type Cover's keyboard felt great, offering strong tactile feedback, a pleasant but low clicky sound and a sturdy base. Though they have only 1mm of vertical travel, the keys feel almost as snappy as a ThinkPad's.
How Important is Sound?
While the Surface 3 may be good for general office work, it also offers enough audio power to make it the life of the party. From disco to heavy-metal, we found the Surface 3 able to fill a room with a quality stereo sound experience, a rarity in the world of tablet hardware.
Do You Need a Quiet Tablet?
Because of its low-power, Atom processor, the Surface 3 doesn't need a fan to stay cool. Tablet owners may not think about the noise from fans spinning up, but it's an accompaniment that PC and laptop owners are more than familiar with. If you don't want hear even a whir from your gadgets, Microsoft's new tablet has you covered.