The touchscreen Surface Pro 3, unveiled on Tuesday, is Microsoft's latest attempt to bridge the gap between laptops and tablets.
Panos Panay claims Surface Pro 3 is one device to rule them all
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"It starts with dreaming the impossible," gushed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the launch event in New York.
"Can we design and build a device that takes the best of the tablet and the laptop and enables any individual to be able to read and to be able to create and write, watch a movie and make a movie, enjoy art and create art? That's the device that we wanted to create, the motivation for the Surface line."
Redmond had cranked the rumor mill that it was going to churn out smaller Surface devices, but in the end it unveiled the 12-inch Surface Pro 3 running Intel's Core i3, i5, and i7 processors. At 9.1mm thick, Microsoft claims the Pro 3 is the thinnest hardware yet running Intel's Core family and that at 800 grams it's lighter than a MacBook Air, even with the detachable keyboard.
Those Core processors might pack a lot of grunt, but they also get hot enough to fry bacon, and so Microsoft's Panos Panay, VP of Microsoft Surface, claimed the company had "reinvented the fan" with custom parts to give 30 per cent more cooling power and an air vent system to keep the Pro 3 from overheating.
With big iron comes big cooling power
Intel's iron also takes up a lot of battery life, but Panay said that had been improved by 15 to 20 per cent over past Surface models. That should give the new model nine hours battery life from a single charge but, as ever, it depends on what you do with it.
The Pro 3 comes with 4 or 8GB of RAM to keep Windows 8.1 ticking over, a single USB 3.0 connector, microSD port, and a mini DisplayPort socket that supports 4K monitors. In the casing there are 5MP and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing cameras, front and rear microphones, and a front-facing speaker that's 45 per cent louder than the previous Pro model.
The pen that comes with the Surface has also been redesigned to work with Microsoft's OneNote memo software. Two clicks on the top of the stylus activates OneNote so that notes can be taken as and when they occur, and they are then automatically uploaded to the cloud.
Microsoft has entered into a partnership with Adobe to create a Pro 3–optimized version of Photoshop for the fondleslab. Michael Gough, VP of experience design at Adobe, raved about the new features in the Photoshop build when used with the new pen.
But is it a laptop?
Paney expounded at great length about the "lapability" of the product, saying being able to use the Surface on a lap while travelling was key to bridging the gap between tablets and laptops. To that end, Microsoft has redesigned both the kickstand that holds the machine up and the Touch and Type Covers used.
The Surface's kickstand originally only locked out at a set angle, although this was extended to two positions with the second iteration. With the Pro 3, the kickstand extends from the body 150 degrees around and locks in any position to give the best screen view to the user.
Not one, not two, but as many positions as you want
To steady the device on the lap, the typing covers now have a magnetic bar on the front that rolls up and locks the keyboard in place against the Pro 3's body to eliminate the wobble that comes with using it on an uneven surface. Panay also said that the cover's keys and touchpad had been redesigned to make them much more user-friendly.
Both of these are important steps, to be sure. But they both miss the crucial flaw in the Surface design – its lack of a firm hinge. To use the Surface and keyboard on the move, the kickstand has to be deployed, and that increases the overall horizontal length needed to use the device.
Try that with a respectable beer belly
Panay demonstrated this weakness inadvertently during his demo. He's of average build and put the Pro 3 on his knees; it fitted, but with the side effect of sticking the trackpad into his stomach – typing was possible but hardly comfortable. Nevertheless, he said he was confident the design worked.
"I'm super proud of Surface 3," he said. "I am sure that this is the tablet that can replace the laptop. I am sure, and I hope when you get your hands on it you will love it."
That could be soon, as all models of the Pro 3 go on sale on Wednesday. There's a Core i3 version with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM for $799. There are two Core i5 models; a 128GB version with 4GB of RAM for $999 and a 256GB build with 8GB of RAM for $1,299. Swap the Core i5 for a Core i7 in that high-end model and you'll pay $1,549, and there's a deluxe 512GB version with 8GB of RAM that will set you back a stonking $1,949. ®