Here I am, sitting at a cozy coffee house. Not just some coffee house, too, but a place where a lot of young people hang out – students, mostly. They come here for a cup of coffee much like people do at Starbucks overseas. Like me, they also come here to work – I’ve seen more MacBooks here than I did in iDeal (official Apple product distributor in Lithuania, similar to iStore / Apple Store). But I don’t have a MacBook. Perhaps that is why through the corner of my eye I notice a young girl looking my way. Now, my Julie has no reason to worry. The girl is not interested in me whatsoever. What caught her eye is the computer on my lap. She notices me noticing her and immediately says – “What sort of computer is that? It’s pretty.” Right. So this might not help my self esteem, but the girl is indeed correct. I appreciate a good design and, well, this thing looks the part. Coupled with the bright blue keyboard, certainly good enough to attract attention.
Whether you want it to attract attention or not is a different matter. More importantly, though, it’s not all looks and no substance. Quite the contrary, in fact – Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is ready to give someone a bloody nose.
Disclaimer: our words are always our own. Microsoft did not provide me with this Surface Pro 3, it was bought with real money from a real store. If you find this review to be very positive, it’s not because someone paid me to write positively – it’s because Surface is that good for my purposes, period.
Most of you probably do not need this explanation and if that is the case, just skip it. But for those who wonder why on Earth I am reviewing a computer on a photography website, here is the simple thing – nowadays, digital photography and computers are inseparable tools. If you have a digital camera, you must have a computer, too. If not for post-processing (I got into the habit of processing my work in-camera when shooting with the Fujifilm, I just love the tones, the colours, the general rendering so much), then for sharing. If not for sharing, then at the very least for storing the work somewhere as your memory card gets full. Me, I was very much looking for a super-portable laptop that I could occasionally process my work with, but, more importantly (as I have a PC at home that I am quite happy with), one that would be brilliant for writing on the go or showing my work to clients during meetings. I am certain that a lot of you need such a tool as well, hence the review. I won’t hide it – I think I found what I was looking for and more. This thing is incredible. But I won’t spoil it for you, keep reading!
A rather extensive side note: I am going to mention Apple quite a bit in this article, and especially in the design section. Why? Simple. You may love or hate the Cupertino giant, but there is one undeniable fact about it – Apple has made some of the most beautiful pieces of consumer technology, ever. More than that, the craftsmanship is only matched by the likes of Leica, Bowers & Wilkins, Braun and such. Their products can often be considered jewelry, that’s how obsessive Apple is when it comes to attention to detail. So, comparing someone’s product to Apple in terms of design and fulfillment is sort of a big compliment, regardless if you like the company or not. Now, I am not a designer, never have been and how little the subject was touched during my studies hardly gives my words enough weight to draw any sort of serious conclusions here, so keep in mind everything I am about to say next is merely a matter of opinion. Also, I’ve owned but a few Apple products and so my opinion is in no way influenced by sentiments – in fact, I have no sentiments for the brand (although I must admit I am a big fan of the iPod Classic).
1) What is It?
If you’ve never heard of the Surface before – and I could never blame you for it even though we reviewed the Surface Pro 2 a while ago – it is basically Microsoft’s attempt at beating Apple by… doing what Apple does. Sounds strange, yes? Well, let me ask you this – when someone says “Apple”, what do you first think about? iPhone? iPad? I am betting it is either one of those or the Macs and iPods (and Steve Jobs, but that is irrelevant within the context of this article). That is because, in the eyes of the consumer, Apple is a hardware company, and a software company afterwards. In fact, the hardware and software part of the products is so integrated, so tied-up, it is hard to see it differently. It is the physical product itself that you first see and touch, and you have to consciously separate the operating system from the hardware to not see the two as one. Only Apple products run Apple operating systems, be it mobile, lightweight iOS or the more capable, full-fledged Mac OS. There are no iOS or Mac OS powered Samsung, Dell or Panasonic devices. It would be weird to see such a device. Cupertino, nothing else.
Now, the second part of the question – what do you first think of when you hear someone say “Microsoft”? I am pretty certain that, for the most of you, it is either Windows or Office. If you own an Xbox, you might think of it at some point, too, but most likely not before the software. In the eyes of the consumer, Microsoft has always been a software company first and foremost and, as far as I know, they’ve never made in-house computers, at the very least not in recent years. Until a couple of years ago they introduced the first generation Surface and Surface Pro tablets. Now, when I say tablets, it is only partly true. The Surface (not the Pro) was indeed a direct rival to such devices as Android powered tablets and the iPad, but the Pro is somewhat different. Rather than utilizing a mobile OS, it ran on a full, big, solid version of Windows and as such was not only a rival to the iPad, but even more so to traditional ultrabooks and “notebook” class laptops. Which means Office, Lightroom, Photoshop, Bridge, Illustrator, your favourite browsers, even games – whatever you have on your PC at home, the Surface Pro has the potential to run it, and the latest version certainly makes the whole experience very smooth.
With that in mind, I said “potential” for a reason as it brings us neatly to…
When purchasing Microsoft Surface Pro 3, there are 5 specifications – and price points – to choose from:
- Intel i3 – 64 GB SSD – 4 GB RAM – $800
- Intel i5 – 128 GB SSD – 4 GB RAM – $1,000
- Intel i5 – 256 GB SSD – 8 GB RAM – $1,300
- Intel i7 – 256 GB SSD – 8 GB RAM – $1,550
- Intel i7 – 512 GB SSD – 8 GB RAM – $1,950
As you can see, specs vary greatly, but so does the pricing. From an arguably moderate $800 (if you remember this is a premium product) to, as near as makes no difference, two thousand dollars, there is plenty of choice, but no version is cheap, nor perhaps should it be. Then again, Apple products are hardly inexpensive with base MacBook Air (both screen sizes) coming in at comparable price (they feature better specs on paper for a little bit more money, but none have a touchscreen or can be used as tablets, nor do they have such brilliant screens). There is no arguing, however, that you could purchase much more capable piece of hardware for the money, at least on paper.
