Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review: A Capable Laptop Replacement Tablet?


Most people usually have multiple devices – probably a tablet for light work, especially when they are on the move. They might also own a major laptop for home or office use. But with the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft offers a single device that can serve both purposes.

Does the idea of a laptop replacement tablet sound interesting to you? Read this Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review to find out if this elegant 2-in-1 is a capable laptop replacement for you.

In this review, I will give a detailed breakdown of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3’s features and specifications. Specifically, I will discuss its overall design, CPU, RAM, graphics, storage, and battery performances.

I will also provide results from benchmark tests which are useful for comparing performances with other competing devices. Additionally, after each section of this review, I will also provide a rating from my opinion.

At the end of this review, you will be able to decide if this laptop can work for you as a tablet and a laptop at the same time.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review: My Initial Thoughts

When the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was released in 2014, the marketing team advertised it as “a tablet that can replace your laptop“. This is a strong claim – therefore, in the sections below we’ll find out if that claim is true.

However, before we get into that, it might be worth knowing that the Pro 3 is an improvement of its predecessor – Microsoft Surface Pro 2 in many aspects. For example, Microsoft Surface Pro 3 has gotten over 10% lighter, better battery life, and a better overall design.

Moving on to its price, as of the time the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was released in 2014, it might have cost quite a fortune. However, at the time this review was published (May 2021) it starts at a reasonable price of $234.99.

Although, that is not the overall cost, when you add the cost of the Type Cover which is an essential accessory – especially for a device that is designed to function as a laptop as well – you are looking at a reasonable overhead cost.

Enough with the sneak peeks! Let’s get into the details of determining if the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 can serve as a real laptop replacement, shall we?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Design, Dimension & Weight Review

Just like its predecessor, Microsoft made the Surface Pro 3 with a magnesium chassis. It is available in varieties of color options ranging from platinum to black and cobalt blue.

Microsoft also has increased the display size to 12-inches as opposed to the 10.6-inch of its predecessor. Also, the device still has thick bezels however, Microsoft has moved the Windows home button to the left bezel of the device.

With the windows button by the left bezel, this way, the button appears on the bottom of the device – when you hold the device in tablet mode. There isn’t much else to see in front of the device.

Turning to its back, you’ll find the camera at the top right corner. Additionally, moving your eyes down you’ll find the kickstand with a surface logo written in grey fonts.

Speaking of the kickstand, it has greatly improved. You can turn the newly improved kickstand in more angles than that of the predecessor.

In tablet mode, Microsoft Surface Pro 3 promises natural and smooth writing or drawing experience. This is achieved with the help of its sensitive aluminum stylus pen.

Microsoft ships each model with a pen therefore, unlike the Type Cover you don’t pay for the stylus pen separately. An interesting feature of the pen is the ability to activate Microsoft OneNote.

When you click the purple button on the bottom of the pen, it launches OneNote immediately. Most interestingly, while the device is in sleep mode, the pen will activate OneNote without having to unlock the device first.

Additionally, a second click on the button will save the note to the cloud drive and open a fresh sheet. This is especially useful when you need to take quick notes in a meeting or lecture hall.

It is also useful for those moments when one gets fresh ideas and needs to jot them down immediately. However, there is no provision for attaching the pen to the device when using it in tablet mode.

Therefore, there is a high risk of losing the pen. Notwithstanding, users can stick the pen in a fabric loop by the side of the Type Cover.

As I already hinted earlier, Microsoft described the Surface Pro 3 as a tablet that can be used as a laptop. Now, this wouldn’t be possible without a Type Cover, would it?

Therefore, it is important to take a critical look at the Type Cover of Surface Pro 3.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Type Cover comes as a separate accessory. However, it is a very essential accessory considering that you need this device to work as a laptop.

In my opinion, offering the Surface Pro 3 separately actually undermines Microsoft’s intention of making the device a laptop replacement. The Surface Pro 3 easily attaches to the tablet as soon as it gets close, due to the magnetic surface connector.

Additionally, the Surface Pro 3 serves two purposes. When the type cover is closed, it serves as a protector to the screen and while opened, it serves as the keyboard.

