Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Tablet Review
The third time's the charm for Microsoft's Surface.
It's all fine and well to say that a product is a great tablet, but now it's time for me to show my work.
I wasn't surprised at all that the Surface Pro 3 scored so well, but tablets don't get scored on benchmarks. That high score is based on usability, screen performance, and battery alone. Until we publish the laptop review of the Surface Pro 3, the insane guts of the Surface Pro don't even factor into the equation just yet.
Window to the world
Marking a radical departure from previous designs, the Surface Pro 3 has a 10 x 6.625-inch screen with 2160 x 1440 pixels. That means a 216 PPI display that's retina beyond 16 inches away. It's a big step up for a device that doubles as a laptop, as there are very few sub-kilogram devices that pack in that many pixels.
On top of all that, the color gamut and black and white performance is also quite respectable. Photographers and graphic designers will appreciate the near-ideal color gamut, and the notably low black level of 0.25 cd/m2. It's not quite at HDTV standards yet, but it's closing in on that level of performance. Better than the iPad, at any rate.
I will say that the screen's brightness is quite low for a tablet. Though in the context of a well-lit room 296.52 cd/m2 is enough to cause some eye discomfort, in direct sunlight you'll have issues seeing images. LCDs are famed for their inability to dispel direct sunlight because they rely on a backlight to overpower ambient light in order to show their image. The Surface Pro—along with most other tablets and laptops—struggle here.
This does make the screen appear more reflective than it really is. Though the Surface Pro 3 only sends back 3.6% of direct light and 7.5% of all light, bright sources of light will look far more distracting because they typically are so much brighter than the screen itself.
Could be better, could be worse.
It's a bit hard to remember that this tablet has some insanely-overpowered guts running the show under the hood. Consequently, battery life is a bit lackluster. You can sometimes get away with turning down the screen brightness to squeeze a little more life out, but because it's so dim anyways you're probably going to leave it at full brightness.
With all wireless connections disabled and the brightness at full, the Surface Pro 3 lasted 6 hours, 28 minutes playing back HD video. Low-average to be sure, but long enough to be taken on a short flight to avoid the terrible movies.
Maybe it's due to that weak backlight, but the Surface Pro 3 can cram in about 7 hours and 16 minutes of reading eBooks. That's fairly decent, all things considered. Not wonderful for bookworms, but at least it's nice to know that you're covered for most quick reading sessions after work.
Though we currently don't reflect processor performance in tablets, I need to make special mention of just how blisteringly fast an Intel Core i5 processor is in comparison to even the most juiced-up ARM processors. Tablets as a whole can't compete with most laptops in terms of processing power... except for the Surface Pro 3.
Our laptop testing uses extensive processor tests, and even the Core i5 model of the Surface Pro 3 trounced last year's MacBook Air in scoring. We asked Microsoft for a Core i7 model, and we were a bit incredulous when they told us they were comfortable with us testing the lesser model against the rest of the laptop lineup. It seemed like hubris at first, but it was merely informed confidence.
I will say that the GPU the Surface Pro 3 packs is a lot less powerful than a dedicated graphics card, so don't expect to play games without a hitch. We were only able to get Metro: 2033 working at somewhere between 6 and 21 frames per second, which is fairly terrible if you care about gaming. Many indie games are merely platformers, and the Surface Pro 3 seems to do okay with those, but MMO games are very tough to stomach with an anemic GPU.
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