It should be noted that all Intel processors are of 4th generation. The version that I own is the i5 with 8 GB of RAM (basically, mid-spec) and suits my requirements very well indeed. Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the rest of the specifications, as all Surface Pro 3’s also feature:
- Windows 8.1 Professional (64 bit)
- 12″, 2160×1440, 3:2 aspect ration touchscreen
- A single USB 3.0 port
- microSD card slot
- Mini DisplayPort
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- Up to 9 hours of battery life
- Surface Pen
- Three buttons – physical volume rocker and sleep button, and touch-sensitive home button
- Wifi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity
- Front and rear 5 megapixel cameras
- Stereo speakers (Dolby sound) and microphones
- Ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer
- Dimensions: 292.1mm x 201.4mm x 9.1mm
- Weighs 800g
- Optional Type Cover (keyboard) and Arc Touch Surface mouse
Now, considering just how compact this full-fledged computer is, the rest of the specifications are quite impressive. Neither the keyboard or mouse require, say, a USB port – the mouse connects via Bluetooth whilst the keyboard has a separate magnetic dock. Thus, a single port is not as much of a problem as it might seem if you keep in mind this is a tablet/laptop for travel. The screen is very impressive and has more resolution than my stationary 21″ Dell monitor. The microSD slot can serve as a useful memory expansion for, say, backup purposes (otherwise it is too slow). Battery life is also quite impressive, but then this is one of the main selling points (more on that later). And even though the DisplayPort requires an adapter, at least there is a way to connect a larger monitor or TV. The Surface Pen is a very nice addition, too, especially for those working with graphics and photography. And, of course, there is the obligatory 3.5mm audio jack for those who like to work whilst listening to their favorite music.
Enough with the specifications, though. As impressive or otherwise they might be for a tablet/laptop of this size, they are not a reason why this is a premium product. The next bit is.
3) Design and Quality
This thing is beautiful. As much as I tried to do justice to the Surface with these product shots, I don’t think I succeeded – “in metal” (both figuratively and literally), it is a very well sorted piece of design with the simple lines only spoiled by the inherently ugly but necessary ports, such as the USB. The proprietary charging port is much more elegant, as is the charger itself. The Surface Pro 3 could be simpler still, although that’s quite a feat to achieve, not least because it needs some serious cooling and thus vents. If often design is limited by company’s technical prowess, Microsoft has managed to do well and the quiet elegant understatement is very much to my liking. There is not a single chrome detail on the shell itself, which is reasonably faithful to the “as little design as possible” idea. The Surface Pro 3 is confident and not shouty. It is staggering how quickly Microsoft (almost) caught up with Apple in this regard – and, as Apple products gain more and more bling, Microsoft has a real chance at surpassing them at some point. Mind you, it is not as simple as an iPad, and not quite as well crafted, but then it happens to be potentially much more capable and, more importantly, complex.
The front side of the device is dominated by an enormous slab of Gorilla Glass 3, surrounded by a slim strip of magnesium that the rest of the Surface Pro 3 shell is made of. A very subtle, but nice detailing is the thin glass cutouts for the stereo speakers on both sides of the device. There is also a barely noticeable “lip” where two parts of magnesium (different shades) meet at the top edge of the device – again, very subtle, but it’s there to catch the eye. There is no plastic insert between glass and the shell as is now usual with more expensive, premium products, so there is nothing to break the aesthetics of a smooth glass surface and the magnesium. It does look good and the lack of any distracting detail certainly helps – the only detailing that is immediately noticeable is the new-ish, simple Windows logo that works very well with the straight-lines-all-over design of the Surface Pro 3.
The other side of the Surface is nearly as lacking in detail. What you will notice immediately is the camera, ambient light sensor and microphone (they are less noticeable on the front). Obviously, the kickstand also.. uhm.. stands out with a line running down the middle of the device. The final touch is the “Surface” writing on the kickstand, in a rather elegant grey font I must say. The kickstand itself does a good job of hiding the honestly ugly, but strong and stiff hinges, as well as some more necessary writing, so that when the device is used as a tablet, nothing spoils its looks. As I’ve mentioned before, the back panel of the device (and the edges) is made of a one-piece (if you don’t count the kickstand) magnesium alloy. It feels very cool to the touch every time you pick up the Surface, and very high-quality. Speaking of magnesium, bead-blasting is extremely fine, works wonderfully with the ever so slightly matte finish and certainly adds to Surface Pro’s sophisticated look and feel. High quality bead-blast is not easily achieved, so I am impressed. Microsoft didn’t skimp here.
Even the charger connector is quite elegant and, because it’s plastic this time around, is unlikely to scratch that magnesium after longer periods of use. It can be plugged in either way as contacts are symmetrical, and is also “safe” – should someone trip over the wire, the connector will simply pop out without any damage given that it stays in place thanks to a magnet. MacBook users are familiar with such a design, of course. What really shows Microsoft’s attention to detail is, surprise surprise, the AC adapter. Even this is a custom one and not taken “off the shelf”, it’s very simple, reasonably compact and, in a rather weird fashion, reminds you you’re dealing with a premium product each time you have to charge up your Surface Pro.
Overall, I am very happy with the looks of the tablet computer, Microsoft did well with what they had and managed to incorporate the necessary details quite elegantly. Throughout the month of use, the Surface Pro 3 has stood up to daily handling very well, too, although I should point out I am quite careful with my possessions in general. You could definitely scratch the back panel with, say, a key. Also, while you should not worry too much about cracking the screen should you bump the expensive tool somewhere – magnesium is quite strong in this respect and should not give in easily – I’d be very careful about dropping it as I don’t think the Surface Pro 3, despite its extremely solid feel, would handle a crash even from moderate height very well. Finally, there is some “play” here and there: the kickstand, before you place the device on your lap or a table, has a little flex in the hinges and while certainly to a very minor degree, it is still present on my particular copy. Nasim has used his Surface Pro 3’s kickstand a bit less than I have and he has no such issues, yet; the power button on top has a little play in it, but feels as high quality as the rest of the device overall and, like the rest of the physical buttons, has great tactile feedback; finally, the Gorilla Glass 3 is a little bit too fingerprint-prone to my liking and could do better in this regard. But in all honesty, these niggles are so pitifully minor (and vary from one device to another save for the glass at the front), I never worry about them. The feeling of solidity and density of the Surface simply brushes aside any slight manufacturing imperfections. So much so, in fact, that I feel as if I am being too pedantic at times. Which is probably true.
I may not like the word much, but the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 does indeed look very professional and purposeful, Ryan Gosling in a superbly tailored suit. Classy, Microsoft. More importantly, it also feels like it. Well done. I can only hope the Redmond giant will further improve this design with every iteration of the device – there is certainly room for both design and technological innovation here (some sort of fanless cooling springs to mind which, as a technological innovation, would bring aesthetic advantages, too).
4) Ergonomics, Handling and Portability
None of the specifications mean anything if the tool itself is not easy to handle. Even design gives way to ergonomics, which at the very least ought to be “good enough” for any device, and no less than “pretty damn good” at this price. Given the overall positive tone of the review – don’t blame me, this is a rather impressive device – you probably think I have few complaints here. And you are quite right.
