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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Bigger is better

The Surface Pro 3: Microsoft finally figured out the optimal physical design.
Brooke Crothers/CNET
The Surface Pro 3 is a vast improvement over the Pro 1 and 2 -- and that alone is huge.

nailed the physical design -- I knew that the first time I used a Pro 3
two weeks ago. And now that I have one (as of Friday), I can tell you
why. What follows are my initial impressions. A longer-term evaluation
will come later.

Note that I used both the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 extensively (one was sold, the other traded in). So, for the most part, this brief review (CNET's in-depth review is here) will contrast the Pro 3 with prior generations.

Display -- bigger is (much) better:
A12-inch display combined with a 3:2 aspect ratio makes -- at the risk
of sounding redundant -- a big difference. The previous 10.6-inch Pros
with their 16:9 aspect ratio made it hard to be productive. And I've
come to believe that bigger tablets
-- with roomier displays -- are definitely better than smaller ones.
Need a small tablet? Then get a large phone or a phablet.

To wit, I prefer the larger iPad Air
to the iPad Mini Retina, the larger Nexus 10 to the Nexus 7, and I
would take Samsung's 12.2-inch Galaxy Tab Pro over the smaller Galaxy
tablets. (And I now favor 14- and 13-inch laptops over the 11.6-inch
MacBook Air, which I used for a long time.)

Bye-bye, brick analogies: Weight
distribution is really important but rarely covered in reviews. The old
Pro compressed 2 pounds into a chassis built around a 10.6-inch
display. The Pro 3 spreads less weight (1.76 pounds) over a
wider/longer but thinner 12-inch-class chassis. Gone are the brick

Bigger, better keyboard and touchpad: I'm typing now on the Pro 3's Type Cover
keyboard and it comes a lot closer to the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina's
keyboard (which I also use) than the Pro 2's. This also fits into the
bigger-is-better theme: with a larger chassis, you get a more spacious

Ditto on the touchpad. It's not only larger but has
mechanical feedback (it clicks). Let me be blunt, the Pro 2's seemed
like a conspiracy to combine the worst aspects of a touchpad. Not only
was it too small, but because Microsoft matched it perfectly with the
surrounding fabric, it also vanished into the keyboard. I spent way too
much time just trying to find the damn thing.

Prettier too: I've had Surface 2 envy for a while. In other words, I liked the design of the Windows RT-based Surface 2
with its metallic-looking silver backside and slimmer profile but was
reluctant to buy a device that ran the unpopular RT operating system.
The Pro 3 matches the Surface 2's aesthetics -- and is just as thin,
runs Windows 8.1, and uses a speedy Intel Haswell processor, to boot.

MacBook Air as a yardstick:
I think Microsoft should probably tone down the ad campaign that
compares the Pro 3 to the MacBook Air. Too many people are wedded to
their Airs for reasons that the Pro 3 cannot improve on.

think, rather, it could be a better iPad Air. I use the Air a lot for
work when I'm on the road and my gut tells me that the Pro 3 could
replace it for the heavier lifting. There are some tasks that that Air
just can't handle (and, believe me, I've tried). And in this respect,
Microsoft may be ahead of Apple. Rumor has it that Apple is working on
a 12- or 13-inch class "iPad Pro"
and/or possibly a hybrid version (detachable keyboard?) of the MacBook
Air. Unless Apple comes up with some mind-blowing design, Redmond is
the trendsetter, not Cupertino.

In closing, let me say that though
first impressions count, they're not definitive. I will do a long-term
review after I've gotten to know the Pro 3's strengths and weaknesses

It's thin! It's longer and wider but thinner and lighter. That makes a big difference.
Brooke Crothers/CNET
device at
the right time for the right job and I don't see Surface being right for
me at any time.

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