Speaking of the keyboard, the keys are a bit cramped. However, the keys have a better feel than that of the predecessor.

Furthermore, the backlit keys have a shallow travel but a reasonable amount of feedback and a comfortable force of actuation.

Below the keyboard is the touchpad – its surface finish is smooth and easy to glide fingers across. Furthermore, the integrated buttons worked fine, gestures weren’t a problem either.

Moving on to ports, unlike the predecessor, there’s no Kensington lock slot. However, there’s a USB 3.0 slot and a Mini DisplayPort.

Additionally, there’s also a 3.5 mm audio jack and a micro SDCard placed below the kickstand. The SDCard is particularly useful for expanding storage space.

Let’s talk about the device size. Microsoft has worked hard to keep the Surface Pro 3 thin and light.

The Microsoft Surface Pro has a dimension of 292 x 201.3 x 9.1 mm and a weight of 800g.

It is impressively lighter than its predecessor considering that it is a 12-inch device while its predecessor is a 10.6-inch. Despite been a 12-inch device, the device is still lighter than its predecessor because its thickness has been reduced substantially.

In conclusion, I’ll rate the overall design of Microsoft Surface Pro 3 an eight because of its aesthetic and quality build.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Processor (CPU) Performance Review

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 comes in 3 processor configurations. Each model comes with a fourth-generation Intel Core processor – either Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7.

Specifically, the lowest configuration has a dual-core Intel Core i3-4020Y processor. It has a 3 MB cache memory and a base frequency of 1.5 GHz.

Furthermore, the middle-end configuration is the dual-core Intel Core i5-4300U processor which also has a 3 MB cache memory. Additionally, the Core i5 processor has a base frequency of 1.90 GHz and a maximum frequency of 2.90 GHz.

Lastly, the highest configuration is the dual-core Intel Core i7-4650U processor which has a 4 MB cache memory. Furthermore, the Core i7 processor has a base frequency of 1.70 GHz and a maximum frequency of 3.30 GHz.

The model I reviewed shipped with the Core i5 processor. This processor is almost twice as fast as the Core i3 processor but also with greater power consumption.

To test the performance of the processor, I performed a Cinebench R11 benchmark test. Based on the benchmark test result, Microsoft Surface Pro 3 recorded 2,820 points.

The device’s performance surpasses that of its predecessor- Microsoft Surface Pro 2 – which recorded 2,510 points.

Moreover, the performance of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 also surpassed that of the MacBook Air 13-inch. The MacBook recorded 2,600 points.

In conclusion, I will rate the processor performance of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 an eight due to its chart-topping performance.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Memory (RAM) Performance Review

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 comes in two RAM configurations. At the lower end is the 4 GB RAM model while the higher configuration is the 8 GB RAM model.

My test unit features 8 GB of RAM which is sufficient for a healthy dose of multi-tasking activities.

To test the device’s multitasking ability, I opened 20 browser tabs running different applications. Despite these activities running concurrently, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 kept running smoothly without stuttering.

To further evaluate the RAM performance of my review unit, I performed a PCMark 7 test. Based on the test result, the Surface Pro 3 once again topped the chart with a score of 5141 points.

In comparison with its predecessor – Microsoft Surface Pro 2 – which scored 4796 points, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 performed better.

Additionally, the Surface Pro 3’s performance surpassed that of the Acer Aspire S7 as well. The Acer scored 5045 points

Finally, I will rate the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 an eight. Once again, this is due to its performance which tops the chart in comparison with its competitors.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Storage Options & Performance Review

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 supports an SSD storage from 64 GB through 128 GB, 256 GB to 512 GB. The model I reviewed shipped with a 128 GB SSD.

To evaluate the storage performance of my test unit, I performed an AS SSD benchmark. Consequently, Microsoft Surface Pro 3 recorded a sequential read speed of 493.72 MBps and a sequential write speed of 303.05 MBps.

Additionally, I also performed a CrystalDiskMark test. Consequently, Surface Pro 3 recorded a sequential read speed of 433.3 MBps and a sequential write speed of 126.9 MBps.