First thing that struck me is the almost perfect size of the Surface Pro 3 – it’s very close to that of a regular magazine. Naturally, that makes it larger than, say, the usual suspect for comparison, Apple’s iPad Air. Quite a bit larger. And heavier. But then this is in a whole different class, too. And yet, something I was immensely pleased to find out, it fits perfectly (and I am not kidding or exaggerating) into the back pocket of my Think Tank Retrospective 7 shoulder bag (review of which is coming shortly, but if you’d rather not wait, just go and buy it – it’s that good). The device is thus small enough to carry around wherever I go, which I pretty much always do, yet large enough for comfortable work, especially writing. Now, I don’t imagine I will be doing a whole lot of post-processing with the Surface – my PC is still more suitable and comfortable for that task – but buying such an expensive computer and not being able to do post-processing comfortably would be silly, given that I am a photographer. Thankfully, I’ve had no real issues there, too, although how well Lightroom and Photoshop are handled by the Surface remains to be seen in one of the following sections of this review.
The two physical buttons that you will find on the Surface (power/sleep key at the top of the device, volume control on the side) are made of magnesium, feel very solid and offer great tactile feedback – not too hard to press, not too easy, but when you do, you definitely know what happened. The capacitive Start “button” is also well positioned – it makes sense when you use the device vertically and is also both easily accessible by your right thumb and not prone to accidental touches when handling the tablet in horizontal orientation (at least for someone who’d hold the device as I do). Having mentioned actually holding the device, the comparatively thick bezels might not be everyone’s cup of tea now that most manufacturers seek to maximize screen size for given dimensions, but they do provide just enough space to hold the device comfortably. That said, I certainly hope the screen size will grow further to 13″ or so without increasing the size of the tablet itself, at the cost of bezel thickness. Come on, Microsoft, it’s not that hard. Software-enabled palm rejection is a common trick these days. To end paragraph on a more positive note, speakers seem to be positioned with perfect sense – not too close to one another and not somewhere you would often cover with your hands by accident.
The kickstand is one of Surface’s most advertised features, and for good reason. With such compact hinges hidden so well when the sheet of magnesium, there to keep the device safely upwards, is folded, it is not too hard to see how much effort was put into designing this seemingly simple mechanical bit of the device. Now, I mentioned upwards, and that is not the whole story. The kickstand can be reclined by well over a 100 degrees – you can almost push it the whole way, in fact. That means you are likely to find a comfortable angle no matter the surface you want to put your Surface on (pun is completely unplanned!). The hinges feel strong and offer plenty of resistance even though there is a little bit of play on my particular device after over a month of reasonably active use. Not something I am concerned with. Hinges and some additional information about the device are not the only things cleverly hidden by the kickstand – a microSD card slot also resides there. It is as easy to use as I could hope.
What a lot of people seem to wonder is whether the Surface, when coupled to the Type Cover, is comfortable to place on one’s lap as with a regular laptop. While you have to be a bit more careful with how you handle the tablet – you can’t really pick it up by the keyboard as you can with a laptop computer – I can certainly vouch it is very comfortable. The keyboard itself can be “snapped” to the bottom bezel of the Surface (it, too, contains a magnet to hold it in place), raising it at an angle a little bit. The device itself is lightweight and so is not tiring to use in such a way for longer periods of time, nor does it get hot. The Type Cover itself is more than stiff enough for comfortable typing even when fixed at an angle.The kickstand is easy to unfold due to comfortable cutouts for your fingers at both sides of the device, and is easy to adjust with precision. Once not needed, it clicks securely into place thanks to a magnetic strip. Getting used to it does not take long.
The device is quite lightweight at 800g, but holding it without resting it on your lap for longer periods of time can still be tiresome. This is, after all, not your average 8″ Android tablet, but an actual Windows 8.1 Pro running computer with an i5 processor. Alright, so that sounds like an excuse – truth be told, I often tend to look for a way to rest my hands against something when hand-holding it. Moving on, the touchscreen feels superb and gladly accepts finger input with no unnecessary resistance, as well as that of the Surface Pen. It feels very neutral, almost natural to “write” on with the latter. Mind you, I can’t comment much on the Pen itself given how little I’ve used it (not done any serious retouching yet). But from what I’ve learned so far, it is no less premium-feeling than the tablet itself and has three physical buttons. The one where you would normally find an eraser on a pencil launches OneNote by default, while the two located closer towards the tip are responsible for enabling the select function of the Pen, or the eraser. The Pen connects to the Surface via Bluetooth and runs on batteries which should last a good chunk of time.
Should the tablet run hot, you will feel the most heat coming from the top-right side of the device, rear panel. Usually this is a good indication of where the processor is located “under the hood”. As soon as it gets hot (which can happen even when watching an HD video, but that’s perfectly normal), fans come up. Depending on how much heat there is to be removed, the fan can be whisper quiet or quite audible, but I’ve never found the volume irritating or distracting. The ventilation holes face from the sides of the device outwards which, coupled to the location of the processor in the first place, means your lap should not get burned by the Surface. During regular use – me writing this review, for example – the device stays absolutely cool. Nothing to worry about.
Last question some might have on their minds – can you run games on the Surface? Yes. Solitaire runs perfectly and without a single glitch. :) Let’s move on!
One of Surface Pro’s party pieces, the 12″ diagonal (30.48 cm) screen is quite staggering. With such a high resolution for such a small (in comparison) screen, it is a real pleasure to look at and use. Even though the MacBook Pro 13.3″ Retina has higher density, already I can’t distinguish individual pixels at working distance (ppi stands at 216). That MacBook must be equally brilliant. While I am sure resolution and density will only increase in time (there are tablets on the market with even higher density), it is already easily sufficient. If you are used to tiny and low-res screens of notebooks of old, this is a revelation. I really disliked using my old laptop for any sort of writing or even photography due to not just the size of the screen (standard 15.6″), but also the (then-standard) resolution of 1366×768. It made text appear very large, which meant a lot of scrolling and swearing. If I decreased the size of all the elements, the lack of resolution clearly showed. In comparison, I wrote this whole review on the Surface even though I could have used my PC. I chose not to as it is just so very comfortable. Mind, I don’t only work with text, but with photography as well. Resolution helps here, too, as it is easy to tell if a particular photograph is in focus and sharp even without having to zoom in to pixel level. You would not believe how much time this saves when working with images!
Speaking of photography, it’s not just the number of pixels that matters, but the colours as well. My Surface Pro 3 is not yet calibrated and so the colours are not perfectly accurate. That said, there is no ugly cast (blue, pink or any other) that seems to plague cheaper laptops, and the photographs are displayed beautifully and not too off. Even out of the box as my Surface is now, I would not hesitate to show my work to clients with it. That said, proper calibration is high on my priority list as, if I am to do even minor post-processing, I want to know what sort mess am I making out of those RAW files.
