Goodbye to Surface 3, Microsoft’s Last Non-Premium Surface

Posted on November 1, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 47 Comments

Goodbye to Surface 3, Microsoft's Last Non-Premium Surface

Surface 3 was a great idea: Take everything that worked with Surface RT and Surface 2 and add a bigger 3:2 display and Intel x86 compatibility. But now it’s gone.

By which I mean, you can no longer buy Surface 3 at the Microsoft Store. It’s out of stock.

This is by design. Microsoft previously announced that it would no longer be manufacturing Surface 3 devices by the end of December 2016. In that wake of that report, I speculated about what the future might hold for an entry-level Surface, suggesting perhaps that a phone form factor—a 3-in-1 we now call Surface Phone—might make more sense than a “stripper” tablet. (I mean that in the car sense, by the way.)

I don’t think its fair to say that Surface 3 failed. In fact, I think Surface 3 was quite popular with an audience that was made up largely of students. But Surface 3 did succumb to a major strategy shift for the Surface lineup, which now embraces premium pricing as the baseline. Indeed, much of the Surface lineup today—like Surface Hub and Surface Studio—is priced only for the one percent.

Regardless, the issue for Surface 3 was always that it was a fake, something that looked like a Surface, and worked like a Surface, but fell apart under close scrutiny. Its Atom processor was all kinds of entry-level, but the biggest issue was the device’s pokey eMMC storage, which killed performance even for the most casual of users. And I suspect that the cost of making a truly-usable Surface 4 outweighed the benefits of continuing, that the entry-level Surface Pro 4—with an Intel Core m3 processor—meets the needs previously addressed by Surface 3.

The price difference for consumers is, however, problematic. A base Surface Pro 4 with a Type Cover costs $1030 (or $880 today thanks to a sale), whereas a similarly configured Surface 3, with Type Cover and Surface Pen (an added cost option on this device) would set you back $690 to $790 if you could actually still buy it. (Just the tablet was $500 to $600, depending on model.) Put another way, today the Surface lineup starts at about $1000.

On the good news front, that Surface Pro 4—or perhaps a more future-proof model with a real Core i5 processor—is a lot more viable in education, especially if the goal is to get the student through four years of college. I wasn’t comfortable suggesting Surface 3 for such use.

And you can of course look elsewhere: There are tons of Surface Pro 4 clones out there, and they’re all less expensive than Microsoft’s entry. Best of all, some are even better than the Surface Pro 4 in key ways.

The HP Elite x2, for example, starts at $900, but that price includes the keyboard cover and pen, extras that add $190 to the price of a Surface Pro 4. There’s also a Spectre x2 for consumers. And Lenovo’s very similar Miix 700 is even cheaper, at $750 and up, though the pen is extra.

Ultimately, the availability of third-party options softens the blow, as does the general ineptitude of the Surface 3’s processor and storage. It was a good idea. But its time has passed.

Goodbye, Surface 3.

Note: Thanks to Neowin for tipping me off to Surface 3 being out of stock.

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