5 Reasons Surface Pro 3 Shouldn't Replace Your Laptop

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Microsoft doesn't want you to think of the new Surface Pro 3 as just a work-friendly tablet, or even a hybrid. The latter has more of a negative connotation, as if you're giving something up. Instead, the company is making the bold claim that the Sufrace Pro 3 is "the tablet that can replace your laptop." But just because it can, should it? After using the Surface Pro 3 for several days, I’d say that there are some reasons to think twice.

Improved kickstand still more hassle than a clamshell

kickstand surface pro3 vs laptop 667x400

The Surface Pro 3 sports an improved multi-position kickstand that lets you adjust it farther back, allowing for more flexibility. In fact, you can push it down 150 degrees to use the slate in canvas mode, which comes in handy when you want to use the digital pen. Unfortunately, getting the kickstand in place feels like work compared to just flipping open a clamshell laptop. You don't even have to think about getting to work on a regular notebook.

I’d love to see a future Surface whose kickstand extends automatically when you open the cover, or at least pops open for easier adjustment. Dulling the edge would be another good idea. The kickstand dug into my thighs as I typed on the sofa, especially when wearing shorts.

MORE: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs. Apple iPad Air

Keyboard not as good as traditional laptop

surface pro 3 keyboard compared with dell xps 13 keyboard

Microsoft was wise to ditch the lame Touch Cover for the Surface Pro 3. For those serious about getting work done, a physical keyboard is the only way go. On the plus side, the new Type Cover offers a fair amount of travel. It's 1 mm, which is lower than some notebooks but the same as the 13-inch MacBook Air

My issues with the Surface Pro's keyboard are that it's loud (annoyingly so), too bouncy and not very comfortable. That's partly because Microsoft crams full-size keys into a space that's considerably smaller than an ultraportable laptop. For instance, the Air's layout is 10.75 inches across, compared to 10.25 for the Surface Pro 3. The result is a serviceable but more cramped typing experience. To be fair, though, there's only so much stability and comfort you can provide in a cover with so little weight.

Touchpad still too small

surface pro 3 touchpad compared to the macbook air 11-inch

The Surface Pro 3's touchpad has grown 68 percent versus the previous version. That's nice, but it's still a fraction of the size of trackpads you'll find on the MacBook Air and other ultraportables. The Surface's touchpad measures 3.5 x 1.7 inches, versus 4.1 x 2.5 inches for the 11-inch MacBook Air.

Scrolling is particularly annoying, as I constantly found my fingers hitting the bottom edge of the pad. The good news is that Microsoft's pad proved accurate when I scrolled and selected text, and clicking provided good feedback.

MORE: Surface Pro 3 vs. Surface Pro 2: What's Changed

Shorter battery life than competing laptops

surface pro battery life chart

How much endurance do you expect out of a device you'll take and use everywhere? On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing at 100 nits (the setting we use for laptops), the Surface Pro 3 lasted 7 hours and 42 minutes. That runtime is on a par with the ultraportable average (7:45) but way below class-leading laptops like the 13-inch Air, which lasted more than 12 hours.

The HP Spectre 13 provided 9 hours of endurance at 40 percent brightness and the Dell XPS 13 lasted 11:26.

MORE: 10 Tablets with the Longest Battery Life

It's pricey when you add it all up


  Surface Pro 2 
(with keyboard)
MacBook Air
HP Spectre 13 ThinkPad X1 Carbon
CPU Core i5 Core i5 Core i5 Core i5
Storage 128GB 128GB 128GB 128GB
Price $1,129  $999 $999 $1,186


The Surface Pro 3 may start at $799, but don't be fooled. You'll be spending at least $929 if you opt for the Keyboard Cover, which is required to replace your laptop. And that's the slowest Core i3 version with just 64GB of memory. Stepping up to the Core i5 version with 128GB of storage with the keyboard will cost you $1,129. A Windows Ultrabook such as the HP Spectre 13 with touch screen and similar specs costs $999, as does the MacBook Air without touch.

