I have been using the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for a few months now. Previously, I used a Lenovo ThinkPad x230 but I put it aside to put the Surface Pro 3 through the paces. Here are my thoughts. My requirements on a laptop are:
2) Tough, I move around throughout the day and my machine needs to be able to take a beating
3) Great battery life
4) Able to keep up with me if I have several applications open at once
5) Solid state drive and more than 4GB of RAM (16GB is ideal for me)
My thoughts on the Surface Pro 3 (256GB SSD, i5 processor, 8GB RAM)
Size and Form Factor
This thing is light. Super light and super thin. It’s very easy to carry into meetings and not feel like you are lugging a laptop with you. I bought a Snugg Leather case (brown) for it – it is the perfect size and allows you to pop the Surface pen right into the top. (More on the pen later.) Pretty much any case that fits the Macbook Air will be perfect for Surface Pro.
The kickstand is awesome. Being able to position the screen is something I never really thought about with my Surface Pro 2 – but it makes sense because you can position your screen on a regular laptop. Great engineering on the part of Microsoft designer engineers.
The keyboard leaves a lot to be desired. It is backlit (which is very nice). The track pad feels a little ‘off’ to me. I don’t know if maybe it is too smooth or too big – I can’t quite put my finger on it. (No pun intended.)
The battery life is weak. I am running the i5 and am lucky to get a full 5 hours of normal usage. Normal usage for me is light productivity work, Bluetooth turned on, and using Wi-Fi. I could get about 7 hours out of my x230. I had a keyboard battery for my Surface Pro 2 – I really hope Microsoft makes one of these for the Surface Pro 3.
Performance is not bad. It manages to keep up with me having about 30 windows open across IE, Outlook, Office, and our CRM application.
Files open quickly thanks to the Solid State Drive. It does get a little hot every evening when our regularly scheduled antivirus deep scan kicks in – but that’s to be expected. You can hear the fan working extra hard during this time frame.
Anecdotally, it feels like I need to reboot this machine more frequently than I did my Lenovo x230. I can’t speak to why – but if I don’t, it inevitably slows down. I would reboot my Lenovo only when patches were applied (about once a month).
I’ve also noticed that all my icons occasionally will just go black. I don’t know if this is tied to the Surface or Windows – but it has never happened across any of my other PCs. I suspect it has something to do with the video drivers.
The included Pen
The pen works really well. I use OneNote for most every meeting I attend to help me keep my thoughts and to-dos all organized. OneNote is great for that and the integration with the pen works flawlessly. The Surface comes with a little loop that you can hang off the device or the keyboard to hold your pen. I think it looks silly, so instead I tuck the pen into the side of the Snugg case or into the keyboard. Both work well and I have yet to lose my pen (fingers crossed).
Pen tucked into the nook on the Snugg Case
Pen tucked into the keyboard
Accessories You Will Need
The Surface doesn’t come with a keyboard. I guess that is so Microsoft can say that it is really a tablet, and thus, can operate without a keyboard. But – you need a keyboard.
You really need a docking station for the Surface Pro 3 if you are going to use it as your standard machine. I use a Plugable UD-3900 and run 2 24” monitors plus my Surface monitor. At home I use the Microsoft docking station and it works well.
If you do lots of presentations, you should probably buy the DisplayPort to VGA connector. Most projectors are VGA – so this is your safest bet. The Surface does have DisplayPort, so if you are good with that – then no need to spend the money.
I also like the Microsoft Arc mouse. It folds flat, uses Bluetooth, and works like a charm.
I can’t see using the Surface as a tablet, ever. It’s just too big. I can’t think of a time when I have ever seen anyone using a Surface as a tablet, either. (Save, of course, when they are taking notes.) This may also be due to the lack of apps that are useful in the modern interface. If the app ecosystem gets closer with Windows 10, perhaps I will use my Surface more as a tablet.
I know a lot of people tether their PCs to their mobile phones, but I like having a built in SIM. Microsoft has all but said that is not in the cards for Surface.
As stated above, I seldom reboot my PC. Instead I mostly put my PC to sleep. The Surface seems to have a really hard time with this. I am not sure if it’s due to the design of the keyboard (there is no clasp to hold it shut, there is no hinge to keep it shut, so it will randomly wake up from sleep) or something else. I have worked with the power settings to no avail. The issue is I will put my machine to sleep, throw it in my bag and head to a meeting. When I get to the meeting my Surface has been awake the whole time and my battery is significantly drained. In one instance my meeting was two hours away and my Surface was completely dead. Luckily I had my power supply, if not, it would have been a short meeting.
All in – the Surface Pro 3 is a very solid device and, for most folks, you can definitely replace it and use it is as your daily machine.