Microsoft's new Surface 3 is a return to the lower-end (non-"Pro") Surface, only with a twist. Swapping out ARM-based processors for an Intel Atom, the new machine runs full Windows. Let's see how its features and specs compare to the high-end model, the Surface Pro 3.
The first big change is that the Surface 3 is smaller than its big Pro brother. The new model is 7 percent shorter, 9 percent narrower and 4 percent thinner than the Surface Pro 3.
Keep in mind that these thickness measurements are for the tablets only, not counting their click-in keyboard covers.
The smaller Surface 3 is also 22 percent lighter (tablet only) or 19 percent lighter (with keyboard) than the Pro 3.
This part hasn't changed through the whole history of the Microsoft Surface: we're still looking at a magnesium build.
No color options here; both models are silver only.
The Surface 3 gives you 81 percent as much screen as the Surface Pro 3 does.
Note that the new model also keeps the Surface Pro 3's 3:2 aspect ratio, boxier than older (pre-2014) Surface screens.
There shouldn't be much (if any) of a perceptible difference in screen sharpness, as the Surface 3's pixel density is nearly identical to that of the Surface Pro 3.
The Surface 3 is the first non-Pro model to play nicely with the Surface Pen. It uses the exact same pen as the Surface Pro 3.
The only catch is that the Surface Pen isn't bundled with the Surface 3, as it is with the Pro 3. To get one, you'll have to add US$50 to your Surface 3 purchase.
Microsoft cut a corner on the Surface 3's kickstand, switching from the dynamically-positioning one in the Pro 3 to a stand that fixes in three different positions.
Microsoft hasn't listed the specs for the Surface 3 battery, but it's estimating 10 hours of video playback. Note that this is a different metric from the estimated 9 hours of web use for the Surface Pro 3.
The Surface Pro 3 uses a proprietary charger that snaps into the port magnetically (likely influenced by Apple's MagSafe), but the Surface 3 uses a microUSB port – the same charging port used on just about every non-Apple smartphone.
The Surface 3 is the first full Windows-running Surface that you can buy in an LTE option. The Surface 2 had an LTE model, but it ran Windows RT, with no support for desktop apps.
Intel's Atom line makes a lot of sense for non-Pro Surfaces. It supports full Windows, but has power management that's a bit closer to ARM-based devices. Just know that you're also getting a much less powerful device than its Pro sibling.
RAM is broken up based on storage tiers.
Speaking of which, you only have two storage tiers to choose from with the new model.
Every Surface to date has had a microSD slot. The Surface 3 is no exception.
We're looking at one USB 3.0 port on each device.
The Surface 3 also joins the Pro in having a Mini DisplayPort for hooking up an external display.
You probably aren't buying a Surface for its cameras, but the Surface 3 gives you a high-res rear camera, while the Pro has a higher-resolution front camera.
The Surface 3 runs Windows 8.1, while the Surface Pro 3 runs Windows 8.1 Pro. For the casual consumer, they're going to be more or less identical – and, again, both run full Windows, including desktop apps.
Microsoft is throwing in a year's subscription to Office 365 with Surface 3 purchases. We've seen a similar bundle for the Pro 3 at Costco, but by default the Surface Pro 3 doesn't include Office.
With Microsoft launching the Surface 3 next month, that begs the question of whether we'll see a Surface Pro 4 around June of this year? A week ago, we would have said "almost certainly." But now we could see it going either way. Perhaps Microsoft sees the SP3 as being in good shape for another year, with the new model filling in a lower price point hole.
The Surface 3 starts rolling out on May 5, with availability expanding on May 7.
The Surface 3 is cheaper, but once you add its keyboard and (optionally) Surface Pen, its price is only $250 off of the entry-level Surface Pro 3 with same accessories (remember the Pro includes the Pen in the box). The question is whether you're willing to sacrifice some raw power, get a smaller screen and inferior kickstand, and add a little portability – all in the name of saving $250.
For more, you can revisit Gizmag's Surface Pro 3 review from mid-2014.