Bottom Line

I'm not saying the Surface Pro 3 isn't worth buying. Quite the contrary, no laptop is as versatile as this device, which enables pen and touch input in a design that's lighter than most Ultrabooks and the 13-inch Air. Plus, you can go from taking notes in slate mode to notebook mode without the bulk of other convertibles like Lenovo's Yoga series. However, to say that the Surface Pro 3 is an excellent laptop replacement is a stretch.

Here's one way Microsoft should sweeten the deal: bundle the keyboard. You can't call your product a laptop replacement and then charge extra for the one thing that's required to make that happen. I also don't buy the argument that offering the keyboard standard would create inventory nightmares. Make black standard and make the color options extra.

Microsoft should have positioned this hybrid differently, as a potent combination tablet and laptop in one device. Taken within that context, there are plenty of folks who will be happy to live with the trade-offs I’ve outlined. But when it comes to everyday comfort, productivity and endurance, I'm not one of them.

[ibg id="254562" name="LAPTOP INTERACTIVE BUYING GUIDE"]


Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
Add a comment
  • Azzimo Says:

    The comments in here appear very biased. I open heartedly dislike Apple and am probably a Microsoft fanboy. I have owned Surface RT, Surface 2, Surface 3, Surface Pro 1, Pro 2 and Pro 3... Basically I purchased nearly everything Microsoft had for sale, if they sold crisps, I would probably buy them.

    However, after much deliberation, I must conclude that Surface's kickstand form factor is nothing compared to a clamshell laptop. Clamshell is simply an amazing form factor that has developed over decades and stood the test of time. It easy to use, comfortable, protective and stylish... What's not to like besides it being old/boring? Even Microsoft are now silently admitting this with Surface Laptops/Books. I bet clamshell will still be here in 2050, not so sure I can say the same of kickstand devices.

  • youngblood9128 Says:

    You can't just put out this crap your paid by apple microsofts biggest competetor to blast a product while boasting your own biased much how about some integrity?

  • King Tut Says:

    Thanks to all the readers who commented. You guys sold me on the SP3, even if it was the editor's click-bait headline that sent me here.

  • Peter Hamlin Says:

    All laptops are compromises, so the question isn't -- is the Surface Pro perfect? Of course it isn't.

    It does replace my laptop, though. The other alternatives either don't have a touchscreen, or an integrated pen, or are heavier, or don't perform as well. (I live in a town where I can usually walk where I'm going, so it's pretty wonderful to have a full-power computer that weighs less than 2 lbs.)

    As to the kickstand -- it actually works better than the traditional laptop -- it supports the screen when you use touch, and is adaptable to many more lap-typing "poses." For example, I find it surprisingly comfortable and stable to use it with my legs crossed, something that doesn't work at all with a laptop, and it also adjusts to very small spaces like planes.

    As to battery life -- well, another compromise, right? You could get more battery life but would give up touch, or extreme light weight, or performance. None of those are useful trade-offs for me.

  • Steve Says:

    The kickstand isn't hard to use. It takes all of 2 seconds to get it in the right position. If you can't get it right, maybe consider refining your basic motor skills.

    A battery life of 7hrs 42mins is pleanty. Sure, it may not last the lenght of the Mac, but do you need to worry about the extra few hours once its lasts over 7 hours?

    Price wise, compared to the Mac its great. Especially since it has more functionality with the tocuhscreen/pen combo.

    I think this article was weak at best and didn't explore the topic propperly.

  • Tim Says:

    Just to point something out - the keyboard is just the standard Surface keyboard. You can plug a standard keyboard or use one of the wireless keyboards too... Just like you do with a laptop.

  • Daryl Says:

    Your price and battery comparisons are flawed because of the following:

    1. The core i5 in the mac is not the same as the SP3. The SP3 is the newer and more powerful version.

    2. The mac has 1366x768 native resolution compared to the SP3's 2160 x 1440 touchscreen.

    The higher resolution screen and smaller form-factor play a significant role in the battery life which can't be compared apples to Apple sine the MBA isn't even close to the same spec.