The read and write speed of the SSD are fast enough; this means that you can transfer files with ease. A fast SSD also reduces the effects of background activities such as system updates and antivirus and system cleaning.

Finally, I’ll rate the storage performance of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 a nine, due to its impressive transfer rates.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Graphics Card Performance Review

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 supports two graphics configurations. At the lower end of the configuration is the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4200.

The Intel Graphics 4200 has a base frequency of 200 MHz and boost frequency of 1100 MHz.

The higher-end configuration has the integrated Intel HD Graphics 5000. It has a base and boost-frequency of 200 MHz and 1100 MHz respectively.

In my gaming test, I played StarCraft at different settings and 1080p resolution. At ultra settings the game played at 12 fps, at high settings the game played at 18 fps.

Furthermore, at medium settings the game played at 27 fps, and at low settings the game played at 138 fps.

Additionally, Dota 2 should play at an average frame rate of 30 fps. However, it requires some tweaking to the settings.

The gaming performance of this model is not impressive. However, its gaming performance is modest, especially for a non-gaming computer.

Moreover, it is possible to get even a better gaming performance from the model with the higher GPU configuration. The higher-end model ships with the HD 5000 graphics instead of HD 4200 in the model I tested.

To further evaluate the graphics performance of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, I also performed a 3DMark test. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 recorded 1050 points in this benchmark test.

In comparison, its performance surpassed that of the Dell Lattitude E7440 which recorded 1020 points.

Overall, the performance is not so impressive. However, as I mentioned earlier for a non-gaming laptop, its performance is modest.

So I’ll rate its gaming performance a seven in this aspect.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Battery life & Performance Review

Microsoft ships the Surface Pro 3 with a 42.2 Wh Lithium-ion battery. The marketing team has made a bold claim – promising up to 10 hours of battery life from video playback.

Truly, the battery is a significant improvement from that of the predecessor. However, I didn’t get up to 10 hours in my video playback test.

In my video playback test, I had a 2K resolution video play at a rate of 33 MBps. Also, I had WiFi turned off and screen brightness set to 50%.

Based on my test result, I got 8 hours 6 minutes of battery life. This is a quite decent battery performance.

In comparison, the Acer Aspire 7 lasted 8 hours 25 minutes in the same test. Therefore, Microsoft Surface Pro 3 performed better.

In conclusion, the battery is impressive but not the type to get you through the entire day without needing a charge. Therefore, I’ll rate it a seven for its battery performance.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review: Frequently Asked Questions

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 ships with Windows 8 OS installed. However, it can be upgraded to Windows 10 for free.

No, the Surface Pro 3 comes with just one RAM slot and with a RAM card that is soldered to the motherboard. Therefore, there is no option to upgrade the RAM or any other component. It is important to choose a model with the specifications you need currently and in the future.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 was released in June 2014. That is almost 7 years from the time this article was published (May 2021). However, even in 2021, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is still in demand.

There is an SD card slot beneath the kickstand of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. The memory card can be used to increase storage spaces to the capacity needed. Additionally, you can use Microsoft cloud storage – OneDrive – to save files.

In my gaming test, StarCraft played at decent frame rates in different settings. Also, you should be able to play games like Dota 2, DOOM 3, League Of Legends, and some other not-so-graphics-intensive games.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review: My Final Thoughts

Most people usually have multiple devices – probably a tablet for light work, especially when they are on the move. They might also own a major laptop for home or office use.

However, with the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft offers a single device that can serve both purposes.

Therefore, to answer the question – is Microsoft Surface Pro 3 a capable laptop replacement? To a reasonable extent, yes it is.

Microsoft has truly delivered on its promise, in tablet mode, the Pro 3’s performance is impressive. The onscreen keyboard is good and also the stylus pen is excellent for taking notes and drawings.

However, when using the Pro 3 as a laptop, users might need to compromise a bit. For instance, the kickstand might start to dig into your thighs if you place it on your lap for long.

Other than this, the experience with the keyboard is good enough. Finally, its performance as a laptop replacement is unleveled when you place it on a desk.

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