Surface 3 First Impressions

Surface 3 First Impressions

Well, I received the mother of all drops this morning: Microsoft’s new Surface 3 tablet plus a Surface 3 Type Cover, Surface Pen, and Surface 3 Docking Station. As familiar as I am with the Surface lineup, there were no major surprises during the admittedly giddy unboxing. But there are a number of interesting notes about this new device and its peripherals.

Before reading on, please be sure to check out my previous Surface 3 articles, which should provide a complete background on what’s happening with this release. These include:

Here Comes Surface 3
Microsoft Provides More Details About Surface 3
Before Surface 3 Arrives, a Last Look at Surface 2
All Surface 3 Accessories are Now Available for Pre-Order
Photo Gallery: Surface 3 + Type Cover + Docking Station + Surface Pen

Now that I actually have the device in-hand I can do some testing. But here’s what I’ve noticed right away.

Thin and light. Like Surface 2, Surface 3 is wonderfully thin and light, and regardless of which PC you’re used to (assuming the same sized screen or bigger), it’s amazing how light the device is.

Surface 3 ports
Surface 3 ports

Power. The trapezoidal microUSB power connector can only be plugged in one way of course, but it’s easy to plug in and impossible to plug in incorrectly. This is a big win.

Surface 3 power light
Surface 3 power light

Screen. Placed next to Surface 2, the Surface 3 screen noticeably and delightfully offers more contrast, with much deeper colors. It’s just gorgeous.

Performance. This will require time, of course. But it’s not difficult to perform some (admittedly non-scientific) app launching tests side-by-side with Surface 2, in this case simultaneously launching apps I’ve never run on each. Put simply, Surface 3 launches Modern apps faster than Surface 2 every time. For example, Weather—7 seconds vs. 9 seconds—and Pictures (1 second vs. 2 seconds). These are literally first time ever app launches, so I will install Office and other desktop apps and see how it goes. But the initial prognosis is that I see nothing troubling. Yet.

Type Cover. Thanks to the smaller size of the Surface 3, the Surface 3 Type Cover is smaller overall than that of the Surface Pro 3. But the keys and keyboard on the Type Cover are just about the same size, and if Microsoft hadn’t told me they were a hair smaller, I’m not sure I’d have noticed. What’s different is the layout of that top row of function keys. On Surface 3, the Windows 8-specific keys (Search, Share, Devices and Settings) are gone now, which is fine. And there’s a dedicated Print Screen button, plus Insert, which is fantastic. The trackpad is a bit smaller.

Surface 3 Type Cover
Surface 3 Type Cover

Older Type Covers. I tested previous generation Type Cover 2 and Touch Cover 3 keyboard covers, and they work fine. When you cover the screen with such a cover, there’s a bit of bezel uncovered, but I don’t think most people will mind. Power Cover doesn’t work (in that it can’t power the tablet).

Surface 3 with an older Type Cover 2
Surface 3 with an older Type Cover 2

Volume buttons. This is the first Surface to put the volume buttons on the top. This was necessitated by the Docking Station, because the wings on that peripheral cover the sides of the tablet.

Surface 3 volume buttons are on the top of the device now, so they will work while docked
Surface 3 volume buttons are on the top of the device now, so they will work while docked

Microsoft logos everywhere. There’s a shiny Microsoft flag logo on the back of the tablet, and a Microsoft logo under the kickstand. And the back of the Type Cover has a Microsoft logo too, where the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover has a Surface logo.

Microsoft logo under the Surface 3  kickstand
Microsoft logo under the Surface 3 kickstand

Surface Pen. When you buy a Surface Pro 3, you connect Surface Pen to the tablet during Setup. But because Surface 3 does not come with Surface Pen, this isn’t available, so you need to connect it manually in PC Settings later.

Surface Pen
Surface Pen

Surface Pen loop. While I received the normal retail packaging for most of the Surface 3 hardware (which I really prefer because I want to get the normal customer experience), the Surface Pen I received just came in a plain plastic bag. There’s no Surface Pen loop in the Type Cover packaging, and no Surface Pen loop with the Pen. So I’m not sure if anyone will get this. Or if you could just buy it separately. (They’re hard to find.) UPDATE: Pen loop will come in the box with Surface Pen, Microsoft tells me, and will be color-coded to the pen. Obviously, some older silver Surface Pens will not have this loop until supplies run out.)

Crapware? This is a bit odd, and will be a bit controversial with some: Surface 3 ships with … crapware. It includes the Surface app, which is of course fine, but also third party apps like Drawboard PDF, Flipboard, and The New York Times Crossword. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but of course you can easily uninstall any of them.


Overall, no major surprises. But now I’m going to load it up with Chrome, Office 2013 and Photoshop Elements and see how it really runs.

More soon.

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