One other important aspect of the Pro 3’s screen is the, uh, aspect ratio. At exactly 3:2, it is taller than the screens of most laptops which have moved to either 16:9 or 16:10, but not quite as tall as that of the iPad which has a 4:3 screen and is designed to be held vertically. Why is this important? One reason, and perhaps even a temporary one: horizontal photographs made with either my Nikon or Fujifilm are truly shown full-screen, as in – they fit perfectly, edge to edge, and, coupled to the comfortable size of the screen and brilliant resolution, look absolutely beautiful. This is fantastic for either showcasing or viewing work and, while a minor detail, really makes this computer suitable for those who mostly photograph in 3:2 aspect ratio. Mind you, no one shoots a single aspect ration all the time, so how important this is to you is very subjective.
6) On-Screen Keyboard
This is one area where things go somewhat downhill, but it’s not the Surface’s fault at all. The on-screen keyboard is actually well designed – the “keys” are large and reasonably hard to miss, they are not cramped (similarly to mobile devices, number keys are either on a separate “page”, or “merged” with the top row so you can touch-and-hold to access them) and the font is clear and easy to read. There’s even a Ctrl key (mandatory, of course) and you can change input language as you write, too. More than that, it doesn’t block the scroll bar on the side of the screen. In short, the Surface Pro 3 can really be used as a tablet and you’d be completely fine with it. Really, if faced with such a situation, I could just about write an article with it and not feel too uncomfortable.
So, it is as good as on-screen keyboards get… which is to say, nowhere near the real thing. And this is the problem. Yes, Surface can really replace a tablet and genuinely works that way. But if you want it to replace a laptop, well, you can’t do it out of the box. So it’s not the Surface’s fault. It’s Microsoft’s, for not providing a real, tactile keyboard in the package. In order to make the Surface as good as it can be whatever the spec, you have to spend extra. Which brings me to…
7) Must-Have: Arc Touch Surface Mouse and Type Cover Keyboard
7.1) The Bad
The Arc Touch Surface mouse costs around $70, while the Type Cover keyboard will set you back another $130. Now, if you want the Surface to replace your laptop, it’s price – no matter which spec you choose – has just gone up another $130-$200 (the keyboard includes a touch pad). That’s not a good thing and certainly does not play to Microsoft’s advantage – MacBook Air is suddenly good value, the MacBook Pro 13.3″ Retina even more so! Such an unusual thing to say – Apple product is better value than that of Microsoft. Is it not supposed to be the other way around? To be fair, neither MacBook comes with a mouse out of the box, but then they are arguably even slightly better made and are seen as the very definition of premium in this market. Uh-oh.
Another issue is the quality of the products. Compared to Apple’s cool (literally, as they are made of aluminium) keyboards – either those that are part of any Apple laptop, or those you can get for their stationary computers – Microsoft’s attempt feels ever so slightly cheaper. Not cheap, trust me. Just cheaper. Perhaps those are not even the right words, actually – quality is superb. It’s just different as the Type Cover was designed to be as slim and lightweight as possible. Manufacturing standards are also not quite up there – for example, the space bar key is ever so slightly bent on my copy (which I quite like for some reason), and the rest of the keys have a (barely noticeable) play in them (a good way to test this part is to lightly brush the keys with the tips of your fingers and see how much they wobble). It’s in no way excessive or even close to that, don’t get me wrong. Barely noticeable, but present. Interestingly, I don’t think Microsoft could have done it better with this particular design of the keys themselves, and because the issue is that minor (honestly, I am being much too picky here), I’d not consider it an issue at all. Don’t throw stones at me, I had to mention something!
Speaking of the mouse, the Arc Touch Surface edition has been designed with exactly the same goals in mind – to be as portable and lightweight as possible. And oh my is it (more on that later). A side result of that is it’s not nearly as tough as Apple’s gorgeous Magic Mouse. You could literally step on the latter, but don’t ever place your feet (by accident, of course) anywhere near the Arc Touch. Don’t get me wrong, it does feel great in hand, is made of quality materials and, in my opinion, is certainly worth its price tag. But it is the more fragile sort of “premium product” definition.
7.2) The Good
So that’s the bad news out of the way, if you could call anything I described as “bad” in the first place. On the plus side, both the keyboard and the mouse are really (really) good.
Let’s start with the keyboard. As mentioned before, it is extremely light and thin. There is a magnetic connector that easily snaps into place when in close proximity with the doc at the bottom of the Surface – you don’t even have to be too steady when bringing it close, the magnet is just so strong. Handy if you are in a hurry. I’ve seen people literally hold their Surface Pro 3 tablets by the keyboard upside down! No idea why you’d want to carry it around like that, but good to know it will hold should such a strange need ever arise (just kidding, don’t ever do it, it’s silly).
Moving on to a more important aspect and one that was absolutely crucial to me, the Type Cover is exceptionally comfortable to use for typing. The tactile feedback is spot on, as is the travel of they keys. They are of comfortable size and are nice to the touch (they are ever so slightly soft, so I wonder how well they will wear – my guess is, not that great), the sound is audible but not loud and even pleasant. There is a number of useful Fn keys on the top row, too, which include back-light intensity (oh yes, the keys are back-lit), mute, play/pause, search and so on. A special sticker for the Surface Pen (part of the standard package) can be neatly placed somewhere on the side to hold the stylus in easy access, and its colour matches that of the keyboard. Speaking of which, it comes in either conservative black, attention-grabbing cyan (as seen in the images), restrained purple, quite stylish if a little unusual red or dark, sedate blue. Chances are, you’ll find one to your liking if my choice of cyan is not exactly what you’d pick (Nasim looked nauseous).
There is another magnetic strip as can be clearly seen from the previous image – it is located right above the key cluster, separated by a narrow strip of fabric. This particular magnet snaps to the lower bezel of the Surface to add a slight angle to the keyboard and improves typing dramatically, much like those tiny little “legs” do on keyboards designed for stationary computers. Because the keyboard itself is so stiff, Microsoft was able to pull it off, there’s virtually no downside to setting up the keyboard like that and comfort gains are great. When you place the Surface on your lap, it also minimizes skin contact and makes the device feel even more compact somehow. Because it is so light, your legs should not get sore after prolonged use. I also love how the keyboard is covered in soft-touch material. Somehow, it’s more inviting than aluminium or magnesium, “warmer”, and for an accessory you are likely to touch so extensively, that’s important. Another plus is that the fabric creates enough friction for the keyboard not to slide around. On the downside, it could be hard to clean. I’ve not messed up mine yet, so can’t comment further. Suffice to say I will be very careful not to cover it in jam. Or chocolate, or peanut butter. Or anything. Also, the word “cover” in the name of the product is there for a reason – when not using the Surface, you can fold the Type Cover onto the screen of the device for protection.
