Microsoft has really picked up its Surface game in the last year. First the Surface Pro 3 took a big step forward, and now the Surface 3 brings many of the same principles to a smaller and cheaper device. Read on for Gizmag's Surface 3 early impressions.

The Surface 3 is, in most ways, a shrunken-down and lower-powered Surface Pro 3 (SP3). Considering the SP3 was oversized for a tablet, many buyers could see this as a step forward. It's sized a bit more like an iPad, a bit less like someone yanked the screen off of a laptop.

So far we're fans of the Surface 3's size. It makes much more sense to pick up and use casually, without its keyboard, than the Surface Pro 3 ever did. It's noticeably thicker and heavier than the iPad Air 2 (to be exact, it's 43 percent thicker and 42 percent heavier), but it's still very manageable as a tablet.

... and with its boxier 3:2 aspect ratio, it's much better in portrait mode than any of the first- or second-generation Surfaces ever were (those of the pre-Surface Pro 3 days ... which happened to coincide with the end of the Steve Ballmer era at Microsoft).

This is also the first non-"Pro" Surface that runs desktop apps and supports pen input. It uses the same Surface Pen that works with the Surface Pro 3, and everything works exactly the same here. The only annoyances are that the Pen is sold separately here and that you can't magnetically snap it onto the side of the tablet. You'll be leaning more on that Pen Loop that attaches to the keyboard.

Speaking of the keyboard, the Surface 3's Type Cover is, like the device itself, a shrunken-down version of the keyboard that goes with the SP3. We haven't had any problems so far with typing on the smaller keyboard, and the fixed-position kickstand doesn't as of yet feel like a noticeable downgrade from the dynamically-shifting kickstand on the Pro 3.

We'll have much more on the Surface 3 in our full review (including battery life impressions), so stay tuned. Right now this looks like Microsoft's best-balanced Surface yet. If you can live with some solid consumer-level performance (vs. pro-level performance) along with that smaller screen, then this could hit a sweet spot for lots of 2-in-1 shoppers.

The Surface 3 is available now, starting at US$500 for the 64 GB version of the tablet. You'll want to add an extra $130, however, for the keyboard and (optionally) another $50 for the Surface Pen.

Product page: Microsoft

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