Game On: Microsoft’s Surface 3

If you’ve been following my search for the ideal Tablet device, you’ll know that a number of them have passed through my hands, whilst I’ve passed up on others. To date, I’ve had an HP TX2000 convertible, a Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, and currently I have a Lenovo ThinkPad 10 and a Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible.

I’ve long ruled out Apple’s iPads and the myriad of Android tablets, since I use the Windows ecosystem, and up until now, Microsoft’s Surface range of products has never ticked enough of my boxes. Whilst I had initially high hopes for the Surface Pro 3, it came with a poor fixed-focus rear camera, no GNSS capability, and a fan (I really want a fanless tablet). For more detail, see my “trying to nail it” post.

This might all be about to change, as Microsoft has now introduced the Surface 3. This, like the Lenovo ThinkPad 10 (TP10), has an Intel Atom processor, but whereas the TP10 has the last generation of the Atom (codenamed Bay Trail), the S3 has the newest iteration of Atom chips. These are apparently slightly faster than Bay Trail, but not a major advance. Here’s a comparison of the basic specifications of the TP10 and the S3:

  ThinkPad 10 Surface 3
Processor Intel Atom Z3795 processor (4 cores,2MB Cache, 1.6GHz with Intel Burst technology up to 2.4GHz) Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor (4 cores, 2MB Cache, 1.6GHz with Intel Burst technology up to 2.4GHz)
Display 1920 x 1200 (16:10) 1920 x 1280 (3:2)
Memory 4GB / 1067MHz LPDDR3 4GB / 1600MHz LPDDR3
Storage 128 GB eMMC + MicroSD up to 64GB 128 GB eMMC + MicroSD up to 128GB
O.S. Windows 8.1 Pro 64bit Windows 8.1 64bit*
Front camera 2 MP fixed-focus 3.5 MP fixed-focus
Rear camera 8 MP auto-focus + LED flash 8 MP auto-focus, no flash
Digitizer Pen Wacom N-Trig (optional)
WLAN 11a/b/g/n 11a/c
WWAN optional optional
Bluetooth 4.0 4.0
GNSS yes optional **
NFC optional no
Keyboard optional optional
Base unit price €699.99 €729.00

* Apparently, Windows 8.1 Pro 64bits will be available as an option. However, the non-Pro version is perfectly adequate for me.

** If you buy the WWAN (LTE) version of the Surface 3, that will also include GNSS, but you can’t have GNSS without WWAN (unlike the TP10, where all models have GNSS included).

You’ll notice that the prices of these two tablets, while definitely in the “Premium” bracket, are close to each other. However I would definitely want the N-Trig pen, which adds another €49.99 to the price of the Surface 3. Then again, my ThinkPad 10 has a Quickshot Cover, which to my mind is an essential accessory, and that cost me €49. The Quickshot cover is thin, and only covers the screen (it can be completely folded back under the TP10 in use). It can also act as a stand, but it is less stable, and with less angles to choose from, than the kickout stand built into the Surface 3.

Unfortunately, Microsoft do not produce an equivalent cover for their Surface range. Instead they have the Type Cover – a cover and keyboard combined. Nice idea, but it weighs in at an eye-watering €149,99. Since I don’t need a keyboard, I can’t see myself shelling out for this. So I’d probably go for just a slipcase to protect a Surface 3. Not as convenient as a flip-over cover, but a good deal cheaper. I just wish that Microsoft, or a third party would produce something like the Quickshot Cover for the Surface range.

So let’s say that I find a decent case for €30, then my total outlay for a Surface 3 setup would be €808.99 versus €748.99 for the TP10. Still within shouting distance of each other, but the gap is widening, and not in the right direction. Physically, the two tablets are close in size, and smaller than the Surface Pro 3. Here’s a diagram to illustrate the differences:

Tablet Size Comparison

The Surface 3 has a larger display than the TP10, and I like the 3:2 aspect ratio of the S3 even more than the 16:10 ratio of the TP10. It would be even better for reading books and documents:

Tablet Display Size Comparison

This, to my mind, is where the S3 scores over the TP10. For me, its display has a nicer ratio, and a nice physical size. The Surface Pro 3, although it has the same aspect ratio, is bigger (almost the size of an A4 pad). It also has a much higher resolution, which causes scaling issues with some programs.

