Ask Paul: Which Surface?

Posted on July 12, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 44 Comments

Ask Paul: Which Surface?

I get a lot of questions about Microsoft Surface: Should I wait for Surface Pro 4? Should I choose Surface 3 or Surface Pro 3, and so on. Let’s tackle these questions once and for all.

For example, Andrew F. today asked:

I am considering getting the Surface Pro 3 (Core i5, 256 GB). I’m not sure if I should go with the Surface 3, Surface Pro 3 or wait a bit longer for the Surface Pro 4. My issue with the Pro 3 is that I want to use it on long haul flights but my concern is charging the device mid-flight as it doesn’t charge through USB [as Surface 3 does].

My answer to Andrew was a lot shorter than this. But I think it makes sense to expand on my response here.

Surface Pro 4?

Surface Pro 3 vs. Surface Pro 4 is arguably the question of the year. But you know what? There is absolutely no evidence that Surface Pro 4 even exists, let alone that Microsoft is planning to release it anytime soon. I understand not wanting to buy previous generation technology on what may be the cusp of a new Surface Pro release, but I’ve personally heard nothing about Surface Pro 4, not ever. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I’m just not aware of any evidence I trust that it is happening, or at least happening soon.

We could speculate on what a new Pro device may look like, but why bother? If you need a computer right now and are set on Surface, your current choices boil down to Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3. OK, and perhaps at least waiting until July 29 because, well, you never know.

Surface 3 vs. Surface Pro 3 is of course a big question as well. Both machines share a number of interesting features—kickstands, removable keyboard covers, microSD expansion, formal docking solutions and so on—but also have their individual pros and cons. A short list:

Surface Pro 3

More powerful with real Intel Core processors, more RAM, and speedier SSD storage. In fact, Microsoft offers a wide range of Surface Pro 3 models with your choice of Core i3, i5 and i7 processors. And it recently expanded the Surface Pro 3 lineup with a new Core i7 model, making the range of choices there even better.

Bigger screen, which, at 12 inches, isn’t quite the 13- to 14-inch ideal for real Ultrabooks, but is certainly more usable, especially for older folks or those with bad eyes.

Loud. The Surface Pro 3 fan can blow loud at times.

Variable kickstand lets you position Surface Pro 3 at a very wide array of angles.

Surface Pen is included.

Expensive. At $800 and up (before Type Cover), Surface Pro 3 is considerably more expensive than Surface 3.

Surface 3

Powerful enough for daily productivity tasks, Surface 3 features a less powerful Atom x7 processor, less RAM, and slower eMMC storage.

Smaller screen, which, at 10.8-inches, could be too small for older folks and those with poor vision.

Silent. Surface 3 is completely fanless and makes no sound at all, a huge improvement over Surface Pro 3.

Improved Type Cover design with Windows 10-friendly function keys (where Surface Pro 3’s Type Cover has now out-of-date Windows 8.1 function keys).

Surface Pen is not included, so you will need to spend another $50 if you want this accessory.

USB charging. Unlike Surface Pro 3’s proprietary charging port, Surface 3 features a standard USB-based charging port, and it will even work with the smart phone charger you probably already have.

Three-position kickstand is less versatile than the one with Surface Pro 3.

LTE is optional. Only Surface 3 has LTE models for built-in cellular data connectivity.

Less expensive. At $500 and up (before Type Cover, add another $129, or Surface Pen for $50), Surface 3 is considerably less expensive than Surface Pro 3.

What to choose

Obviously, I can’t make this choice for anyone else. All I can do is offer some ideas. But I guess the choice does come down to a few things….

How long you can wait? You never know: maybe Microsoft will surprise us and announce a Surface Pro 4 by July 29.

Is Surface 3 enough? If Surface 3 is powerful enough for your needs, you can certainly save some money by going with this choice.

If it were my money, I’d wait until July 29 and then buy a Surface Pro 3 if no news of Surface Pro 4 emerges. I’d go with a mid-range Core i5 model with 8 GB of RAM, and since it appears that the 8 GB/128 GB SSD option is no longer available (at least not at the Microsoft Store), it looks like the 8 GB/256 GB model—at $1299, plus $129 for Type Cover—would have to do. That’s a lot of money, but I would never buy a 4 GB device today for daily use.

Oh, and then I’d put Windows 10 on there and never look back. 🙂

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