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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.

What I can't say for certain, however, is whether the Surface Pro 3 will deliver a good experience if the seatback in front of you is reclined. As fate would have it, the one time when I actually wanted to endure such discomfort, the passenger in front of me slept throughout my flight with the seat in the upright position.

Dan Laycock, a senior manager for Microsoft, said his Surface Pro 3 is too tall to fit comfortably on a tray table with the seat in front reclined fully. A lot will depend on the recline pitch of the seat in front of you, and how much you're willing to fiddle with the placement of the tablet and keyboard. I will say, to Microsoft's credit, that I was able to use the Surface Pro 3 with the Type Cover comfortably on my lap, and type on it for extended periods.

I've used the 11-inch MacBook Air as well as the Surface Pro 2 under reclined-seatback conditions, and both are short enough to fit. Notebook displays can also fold down toward you, eking out a few extra millimeters. The Surface Pro 3 can't do that. However, as Laycock noted, you can fold the Surface Pro 3 back—you'll just have to use the on-screen keyboard instead.

The real key to so-called lapability is a tweak to the Type Cover 3 keyboard. Click it in, and it looks the same as the previous generation's, albeit wider, to match the width of the tablet. You'll notice, however, a narrow strip on its long, connected edge that uses a second magnetic connection. When folded down, this strip raises the keyboard to a slight angle, and it also reinforces the Type Cover's connection across the entire tablet. It's a slight difference, but a significant one. Earlier Type Covers feel flimsy on your lap, but the additional support of the Type Cover 3 stabilizes the whole unit. The Type Cover 3 works with earlier Surface models, too.

I also used the new tablet on a swaying commuter train in San Francisco. The Surface Pro 3/Type Cover 3 combination offered enough stability, flexibility and headroom to make me quickly dismiss the Surface Pro 2 combo. The bottom line is, you're going to like this.

I did run into two bugs: I folded up the Surface Pro 3 as the woman next to me exited the train. When I opened it again, the trackpad wouldn't work, and the cursor had vanished. Rebooting solved the problem. And there was this odder issue: When I connected the Type Cover 3 to my older Surface Pro 2 to check connectivity, it worked just fine. But after I reconnected the Type Cover 2 to the Surface Pro 2, the Type Cover 2 failed to connect, even after several reboots. Another, older Type Cover failed to work as well. Microsoft believes software updates will fix Type Cover issues like this.


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