Initial Impressions of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3

wpid-2014-06-12-21.47.21.jpg.jpegUnlike official tech reviewers and members of the press, I don’t have early access to new and exciting technology. Instead, I need to wait till the consumer masses are allowed to see and touch them at retail outlets. The Surface Pro 3 won’t be available to purchase until June 20, but Microsoft recently put their upcoming tablet on display at their retail stores; and I happened to be near one yesterday.

I’m visiting Manhattan, and Microsoft has one of their stores in a mall at Columbus Circle; I jumped at the opportunity to see it before my preorder comes. Here are my impressions:

The larger size is very welcome, especially having used the Surface Pro for so long and wishing it was just a bit bigger. The extra screen size seems minor, only 2 more inches, but the difference is significant. Even with the larger size, the Surface Pro 3 is exceptionally light. Making my old Surface Pro seem heavy in comparison. The Surface Pro 3 also sports the light grey color adopted by the Surface 2, which looks much more welcoming than the old dark brown color.

The kickstand has always been one of the best features of the Surface series, doing away with the need for various shells and cases just to prop the tablet up. It’s handy to have and easily out of the way when not. The Surface Pro 3 kickstand increases the number of positions of its predecessors. The first one, had a single position, the second, two. The new one has a new third mode which is a variable angle all the way down to an almost flat angle. It still feels firm and stable even at the extreme angles; strong enough to draw and interact with. The new kickstand is truly an impressive work of engineering.

wpid-2014-06-12-21.46.48.jpg.jpegThe pen is new on the Surface Pro 3, and it was something I was concerned about. The previous versions of the Surface Pro utilized a Wacom digitizer, which is an important feature for many artists. Microsoft decided to go with N-Trig this time around. The change may have been cost associated, since any tablet using a Wacom digitizer demands an additional $100 to $300, and for the average user who wants a pen and not a Wacom, N-Trig may have provided them a more attractive solution. N-Trig may have also been willing to work with Microsoft to build a better pen experience; maybe Wacom wasn’t willing to do that, since their tablet solution has been around for many years. During the press event, Adobe was on hand to show their support for the Surface Pro, so my worries were diminished, but still present. Having played with the pen, I can safely say that the pen is quite good. I was able to use it on the demo with OneNote and FreshPaint. The performance and handling was quite good, and the pen didn’t feel cheap. The only remaining questions will be other paint program performance, and battery life – yes, the N-Trig pen uses a AAAA battery, so plan on having some spares close by. I won’t know these things until I get to interrogate the Surface Pro 3.

The new Type Cover is a nice improvement over the last two generations. The mere fact it was bigger made me less prone to typing mistakes, and the trackpad was VASTLY improved. The last generation trackpads were merely serviceable, the new one is fantastic. Microsoft removed the fabric like cover and used the extra space to make a large smooth surface trackpad that was great to use. I found it interesting that the connector for the type cover is the same as that found in the old Surface, but it remains to be seen if I can use the new keyboard on my old Surface, or use the old keyboard on the new Surface. It looks like I might still be able to use the Bluetooth adapter on the new Keyboard; something I will be sure to find out.

The Surface Pro 3 still retains a single USB3 port and they stuck the Micro-SD card adapter to the back, under the kickstand, like the Surface 2. I would have liked to have seen a full SD card slot, since there seems to be room for one. That addition would have been handy for photographers, since most modern cameras use full size SD cards. The mini DisplayPort adapter remains as well, which is great news, since I won’t need to buy new connectors to hook up the Surface Pro 3 to my external display.

Overall, I’ve very impressed with the new Surface Pro 3, and I am very anxious to put the new tablet through it’s paces when I get it! Stay tuned for my full review.