    I would expect a professional reviewer to be familiar with these things and not provide baseless comparisons without facts, but why let that get in the way of a good rant / attention grabbing article headline.

    The only good thing to come out of the article is that it's apparent your site is not a source that should be trusted to provide expert reviews or commentary and we can exclude from reading it in the future.

  • Idiot Writer? Says:

    This Review Has Been Paid by Apple. Apple, overcharging for aluminium since Microsoft coded the code for our first UI OS because Bill had the coding skill and we didn't.

    See you later, handsome, clever, Mac users... your family won't get much from you when you reach the cloud (you won't have any spare cash).

    -Message Hosted from Azure Services on 12/08/2014.

  • Idiot Writer? Says:

    1) Keyboard, buy an aftermarket one as the device doesn't come with one anyway.

    2) Kickstand, well it's lighter and smaller and the mac is harder to use while travelling.

    3) Touchpad, well yeah it is crappy but I'd rather use a mouse or the screen anyday. touchscreen+laptop is better then touchpad.

    4) Battery, the ONLY valid point here... seriously this is one big one for Mac. Bad if you work 14 hours away from a charger.

    5) Price at <$650 for the base model you get a PC and laptop in 1, add a $300 wireless M+KB pack and it will still be better and cheaper then a Mac.

    Now I have 5 things about Laptop reviewers:

    1) Why do you talk about paying for a keyboard as being bad, does a iPad have a keyboard.

    2) Why rate Ultrabooks so high when they are powerless against proper laptops?

    3) Why nit pick at every Microsoft device.

    4) Why nit pick at every device that beats the Capbook (missing letter) in specs, price and quality.

    5) How much does Apple pay you?

    Enough Said!

  • Brian Collins Says:

    Could I request a review of the Surface Pro 3 in the context of a hybrid computer? For example what if someone needs stylus input capabilities? What are the trade-offs of the various form factors? I know MS primed the pump in the Apple comparisons, but the stylus is a feature that is not comparable as Apple has none. I am always carrying a paper notebook with me to meetings and conferences and then losing the notes. My colleagues often show up with tabletPCs, but they look very heavy. There are several possible competitors here that have so far all been ignored in these reviews, including laptops that come apart. I want to know if there's a reason I should choose them instead of the SP3 and a detailed comparison would help a lot. Certainly this would get high readership as several business communities would be interested - in particular the healthcare industry which uses stylus-based tablets a lot. Maybe you guys (review sites) aren't interested in catering toward this sector? To me it seems that people took MS's Apple-battle setup and ran with it without thinking very carefully.

    Other comments on SP3 I'd have is that MS dropped the ball on including the keyboard. It makes them look disingenuous and makes every single review have the paragraph that focuses on this clear misstep/bate-and-switch creating bad PR. With only 0.5" difference in size, it seams they also had the space to make the keyboard a full-sized keyboard and could have easily avoided the "the keyboard is cramped" comment in all these reviews.

    Another thing I wish they had as an option was Cell-tower connectivity. This would obviously hamper battery life, but then this device would basically always have connectivity no matter what. They could also do what every other manufacturer does and send out the wifi-only versions to the review sites for battery life testing. At conferences, wifi can become pretty spotty, so I'd personally only use 3G/4G in a pinch anyway.

  • VFanRJ Says:

    Our family has several Android tablets and a couple of iPads, but I use the Surface 95% of the time. It's a cool and very versatile device. In fact, when I travel I'm going to take the Surface every chance I can.

    But that doesn't change the fact that the laptop's center of gravity and superior keyboard experience makes it the device of choice when doing lots of typing and don't have access to a table. Or, stretched out on the couch or back seat of a van (again, lots of typing). It is worth noting that when on a plane the laptop is worthless; it has to be a surface because space is too tight.

