Every Surface Pro 3 model ships with a new Surface Pen, an active capacitive wonder with 256 pressure levels and three hardware buttons. But virtually all Surface Pro 3 owners will want an official Microsoft keyboard cover—called a Type Cover—as well, and the company also supplies a number of other useful accessories you should know about. Here’s a quick rundown.
Note: This article is excerpted from my e-book, Surface Pro 3 Field Guide, which I’m currently writing. During this pre-release period, you can download the book for free in PDF, ePub and Mobi formats from the Field Guide Books web site. Thanks for reading! –Paul
You will want a Type Cover. This ingenious accessory combines a high quality, full-sized keyboard and a precision touchpad with a cover that can protect your Surface Pro 3 while in transit. It attaches to Surface Pro 3 in ingenious ways: You can use Type Cover flat on a table or other surface, using a magnetic connection between the accessory and the tablet.
Or you can create an even more stable connection—and a better typing angle—but pushing the cover up against the base of Surface Pro 3.
In addition to the obvious capabilities, Type Cover includes some high-end functionality like configurable, proximity-sensing backlit keys and special keys for media control. It’s the perfect companion for any Surface Pro 3.
So why Microsoft doesn’t just include a Type Cover with every Surface Pro 3? It’s really no mystery: This accessory is available in a number of colors, and by making it a separate purchase, it’s easier for customers to get exactly what they want. You can choose between (navy) blue, cyan, red, purple, and business-class black.
Note: Not all of the colors are available at every store. For example, in the United States, only Microsoft’s stores (online and brick and mortar) sell the red Type Cover.
Type Cover costs $129 in the US. Note that Type Cover comes with a Surface Pen Loop for securing your Surface Pen in transit as well.
Surface Pro 3 Docking Station
Thanks to its dual-use nature—it is, after all, a device that can seamlessly transform from a tablet into an Ultrabook using the aforementioned Type Cover—Surface Pro 3 is the ultimate portable PC. But it can also transform into a terrific desktop-based workstation with the $200 Surface Pro 3 Docking Station. So it’s the proverbial triple-threat.
Docking Station doesn’t look like much. But it includes 3 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, a 3.5mm audio in/out port, a mini DisplayPort (for video out), and a security lock slot. The Docking Station is designed so that you can also continue using your Surface Pro 3’s mini DisplayPort and USB 3.0 ports, furthering the expansion opportunities.
With this device, you can connect to whatever desktop-based accessories you prefer—one or more external displays, a keyboard and mouse, and the like—and even optionally continue using Type Cover. It also comes with its own power supply, so you don’t need to use up the one that comes with Surface Pro 3.
Accessories that come with Surface Pro 3
Depending on your needs, you may want to buy a couple of accessories that already come with Surface Pro 3. That may seem unnecessary, but those who travel with Surface Pro 3 will appreciate this redundancy because it could lead to them having to carry less in transit.
The most obvious accessory that falls into this category is the Surface Pro 3 power supply. If you use your Surface Pro 3 in two different locations regularly—work and home, for example—you could purchase an additional power supply–$79.99 in the US—and keep one in each location. (If you’re using a Surface Pro 3 Docking Station in one of those locations, however, you may not need a power supply, as that accessory comes with its own, and different, power supply.)
Note: Be sure you get the right power supply: The model you’re looking for is identified as the “Surface Pro 3 Power Supply” or “36W Power Supply.” Power supplies designed for earlier Surface and Surface Pro models are not compatible with Surface Pro 3.
Heavy users of the pen may want to pick up another Surface Pen as well. It costs $49.99 in the US, so it’s not exactly inexpensive. But the pen is easy to lose, and if you use it regularly, you’ll miss it if it’s gone. You can keep one in each place you use Surface Pro 3 or toss the extra in your bag so you always have it.
On a related note, you do get a Surface Pen Loop with your Type Cover purchase, providing what I’ve found to be a very sturdy way to store and carry the pen with you as you move around. But some readers have had different experiences, and it’s possible that your Surface Pen Loop will detach from Type Cover, leaving the pen vulnerable. So you can grab an extra one just in case. It costs just $4.99 and comes in the same colors as Type Cover. Heck, you could mix and match.
Accessories that were made for previous Surface models
As its name implies, Surface Pro 3 isn’t the first Surface device. There were two previous Surface Pro models—creatively named Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2, respectively, as well as two non-Pro devices, Surface RT and Surface 2. And Microsoft made a wide range of accessories available for those devices, some of which are still quite relevant to Surface Pro 3 users.
The Surface Ethernet Adapter provides up to gigabit speeds for those that need a better Internet connection than what’s provided by Wi-Fi. It costs $39.99 in the US, but it also takes up Surface Pro 3’s only USB 3.0 port, so I recommend using a third party solution instead.
Microsoft also produces two useful video-out adapters, the Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter (Surface Pro) and Mini DisplayPort to HD AV Adapter (Surface Pro). The first obviously connects to PC-style VGA displays, while the second is for the HDMI ports that are common on HDTVs, and both plug into the mini DisplayPort connector on Surface Pro 3. Those with second display needs, like presenters, will want to grab one of each. They cost $39.99 each in the US.
Note: These video-out adapters might be useful for those with a Surface Pro 3 Docking Station as well, since that accessory also provides a mini DisplayPort connector.
Microsoft also sells a few “Surface Edition” mice that utilize Bluetooth for connectivity, instead of a proprietary USB dongle. This is important because Surface Pro 3 only has a single USB 3.0 port, and the dongle that comes with many wireless mice would occupy that port, rendering it useless, or at least inconvenient, for using other accessories.
The Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition is expensive at $79.99 but it folds flat for transport—you won’t even notice it in a bag—and it uses Microsoft’s accurate BlueTrack Technology.
The Wedge Touch Mouse Surface Edition—also expensive at $69.99—also uses BlueTrack Technology and is especially portable with a unique, wedge-shaped design.
Frankly, neither of these mice is ideal, in my opinion, because they are small and non-ergonomic. The problem is that most other Microsoft mice, and many other third party mice, don’t use Bluetooth, so even though you could find a more ergonomic mouse, it may come with a USB dongle, which is also not ideal. Fortunately, there is a solution to this dilemma, which I’ll discuss in the next section.
They try, but Microsoft can’t do it all. And while the firm does of course supply a wide range of Surface Pro 3 accessories, there are a few functional lapses that require many to seek out alternative, third-party solutions. The goal here isn’t to document every Surface Pro 3 accessory—after all, there are hundreds of them—but rather to highlight a few that are special and worthy of your consideration.
The first addresses the Surface Pro 3’s single biggest problem, in my opinion: It only comes with a single USB 3.0 port. If you need more expansion on the go, the solution is to get a USB 3.0 hub, which provides three or more additional USB 3.0 ports, dramatically expanding your Surface Pro 3’s, um, expandability. For years, I used a hub just like this Sabrent 4 Port Portable USB 3.0 Hub, which is certainly inexpensive enough:
But there’s a better solution, one that solves multiple Surface Pro 3 expansion issues: You can get a USB 3.0 hub with a gigabit Ethernet port too. I happened to buy this product—a Diamond Multimedia USB303HE 3-Port SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Hub and Mini Docking Station—from Amazon.com for about $30 in 2014. But there are many similar options available.
This kind of accessory lets you attach a non-Bluetooth mouse, a few other USB peripherals and an Ethernet cable to your Surface. It’s a handy thing to have when you need this kind of expandability.