Battery Life

When you consider something like a tablet, battery life is a crucial part of the complete package. Tablets are not meant to be plugged in for really any of their normal usage. In the case of the Surface 3, it has a 28 Wh battery onboard to power it when not plugged into the wall. That is a fair bit less than the 42 Wh battery that is crammed into the Surface Pro 3, but with a less powerful CPU, and a slightly smaller display, it may be able to compete.

To test battery life, we have several tests and for a device like the Surface 3 we will compare it to a couple of device types. First up, we will compare it against other tablets on our Wi-Fi test, which consists of basic web browsing. Next we can compare to notebook computers with our light test (again, web browsing) to get a feel for how it performs against those devices.

Surface 3 features Connected Standby support, but after a few hours of being asleep it will switch to hibernation. This is the same as the Surface Pro 3, and it helps tremendously with standby times. Although we do not have a test for this, in my time with the device I found that standby times were excellent, which makes sense since the device is actually turning off after a few hours. This does make for a bit longer wakeup the next time you need it, but it is a better result than the device being out of battery.

To enable a level playing field for all of the devices, we set the display brightness to 200 nits for all battery life tests, and disable any adaptive brightness.

Tablet Battery Life

Web Browsing Battery Life (WiFi)

Compared to other tablets, the Surface 3 has pretty poor battery life. On our web browsing test, the Surface 3 came in at just under eight hours. The iPad Air 2 has a similar size battery, but manages almost two hours more battery life in this test. The CPU workload is fairly light in this test, but without a complete breakdown of all of the parts inside it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is the issue here.

Video Playback Battery Life (720p, 4Mbps HP H.264)

Update: May 18, 2015

After some discussions with Intel, I discovered that the battery life while playing back video was lower than it should be. Further digging into this issue found that the script being used to log the battery life time affected the tablet video playback test dramatically and resulted in much worse battery life result than was warranted. I have re-run this test several times with no script and was able to achieve 10.5 hours at 200 nits which is a much more respectable result. Further testing determined that this only affected the video playback times, and the other results were unchanged whether the script was running or not.

When this review was first published, we had tested the battery life at 7.72 hours of video playback. Upon subsequent research, it was determined that part of our logging in our battery life test caused an issue for unexpected CPU usage outside of the video decoder, and as a result, we are realigning the result to 10.5 hours. The issue in our test, based on retests of other devices, is currently only limited to the Surface 3 and specifically only to the video playback test.

On the video playback, the Surface 3 stumbles even farther, although the overall battery life is almost identical to the web browsing test. On the video playback many tablets are able to offload the work to hardware. Once again, without being able to check each part of the tablet individually it is not very easy to determine what is causing this weak battery life result.

So compared to tablets, the Surface 3 is about mid-pack in the video playback tests, and below average for web browsing. I hoped for a better result.

Laptop Battery Life

We have a different set of tests for notebook computers, so I also ran the Surface 3 through our light workload which is a different browser test.

Battery Life 2013 - Light

Battery Life 2013 - Light Normalized

The Surface 3 manages to outperform the Surface Pro 3 here, and at 8.5 hours on our light test, it is a decent result.

Battery Life 2013 - Heavy

Battery Life 2013 - Heavy Normalized

The situation is very similar under our heavy test. The Surface 3 once again outperforms the Surface Pro 3 here, however now it's by quite a bit more than it did under the Light test. Meanwhile compared to the Core M devices, only the Venue 11 remains well in the lead; the UX305's lead is down to 15%. Ultimately with a 2W SDP, the bulk of the Surface 3's power consumption is in the display, so ramping up for our heavy test does not have the same impact on overall power consumption as it does on devices with more powerful SoCs/CPUs. Meanwhile the situation also sees the Surface 3 do well on a normalized basis, well ahead of any other device with respect to the number of minutes of runtime per watt-hour of battery capacity.

Charge Time

The other aspect of mobility is charge time. Although longer battery life would always be a priority, the ability to quickly top up a device can make it a lot more useful in the real world where you are not always away from an outlet.