    I thought the article was spot on. Mark even states that it's not an either/or decision. I have both devices today and plan to have a SP3 in the future.

  • dricht1 Says:

    A decidedly pessimistic article that completely glosses over the device's advantages over other tablets, hybrids, and yes, even laptops.

    Good job generating clicks, I guess.

  • Bryant L Says:

    That title explains everything about you as an editor. You gain nothing from writing how bad is this device. I think it is cheap, for a machine so much to offer. I go for quality stuff such as the Surface. You guys are like compare the lowest price, then AHA MacBook cheaper and buy MacBook. One bit of advice, buy a product wisely by adding up the value the hardware quality and features, not comparing the logo.

  • Bryant L Says:

    Microsoft haters, Microsoft haters everywhere. Attack Microsoft products for what? I doubt you(editor) will do a same review on disadvantages of Macbook or Ipad. Let me help you with the title, MacBook lacks of touch screen and digital pen. Why not focus more on pros and cons instead only cons? Bias because you can't accept the awesomeness of this hybrid machine? Say it then. So much an editor.

  • Bantam Says:

    Yeah it is a bit weird how the MacBook Air keeps jumping from 13 to 1 inch and back in the comparisons. Is this a paid advertisement by Apple?

  • teral Says:

    you are rigth when say that it add up.

    To get the same SP3 functionality:

    mac book air 999
    ipad air 499
    not so smart cover 65
    pen for ipad 99
    keyboard for ipad 75
    total 1,737

    with SP3 you save 608

  • Bari Says:

    5 Reasons Surface Pro 3 Shouldn’t Replace Your Laptop

    1.) because our website is called Laptop.

    2.) it dug into my legs when I wore shorts.

    3.) 5 sounded like I had done serious research, as well the others hadn't used that number.

    4.) Ahm...okay... I'm struggling here. These readers are more sophisticated than I am and are gonna call me out on the rubbish and dodgy comparisons I'm making.

    5.) Man, I should've kept it to 3...but I so badly wanted to bash this thing 5 times.

    Hey man, try being objective with your coverage. People will read your stuff more often. What you probably fail to realize is that people reading these articles covering this product aren't Apple Fanboys but people seriously considering this product and people who use MS.

  • Guest Says:

    Why are you comparing it with a 11-inch MacBook (price section) ? you used 13-inch specter and Lenovo X1 (14 inch) to compare, why not 13-inch MacBook? Apple lover? An editor that makes frequent media appearance should do better. PLEASE DONT SPEW BIASED REVIEW.

  • Jorgie Says:

    Please forgive the typos, I hate these tiny edit boxes...

    4 - THIN-and-light
    5 "you do know understand " should have been "you do not understand"

  • Jorgie Says:

    Bottom is that everything you talk about is subjective and you are being disingenuous for presenting them as 'facts'.

    For many people like me, your 5 items fall out like this:

    1. Improved kickstand is much better than carrying two devices or even a single device that weighs twice as much.

    2. The keyboard is good enough. When I am at my actual workstation, I dock my Surface a use a full size keyboard. Most who are looking for light-weight and thin will be happy with the trade off. I easily type at 65 WPM on the Type keyboard.

    3. The touch pad is perfectly useable and when combined with the touch screen it works great. Everyone has different opinions and they will never make everyone happy. For extend sessions anyone who wants to get real work done will pull the Bluetooth mouse out of their bag.

    4. It has the LONGEST battery life of any Core i5 in its class. You know why? Because there are no other core i5s in this form factor. What part of thing-and-light do you not understand?

    5. The fact that you end with price perfectly illustrates that you do know understand the folks that want this. when I purchased my original Surface Pro, I replaced a $900 Dell Laptop and $500 iPad. the $999 for the Surface Pro, $200 for the dock, and $129 for the keyboard did not bother me at all.

    The Surface is about getting horse power into a think light tablet. If you are happy carrying a clamshell laptop AND a separate tablet you are not even the target audience.

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