Surface Pro 3 Review

I got a Surface Pro 3 (the middle model) about a month after it was released this year. It’s pretty darn awesome. It’s my main work machine and also useful for play. It’s also been written about to death online; there’s no huge need to overanalyze. Using the pen is great, but would be better if my handwriting was better (or I could draw. Or both). Still, it’s excellent in OneNote 2013 for taking notes during meetings. The screen resolution is excellent, essentially the same for daily work as using a Retina Mac screen. Touch accuracy is great, screen brightness is great, battery lasts a lot longer than my old laptop but sadly not quite up to MacBook Air levels (but I can deal). For 1.8lbs and terribly thin, well, basically it’s a real-life version of the Star Trek: The Next Generation P.A.D.D. (Personal Access Display Device). And with the right app, it can even look like a real L.C.A.R.S. (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) interface right out of Star Trek. (It’s OK, I know I’m geeky, and my wife tells me often enough if I forget.)

The keyboard is the biggest weakness. It’s leagues ahead of a tablet with no keyboard for sure. But it’s not anywhere near comfortable for long-term typing, though it suffices. It feels a bit cramped, but the worst part is the feel. The travel is necessarily extremely short, and while it does move a bit, I’d say it feels 70% in the direction of feeling like typing on a hard, flat, unmoving keyboard (or screen), and 30% like typing on a traditional keyboard.

I’ve actually used laptop keyboard that felt almost as bad or were harder to type on, but nothing that I’ve ever used consistently. It doesn’t hold a candle to a Dell Latitude, Lenovo ThinkPad, or Microsoft Natural keyboard, which are the three keyboards I’ve used most in my life. The Latitude E6420 I had before feels positively luxurious after typing on the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover keyboard for a while. I often lay it flat rather than magnetically locked up at an angle because having a solid surface underneath it (on a desk) is better than having the suspended keyboard feel mushy. And it does have an issue where, when typing fast, random keys are activated or the mouse will move (I’m pretty sure I’m not actually touching the trackpad but it’s possible, and frustrating either way). But while I do type a lot, it’s not usually for long periods of time, and so far it’s been bearable in short spurts. Just not tremendously enjoyable.

The trackpad is essentially worthless, which is a step up from the prior Surface models where the Type Cover’s trackpad was literally worthless, but I never use my trackpads anyway, so I don’t care much (the exception being the MacBook Pro, which has a wonderful trackpad). A mouse is always superior in efficiency and comfort so I have a relatively inexpensive Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Mouse which uses Bluetooth to avoid taking up my one USB port. It works better than any Bluetooth mouse I’ve ever used (not saying much :-) and is reasonably comfortable. I liked my Logitech previously but I’m not giving up the USB port. I also use my finger on the screen a surprisingly large amount, and it works quite well if a bit inaccurate on the first try sometimes (and occasionally I mouse with the pen, it’s definitely better than using the trackpad!).

I’m primarily carrying the Surface Pro 3 in the ProCase Wallet Sleeve Case which is made of cheap fake leather, but I like everything else about it so much I’d pay multiple times the price for one identical in real leather (or at least higher-end plastic). But it works, and has a pen loop, which is better than the built-in one (which I haven’t stuck on the keyboard as intended). For $15 I’m not complaining, and I don’t like anything else I’ve found any better.

I’m also carrying the Cable Matters Mini DisplayPort to HDMI/DVI/VGA 3-in-1 Adapter with me everywhere, along with the HooToo 3-port USB 3.0 Hub with Gigabit Ethernet Adapter, a handy way to expand my USB ports if needed and use a wired network; often a must when dealing with troubleshooting and configuring wireless networks. And to get 64-bit, Windows 8 support in a serial port (also necessary for some network setup and troubleshooting), I picked up the Pluggable USB to RS-232 DB9 Serial Adapter, which also works perfectly. A lot of these items are things Microsoft has branded versions of, for almost twice as much. So yeah, no. I’m fine with decent quality off-brand accessories for less!

All that plus a network cable is pretty much what I carry everywhere, inside my Wenger Patriot Rolling Case. But wait, I actually carry it in the pull-out briefcase that comes with the rolling case! So it’s tiny and light, and I keep more accessories and paperwork in the rolling case (my Doxie Go scanner, label printer, work orders, additional cords, etc.) which normally stays in my car unless I need it. Saves my back! Everything I linked to in the last three paragraphs (not this one) fits very comfortably with the Surface Pro 3 and the Surface power adapter (and usually a Lightning cable for my phone, which can charge on the spare power port on the Surface’s adapter).

Hello lightweight, goodbye chiropractor (as often), and I rarely miss the stuff I leave in the car! For sales meetings, I often just take the ProCase sleeve with the Surface Pro 3 and Pen for notes, going even lighter weight.

Overall, I love this thing, but it’s not perfect. Just closer than anything else. Though the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga is pretty darn awesome and recently available, but was not on the market when I got my Surface Pro 3. Around twice the weight of the Surface with an optional pen, I’m not sure which I’d like best but it does seem to fix a few of my Surface issues (keyboard (much more awesome, though not removable), maybe trackpad, better battery). Is the extra weight worth it? No way to tell without using it extensively (it felt great when I held it at a conference recently!), but the Surface is my main machine for a couple of years, so that gives Lenovo (and Microsoft) time to scheme which is going to have the best option next go-around…until then, I’m pretty happy!