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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Comments (47)

47 responses to “Goodbye to Surface 3, Microsoft’s Last Non-Premium Surface”

  1. 1285

    The Surface 3 owners I know bought it for the sole reason that there was a version with LTE connectivity built into the device itself.  They won't consider using their phones as a hotspot.  It would be nice if Microsoft released Surface Pros with LTE.

  2. 151

    Kind of a shame really, I liked the Surface 3 especially for the screen size. 10.8" was a pretty nice size for using it as a tablet. The 12" display on Surface Pro 3 & Surface Pro 4 is actually too big for my liking, hence why I stuck with the original Surface Pro. Oh well 

  3. 1384

    I love my Surface 3. Because of it's size, I can take it along places, where a laptop would be too big. Yet, I can use it to get some real work done, when necessary. The keyboard is surprisingly usable, and the kickstand allows it to be used anywhere without requiring a bulky cover. I'm not sure what its equivalent would be, when it comes time to replace it.

  4. 187

    I really like the Surface 3, just the right size for travelling - especially on an aircraft where there isn't much space anyway. Microsoft should be playing the same game as Apple - make to sizes. I would be happy to pay more for a smaller surface with m3 internals, same chassis size but with an 11 inch screen.
    Just because it is smaller, it doesn't mean it should be budget.

    Paul - Do you think there is a market for a SP4 (mini) i3 device? I would certainly buy one.

  5. 3272

    I love my Surface 3 and I never had any issues with it's level of performance. I use it to surf the web, watch videos, check email and occasionally use Word on it, the same things 95% of PC and tablet users use their devices for. It performs those tasks absolute fine as a second device. Nice device and great build quality, I am perfectly happy that I got it when I did though I have the 4GB version which probably helps a bit.

  6. 378

    I like my Surface 3. It's essentially my i-device in that I use it only for consumption. Surfing the web, remoting into work with the RDS app, playing groove music or spotify. Mine is out in the garage right now in a RAM mount with the headphone jack plugged into a couple BX5 powered monitors. Now that groove music has improved this replaced my Logitech Squeezebox for tunes with all the windows 10 features as a free bonus. 

  7. 180

    I'm sad, but the use case I always thought the Surface 3 best fit is the same use case I think the Yoga Book fits: note taking and communication triage. It seems like we're starting to get small, pen enabled tablets that can be used as laptops in a pinch from other OEMs, meaning Microsoft manufacturing one is a bit less important. Speaking of, how is that Yoga Book?

  8. 313

    The eMMC storage is such a big deal.  for 99% of tasks people would use a Surface 3 for the Atom processor is fine, especially paired with 4GB of ram.  But the storage is what killed it.  computing is most often limited by I/O today.  We have enough processor, we have enough memory.  But the I/O performance is what a user will really notice.


    That should be the #1 consideration on budget devices.  good I/O will make up for a slower processor or less RAM.

  9. 5714

    This will be the eventual fate of all Surface products.  It's only a matter of time.

  10. 442

    I think the smaller form factor is good, but the power/speed definitely won't be missed.  I think if a good OEM would make a knock off with proper storage ability (speed) and a base mobile Core processor, for the $500 and up range, it would sell pretty nicely to a lot of folks.

    EDIT: looks like you can get the Lenovo Miix on Amazon for under $500.  Looks like I have another device in my "recommendation" list.  :)

  11. 3216

    I'm wondering if the Surface Pro 3 is long for the marketplace as well.  They show as out of stock in the MS store, but still available through dealers - however, some of the configurations listed still have Win8 so I'm guessing they have been sitting in warehouses or on shelves for a while.

  12. 4326

    There's always tradeoffs.  The Elite x2 at $900 may come with a keyboard but it also has Windows 10 Home, so you'll have to spend extra if you want Windows 10 Pro like the Surface Pro 4 has.

  13. 901

    I bought one with LTE earlier this year specifically to use it as a secondary machine.  Storage performance is pretty terrible, so I prob should have bought the cheapest Surface Pro 4 instead.  I may sell it and get the HP Elite x3 instead as a phone/secondary machine.

  14. 1243

    I used an original Surface RT 64gb for a few years. Primarily used it as a tablet and an on the go device for writing. Worked great with Office RT. It was slow as hell, but I knew that going in.

    Upgraded to Surface 3 last year. I had it for a few months before putting Windows 10 on it. Man, that was a mistake. It totally killed the device performance wise. I ended up selling it and went all in on an iPad Pro. It has the games I want to play on a tablet, as well as Office for when I am on the go (which is not too often). And I don't have to worry about Apple discontinuing the iPad or iOS any time soon.

