One of the big questions I get about Surface 3 is whether the device secretly includes any hardware—a special webcam, for example—that makes it especially tuned for Windows 10. I don’t believe so, and it’s important to think of Surface 3 in terms of a lower-cost Surface Pro 3, which puts it firmly in the Windows 8.1 world. That said, there is in fact one aspect of Surface 3 that seems explicitly designed for the post-Windows 8.1 future. And that’s the new Type Cover.
To be sure, the Surface 3 Type Cover is largely identical to that for Surface Pro 3, with the same basic layout and design. The Surface 3 version is smaller to accommodate the size of the device, and the keyboard overall appears to be about 95 percent the size of the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover (if not a hair bigger). And for the bottom five of the six rows of keys, the two typing covers are indeed largely identical, with the only standout difference being that the Backspace key actually says Backspace on the Surface Pro 3 version, where on the Surface 3 Type Cover there is instead a symbol that means Backspace.
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But it’s the top row of keys where things get interesting. As I noted in Surface 3 First Impressions, the new Type Cover dispenses with the Windows 8-specific keys (Search, Share, Devices and Settings) and adds a few useful new keys that were previously missing, particularly PRTSCN (Print Screen) and INS (Insert).
On the older Surface Pro 3 version, we see the following keys from left to right: ESC, KEYBOARD BACKLIGHTING DOWN, KEYBOARD BACKLIGHTING UP, VOLUME MUTE, PLAY/PAUSE, SEARCH, SHARE, DEVICES, SETTINGS, HOME, END, PGUP (Page Up), PGDN (Page Down), and DEL (Delete).
On the newer Surface 3 Type Cover, there are changes. First, every key is the same size, whereas on the Surface Pro 3 Type Cover, the ESC and DEL keys were for some reason bigger than the other keys on that row. And we see the following keys from left to right: ESC, VOLUME MUTE, PLAY/PAUSE, KEYBOARD BACKLIGHTING DOWN, KEYBOARD BACKLIGHTING UP, BRIGHTNESS DOWN, BRIGHTNESS UP, PRTSCN (Print Screen), HOME, END, PGUP (Page Up), PGDN (Page Down), INS (Insert) and DEL (Delete).
As I wrote in Surface Pro 3 Field Guide, that top row of keys on the Type Cover contains “special keys that provide one-press access to special Surface functionality, Windows shortcuts and media controls.” These special keys are surrounded by “normal” keys such as ESC, HOME, and so on.
The keys representing special Surface functionality—KEYBOARD BACKLIGHTING DOWN, KEYBOARD BACKLIGHTING UP—are common between the two keyboards, as are the media controls, VOLUME MUTE and PLAY/PAUSE. (You can control the volume via the hardware volume buttons on each device too.)
Where the keyboards diverge is on those Windows shortcut keys (and then on some of the so-called normal keys.)
Think back to the original Surface mission: these tablets were designed as a “stage” for Windows 8, the physical embodiments of the software advances Microsoft was making in its then-new OS. So Surface Pro 3, like previous Surface tablets, includes four keys—SEARCH, SHARE, DEVICES, SETTINGS—that align exactly with the four Windows 8.x Charms of the same names. They provide one-tap access to common system functions.
Surface 3 is of course based on Windows 8.1 so it to features these same software controls. But the new Type Cover does not, a nod to the Windows 10 future where the Charms are going away. So the key layout we see on the Surface 3 Type Cover is more typical, similar to the keys we see on many other Windows devices. There are more normal keys—PRTSCN and INS—plus two new Windows shortcut keys for BRIGHTNESS DOWN, BRIGHTNESS UP. Four keys removed, four added back.
I think this was the right choice. And if you really are a keyboard maven, you know the keyboard shortcuts to each Charm anyway. If you don’t, here they are:
Toggle Charms: WINKEY + C
Search: WINKEY + S
Share: WINKEY + H
Devices: WINKEY + K
Settings: WINKEY + I
For the rest of us, it’s even more convenient and natural to swipe in from the edge of the screen and just tap the correct Charm from there.