For its first two generations, Microsoft released "Pro" and standard (RT) versions of the Surface. You also may have noticed that Microsoft ditched the RT and focused exclusively on the Pro with last year's Surface Pro 3. Today the company is revisiting the cheaper model, but without resurrecting Windows RT from its early grave.
The Surface 3 runs full Windows (including the desktop) with an Intel processor on the inside. With this model the company cut cost corners by making the machine smaller, with a lower-resolution screen (and cheaper Atom CPU) than its Pro counterpart, as well as fewer adjustments options on its kickstand.
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This is the first non-Pro Surface to include pen input, as it supports the same Surface Pen from the SP3 (which it will now sell in multiple color options). The only catch is that, unlike with the Pro 3, the Surface 3's pen is sold separately.
The Surface 3's specs are in line with what you'd expect from a cheaper model. It uses an Intel Atom x7 processor, which runs full 64-bit Windows but has power (and power management) that inches a bit closer to what you'd expect from ARM-based mobile devices. Its screen shrinks down from the SP3's 12 inches to 10.8 inches, and its resolution drops down to 1,920 x 1,280 (214 PPI, nearly the same as its Pro sibling).
Microsoft estimates 10 hours of battery life for the Surface 3 (based on "video playback") and switches from the SP3's proprietary charger to a ubiquitous microUSB connector. It has an 8 MP rear camera and 3.5 MP front camera.
One of the nicest upgrades in the Surface Pro 3 was its dynamically adjusting kickstand (the first two generations could only stand up in either one or two positions). The Surface 3 straddles those lines, locking into any of three different angles.
On other fronts, the budget Surface weighs 622 g (1.37 lb) and is 8.7 mm (0.34-in) thick. For comparison's sake, that's 42 percent heavier and 43 percent thicker than the iPad Air 2 (just keep in mind that it's typical for x86 machines like the Surface to require more bulk than the ARM-based iPad).
The Surface 3 is also Microsoft's first x86 Surface to include an LTE option.
Microsoft is charging $500 and up for the Surface 3, but that doesn't include its keyboard or pen. The device goes on sale with limited availability on May 5, and adds new markets on May 7. Microsoft will take your pre-order starting today.