Charging time is always going to be a function of the battery size and the supplied charger’s ability to fill that battery. In the case of the Surface 3, Microsoft has shipped it with just a 13 watt charger, and when it is charging, only about half of that is available to the battery with the rest designated to power the system.

Charge Time

Battery Charge Time

Compared to notebook computers, the charging time is quite a bit longer than we are used to seeing. The Surface Pro 3’s proprietary charging connector was able to charge quite quickly, but the Surface 3 is really quite slow. Part of this comes down to the micro USB connector which is now the charging connector.

This connector is just not built for the high amperage needed to quickly charge a device up. Although I am happy to see Microsoft ditch the previous charging connector, this is where a USB Type-C connector would be much better. It can handle a lot more power, and it would have allowed the Surface 3 to come with a much higher wattage adapter. It really feels a bit like putting one foot in the past with the micro USB port. The long charge times were quite an issue for me trying to review this device, since we run our battery life tests multiple times to ensure a reliable result, but there was a very long wait to get the device ready for another run.

Display Wireless, Speakers, and Camera


View All Comments

  • Alexvrb - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    Actually in many regards the Surface 3 has the superior display. Sorry! Also in terms of SoC performance, the CPU side of the x7 is great and very competitive. If you're looking for 3D performance it's not as impressive but this would not be the best device for that workload - you'd be better off with a laptop/hybrid or a Surface Pro! Reply
  • Speedfriend - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    "And people buy it because it doesn't run windows, too."

    Increasingly people don't buy the Ipad if the plummeting sales are any indication. My iPad stay on the sofa for basic web browsing, email and videos. Anything else I have to get my laptop for, becuase the iPad is basically pretty useless. And having recently bpought a cheap Android tablet to carry to work to watch movies on, I have realised that an iPad offers nothing that a cheap Android tablet can't do. I will never buy another iPad, it is just an overpriced toy. I wil buy a Surface though as it can actually replace my laptop for almost every task.
  • romprak - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    The iPad is showing its lack of utility even in Apple's lineup, where large phones handily do most of the stuff an iPad used to be relied upon, and cheap tablets do web browsing as well as an iPad. Tablets are great for families, but why buy a $500 tablet for your child, when devices that can do almost as well are available for much, much less - and your children are unlikely to care too much whose logo is on the device?

    Apple is in trouble with the iPad, they need to either update the OS or come up with something killer for it.

    In contrast, my family can use a Windows machine for all sorts of stuff - from programming (my 10 year old son is programming now), all the way to playing games on Steam. So, why iPad? Seems superfluous.
  • akdj - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - link

    I wouldn't call the 'slack' quarter sales of 17 million iPads 'trouble for Apple'. They sold more iPads then every Surface sold in aggregate, since its birth....last ¼ Alone! And that's six months post release.
    I like the SP3 Pro, I think MS nailed it. Surface 3 looks like a very nice step forward. That said, Apple HAS updated the OS and as an ambidextrous user or both Windows and OS X, I've found the continuity/handoff features built into iOS 8/OS X 10.10 to easily be the biggest advancement in some time --- especially between devices; phone, tablet and desktop or notebook.
    Funny thing, I've got a ten year old as well. Also coding right now --- and I'm learning with him. He's building a cross platform app for his science fair.
    He's coding on iOS only. Although he's got access to the iMac and MacBook Air, he's much happier learning both Objective C/Swift on iOS, using the free university lectures, notes and information along with a couple very excellent 'touch' coding 'apps'

    It's funny to listen to rehashed arguments about the iPad and how it's for the couch potato only. I've flown 22 hours since Saturday morning, around Alaska with tourists looking to fish, shoot stills or motion, capture audio or wrap production in other areas of the state. My iPad is my kneeboard; plans my flights and files my plans, distributes weight and balance of the A/C, shows me real time weather, traffic, and up to date Jep charts and plates. It's been invaluable as a 'display' for small field edits, using as a remote viewfinder to capture sketchy wildlife and there's never a concern with battery life.

