Earlier today Microsoft announced its 3rd generation Surface Pro device, aptly named the Surface Pro 3. This is the first Surface model to deviate from the 10.6" 16:9 form factor of all four previous devices (Surface Pro, Surface RT, Surface Pro 2, Surface 2) and instead standardizes on a 12" 3:2 form factor. The resulting device is also substantially thinner, now at 9.1mm (0.36"). Surface Pro 3 is now somewhere between the thickness of Surface 2 and Surface RT.

The original Surface Pro featured a kickstand that could stay open at a fixed 22-degree angle. Surface Pro 2 added another stop (40 degrees) to the kickstand to allow for more flexible, laptop-like operation. Surface Pro 3 features the same initial 22-degree stop, however it can be opened to any angle beyond that (up to 150-degrees) using a new high friction hinge. The hinge opens with little effort to its first stop, anything beyond that requires additional force. It's enough to feel secure, but not too little that the hinge loses its position. It's unclear how this new hinge will hold up over time but I suspect Microsoft put a good amount of testing into it.

With the device width comes a new type cover with a larger trackpad and secondary magnetic strip. The second magnetic strip can provide a second attach point to the Surface Pro 3, allowing the cover to be a more stable base when used in laptop mode. In practice the new hinge with more stable type cover creates a much more laptop-like base, which definitely comes in handy when typing on your lap. In my brief time with the review unit I still found it to be less stable than a laptop, but it's a far closer approximation to the laptop experience than it ever has been before.

The new trackpad is substantially larger horizontally and features a new lower friction surface. The trackpad is actually a clickpad with left/right buttons activated by pushing down on the lower left/right corners of the clickpad itself. Using the integrated trackpad on previous Surface covers was an exercise in madness that got mildly better last generation. 

Right off the bat the new clickpad on the 3rd generation type cover is a lot better, but it's still not in laptop-territory as far as experience goes. I'll need to spend more time with it to see if it's truly past the point of being frustrating to use.

There's a new battery powered pen for Surface Pro 3. You lose some pressure sensitivity (256 levels vs 1024), but there are new features that Microsoft hopes will make up for it. I haven't spent much time with the new pen at all so I'll save commentary on it for the full review.

The new design features the same sized battery as previous Surface models. I'm guessing we'll see a reduction in battery life given the new, presumably higher power display, but I'll find out for sure over the coming days.

Microsoft also added 802.11ac support to the new Surface Pro courtesy of Marvell's Avastar-AC solution (88W8897 perhaps?).

And yes, connected standby is supported.

Microsoft Surface Pro Comparison
  Surface Pro 3 Surface Pro 2 Surface Pro
Dimensions 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36" 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53" 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53"
Display 12-inch 2160 x 1440 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 w/ Improved Color Accuracy 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 PLS
Weight 1.76 lbs 2.0 lbs 2.0 lbs
Processor Core i5-4300U with HD4400 Graphics (15W Haswell ULT) Core i5-4200U with HD4400 Graphics (15W Haswell ULT) Core i5-3317U with HD4000 Graphics (17W Ivy Bridge)
Cameras 5MP/5MP (front/rear) 1.2MP/1.2MP (front/rear) 1.2MP/1.2MP (front/rear)
Connectivity 802.11ac WiFi WiFi WiFi
Memory 4GB or 8GB LPDDR3 4GB or 8GB LPDDR3 4GB
Storage 64, 128, 256 or 512GB 64 or 128GB (4GB RAM)
256GB or 512GB (8GB RAM)
64GB or 128GB
Battery 42.0 Wh 42.0 Wh 42.0 Wh
Starting Price $799 $899 $799

Display

With Surface Pro 3, Microsoft finally accepts that while 16:9 may be a great aspect ratio for watching movies but it's not optimal for a multi-purpose tablet. The tablet features a 12" 2160 x 1440 display (RGB stripe, not RGBW/PenTile), which ends up being a 3:2 aspect ratio. The difference is immediately noticeable in notebook-style use. While the Surface Pro 2 was never quite all that comfortable to use as a laptop, Surface Pro 3's display makes it substantially more laptop-like. There doesn't appear to be a substantial impact to tablet use either with the larger display. Particularly with Windows 8.1's split screen mode, the larger display ends up working extremely well. I'll talk about the new hinge a bit more in the usability section but the aspect ratio alone is a huge step forward.


Default Scaling on Surface Pro 3

Color accuracy is improved out of the box as well. The original Surface Pro had a display capable of being quite accurate, if calibrated, but out of the box it was a bit of a mess. Microsoft slowly improved out of box calibration over the years, eventually culminating in what we have today with Surface Pro 3.

Display - Black Levels

Display - Max Brightness

Display - Contrast Ratio

 

Max brightness drops a bit compared to Surface Pro 2, likely due to the Pro 3 having 50% more pixels to light. Black levels at max brightness are pretty good, thanks in part to Microsoft's optically bonded LCD/cover glass stack. Contrast ratio remains competitive with previous designs.