The touchpad is comfortable and of decent size (if a little misfitted on my copy of the keyboard as can be seen from the product shot a little bit further up the page). It’s actually physically clickable, too, which is nice. Still, I don’t use it all that much given I have a whole touchscreen for that sort of purposes – it is both quicker to navigate and scroll with. Nonetheless, useful to have and could potentially negate any need for a mouse. Not for me, though.
See the above? That’s Arc Touch’s party piece and a genuinely innovative approach to compactness. Fold it flat and it virtually disappears in a bag or a pocket (or a pocket of a bag). “Arc”, and it turns on instantly (powered by two AAA type batteries), connects to the surface automatically and you are good to go. The first time it connects takes a few seconds, after that – it’s almost completely instant. “Arc” and use, that simple. Not even a USB receiver is required for this Bluetooth mouse (that is what makes the Surface edition different from the regular Arc Touch mouse).
It is beautifully designed and very nice to the touch – the plastic keys (physically clickable) are soft-ish, have great tactile feedback and are easy to press (even after some use, I found the Magic Mouse a bit too unyielding in that regard, but it’s a matter of taste and getting used to it). There is no scroll wheel, but not to worry – brush down the middle bit with your finger and with an audible “purrrr” your pages will scroll up or down according to your wishes. Dead simple and intuitive. More than that, “wheel click” is also supported – to, say, open a link in a new tab or engage quick scroll as you would by pressing the wheel with a regular mouse, simply tap the middle capacitive touch strip twice.
The rest of the device is covered in soft matte rubber that is exceptionally pleasant to hold and feels expensive. Not sure how to best describe the Arc Touch Surface – it’s simply nice and minimalistic. That said, a friend of mine found the mouse somewhat uncomfortable – unlike a regular, “full-sized” mouse, you can’t really hold it all that firmly while in use as there’s not much surface to press your thumb against. This thing needs a certain lightness of touch, that is when it works best. You do not so much grab and hold it as direct it. For me, it works gorgeously.
8) Lightroom Performance
I’ve not yet done any serious tests with Photoshop (the review will be updated as soon as I’ve worked with it for a good while), but I did do some work with Lightroom specifically for this article. Because this sort of testing is not something we usually do, there’s no specific procedure to follow other than the usual steps that I take when working with Lightroom. Perhaps for the better as it will accurately reflect the conditions under which I use my equipment. So the task is simple – I will charge the Surface to 100%, unplug it and attempt to Import, cull, post-process and Export RAW files I captured in Manhattan, all on a single charge of battery and whilst writing this very section of the article at the same time. So the test is two-fold – I am not only testing Lightroom performance, but also battery life under much heavier load on the processor than regular browsing on the Internet.
Before I start processing those RAW files, I will try to list all the important details so that you can judge for yourself whether the performance and battery life of the Surface is sufficient for your needs.
First of all, let me run you through the Surface parameters and settings:
- Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – Intel i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
- Full battery, unplugged
- Screen brightness at around 50%
- “Balanced” power plan
- Connected to WiFi, Type Cover keyboard and Arc Touch Surface mouse
The test starts with the import of 358 Fujifilm X-E2 RAW files into a newly created and otherwise clean Lightroom 5.7 Catalog. Each RAW file weighs approximately 32 MB with a bit over 11.2 GB in total. As the images have already been copied to the SSD, import time will not include the time it takes to copy the files from an SD card and thus will show the performance of Lightroom in isolation. However, rendering full-sized previews upon import is something I always do, and it does take some time.
Keep in mind that a freshly installed copy of Lightroom with no custom develop presets and a clean Catalog is going to run a bit more swiftly than if it had tens of thousands of images slowing it down. It is also important for me to note that, whilst working with Lightroom, I will be writing this article simultaneously. Not a major task, running Chrome, but still has an effect on battery life and is worth mentioning.
8.1) Import to Export. Step-By-Step in Lightroom 5.7
Importing the RAW Files
As soon as the Surface is fully charged, I put away the charger and check if the screen brightness is at around 50%. Touching the back panel reveals that, from all the preparation (installing Lightroom update and the like), the tablet is already warm, but not nearly enough to start the fans. Good.
Launching Lightroom does not take more than five seconds. Not blindingly quick, but it’s pretty much the same on my PC, too. Next up – the Import and the usual routine of finding the location of the files and entering keywords to speed up searching within the Catalog should such a need ever arise. As Lightroom begins rendering thumbnails within the Import dialogue and I write these lines, fans come up and start whooshing the heat away from the i5 processor hiding in that slim magnesium shell. Not a good start, you’d think, but after less than a minute their speed reduces so much, I can hardly hear them. Not for long, mind. Hitting Import starts them up again as the load on processor increases significantly. I, meanwhile, start my timer.
40% is done in a smidge under two minutes, but that’s Import only, at least according to the progress bar in Lightroom. 70% is reached in 3:45. The back of the tablet is now very warm and fans are spinning at full speed. Even before the resource-heavy task is complete I understand my previous conclusions were quite accurate – MacBook Pro at a similar price ought to offer much better performance, at the cost of portability. This is not a full-fledged laptop. It had a compromise to make.
100% and the timer shows 5:25. Not too bad, actually – my PC would take far less time to Import the images, but I can’t fit it into my shoulder bag. As Lightroom starts to work on those huge full-size previews, though, fans are spinning even faster, something I thought would not happen. As eight minutes (in total) pass, the device is bordering on what some might call “almost hot”. Battery meter is reading 91% of charge left.
Eleven gigs of photographs. Is that too much to ask for, I wonder? Of course, rendering full-sized previews is not exactly a smart decision, especially once you consider that at the very least half of those images will be thrown out, resulting in quite a bit of time wasted. On the other hand, rendering 1:1 images speeds up the process of selection. Still, if I were being reasonable (and I should have been), I’d set up Lightroom to render previews at around 2048 px (long edge), close to Surface’s native resolution. That would help the selection process and allow me to view the images in full-screen mode without quality degradation, yet save precious time and resources during import. Need to remember to do this after the test!
With 88% of battery left and roughly 15% of previews rendered, the timer is at 14 minutes. I am starting to think the Surface won’t last long enough to allow me to both go through all the images and select a couple of dozen for immediate post-processing. After all, the battery is depleting almost as fast as Lightroom is rendering the previews. I am curious, though. Something tells me the preview rendering is among the most resource-heavy and demanding tasks for Lightroom and the hardware. With the RAW converter stating 20% done and battery meter clinging on to 86%, I decide there is no point in me just staring at the screen. Better go make myself a cup of tea.