    I do enjoy reading on the iPad, creating, invoicing clients or paying my utilities. I can take calls, use MS Office (whoever said it's a stripped version obviously hasn't used iOS Office, it's amazing!) Dropbox or iCloud, Box or Google Drive (I've found many Google apps to be better on iOS than my Android devices, currently using a Note 4), as well a plethora of powerful apps like iMovie, GarageBand, Pages Numbers and Keynote...all optional, none are bloated. iOS takes up a ½ dozen GBs, not two dozen! And if the RT3 suffers this much graphically, there's a LIMIT on 'all those X86' programs that actually WILL run on the rig
    Sure, you'll be able to run CS3 efficiently and it sounds like games from a decade ago might work, but Iike the iPad, you're not gonna be manipulating 50megapixel Raw images nor creating killed effects in AE or transcoding video any faster. There's a trade off either way and IMHO, it's cool to see this significant a jump in performance on the new RT
    I was also impressed with the SP3. That said, the iPad Air 2 is one helluva tablet at one pound and using TCAS and ADS-B with three dimensional moving maps with weather and traffic, GPS and nav aids that were easily 50-60 pounds for each pilot to carry around or avionics to add... Now in less than a one pound package, it's definitely NOT in trouble.
    I think it's such an excellent device --- my original as well as iPad 2 are working great and the kids love them...most folks aren't updating them like phones. They're still selling nearly a 100,000,000 a year! That's hardly trouble. Even if the slip YoY spooks you, just remember how many are already out there, that the mini is only two and half --- 1 ½ with retina, and the Air 2 was the tick. Not that tock...yet they've managed to sell more in their worst quarter than every other tablet manufacturer combined! (Not to mention their mind blowing 6 & 6s sales, I'm sure their just fine canabalizing their own iPad sales with 6 and 6+ sales which are also pocket computers).
    Times have changed and 'most' folks have everything they need in today's tablets. Today's smartphones. Regardless of which OEM they've decided on. Once they're happy, it's kind of a pain to 'change over' and these are extremely personal devices when compared to the home computer

    Sorry about the length. But I enjoy and love using both OS X and (one of about six or seven dolts that enjoy using) Win 8.1. I've also used Android since 08 (still have my Xoom!) and iOS since '07. I currently use a Note 4 and 6+. Biz. Personal. As much as I enjoy Windows, OS X is certainly the 'go to OS' in our house.

    Not to mention, OS X comes complete with training wheels for someone like romprak. It's called Bootcamp and you're welcome to install any OS you'd like. Unlike Windows.
  • bobjones32 - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    For your claim of better performance, how well does the iPad run Win32 apps? Reply
  • mkozakewich - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    That's not performance, that's functionality. If the exact same chip magically supported dual-booting x86 Win10, I'm sure it would do slightly better. That's not the power of Atom, though. It wasn't designed to blow everything else out of the water. (I'm sure it'll get better power characteristics on heavy load tests, for instance, because of its conservative power use.)

    What it all boils down to: This is a great device. It's different than an iPad, though, and different people will need different things from it. I feel a premium tablet can live at $500-$600, but a slightly-compromised tablet that runs Windows and is only truly complete with a $120 accessory will need to sweeten the deal to have obvious value to the common consumer.

    It's a close game, but Surface needs a nudge. I suppose it'll get that in a couple months when it goes on sale for a bit.
  • MrTetts - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    I never understand people who say this device is overpriced.. I just don't. For what it does, I would say it is very well priced. Reply
  • Stevegt87 - Thursday, May 7, 2015 - link

    While the surface 3 is more capable than an ipad. A new ipad runs 100% of ipad software perfectly. Surface 3 is low on cpu/gpu/ram/disk for much of the desktop experience that it enables. Reply
  • Stevegt87 - Thursday, May 7, 2015 - link

    Game are made to run perfectly on an ipad. Games will humble surface3 Reply
  • augiem - Monday, May 4, 2015 - link

    This thing is already $100 cheaper than a 128GB Air 2, does WAY more, has more memory, etc. How cheap is cheap enough? Would you really want them to sacrifice something like build quality, screen quality, or other necessities to reach a price point lower than this? They do have to stay in business after all. Running full Windows in the tablet space is completely unheard of and adds far more than $50 worth of value to this product compared to its competition. Reply

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