A low-cost Surface for everyone

A low-cost Surface for everyone
Microsoft Surface 3.

The Surface has come a long way since we saw its first incarnation as a touch-screen tabletop on Youtube about 10 years ago.

When the first laptop/tablet hybrid version came out in 2012, the tablet was at its peak and consumers thought they never needed a laptop computer when they already have iPads. Microsoft had to face stiff competition with Apple's iPads and Android tablets.

Times have changed as tablet sales have slowed down because no one wants to upgrade their existing tablets, and many are looking to replace their old laptop computers.

This is a huge window of opportunity for Microsoft to show consumers what they're missing out while they were busy with their tablets over the last three years.

The Surface is a laptop that doubles as a tablet. It has a touch-screen display, a retractable kickstand and the protective cover is a functional keyboard. It runs Windows 8.1 that works well in both laptop and tablet mode.

The Surface Pro 3 (bottom) was Microsoft's best Surface yet, following several shortcomings from previous iterations (Microsoft had growing pains with Windows 8 and Windows RT was a mess).

It was a great machine, but its nearly US$1,000 price tag left a lot to be desired, considering that laptop prices have fallen over the years after the smartphone revolution.

Then, an affordable version of the Surface Pro 3 was introduced earlier this year.

The new Surface 3 is $250 cheaper than the Surface Pro 3, that is, if you include the keyboard cover and stylus.

The beauty of the Surface is that you can get the primary machine first for a lot less and invest in the other essential accessories later, so it doesn't hurt your wallet.

It's a nice lightweight machine with a 10-inch touch display, weighing 622 grammes and only 8.7 mm thick. It's basically a "mini" version of the more expensive and powerful 12-inch Surface Pro 3.

But is the Surface 3 really worth getting? That really depends on your needs.

The Surface 3 runs on an Intel Atom processor, which would take a huge toll on performance IF you do a lot of graphic-intensive tasks.

But for casual use, as a student laptop or for office work, the Surface 3 does all those things just fine.

Unlike most laptops with similar processing power, getting a Surface 3 means you are getting two devices for the price of one.

As a tablet, the Surface 3 isn't really up there with the iPad, but it's not that bad either. Arm yourself with the Surface Pen stylus and you get a different kind of tablet experience.

Most competing tablets struggle with pen input, but Microsoft's Surface excels in the stylus experience. It's more intuitive and precise.

If you have an itch to sketch on a digital screen, the Surface 3 plus the Surface Pen should definitely be in your gadget shopping list.

Granted, the Windows Store still doesn't have a massive selection of touch-based apps, yet all the essential apps are there, and if you primarily browse, read or consume media on a tablet, the Surface 3 does all that very well.

And with the keyboard cover in place and the kickstand propped up, you quickly return to laptop mode and start getting serious work done in an instant.

You don't get that kind of experience elsewhere, other than perhaps a Lenovo Yoga.

In my review of Apple's new MacBook last week, I called it the laptop of the future. Here, the Surface 3 isn't really trying to compete with the new MacBook. It's in a whole new category of computing which offers more or something different than a conventional laptop.

The Surface 3 isn't the laptop of the future. No. It could be the computer of the future. Period.

And the lower price point of the Surface 3 makes it the perfect Surface device to have, especially for those looking for one all these years but have been holding on until Microsoft comes up with a more mature product.

Starting at US$500, the Surface 3 comes with 64GB storage with expandable memory via its microSD slot. The proprietary keyboard (US$130) and a Surface Pen ($50) are sold separately.

Alternatively, you can pick up an iPad and get a keyboard accessory, if a laptop-like experience is a secondary need.

But if you're primarily looking for a full-fledged no-compromise laptop experience that doubles as a tablet when you need it, and you don't want to carry multiple devices on the move, the Surface 3 won't disappoint.

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