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

Posted on November 1, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface with 48 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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  1. 6 | Reply
    rob_segal Alpha Member #1123 - 2 months ago

    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. 3 | Reply
    thewarragulman Alpha Member #137 - 2 months ago

    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 

    1. 0 | Reply
      mebby Alpha Member #219 - 2 months ago
      In reply to thewarragulman:

      I never pulled the trigger on Surface 3. I was waiting for Surface 4. I since got a SP4 but I would have like the smaller Surface (non-pro) device with LTE.

  3. 2 | Reply
    dmartin Alpha Member #1163 - 2 months ago

    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.

    1. 1 | Reply
      mattijzz Alpha Member #630 - 2 months ago
      In reply to dmartin:

      Totally agree Surface 3 is nice!

  4. 1 | Reply
    Polycrastinator Alpha Member #163 - 2 months ago

    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?

  5. 1 | Reply
    wunderbar Alpha Member #290 - 2 months ago

    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.

    1. 0 | Reply
      Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 2 months ago
      In reply to wunderbar:

      It doesn't matter to Chrome OS, Android, or iOS devices.

    2. 2 | Reply
      wunderbar Alpha Member #290 - 2 months ago
      In reply to Waethorn:

      Those OS's are designed to run on that hardware though, where Windows is not.  MacOS on eMMC would be as bad as Windows is because of the lack of optimisation.

  6. 1 | Reply
    Belralph Alpha Member #357 - 2 months ago

    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. 1 | Reply
    Awhispersecho Alpha Member #1649 - 2 months ago

    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.

  8. 1 | Reply
    LuxuryTravelled Alpha Member #168 - 2 months ago

    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.

  9. 0 | Reply
    gsmith-plm Alpha Member #1599 - 2 months ago

    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.

  10. 0 | Reply
    lezmaka Alpha Member #1837 - 2 months ago

    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.

  11. 0 | Reply
    wolters Alpha Member #390 - 2 months ago

    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. 

  12. 0 | Reply
    cseafous Alpha Member #610 - 2 months ago

    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...

  13. 0 | Reply
    chriswong13 Alpha Member #869 - 2 months ago

    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. 0 | Reply
    JerryH Alpha Member #248 - 2 months ago

    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...

  15. 0 | Reply
    DanTheMan Alpha Member #1738 - 2 months ago

    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.

    1. 0 | Reply
      ommoran Alpha Member #208 - 2 months ago
      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.

    2. 0 | Reply
      mebby Alpha Member #219 - 2 months ago
      In reply to DanTheMan:

      ~10 inch screen?

  16. 0 | Reply
    halap3n0 Alpha Member #964 - 2 months ago

    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.


    1. 0 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago
      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.

  17. 0 | Reply
    Demileto Alpha Member #2054 - 2 months ago

    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.

  18. 0 | Reply
    Patrick3D Alpha Member #994 - 2 months ago

    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.

  19. 0 | Reply
    glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 2 months ago

    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.

    1. 1 | Reply
      mebby Alpha Member #219 - 2 months ago
      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????

    2. 0 | Reply
      glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 2 months ago
      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.

  20. 0 | Reply
    Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 2 months ago

    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.

    1. 0 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 2 months ago

      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.

  21. 0 | Reply
    Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago

    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.  :)

  22. 0 | Reply
    digiguy Alpha Member #2015 - 2 months ago

    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

    1. 0 | Reply
      LuxuryTravelled Alpha Member #168 - 2 months ago
      In reply to digiguy: Sorry, but I just can't get past that hinge - good specs though.