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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: A legitimate work PC in tablet clothing

Mark Hachman | May 28, 2014
Microsoft's Surface lineup just keeps getting better and better, with an improved screen for desktop use and an upgraded Type Cover for the road.

The Surface Pro 3 also ships with a chunky new pen from N-trig that features what Microsoft calls decreased parallax. Simply put, the digital ink "flows" more closely from where the pen touches the screen. And here's a nifty trick: The tablet can be roused from sleep mode by holding down the button on the top of the pen, which immediately launches a new OneNote note without requiring a password. 

Digital ink is polarizing: Either you like it or you don't. Emirates Airlines hands out Surface tablets to its flight crew members, who tote them around as cheat sheets for their passengers. For them, the Surface Pro 3's new pen might be an upgrade. But the Surface Pro 3 is still too heavy and awkward for long-term, one-handed use. Microsoft wants you to use the Surface Pro 3 as a digital legal pad, but it's a use case that requires setting the tablet on a table.

The pen's storage loop also needs improvement. A velcro strap would be clumsy and gauche, but it's simply too difficult to remove and re-secure the pen in its Type Cover loop. While I'm not asking for a slimmer pen, securing it within the tablet (the Samsung Note approach) would be a better solution—though perhaps unfeasible, given that the Surface Pro 3's internals are already packed to capacity with other components.

On a train, on a plane
Surface chief Panos Panay has made "lapability" (a dreadful word) one of the selling points of the new Surface line. In essence, lapability qualifies how a Surface tablet stacks up to a notebook when resting the device on your lap. In the service of improved lapability, Microsoft has added two new features to the Surface concept: an improved "friction hinge" that affords the tablet's kickstand a continuous range of motion, and an improved Type Cover with a secondary magnetic connection.

The first generation of the Surface lineup included a kickstand that folded back to a 22-degree angle. The second-gen Surface Pro 2 adds a second, 55-degree angle. With the Surface Pro 3, these limitations effectively disappear. The tablet still clicks back to the 22-degree angle, but then it can support any angle up to 150 degrees. Microsoft says the hinge has been tested to hold up over repeated use.

To test lapability, I used the Surface Pro 3 on a plane from New York to San Francisco, as well as on a commuter train. Flying in coach, the Surface Pro 3 still fit relatively comfortably on a tray table, with a bit hanging off the edge. Typing was no problem. In terms of key travel and spacing, Microsoft says that the new Type Cover 3 is essentially the same as the second-generation model, and the keys are still backlit, too.


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