As I come back, I notice the situation improved slightly. It is no longer one percent of progress for one percent of battery charge – as Lightroom finishes to render 192 images (54%), battery is at 71%. Obviously, the fact that the screened turned itself off after a while helped a lot. It’s still not what I’d call a good result, mind you. As Lightroom’s progress touches 55%, 40 minutes have passed. On the face of it, that is a lot. For such a compact computer? Hard to say, but I’d go as far as suggest it’s bordering on “not good enough”. As Lightroom reaches 60% (battery is at 68%), I decide a look at Microsoft’s website is needed. There, I find Redmond’s classification of all three processor options (quote):
- Intel i3 – A solid Surface Pro 3 that’s ideal for:
- Browsing the web
- Taking notes
- Light office work
- Intel i5 – Premium performance that’s great for:
- Using the full power of Microsoft Office – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
- Intensive multi-tasking
- Casual gaming
- Streaming video
- Intel i7 – The most powerful Surface ever built that’s perfect for:
- HD Video editing
- Professional grade applications
- Design and 3D modelling
Would I consider Lightroom a “professional grade application”? Certainly. And according to Microsoft, my version of the device is not quite enough to pull it off. As Lightroom is brushing 74% (battery is at 62% and timer is showing 51 minutes), I can’t help but agree with the general overview. On the other hand, I am unsure if any version is all that suitable for what I am doing now with those heavy RAW files. Most of the battery is drained by the fans as there is so much heat coming from the processor, and heat is an issue with any version of the tablet – it’s made to be slim, it stands to reason that heat removal infrastructure will suffer. And so will the battery performance.
So, 80% for Lightroom, 60% for battery and 55 minutes on the clock. I now realize my expectations were a little high, or perhaps I am a little spoiled by the performance of my PC (which, by the by, is very much average in its specification). Still, even with the fans doing their thing almost constantly, the battery is just about holding up. I am now fairly certain I will manage to both select, process and export the images I want (at this point it remains to be seen just how many will pass my review), as well as write this article. But this is not what I’d call a “walk in the park” for the Surface. It’s a real task. I definitely expected too much, and reality hits me hard. This is a tiny little thing, the Surface. And I am asking it to render over 350 full-sized previews for the same amount of 16 megapixel Fujifilm RAW files. Would I like it not to struggle? Of course. And the top of the range version would handle the task more briskly. Still, got to be realistic – this is not a full-sized laptop. Different sort of strengths in Surface’s favor, but also a few noticeable weaknesses.
As the timer hits one hour (55% battery, 90% percent Lightroom progress), I can already see what sort of conclusions I will have to draw here. But drawing them now would be unprofessional and I’d risk making myself look somewhat silly, so let’s give the Surface the benefit of the doubt as it finishes the last dozen of previews. The task is finished with the timer reaching 1:05 and the battery catching its breath at exactly half the capacity. Fans are already slowing down, the back of the device (surprisingly) never reached the “definitely hot” level. Hit the power button once and the Surface goes to sleep. I, in the mean time, need some more tea in me and a minute or two to think.
Sorting Through the Files, Post-Processing and Export
So the next step is to sort through all 358 images. There is a good chance I’ll end up removing half of them or so, and out of the remaining half only a few will need to be processed for the gallery. My selection process is quite simple and I plan to stick to it. As I start working, the timer is showing 1:12, battery life is at 45% – that cup of tea might have taken me a while, to be fair, and that resulted in a few percent of battery drained with no work done, but I am not going to give Surface an easy time. Not a very scientific approach, I admit, but only more accurate because of it.
A bit over 20 minutes later (the timer is at 1:35), I’ve 41% left and one fourth of the images sorted through. Twenty more minutes later, I was done. With the batter showing 35% and with almost two hours on the clock, I marked 43 images with the Pick flag. Another quick look through resulted in 33 images left – close enough to the number I was hoping for. All in, the Surface had lasted around two and a half hours up to this point and promised enough juice to let me finish the task at hand.
All the necessary corrections are quite basic, to be fair. The first step is selecting Fujifilm camera profile (Pro Neg. Std) from the Camera Calibration Tab – enable Auto Sync and all the images are immediately closer to the final result that I want. Further corrections involve some adjustments in the Basic Tab, along with Tone Curve and sharpness adjustments. At this point I suddenly think how just how unfortunate it is that there are no Fujinon lens profiles in Lightroom, but a quick glance at the battery meter (31%) reminds me I am not yet done. Back to work, as going through every single one of the images, one by one, takes a while. Another twenty minutes later, fans came on again – not a good sign as this will definitely have an impact on battery life.
It did – three hours all in all, the meter is showing 20%, but I’ve made good progress without even rushing it. With ten images left and fans whisper quiet, I already know the Surface managed it. But only just. Had the WiFi connection not been as stellar, for example, it would have been a lot closer. And the 12% that remained after I was completely done (images exported to SSD) is already very close in my book – just two percent before the very first warning message letting you know the battery is about to run flat. So very, very close. And now, after plugging in the charger (almost 3:30 of on-battery time) and allowing the Surface to breathe a little more easily, I can finally draw conclusions (something you might have done already).
It is 01:03 AM now and truly quite a bit later than I thought I’d finish. The Surface managed to import the heavy and numerous RAW files quite briskly – the five-and-a-half minutes of waiting were in no way irritating and quite close to what I expected from such a computer. The 1:1 preview rendering, on the other hand, took an additional hour. An hour. That was quite a bit below my (perhaps ever so slightly high) expectations – I was hoping to see merely half as much on the clock. Alas, 358 full-sized previews for 32 megabyte RAW files and the i5 Surface don’t seem to mix all that well. Lesson learned.
Actually, that’s exactly it. Lesson learned. You see, after I was finished working with Lightroom, I went ahead to check just how much space the generated previews took up. And you know what? The Previews.lrdata folder weighed a total of 849 MB. Correct me if I am wrong, but that’s quite a lot. The task that took the most out of the Surface – in terms of performance and battery life – was just too much to ask for in the first place. As soon as I got to post-processing, Surface was as snappy as ever with absolutely no lag when using, say, the radial filter tool or switching between images. So the answer was to change the size of Standard previews to 2048 on the long edge and keep it that way. Rendering 1:1 previews for when the sorting is over just makes more sense – it will save you time, space on the hard drive and battery life.
Like everything, the Surface is a compromise, but a different one than products from Apple at similar price. If you need performance while working in the field – both in terms of speed and battery life – the MacBook Pro 13.3″ with Retina screen is the better bet. It will be swifter, most likely will not run as warm and potentially give better battery life (a risky thing to say since I’ve never actually tried a similar test on that computer before). It will do what you ask and take less time, too. I am pretty sure the i7 version of the Surface packs more punch, but at that price the MacBook is even more competent, too.