  15. 412

    This is a Shame because I moved someone off an LTE iPad to an LTE Surface 3 last year and wanted to do the same for our other 2-3 outside staff and I couldn't get it anymore and now it's gone. Welp, at least my single Surface 3 user is happy. 

  16. 5538

    It definately was a great form factor of a product. Just the right size to fit in almost all bags, but enough in it to be productive. This is the case for everything Microsoft. You will fall in love with something only to have it taken away. Seems like this time enough 3rd party OEMs are making 2-in-1s that are similar enough and priced low enough to take its place. You'll see the Surface Pro take this fate in a few years i'd imagine.

  17. 639

    Reading some of Paul's articles kept me from upgrading my Surface 2 to the Surface 3.  I love the screen size but the slow storage and Adam chip kept me away.  I was hoping they would go Core-M processer in a Surface 4 with Windows Hello and faster RAM.  A base model Surface Pro 4 would meet the specs I am looking for but the screen is bigger than the non-Pro line.  Oh well...

  18. 6525

    Suppose next year the low end versions of Surface Pro 5 can replace Surface 3 and be as light as Toshiba Dynapads or iPads. Such a tablet should have these specifications:

    - fanless

    - Core m3 Kaby Lake

    - SSD

    - best WLAN + LTE

    - twice the battery duration as Surface 3

    - display suitable outdoors in the sun (matt, or reflection smaller than 2% and brightness 450+ lux like current iPads)

    - rounded edges (for long handholding)

    - USB-C or (if battery duration allows it) Thunderbolt 3,

    - battery replacement service for 5+ years for maximally EUR 120 (the Apple price),

    - Windows 10 Pro.

    I would buy it immediately. (Ok, after reading the first three reviews to see if production quality is ok and battery duration as expected.)

  19. 5539

    Doesn't seem like too many Surface 3 owners here regretted their purchase. I use mine every single day. I use it much like I would an iPad. Predominantly consumption, but with the option of doing more in a pinch. The convenience of the built in LTE will be missed. I know I can tether, but just clicking connect when I need to has become habit. I was really hoping for a Surface 4 with USB-C and Hello options, rather than nothing at all. The Huawei Matebook is starting to look better all the time. 

  20. 5842

    This sucks. Only surface 3 had GPS. Is it necessary to switch to Android or iOS just to have tablet with GPS now?

  21. 4370

    For the same price as the 4GB RAM Surface 3 ($599), you can get a 12" Acer Switch alpha 12 with a Core i3, true 128 GB SSD, 4GB or ram, and an excellent keyboard included.... And you can spec it up until i7 512GB for less than $1000. All the line, including the i7 is fanless thanks to liquid cooling (the only core I fanless tablet). An tests have shown that the device doesn't throttle at all

    I think you can get much better value than surface 3 nowadays

  22. 268

    Honestly, you can't stress enough the terrible storage that you called out Paul. I've been working with the Windows 10 ongoing TAP program (like Insiders, but for business). Our company thought to cut costs by going Surface 3. We got a handful of them. On one of the calls we have with some MS folks for the TAP they were asking us how our OS Swap Upgrade testing was going (OS Swap is the upgrade tech that takes you from 1507 to 1511 to 1607, etc. or for the Insiders the weekly builds). We mentioned it took 40 minutes on a Surface Pro 4 and ONE HOUR AND 45 MINUTES on a Surface 3. The GM on the call said, "yeah, don't buy those." Of course we had already figured that out...

  23. 1003

    The MiiX 700 is an old device now, the one you want is the MiiX 510 which instead of the CoreM of the 700 comes with a full range of 6th Gen Core CPUs. The 700 also feels rather cheap, the 510 is more of a premium device akin to a Surface. Better value than the SP4, but does suffer from being slightly heavier and thicker.


    • 442

      In reply to halap3n0:

      The 510 is closer to the Surface Pro line than the Surface in specs and features.  For instance, the 700 like the Surface is fanless.  The 510 has a fan to keep the more powerful processor cool.  For power users, the 510 is definitely the way to go.  But for average use, like standard business or students, the 700 is the better choice IMHO.

  24. 4841

    Yeah, I agreee, "Surface" is definitely a better name for a future Microsoft Surface device running W10M than "Surface Phone", especially with Microsoft not wanting to frame it as a smartphone. So long, Surface 3, may any future device that inherits your name delights us just as much as your brothers do.

  25. 4016

    HP also offers the Pavilion x2 Detachable which I have been using for months now.  In my view a good Surface 3 alternative but more reasonably priced.