I think the S3 is the Goldilocks model of the three (TP10, S3 and SP3). By way of comparison, the Yoga 3 Pro that I have is a bit bigger than an A4 pad, at 33cm x 22.8 cm, and when in tablet mode is simply too unwieldy for my liking. So the plus points of the S3 are:

  • it’s fanless (like the TP10)
  • screen ratio of 3:2 (better than the TP10)
  • bigger screen than a TP10, and smaller than a SP3.

The drawbacks are

  • premium price
  • no reasonably-priced flip-over cover available
  • no GNSS

I think, for my requirements, it measures up very well against the TP10, and might well be the tablet to go for once Lenovo ask for their loan TP10 back. Of course, waiting in the wings will be the Surface Pro 4. The question arises, would I consider this. Frankly, I don’t think it will be a good fit for my requirements. I suspect it will be at least as big, if not bigger, than the SP3, with power to match.

I don’t need a poweruser’s laptab; the S3 is a much better match with what I’m looking for. As usual with Microsoft, the third time’s the charm. The Surface 3 promises to be a good machine. It would suit me, and I suspect many others, very well indeed.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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11 Responses to Game On: Microsoft’s Surface 3

  1. Joost Verhoeks says:

    Hi Geoff (and others),
    I have been following your discussions on the tablet with care, since it looks that you favour roughly the same features as me 🙂
    I recently have chosen for the Dell Venue 11 Pro (7140 series). The main reasons being:
    – Fanless, M-core, much faster than the Thinkpad Tablet 2 !! I choose the more expensive Intel® Core™ M-5Y71 processor (4 MB cache, tot 2,9 GHz, Quad-Core).
    – LTE
    – approx 735 grams
    – Intel® 7265 Dual-Band 2×2 802.11 AC WiFi
    – Full USB 3.0 port (is very usefull I found out with the Thinkpads, in case you have trouble..)
    – micro HDMI
    – NFC
    – 10.9 inch touchscreen with pen application. Pen itzelf is optional
    – option for full hard case keyboard
    My version 7140-5907 (as above) was just below Euro 900,– incl VAT(BTW)
    So a bit more expensive, but the features are also TOP.

    Maybe also an option for you to review when your Thinkpad 10 leaves the house 🙂
    I am interested in your comment ?
    Joost Verhoeks

  2. Matt Healy says:

    I still find high-end tablets some combination of too costly and/or too big for easy portability. For me, a low-end Android tablet and a midrange laptop together cost about what one high-end tablet does, but give me more functionality than that high-end tablet. I find for heavy content creation or data analysis I want a laptop plus a second display and a keyboard.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Yes, not everyone has the same requirements. Having said that, if I had your requirements, it would probably push me to a Surface Pro 3 plus a second display. Or alternatively wait for the Surface Pro 4 which can’t be too long now.

  3. joe75 says:

    The surface 3 looks tempting.
    My computer at home is the Thinkpad 8 128 4G LTE at the moment but it does have some limitations(Desktop mode is difficult to use on such a small screen) and the charging and battery life!!!
    Also i do not do any serious task on it at the moment.I use it with the Microsoft Universal Keyboard and a Bluetooth mouse(or sometimes my phone as a trackpad)
    I will wait for an annoucement on the Surface 4 but a 10.8 inches tablet 622g with no fan is very attractive to me .
    Will wait a few months though for LTE version and price to come down or bundle offer with pen and cover.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Joe, there will definitely be bundles and deals coming along if you’re prepared to wait. I suspect when the Surface Pro 4 is launched, we’ll see Surface 3 deals.

      I’m afraid the temptation for the Surface 3 has proved too much for me – I’ve put in my pre-order for a Surface 3 and a pen. No Type Cover, though – that’s still too rich for my liking.

  4. hjk says:

    Re: “If you buy the WWAN (LTE) version of the Surface 3, that will also include GNSS, but you can’t have GNSS without WWAN (unlike the TP10, where all models have GNSS included).”
    I’m guessing that the LTE version of the Surface 3 does not have a true GNSS chip, but rather has “Assisted” Glonass, which means you cannot use it offline (unlike tabs with a true GNSS chip, like the TP 10, AVTN8, Yoga Tablet 2, etc.).

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      I believe that you are quite correct. I’ve never used such a device, so I couldn’t say for certain. However, if I look to my smartphone, I can at least turn off the data connection (while still being able to use the phone function), and still have GPS enabled.

  5. Pingback: How Not to Delight a Customer | Geoff Coupe's Blog

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