Grayscale accuracy is the biggest issue with the new display, green levels are just way too high:

Display - Grayscale Accuracy

Our basic sRGB gamut test paints a great picture for Surface Pro 3. Full saturation color reproduction is excellent:

Display - Gamut Accuracy

The saturation sweep also looks solid:

Display - Saturation Accuracy

Unfortunately Surface Pro 3 doesn't do so well on our GMB color checker test. Part of the problem is its performance in the grayscale swatches included in this test:

Display - GMB Accuracy

Overall the display is a big improvement over the previous Surface Pro generations, but it's still behind iPad Air territory in terms of color reproduction which is disappointing. Given Microsoft's focus on Surface Pro 3 as an image editing tool, I would've hoped for class leading performance across the board.

Performance

Surface Pro 3 still uses a 15W Haswell ULT SoC. My review sample uses a Core i5-4300U (a speed bump of SP2's original 4200U), although there are also Core i3 and i7 options as well. In the case of the i5-4300U we're talking about a dual-core/4 thread Haswell part with a 3MB L3 cache. The CPU cores run at up to a 1.9GHz base frequency and 2.9GHz max turbo. The latter is quite impressive given the incredibly thin (9.1mm) Surface Pro 3 chassis. My guess is that Intel is giving Microsoft the best binned Haswell ULT parts to ensure good performance at low thermals. There are still 4GB or 8GB memory options, although my sample came with 8GB of LPDDR3.

I saw sustained speeds of 2.6GHz while running single-threaded Cinebench 11.5:

The system's internal fan was definitely audible during the Cinebench run.

On the storage front Microsoft is still using a SATA based drive. It's unfortunate that more PC makers haven't shifted to PCIe, although I suspect that'll come next year with NVMe based solutions (I hope). My review sample featured a 256GB Samsung PM851 drive, this is an OEM version of the TLC based Samsung SSD 840 EVO.

Despite featuring a thinner chassis, I measured performance improvements over both previous Surface Pros. I'll have more data in the final review but here I'm seeing a 3 - 20% increase in performance over the Surface Pro 2.

PCMark 7 (2013)

Cinebench R11.5 - Single-Threaded Benchmark

Cinebench R11.5 - Multi-Threaded Benchmark

Final Words

There's a lot more work to do on Surface Pro 3, including substantial battery life testing and continued usage. If there's anything in particular you guys want to see us touch on, leave it in the comments below.

 

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  • at80eighty - Tuesday, May 20, 2014 - link

    i cant even Reply
  • CharonPDX - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    While it certainly doesn't compare to a well-equipped desktop in visual quality - it certainly is PLAYABLE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l01hJvlPQMc Reply
  • CharonPDX - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Here's a few more games on that graphics chip (with the older/slower CPU, even:) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysDgUdQLvUk Reply
  • theduckofdeath - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    A mobile device will never be able to do all that a contemporary desktop device can do. My tablet uses less than 10W in total, this one might be up around 20w max, while my tower has a 750w power supply (not even close to being a big PSU these days)... And the trend is bigger and bigger power supplies on desktop. Reply
  • Cashmoney995 - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    Your desktop uses parts that are not mobile yields or designs. When you go further down the nm in chip size you reduce power leakage and you get more performance. The general equation is power input = heat, computational power. I know a company that makes a single card powered off PCIe that has 96 (yes 96) x86 cores that can compute in parallel. PCIe has max power of 25watts. When you think that your desktop PSU is also built to have multiple hard drives, fans, cd burners, multiple USB, obviously the power requirement is increased. In the end all you really care about is the TDP of the CPU and Video card, one hard drive the cpu cooler and a couple USB. There is no trend for bigger and bigger PSU's on desktops. In fact, PSU growth has stabilized in recent years and the larger numbers are only peak output as well as marketing fluff. Think of it as a 1000hp engine in a city car...you'll never use it. Reply
  • Munif Mujib - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    Actually, Surface Pro 2 can run Crysis 3 (barely, but it can). This certainly will as well. Reply
  • nevertell - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Desktops will always perform better than laptops and there is still a huge market share that care about the performance more than the functionality. It's basic physics that allow a device that can dissipate more heat do more operations per second than a device that can dissipate less heat. Reply
  • simonpschmitt - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Not to sound flip, but everybody looks at funktionality first. If the function I need isn't there I don't care how fast it is doing things I don't need.
    If you're looking at maximum performance acievable, yes a desktop will always be better than a tablet. But so will be a supercomputer.
    Most people only need a glorified typewriter and internet access machine. As a physicist I am even doing some Origin and Mathematica calculations on my ultrabook witch is very similar to the new Surface specwise (i5-4200, 8GB DDR3L, Samsung 840 EVO) and most of the time it runs smoothly. When I do need more power I usually run out of RAM. So even then I am not really pushing the thermal limitations.

    tl;dr

    Different people need different devices. If Microsoft continues on their current developement path, I can see the Surface line beeing a good fit for a lot of people.
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    ?? I use a Surface Pro 2, with a dock, in work instead of a desktop? Have you even used one? Reply
  • beggerking@yahoo.com - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    even SP1 does everything a full desktop can do... what are you talking about? Reply

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