GeekDad Review: Microsoft Surface 3 Is Really Close…

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Microsoft Surface 3
Microsoft Surface 3 is getting closer  to being a perfect MacBook Air replacement for casual productivity. (Photo by Brad Moon)

Regular readers of GeekDad probably know that I’ve had a long history of experimenting with tablets and keyboard cases in search of that perfect, ultra-mobile experience. The kind of rig that would make me ditch my MacBook Air and have just a single device to carry around for mobile work and amusement instead of lugging both the laptop and an iPad. I’ve tried a number of iPad keyboard cases and various iterations of Microsoft’s Surface and Surface Pro tablets. The company recently loaned me a Surface 3 to take for a spin and, this time, they are so close to getting things right I can feel it. But it’s still not quite perfect.

While I’ve made headway with the iPad solutions, I’m still not a huge fan of Apple’s tablets for mobile productivity for three big reasons. First, iOS still won’t allow mouse input so I’m stuck either poking a screen repeatedly, or using the cursor keys like a madman while editing. The second issue is the way iOS hides documents and files within applications. Finally, there’s no USB support for peripherals like external hard drives.

Microsoft’s Surface tablets have addressed all of those issues, but introduced problems of their own. The Surface Pro series was always very expensive, and the consumer-friendly Surface line had an obnoxious 16:9 aspect ratio that made holding it in portrait mode (like a tablet) seem ridiculous. Then there was the whole issue with the hobbled Windows RT operating system.

With the Surface 3, Microsoft has fine-tuned the consumer 2-in-1 experience to the point where it’s pretty damn compelling.

Microsoft Surface 3 with Type Cover
That Type Cover is great for casual use, but too flexible for sustained use. (Photo by Brad Moon)

No more messing with RT–the Surface 3 runs Windows 10. The widescreen aspect ratio is gone, replaced by a slightly larger display (now at 10.8-inches) with a much more useful 3:2 aspect ratio. That display works well for productivity (it’s nearly the same size as my 11-inch MacBook Air’s and much higher resolution), but, with the new aspect ratio and a weight of 1.37 pounds, I grew quite fond of using the Surface 3 as a tablet. Especially once I upgraded it to Windows 10 and was able to ditch Internet Explorer in favor of the much better behaved Microsoft Edge.

Although there’s an Intel Atom processor inside (instead of a Core CPU like the more powerful Surface Pros), performance seemed pretty snappy to me. The configuration Microsoft sent had 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, so nothing I was running was enough to stress it. Microsoft Office, mainly…

Microsoft sent a Surface Pen as well, and, while some people would get a lot of use out of the stylus for drawing, I used it mainly for scribbling notes. It’s a pretty cool option.

The thing that kept the Surface 3 from achieving that status of laptop replacement was the Type Cover. It’s good–great even, at least for casual use–but when I sat down to spend hours at a time working on the Surface 3, the keyboard drove me bonkers. It simply had too much flex and would emit squeaking groans as I hammered away at it.

To be fair, I primarily use a mechanical keyboard, I have fairly large hands and I may be guilty of using more force while typing than Microsoft anticipated. Still, there’s no way I could use that combo on a regular basis, and, if you opt for a sturdier, standalone Bluetooth keyboard instead, you lose the whole “transforms into a laptop” thing.

So, close, but not quite there for me. Which is a shame, because even with having to shell out the additional 100 bucks or so for the Type Cover, at $599 for the 4GB/128GB configuration, the Surface 3 is $100 less than the entry-level MacBook Air. When it’s time to replace my current setup, that would save some money as well as replacing a heavier device and solving my mobile productivity needs.

Maybe next year’s Surface 4 will get the sturdier Type Cover Microsoft recently released for the Surface Pro 4…

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