Microsoft takes aim at MacBook Air with Surface Pro 3

Credit: Source: Microsoft Store

Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 3 yesterday at a press event in New York. It's a 12" tablet with a resolution of 2160 x 1440. It's 9.1 mm thick and weighs 800 grams. It comes with an i3, i5 or i7 processor with 4 or 8 GB of RAM and storage from 64 GB up to 512 GB.

I wasn't at the event but I watched the livestream; a full hour devoted to this single product. Presenter (and Surface chief) Panos Panay is a real asset for Microsoft; he had me drinking the Kool-Aid, at least while the event was in progress. The angle this time was that the Surface Pro 3 (and the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover) could replace your Mac Book Air. It is (says Microsoft) a tablet that can also do the duties of a laptop.

Aside from being thin and light, the kickstand on the Surface Pro 3 acts like the hinge on a laptop in that it doesn't have one or two set positions; you can fold it back as far as you want until it's nearly laying flat. The included pen is supposed to feel very much like writing on paper; I will say that it was pretty impressive how quickly Panay could write on the thing. A neat trick is that you can click a button on the pen to wake up that tablet, and it'll wake up already running Microsoft's OneNote; the idea is to make the device a way to quickly jot down notes without any delay in the process.

It was a good presentation for sure. But something felt a little off about it, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was a little too scripted. The way Panay held things was at times awkward (but showed off the product well) and some of the 'solutions' seemed quite specific. But what really shattered the dream came at the end. After Panay told the audience that everyone was going home with a Surface Pro 3, he concluded his presentation, thanked the audience and left the stage.

The stream probably should've ended then. But instead, someone came up on stage and started barking orders at the audience, telling them how the device hand-out was going to work. It sounded to me like a handful of specially invited guests would be given a Surface Pro 3 to own, but most of the audience were getting loaners. Now this didn't impact me at all but still I felt like a bubble had burst. This wasn't the Oprah show or even Google I/O. This was Microsoft implying one thing but then doing something else.

During the event Panay told us prices started at $799. That's for an i3 model with a 64 GB of storage, but the Tech Specs say that ">36 GB" of that is available. I'll take that to mean more than 36 GB but less than 37 GB; in other words this SKU is pretty anemic when it comes to storage space. So really, you probably want to bump up to the next tier, which is the $999 i5 with 128 GB of space (>96GB available). In all, there are 5 models available for pre-order with the top end i7 with 512 GB (>450GB available) going for $1,949.00.

The stylus does come with the Surface Pro 3 but the Type Cover does not. You'll probably want one, and it's another $129.99. And here's where the Surface Pro loses me. For the $1128.99 that it would cost me for the i5 Surface Pro 3 and the keyboard, I could buy a decent laptop and a nice tablet. Sure I'd have two devices and that's exactly Microsoft's point: why carry two things? And I'd agree with them if money was no object. I want one of these things; I have a serious case of geek lust for it. But I just can't justify the cost.

The good news, I thought, was that the introduction of the Surface Pro 3 would knock down the price of last year's model, the Surface Pro 2. But Microsoft has quietly pulled that from their online store. The Surface 2 is still for sale, and there are still comparison charts showing the differences between the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2, but the Pro 2 is nowhere to be found. Bummer.

If unlike me you can justify the cost of the Surface Pro 3, pre-orders are supposed to start tomorrow and ship dates are listed as 6/20/14 for the i5 models, and 8/31/14 for the i3 & i7 models.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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