Last Tuesday, Microsoft announced the latest device in their Surface range: the Surface Pro 3. Everyone expected that Microsoft would be announcing a different, smaller, model – the so-called Surface Mini, but somewhere between announcing the launch event, and the event itself, someone in Microsoft apparently got cold feet – but that’s another story.
The Surface Pro 3 is being pitched by Microsoft as a true laptop replacement. It is not seen as being just a tablet, such as the iPad. At the launch event, Microsoft’s Panos Panay claimed that 96% of people who own an iPad also own a laptop, since the traditional tablet is “designed for you to sit back and watch movies, read books, made for browsing the web, snacking on apps…”, whilst “Laptops aren’t designed that way at all, they are designed to get stuff done”.
The result of the design process for the Surface Pro 3 is a device that is as powerful as a laptop, whilst being lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air.
There will be a range of models available, running from devices fitted with the Intel Core i3 processor, through ones with the Intel Core i5, up to the most powerful, fitted with the Intel Core i7. All will have a new form factor ratio (3:2) for the screen, which is both touch and pen-enabled.
I have to say that the SP3 models are tempting. But I want to be rational about this. My current devices are a full Desktop PC (home build) and a companion tablet (Lenovo ThinkPad 2, with GNSS, NFC and WWAN). I don’t have a laptop.
Microsoft, for some reason known only to themselves, have not included any of these capabilities (GNSS, NFC and WWAN) in what is clearly positioned as their flagship model (the SP3 web site trumpets: “best of a laptop, best of a tablet”). I agree that NFC is, at this stage of the game, more of a “nice-to-have” feature in a tablet than a necessity. It is further advanced in the smartphone world, and is already being exploited in applications such as those for mobile payments. And many people argue that WWAN is unnecessary in a tablet, since most tablet owners will have a smartphone, and the tablet can access the internet through the smartphone when WiFi is not available. This is true, but it’s not as convenient as having WWAN directly available in the tablet, and it also drains the phone’s battery faster. Still, at a pinch, it’s a way of achieving internet access.
However, I am really surprised that Microsoft has still not seen fit to include GNSS capability in any of their Surface products (other than their Surface 2 LTE device, where GNSS comes riding on the back of the WWAN chip). A dedicated GNSS chip (such as the Broadcomm BCM47521) consumes little in the way of real estate or power. Location services are part of the Windows 8.1 operating system, and many Apps (e.g. maps, weather, astronomy, photography) make use of them.
All models of the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 come with GNSS as standard (as do the newly announced successor, the ThinkPad Tablet 10). Having used Apps that exploit GNSS on my TPT2, I really don’t want to go backwards and lose this capability in my next tablet. It seems to me that Microsoft has missed an opportunity here to provide leadership. As far as I’m concerned, it takes the edge off the claim that the SP3 is the “best of a laptop, best of a tablet” product.
If I were to look at the SP3 models for simply a replacement for my TPT2 as a companion tablet, then I would go for the Core i3 model of the SP3. However, for roughly the same price as what I paid for my TPT2 eighteen months ago, I would be losing GNSS, NFC, and WWAN with the SP3. I really don’t see the point.
It seems to me that the only option worth considering (for my case) would be the “origami computing” option – going for the i7 SP3 + docking station + type cover to replace both the Desktop AND the tablet. Expensive, yes (extremely!), so I certainly couldn’t justify it on economic terms, but it would be rather a statement of where I want to get to. And I’d still be losing the GNSS, NFC, and WWAN capabilities.
Frankly, I think I’ll give the SP3 a miss. I don’t see that I could justify it. It’s more likely that I will be replacing my 18 month old ThinkPad Tablet 2 with a new ThinkPad Tablet 10.