    • 230

      In reply to DanTheMan:

      I also love my Surface 3.  I got a deal when I traded in my RT, and got an education discount.  I still use it most days, but it is an "occasional" device for sure.  Communication triage, but also reading when I want a larger screen than on my phone.  Plus, one thing that always gets missed - truly excellent battery life on these machines.


      I will miss them.  They are a bit slow, yes, and I will be due for a replacement at some point.  The quality of the exterior is excellent.  The screen is excellent.  Yes, it's a bit ponderous at times, but then so is my laptop with it's traditional HDD storage.

  26. 7650

    I am a huge fan of the Surface 3 (having owned the Surface RT and Surface 2 before that) for the simple reason to read research papers on it, and use the Surface Pen as a marker to take notes and highlight text. I found no better device for that for the price, and competitor products were just not that good. I still think it is the perfect student device - as most students need a browser, office, beamer- + printing-capabilities, long battery life and many can't spend 1000+ US$ for a Surface Pro with keyboard.

    That said, I am sad to see Microsoft will discontinue this product line...

  27. 1043

    We bought out the last of our supplier's stock of them. They work great for factory workers/quality control that need access to an AS400 system and view Autocad drawings out on the shop floor. Not sure what we'll move to next. We only use iPads as dumb HTML5 devices for accessing hosted web services and the majority of our employees have no need for a big desktop or laptop system.

  28. 5394

    Surface 3 represents a pure tablet experience whereas Surface Pro is about a 2-in-1 convertible. Windows 10 is just not suitable as a pure tablet. It falls way short in UI screens and usability. There's no way to do basic tasks that an iPad does quite easily from just doing touch. Surface requires a keyboard and mouse. Microsoft should do a better job of integrating their Window Phone experience on a Windows Tablet or just give up the pretense.

    • 241

      In reply to glenn8878:

      I don't agree. I use my SP4 as a tablet every day.  I found Windows 8.1 much better as a touch experience than the 4 iPad's I have owned in the past. Win 10 is not as fluid as Win 8.1 as tablet but I still like it better than my current iPad (the 1st gen Mini which performs horribly on iOS 9.35 whatever). iOS just seems so basic under touch even compared to Win 10. They key thing about a Win 10 tablet is the AppGap but I have enough touch-enables apps for my purposes.

      MS giving up on touch seems wrong to me with the SP, SB and now Studio devices as well as all the 2-in-1 and touch laptops.

      I would love to see a Windows Mobile based tablet. Surface 4????

      • 5394

        In reply to mebby:

        You mentioned the SP4. I have an 8 inch tablet. The smaller the tablet, the worse the experience. Windows 10 isn't scaled properly to work well with small screen tablets. Touch typing directly on to the tablet is a bad experience. My tablet at 2 years old is already outdated and slow. The storage space is too small to allow the Anniversary update. Worse is the constant referral to Control Panel to fix networking issues or to File Explorer to find files, which are not designed for touch. Windows 10 is not ready for touch devices. It's fine for Desktop PCs or Laptops. I won't even try Surface Pro with the horror stories about networking, sleep, and battery issues. At minimum, Surface 4 needs the Core M processor, 64/128 GB storage, 12 hour battery life, 10 inch touch monitor, and keyboard/pen included.

  29. 7854

    Too bad, it's a good carry around device. Microsoft Canada is liquidating the docking stations too, half price if you buy it with a keyboard/mouse combo.

  30. 6115

    I love my Surface 3 -- it's the device that helped me get rid of my iPad.  I love the built-in LTE connectivity and smaller size.  Of course I would love CPU and storage improvements, but the device is already a great consumption and light productivity device as-is.

    I never bought the keyboard with mine, because I use it strictly as a tablet.  I really hope MS builds a replacement device.

  31. 5234

    Intel gives up on phones and tablets, despite mobile usage outperforming desktops for the first time.  

    Microsoft gives up on the value-oriented market and quality control, despite both having sustained them since, well, forever.

    I see two former titans of their industry just giving up and moving on.  That's fine - I'm moving on too.  I don't need either.  Most people don't.

    • 1377

      In reply to Waethorn:

      Intel may have given up because the complex x86 instruction set makes it physically impossible to reach ARM size and power specs without accepting slow processing. There is something to be said for RISC. Also, what phone maker other than MSFT and a few PC OEMs want an x86 processor for phones?

      Another interpretation is that Intel and MSFT both lost their chances at mobile presence in the volume which made sense, and further efforts would just lose money.

  32. 5530

    I wouldn't say this is a big loss considering how OEMs have effectively made better versions for less money. Surface's place is definitely more upmarket.