That said, the very impressive baby laptop from Apple is nowhere near as compact or lightweight as the Surface – it’s thicker, heavier and a bit larger. More than that, there is no way you can take that keyboard off and use it as a tablet without breaking it. Mostly because the keyboard is none-removable and the screen does not respond to touches, however gentle. So the MacBook is also a compromise, but a different sort. And that is a good thing. Why? Simple. It makes the choice easier (if it was ever hard given that the two computers have different operating systems, a big factor). You need performance, go with the MacBook. You need a tablet/laptop hybrid for lighter tasks and that occasional post-processing, Surface is well up to the task.
Am I disappointed? Not really. Redmond’s product delivered exactly what I was looking for when purchasing and did as good when it came to battery life as I could have expected. Granted, it did not surprise me too much with its performance overall, but nor did it shock me in a negative way. And in case you are wondering why I did not compare Microsoft’s tablet to Apple’s compact MacBook Air, the reason is simple. The Surface was built to beat the Air at just about everything. And it mostly does just that.
As far as general performance goes, it is a very snappy tool. I especially like how quickly it turns on and off – it takes no more than seven or eight seconds for the former, and no more than three or four for the latter. In the end, this is a reasonably fast computer so long as your expectations are reasonable. At the very least it makes the choice easy, not the opposite of that.
9) Lightroom User Interface Scaling
As some of our readers have found out, there is an issue with the high-resolution, high-density screen of the Surface Pro 3. You see, the more resolution you pack into a small screen, the smaller the elements then appear – buttons, text, just about any content on the Internet. I am certain that the issue is temporary – as high-density screens spread and become common technology, these issues are bound to be resolved at some point. Still, if you are using Lightroom with the Surface Pro 3 now, waiting is not really an option. And I have some good news – there is no need to wait. An issue is only an issue if you can’t solve it. Luckily, there are at least two ways to make the user interface of Adobe’s popular RAW converter more friendly to both mouse and touch input, and both are as easy to set up.
Before we start, thought, let’s see what the issue is all about.
Because of Surface Pro 3’s high pixel density (216 ppi), here is how Lightroom looks on my tablet-laptop hybrid:
Right. Were you to look at this screenshot on a regular 24″ 1920×1080 screen, it would seem completely normal. Perhaps even more than that – very convenient. Lots of space for the actual image, still usable panels. But, no. See, I resized the screenshot and kept you from being able to enlarge it for a reason. If you are looking at it on a regular screen as described before, this is pretty much how it looks like on the Surface Pro 3. Yes. That size. Tiny font, absolutely minuscule sliders. Could you imagine trying to adjust them using the touchscreen? Admittedly, everything is better defined on the actual screen, but still, trust me, it can be tricky even with a regular mouse.
Now, before we go any further, I have to confess. I actually quite like it this way. More then that, I’ve kept it this way deliberately. Even more than that, by default, the interface is a little bit bigger. But I can easily understand how this is an issue for the majority of users who own the Surface Pro 3 and use Lightroom. Let’s fix it!
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are two ways to fix the issue, one of which works for everything, not just Lightroom. So perhaps that is what we ought to start with.
1) Set Up Windows
Windows allows you to adjust how big the items are in pretty much any environment, be it Desktop or the Internet. To do that, right-click on your Desktop and select Screen Resolution. There, click on the “Make text and other items larger or smaller” option:
There, you will see a slider that adjust how big the items are:
By default, separate scaling level is specified for each screen you use. Even if you frequently connect an external display to your Surface Pro 3, only the tablet’s screen will be scaled, unless you select the “Let me choose one scaling level for all my displays” checkbox. Also, you can adjust the font size separately in the same dialogue. For all changes to take effect, restart the computer.
2) Set Up Lightroom
If you have issues only with Lightroom user interface scaling, there is no need to adjust how everything in the operating system is displayed – Lightroom has a very similar setting built-in. Firstly, click Edit->Preferences… There, select the Interface tab as shown in the screenshot:
Even though the drop down menu that you need to access says “Font Size”, it actually changes the size of everything, including adjustment sliders. Neat. Here is how Lightroom interface looks like with the Largest setting:
I know this might be a stretch too far (unless you want to use the touchscreen), but it illustrates the difference very well. The Large or Medium setting might work better for you, so you should try them all out and see which one is the most comfortable to stick with. You will need to restart Lightroom to see the changes.
10) Battery Life and Charging
Microsoft claims the Surface Pro 3 can last up to nine hours without needing a recharge. The word “optimistic” springs to mind, to be fair. After using the tablet for over a month, I have no doubt one could indeed get close to that number… if one sticks to simple web browsing with no videos with great, easy-to-catch WiFi connection and at lowest screen brightness. Oh, and with no additional software running save for the browser. To paraphrase, you’d have to be a very mild user to make it last that long, something you can clearly see from the test conducted in the previous section of this article.
I sound negative, don’t I? Well, that’s only because I haven’t got to the silver lining yet. You see, for a device of this size and thickness (or, more appropriately, thinness), Surface does very, very well. I know MacBooks are generally very good when it comes to battery life and can genuinely last very long, but they also carry bigger batteries. And with my regular usage (some HD video viewing on Vimeo, light Lightroom and Photoshop work, constant WiFi connection, reasonable screen brightness and such), the Surface Pro 3 manages four to six hours. That is mighty impressive when you think that even HD videos require some cooling. Photoshop cuts battery life greatly, so does Lightroom, so does poor WiFi connection. I never expected a device so compact, with such a high resolution screen and such a powerful processor to last longer.
Having said all that, my expectations were rather low to start with and I can’t help but wish Microsoft Surface Pro 3 did a little better and got closer to the claimed estimate under more realistic usage. I mean, yes, current performance is impressive given the size of the device. But we all want to be surprised (in a good way), don’t we? When it comes to battery life, Apple is still king. So if you need a compact all-day-on-a-single-charge solution, this isn’t it. Not far off – I can go to my favourite coffee house and work there without bringing a charger along – but not quite there yet, either.
Before we move on, the charger. The AC adapter is compact in dimensions and certainly looks like one belonging to a premium product. The plug itself is plastic and symmetrical, as are the contacts on the tablet itself, so it can be plugged in either way. It stays in securely thanks to a magnet and is easy to plug in when in a dark environment for the same reason. A smal LED light indicates that everything’s fine and the Surface is charging/running off the outlet. Looks cool, too. The length of the wire is pretty standard and should be sufficient on most occasions.
11) How to Fix the Banding / Posterization Issue on Surface Pro 3
A side note: this and the next section has been added by Nasim. Thanks!
