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Surface 3: Finally, A $499 Device From Microsoft That Makes Sense

The killer feature for a Windows tablet turns out to be the ability to run standard Windows apps. Who knew?

What is Microsoft’s new Surface 3 tablet/PC? That’s pretty easy to explain: It’s very much like the Surface Pro 3, except with a lower price, a smaller screen, and a few other signs of cost-consciousness.

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At a starting price of $499, it’s $300 cheaper than the base-model Surface Pro 3. It has a 10.8″ screen with 1920-by-1280 resolution, compared to the Pro 3’s 12″ display with 2160-by-1440 resolution. Its Intel Atom processor is nowhere near as potent as the Core chips available for the Pro 3, but should be plenty fast for garden-variety computing tasks.

Oh, and the Surface 3, like the Surface Pro 3, runs Windows 8.1 and is ready for Windows 10 when it arrives this summer.

Surface 3 Keyboard/Covers

That last point sounds obvious, but it’s actually the most interesting and appealing thing about the Surface 3. Microsoft’s previous $499 tablets, the Surface RT and Surface 2, ran Windows RT, a version of Windows that came with Microsoft Office but was otherwise incompatible with standard “desktop” Windows apps. Instead, it was dependent on software written for Windows 8’s newfangled touch-friendly interface. When killer Windows 8 apps were slow to arrive, it left the Surface RT and Surface 2 in limbo–neither satisfying alternatives to the iPad nor full-fledged Windows computers.

The other differences between the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 are not huge. At .34″ thick and 1.37 pounds, it’s a smidge thinner and lighter than the .36″, 1.76-pound Surface Pro 3. Its power plug is a standard Micro USB connector, which means you can charge it using a USB cable in a pinch as well as with its AC adapter. The kickstand has three positions, a downgrade from the infinitely adjustable one on the Surface Pro 3. The pressure-sensitive pen for note-taking and drawing is a $50 option, not a standard feature. The ultra-thin Type Cover keyboards are similar to the ones for the Surface Pro 3, and still sell for another $130 on top of the price for the tablet, but Microsoft says that they’re been tweaked for the best possible feel.


Surface 3 no longer comes with Microsoft Office preinstalled, which was a signature feature of the Surface RT and Surface 2. But it does include a year’s worth of the Office 365 subscription service, which gives you access to the Office apps. All in all, it looks like a slick package, at a price with more mainstream appeal than the Surface Pro 3, which really is aimed at pros and other folks with high-end needs.

For a long time after Microsoft announced its Surface devices in 2012, the conventional wisdom was that they’d bombed. But when the company announced its financial results for the second quarter of its fiscal year 2015, it said Surface was responsible for $1.1 billion in sales, mostly of Surface Pro 3 units and accessories. That doesn’t make it an Apple-style blockbuster, but it doesn’t sound like abject failure, either. And with Surface 3, Microsoft finally has an entry-level model which might be an appealing choice for a meaningful number of people.

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Microsoft is taking preorders for the device now, but it won’t go on sale until May 5. There will be a $499 model with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage and a $599 one with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, and–for $100 extra–versions with built-in LTE wireless.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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