With the Surface 3, Microsoft has created its thinnest and lightest 2-in-1 hybrid PC which can function as both tablet and laptop. It is the more affordable cousin of the Surface Pro 3, which was launched last year.
The Surface 3 ends Microsoft's confusing experiment of having two separate product lines of hybrids - one running full-fledged Windows; and the other, a scaled-down version called Windows RT.
Unlike its predecessors, which ran on Windows RT (and therefore could launch only mobile apps and not the regular desktop programs), Surface 3 runs on the same Windows 8.1 operating system as other regular Windows laptops and tablets.
It is similar in design and functionality to the Surface Pro 3 (which starts at $1,108) but is lighter because it has a smaller screen - 10.8-inch versus 12.2-inch.
This makes the Surface 3 almost 200g lighter at 622g, but it runs on a less-powerful Intel Atom processor instead of the typical Intel Core processor. The Surface 3 also has a better camera, which now includes built-in autofocus, which makes scanning documents and taking close-up photos easier.
The bottom line is this: The cheaper Surface 3 works for Web surfing, navigating social media, YouTube viewing and running everyday computing tasks, but it will not have the muscle of the Surface Pro 3 to handle heavier workloads for video games, run multiple apps or keep many windows open at the same time.
On the 3DMark Cloudgate benchmark test for mainstream laptops, it registered a pathetic 9fps (frames per second). This makes PC gaming, save for the very forgiving resource-light games, impossible.
However, the Surface 3 lasted 10 hours in our standard video-looping battery-life test at full-screen brightness, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on and audio at maximum.
In comparison, the Surface Pro 3 lasted only 51/2 hours in the same test, but 8 to 11 hours is actually the norm for tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 and the Apple iPad Air 2.
While Microsoft compares its more able Surface Pro 3 to the MacBook Air, it would not be wrong to compare the Surface 3 against the iPad Air 2, or against a host of budget Windows hybrids such as the Acer Switch 10 ($599).
Against the 64GB iPad Air 2 ($828), the Surface 3 is slightly cheaper but heavier (622g v 437g) and the Windows Store is still pathetic when compared with the number of apps available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
The Surface 3, however, does support writing and drawing with a digital stylus, though you have to fork out an extra $73 for that.
This slate is supposed to be the first Surface device that comes with a cellular data SIM option, but that option is still not available here. It would be a big deal to get the telcos here to bundle the device at cheaper rates, to entice consumers with their mobile-data subscriptions.
As a standard laptop, the Surface 3 works a little differently from the regular clamshells. It has a built-in kickstand with three possible standing modes, but you will have to pay an extra $199 for the Type Cover which doubles as a slim keyboard.
The built-in kickstand and Type Cover are what make the Surface different from other laptops on the market, but it also means that the "real" cost of the Surface 3 is now almost $950.
That is substantially more than small-sized budget hybrids, such as the Atom-powered Acer Switch 10 ($599), and on a par with Asus' latest thin-and-light 13.3-inch Zenbook UX305 ($999).
The Zenbook runs on the new Core M processor, which performs better than the Atom but not as well as mainstream Core processors.
The good thing about the Surface 3 is its high-quality 1,920 x 1,280 touchscreen. It is clearly a class above the cheaper Windows hybrids and watching YouTube videos on the Surface 3 is a treat for the eyes.
However, I am still uncertain about the unusual 3:2 aspect ratio, which Microsoft said was selected so that documents would look more natural, like their paper counterparts.
Most programs and apps are now designed for the 4:3 ratio (iPad and old computer monitors) or the modern 16:9 (new TV sets, computer monitors, Android tablets and most smartphones). This means you will have lots of black space in some apps and programs when they run on the Surface 3.
Also, while the improved kickstand and propped-up Touch Cover keyboard make the Surface 3 sit better on the lap, it is still less stable than a typical clamshell. If you do a lot of work with a device on your lap, I would still recommend a standard laptop.
A more affordable and lighter version of Microsoft's hit Surface Pro 3, with almost double the battery life. Its weaker processor means it is best used for basic computing tasks, and none of the heavy lifting you would expect from a regular laptop.
Price: From $748
Operating system: Windows 8.1, free upgrade to Windows 10 when it launches
Processor: Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor 1.6GHz
Display: 10.8-inch 1,920 x 1,280 touchscreen
Storage: 64GB or 128GB
RAM: 2GB or 4GB
Camera: 3.5MP (front) 8MP (rear, with autofocus)
Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/c, Bluetooth 4.0, one full-sized USB 3.0 port, one microUSB port, one microSD port, one mini-DisplayPort, audio and microphone port
Extras: One-year Office 365 personal subscription and 1TB cloud storage on One Drive (worth $98)
Value for money 3/5
Battery life 5/5
This article was first published on May 6, 2015.
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