The process of addressing the banding / posterization issue involves replacing the Microsoft-provided graphics card driver with Intel’s driver. Although per Microsoft, this removes the “optimization” of the graphics card driver from the system and they cannot guarantee the same battery life, I have been using Intel’s driver for a while now and I can honestly see no difference in battery life consumption. So if you are wondering if it is worth doing this or not, in my opinion, it is definitely worth replacing the driver no matter what Microsoft says. I really hope that Microsoft addresses the banding issue soon with a proper driver replacement, so that we do not have to manually update anything going forward. It is certainly rather annoying that one needs to go through this process just to get the best out of their equipment…
As of today (12/09/2014), the latest Intel graphics driver for the Surface Pro 3 (which has 4th generation Intel processor with Intel HD Graphics 4200, 4400 or 5000 depending on model) is version 18.104.22.168.3960 that was released on 10/03/2014. The driver can be downloaded from Intel’s website using this link. Since we have to manually force-install the Intel driver, you should download the ZIP file instead of the EXE file. Once you get the ZIP file downloaded, go ahead and unzip it into a temporary folder, like C:\Temp\Intel. From here, follow the below instructions:
- Open Device Manager, expand “Display adapters”, right click on “Intel(R) HD Graphics Family” and click “Update Driver Software”
- Select “Browse my computer for driver software”
- Instead of searching for the driver, click on “Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer”
- Click “Have Disk…”
- Click the “Browse” button and navigate to the folder where you extracted the ZIP file. Underneath the folder, find the “Graphics” folder and double click on it. You will see a single file that says “kit64ics” here. Double click that file, which will open that folder location
- After you click “OK” you will have a single selection that shows “Intel(R) HD Graphics Family”
- Click “Next” to begin driver installation. During the installation, your screen will turn on and off temporarily several times, which is normal
Once the driver is installed, you should now be able to verify that the correct version is installed. In Device Manager, right click the same “Intel(R) HD Graphics Family” icon and click Properties. Under the driver tab, you should see that the driver version is 10.18.10.3960 from 09/24/2014, as shown below:
Now if you look at images with gradients, you should not see any banding / posterization problems, so the issue is taken care of. It is a good idea to keep the latest drivers in your computer, just in case Microsoft overwrites them in the next update. If that happens and the banding issue is still there, just repeat the above steps to restore Intel’s drivers. As I have already said above, I hope this banding problem gets addressed soon!
12) Surface Pro 3 Display Calibration
Once you address the banding issue, it is a good time to calibrate the Surface Pro 3 screen. I am happy to say that the Surface Pro 3 screen can be calibrated quite effectively – my Surface Pro 3 now looks pretty close to my calibrated Dell monitors, which is great news. Since for my calibration needs I use the excellent X-Rite i1Display Pro, I used the same device for calibrating the Surface Pro 3 screen.
Here are the step-by-step instructions on how I calibrated my screen using the X-Rite i1Profiler software (make sure to select “Advanced” from the calibration screen first):
The first screen is the most important one, since this is where you set the display type. I have tried a few different configurations and found “White LED” to work the best for the Surface Pro 3 screen. I went with the Native luminance level, but you can target specific luminance level like 120 cd/m2 if you prefer.
I left everything at default for the next screen.
Left the patch set size at Small.
This one was a bit painful at first. Since ADC was turned on by default, the software would crash immediately upon probing for ADC at the beginning of calibration. I thought it was an issue with the latest version of i1Profiler, so I downloaded earlier versions and tried them – every single one crashed. After I unchecked ADC, it went smoothly from there, so I went back to the latest version. To avoid these crashes, just uncheck ADC in this screen and calibration will start without any issues.
After calibration is done, compare the before and after results and you will see the colors change rather drastically. So far, I am pretty happy with the colors on my Surface Pro 3 after it has been properly calibrated!
13) Final Words – Is It Worth It?
This last bit of the review proved the most difficult to write as the Surface Pro 3 is not your average laptop. Or your average tablet. It attempts to do both and excel at both, too. Has it managed?
When it comes to competition, the most obvious contender is Apple’s MacBook Air. I’ll be very straightforward here – as the Air’s main goal is to be compact (which it is), it fails completely against the Surface. It’s heavier, not as thin and has a screen that is inferior to a staggering degree even on paper. And while you can spec it similarly to Surface with powerful processors and lots of RAM memory (and end up with a similar price), you still lose the touchscreen capability and versatility of a tablet computer. On one hand, potential battery life is a redeeming feature (all MacBooks score very highly in this area), as is amazing build quality and beautiful design. On the other hand, Surface will keep your lap cool no matter the pressure on the processor. In the end, both choices are compromises. But compared to the Surface (unless you need or want the Mac OS), the Air does not make all that much sense and even feels as a product of the past. It’s the wrong sort of compromise. If you are to compromise on portability slightly (not something I ever thought I would say about the Air, but there you go), best look at a laptop that has a ton of features to redeem itself.
The MacBook 13.3″ Pro Retina is that laptop. With (currently) comparable price (once you add the keyboard to your Surface) and dimensions (all but thickness, which stands at 1.8cm and is exactly twice that of the Surface), the junior MacBook Pro is, in my opinion, the best in the lineup and the one I had my eye on whilst keeping the other on the Surface. It has a breathtaking screen with even more resolution and density at 2560×1600 pixels and matching or beating specifications. Add the promised 9-hour battery life that will last for at least as long as that of the Surface, more ports and a truly gorgeous unibody construction, and it starts to make a lot of sense. More than that, you wouldn’t exactly call it vast, would you?
So the question you need to ask yourself – what do you require more, unmatched versatility of a tablet/laptop hybrid or better performance and ever so slightly better bang for your buck? No doubt Microsoft has come up with a very good device. It’s powerful yet compact and quite gorgeous to look at. The price only reflects the quality of materials used and the high manufacturing standards that only show barely noticeable flaws when compared to Apple products – arguably the most stylish and best built on the market (perhaps not for long as with every iteration the Surface is catching up). If it is worth the price or not is a very subjective question. For me, it made more sense than the Pro for its touchscreen, compact dimmensions and tablet capabilities. I love how it fits perfectly into my most-used camera bag as much as using it as a tablet for some casual browsing and video. If you need the most portable premium package and both Mac OS and Windows are valid options, the Surface is well worth it. But if you are ready to make a compromise, give up the portability of a tablet and the touchscreen, skip the Air. MacBook Pro 13.3″ Retina is the one I would buy in that case. Add Arc Touch Surface mouse and Type Cover to the price of the Surface, and you have quite the budget for a powerful, dependable, at-least-as-beautiful and highly regarded MacBook Pro.
My choice? Well, I’m sure you already know, given that this is my Surface. And not once did I regret it. Well done, Redmond. This is a properly good tool. It is also good if you want to hit on girls. Not that I’ve ever done it myself… Yep. Pretty.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 : Photography and Writing
- Build Quality
- Screen Quality
- Size and Weight
- Packaging and Manual
- Ease of Use
- Speed and Performance
Photography Life Overall Rating