Surface Pro 3 – The Tablet To Replace A Tablet?

Surface Pro 3 – The Tablet To Replace A Tablet?

Surface Pro 3 (Left), Laptop (Center), Lumia 2520 (Right)

I’ve been lucky enough to own two Microsoft Surface devices, the first being the original Surface RT followed by it’s successor the Surface 2. I am an enthusiastic supporter of these devices and both of them are ARM based appliances free from the usual threats that can affect Windows running on Intel. While it isn’t possible to install additional Desktop software, Microsoft Office 2013 for ARM and other standard Windows utilities come pre-installed, both of these devices offer multi-day battery life, connected standby, and instant on.

The one criticism I had with these devices was their industrial design which while striking could cause discomfort when supporting them one handed. It was this that led me to purchase a Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet which is also based on the ARM architecture but offers a more traditionally curved body (similar to a Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPad design). While similar to the Surface RT and Surface 2 devices the Lumia 2520 also includes an LTE (4G) radio and NFC.

These devices have all served me well and I have carried each of them in turn with me every day; using them as tablets to consume information and with keyboards attached to create documents. When it comes to my day job, however, I need the full Desktop experience offered by Intel devices running a Core i5 processor for which I’ve used a DELL laptop running Windows 8 and 8.1 and that has meant carrying two devices around which isn’t ideal.  I need the laptop for work but I also use a tablet during break times to catch up on my RSS and Twitter feeds.  While there were Intel based tablets that had keyboards these were mostly based around the Atom processor which wouldn’t have provided the power I needed to run Hyper-V based virtual machines.

When Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 3 I knew from my experience of the Surface range that I would purchase one to replace that aging laptop. Microsoft uses the tagline “the tablet that can replace your laptop” and with an Intel Core i7 processor and 8GB RAM, in the model I purchased, they certainly had the horsepower I needed so there really was only one issue that could prove that statement wrong.

Surface 2 (Left), Surface RT (Center), Lumia 2520 (Right)

 I am of course talking about using a Surface Pro 3 on a lap which both the Surface and Surface Pro ranges while close didn’t quite work in that scenario. The original Surface ranges had a single kick stand position which made the device too upright on the lap, the Lumia 2520 also suffered in this regard although with the weight of the battery pack in the keyboard it was more stable, and while the dual position of the kick stand on the second generation Surface range improved things there was room for improvement.

The Surface Pro 3 has a third generation kick stand in which it doesn’t lock into a set position and has a hinge that allows a continual and smooth change in orientation just like a traditional laptop hinge (albeit a very different design). This means it is possible to change the center of gravity and slant of the Surface Pro 3 to suit the sitting environment. I’m typing this now sitting on a sofa with the Type Keyboard which also has a new magnetic strip allowing the keyboard to move forward and up to shorten it and provide a more comfortable typing experience.

When trying out a Surface Pro 3 I was also impressed by the inking experience and with the Surface Pro 3 flat on a desk I can use OneNote to handwrite meeting notes instead of using a traditional notepad and then transcribing the information into my digital notebook.  It is this scenario along with the ability to run Hyper-V that sold me on this device for work and I haven’t regretted the purchase decision.  The screen is amazing and at 12″ it is more than usable although I did also purchase the docking station allowing me to hook up a larger external monitor.

Given the specifications of the device, and having re-assured myself that it can be used on a lap, there really wasn’t any question that the Surface Pro 3 could replace my laptop. I have another article planned which highlights just what this device is capable of and any Twitter followers will have some insight into this.

Nokia Lumia 2520 with Power Keyboard

The other reason for choosing this over a traditional laptop was the hope that it could also replace my Lumia 2520 meaning I only need to carry around one device when travelling.  Now clearly a 12″ tablet, with the associated increase in weight however small, is never going to be the perfect tablet replacement and I wouldn’t claim that it is.  The same goes for the Lumia 2520 in “laptop” mode due to the fixed tilt of the single position Power Keyboard compared to the Surface 2.  I had realistic expectations that using the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet would involve a slightly compromised experience but would the it simply be too unwieldy as a tablet meaning I’d still have to carry around two devices when travelling.

Thankfully one compromise I didn’t need to make was the loss of connected standby thanks to the latest Core i3, i5 and i7 processors supporting that feature of Windows 8.  This means that the device works just like my previous ARM based Windows tablets although after an extended period in standby the Surface Pro 3 does go into a deep sleep and eventually hibernates.  This is required to extend the battery life into multi-day territory so not exactly the same experience.  I should also highlight that adding the Hyper-V feature in Windows 8 and 8.1 disables connected standby, something that will be “fixed” in Windows 10, but I have worked around that by enabling a boot menu option to start with Hyper-V disabled which re-enables connected standby.

Thankfully any concerns I had about using a 12″ tablet have mostly been unfounded mostly due to the aspect ratio which differs from the earlier Surface and Lumia devices.  This means that I can use the tablet in both portrait and landscape orientations and while the small increase in weight is certainly noticeable it isn’t enough to make me feel awkward.  What I have also found is that due to the increased size I tend to rest the device on me and support it from behind which means I don’t experience the discomfort I had found with the Surface RT and Surface 2 models.

As expected it is a compromise and I wouldn’t suggest a Surface Pro 3 to anyone intending to use it almost exclusively as a tablet.  What it does mean is that I can certainly travel with just the Surface Pro 3 without needing to also carry my Lumia 2520 and two power supplies.  There are certainly situations where a smaller device would be useful, sitting on a train for example, but I’ve also found the Lumia 2520 to be oversized in that scenario too due to it’s widescreen ratio.  I tend to use my Lumia 930 Windows phone in those situations and I can certainly see the requirement for a 7″ or 8″ device so just carrying the Surface Pro 3 around might not be for everyone.

Overall I am really pleased with the Surface Pro 3 and while I took the Lumia 2520 with me in the early days I now leave that at home.  I find myself using the Lumia 2520 at home but even that is becoming less frequent and with the news that Windows on ARM is to be discontinued I can see that usage decreasing even more.  In my experience and usage I have found that yes the Surface Pro 3 is a tablet that can replace my tablet.

Finally I appreciate that I haven’t provided a full review of the Surface Pro 3 but I know Ian is planning on doing just that and so I wanted to focus on the usage scenario which was most important to me.

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