It's hard to believe that it's almost been a year since Microsoft launched the Surface Pro 3. A tough act to follow, it remains one of the best 2-in-1 devices around and sets the bar high for the Surface 3, the newest member of Microsoft's Surface family, to follow.
If the mood leading up to the launch of the Surface Pro 3 was quietly cautious following several Windows RT-shaped mis-steps, there is an almost palpable sense of excitement for the tech coming out of Redmond today. From Windows 10 and Edge to DirectX 12 and HoloLens, Satya Nadella's Microsoft has been anything but dull on its quest for innovation in the past 12 months.
In that sense, it almost seems disappointing that the Surface 3 isn't an all-singing, all-dancing upgrade; you'll likely have to wait for the Surface Pro 4 to launch along with Windows 10 for that.
Instead, Microsoft has effectively made a smaller, less powerful and cheaper Surface Pro 3. It features a 10.8-inch touchscreen display that's housed in an attractive magnesium-alloy body, this time attached to a three-position kickstand. A magnetically-reinforced Type Cover keyboard and numerous other accessories can be picked up for it - but as usual you'll have to cough up extra.
Despite the lack of a Pro moniker, and the fact that it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Surface 2 (it's almost exactly the same size and weight), the Surface 3 has killed off Windows RT and instead runs full-fat Windows 8.1. It can run any Windows program out there (within reason) and is ready for a free upgrade to Windows 10 when Microsoft's new OS launches later this year.
One of the main differences between the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 isn't visible from the outside. On the inside, Microsoft has opted for an Intel Cherry Trail Atom CPU, which is passively cooled and allows the device to run silently in the absence of a fan while generating barely any heat.
It's the first Cherry Trail processor to feature in a tablet, but despite being faster than Intel's previous Bay Trail Atom chip, it's a step back from the more powerful Core-series i3, i5 and i7 processors used in the Surface Pro 3.
Microsoft is still positioning the Surface 3 as a tablet that can replace your laptop, but power-hungry computer users should note that it's all about price, battery life, portability and quiet operation this time around - not converting video files several gigabytes in size.
The Surface 3 costs less than the Surface Pro 3, but calling it a budget device is off the mark. You can pick up the base model with 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM for £419 (around $641, or AUS$814), which rises to £499 (around US$764 or AUS$968) for 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM.
As is the case with Microsoft's Surface devices, the cost doesn't stop there - you'll have to add on at least the cost of a Type Cover Keyboard (£110 - around $163 or AUS$215) to get the full experience, before adding another £45 (around $69, or AUS$126) for the Surface Pen, taking the total cost to £574 (around $883, or AUS$1119) for the base model or £654 (around $1,001 or AUS$1,267) for the top-spec configuration.
In comparison, the Surface Pro 3 currently starts at £639 (around $977, or AUS$1,240) for 64GB of storage, an Intel Core-i3 processor and 4GB of RAM, rising to £794 (around $1,208, or AUS$1,452) with a keyboard and pen.
One of the devices going head-to-head with the Surface 3 is the Asus T100 Chi, which features a slightly smaller 10.1-inch display and comes with an Intel Atom Bay Trail CPU.
Unlike the Surface 3, the T100 Chi throws the keyboard part and a battery-powered (but not quite as good) stylus into the cost. It starts at a more palatable £399 (around US$604, or AUS$774) for the base model, which comes with 32GB of storage and 2GB of DDR3 RAM. That's quite a saving for a device that goes toe-to-toe with the Surface 3 in most departments.