by Chris Taylor
I have never been a huge fan of tablet computers.
Although they are very portable, I always found them to
be best as a consuming device rather than for producing
information. If all you want to do is things like web
browsing, watching movies, reading email, and a tiny
amount of typing, they can be really great. But as soon
as you need to do any significant amount of typing, or
precision pointing and clicking, a tablet can be very
frustrating. Quite frankly, typing on an on-screen
keyboard sucks. Ditto for pointing with fat fingers at
tiny on-screen targets.
I think there is a good reason why Bluetooth keyboards
and mice are the most popular add-ons to tablets. The
trouble is, once you add a keyboard and mouse to your
tablet ... don't you end up with, essentially, a laptop
Microsoft seems to feel the same way I do. When they
built the Surface tablet, they came up with a design that
is a nice blend of tablet and laptop. When you truly want
it to be a tablet, you can do so. But when you need to do
a bunch of typing or precision pointer work, you can snap
on a magnetically connecting keyboard with trackpad.
Before going further,
let me say that the price of Microsoft Surface tablets is
not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for
inexpensive, stop reading now and look elsewhere. But
there is a lot to like if you are willing to pay the big
Microsoft originally came out with Surface in October,
2012. It did not interest me at all as it could only run
Windows Store apps, not the full Win32 applications we
all know and love, like Photoshop, CorelDraw, and
WordPerfect. The Surface Pro came out in February, 2013.
In addition to Windows Store apps, it could run Win32
apps. But, I never looked at it seriously.
The Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 were released at the same
time in October 2013. The Surface 2 was still only able
to run Windows Store apps and did not interest me. The
Surface Pro 2 runs Win32 apps and, thanks to a very
generous brother, I ended up with one in early 2014. Its
processor is a decent Intel Haswell Core i5, it has 4 GB
RAM, 64 GB storage (there is a 128GB model as well. I
opted instead for an additional 64 GB micro-SD card), a
full HD, 1920x1080, 16x9 screen, a full size USB 3 port,
a mini-DisplayPort, Bluetooth 4 and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi.
With the add-on "Type Cover" keyboard/trackpad,
I find it makes for a decent Windows laptop computer. I
use it all the time for the library presentations I give
and it is my go-to portable Windows computer. I actually
rarely use it as a pure tablet, with keyboard removed.
If I had waited until last summer, I would have ended up
with the Surface 3, which is the device where I think
Microsoft really hit its stride.
The Surface Pro 3 has three processor options; Intel Core
i3, Core i5, and Core i7. You can get 4 or 8 GB RAM.
Storage options range from 64 to 512 GB. Both front and
rear cameras are now 5 mp (up from 1.2 mp). For
Wi-Fi, they added "ac" to the previous
802.11a/b/g/n. Most other specs are pretty much the same
as the Surface Pro 2 - except for the kickstand and the
screen, both of which most reviews rave about.
Microsoft moved from a 2-position kickstand on the
Surface Pro 2 to one you can adjust to any angle. Most
people seem to find this much better as you can adjust
the tilt of the screen to exactly match your needs at any
But the screen is the really big change. Microsoft moved
from the 16x9 aspect ratio with 1920x1080 resolution on
the Surface Pro 2 to a 3:2 aspect ratio with a resolution
of 2160x1440. While the 16x9 aspect ratio on the Surface
Pro 2 made it really only usable in landscape mode,
reviewers are finding the 3x2 aspect ratio on the Surface
Pro 3 to be very usable in either portrait or landscape
mode. And the increased resolution is welcomed.
The Surface Pro 2 can still be found and there are some
deals to be had. At the time of writing this, Staples has
one with 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage for $900. Be sure to
also buy the $100 Type Cover 2.
For the Surface Pro 3, there are lots of price points
depending on processor, RAM, and storage. At the lowest
level, you are looking at about $850 for a Core-i3 with 4
GB RAM and 64 GB storage. For the top of the line with
Core-i7, 8 GB RAM, and 512 GB storage, you are looking at
a breathtaking $1,800.
Oh and no matter which model of Surface Pro 3 you choose,
you are facing an additional $130 for the Type Cover 3.
Originally published: May, 2015
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The opinions expressed in these reviews
do not necessarily represent the views of the
Ottawa PC Users' Group or its members.