Surface 3 review

The Microsoft Surface 3: thinner, lighter, quieter, cheaper

Surface 3

The Surface 3 isn't quite the Surface Mini that you may have been holding out for over the past 18 months (it's more of a mini-me), but it's the closest Microsoft has come yet to making a truly portable tablet that feels like a laptop replacement. At 622 grams it's only slightly heavier than the 10.1-inch T100 Chi (570 grams), which isn't surprising given its larger dimensions.

It is however noticeably lighter in the hand compared to the Surface Pro 3, which remains an impressive feat of engineering at 798 grams. Despite the Surface 3's wafer-thin Type Cover keyboard, it measures 8.7mm thick compared to the T100's 8mm but is a touch more comfortable to hold thanks to the Type Cover's soft material, versus the Chi's cool, cold to touch aluminium.

Surface 3

Here is the spec sheet of the review model provided to TechRadar:

Specifications

  • Processor: Quad Core Intel Atom x7-78700 processor (2MB Cache, 1.6GHz turbo boost to 2.4GHz)
  • Operating System: Windows 8.1
  • Storage: 128GB flash memory
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Display: 10.8-inch ClearType Full HD Plus Display (1920 x 1200)
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel HD Graphics
  • Ports: Full-size USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort
  • Card Reader: MicroSD card reader; Micro USB charging port; Headset Jack; Cover port
  • Camera: 3.5 megapixel front-facing camera; 8.0 megapixel rear-facing camera with autofocus
  • Networking: Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac); Bluetooth 4.0
  • Interface: 1 x Combo audio jack / 1 x micro SUB / 1 x HDMI / 1 x SD card reader / 1 x AC adapter plug / 1 x volume up/down
  • Battery: Up to 10 hours of video playback
  • Dimensions: 267mm x 187mm x 8.7mm
  • Weight: 622g

Display

The Surface 3's display is quite literally one of the brightest points of the device, hitting a stonking 416 cd/m2 (or nits) when measured with our i1Display Pro colorimeter. Bright displays have been a staple feature of Microsoft's Surface line since the Surface 2, and it's an area where the Surface 3 doesn't disappoint. It comfortably beats the T100 Chi's 319.2 cd/m2 and is slightly more geared toward outdoor viewing than Asus's tablet.

Surface 3 bench

I tried browsing a few webpages on a particularly sunny day, and while it's difficult to read the screen in direct sunlight (which isn't helped by the glossy IPS display), it's definitely bright enough if you can catch even slight shade. The Surface 3's IPS panel provides excellent viewing angles which means you won't have to crane your neck when leaning over to watch video or other content with a friend.

Even at a smaller 10.8-inches in size, its 1,920 x 1,200 pixel-resolution allowed me to comfortably fit two screens side-by-side, making it great for getting productive on the go.

Surface 3

The display supports full 10-point multi-touch, which I found fast and responsive - although it's easier to pick out toolbars and menus using the Surface Pen if you have scaling set to a low percentage in Windows.

Ports

The Surface 3 has more than enough ports to get you by on the road, including a MiniDisplay port, microSD card reader, headset jack, cover port and micro-USB charging port. Microsoft has resisted the urge to include a USB Type-C port at this point in time, instead sticking a full-size USB 3.0 port on the right-hand side. It's a sensible decision given the Surface 3's target audience, which is primarily students and anyone who needs to hook up the odd peripheral on the move.

Specifications

A power button on the top-right hand sits alongside a volume rocker, all of which are easily accessible and can be pressed without having them in your line of sight.

On the underside of the Surface is a magnetic strip which latches the Type Cover in place. Once attached, the keyboard requires a strong sharp tug to detach - you could literally swing the tablet above your head without it coming off (a risky test - obviously).

Surface 34

Kickstand

The Surface 3 has a 3-position kickstand, which gives you a trio of reasons as to why it's not as good as the Surface Pro 3's multi-position kickstand. Better in every way, the Pro's kickstand was a boon for artists who require a flatter surface to draw with the Surface Pen. Its omission is a shame, but the three angles provided proved enough for anything I was doing on it.

As with the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3 can be used with a docking station to connect monitors, mice, keyboards and other peripherals. Unfortunately it's proprietary, meaning you can't chop and change between the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 as the latter won't fit. It provides access to most ports missing on the device itself, adding two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, a miniDisplayPort and a headphone jack.

Dial up the power

A micro-USB connection is used to charge the Surface 3, meaning you can power it using the same cable as your smartphone - a handy option. The caveat is that if you're not using the supplied mains converter, you'll need to use a device with sufficient output to charge the tablet; try charging it using a MacBook Air's USB port, for example, and it'll sit there while giving you a blank look (as much of a slab of aluminium and plastic can).

Surface 3

The cable inserts into the right-hand side of the tablet and lights up a white LED to indicate that it's charging. It's not difficult to insert into the device but requires slightly more concentration than the Surface Pro 3's connector (IE - you have to look at it), which popped out easily if you tripped over the power cable - a bit like Apple's MacBook MagSafe adapter.

Get your leg wrapped around the Surface 3's power cable and it would probably do its best impression of a drone.

Bundled software

As you might expect from Microsoft, the Surface 3 is mercifully free of bloatware, shipping with a few key applications in addition to the standard array of weather, calendar and mail apps that come with Windows 8.1.

  • Microsoft Office 365 Personal (One-year's subscription)
  • OneNote
  • OneDrive
  • Fresh Paint
  • Skype
  • Weather
  • Calendar
  • Mail
  • Internet Explorer
  • Drawboard PDF
  • Photos
  • Games
  • Alarms
  • Flipboard
  • Food & Drink
  • Maps
  • Sound recorder
  • Money