Microsoft made one thing clear: it wants its new Surface Pro 3 to be able to replace your laptop. It's a bold goal, but Microsoft thinks it has the right combination of power and portability to make it work. The new Surface is bigger than the earlier two models with a 12-inch display, but it's also thinner, at 9.1 millimeters thick, and lighter, at 1.8 pounds. Inside all of that is one of several different Intel Core processors, running from an i3 up to an i7. Surface chief Panos Panay says it's "the thinnest Intel Core product ever made," and it certainly makes for a device that feels extremely light to hold.
One of the other big improvements to the Surface Pro 3 is its new "friction-hinge." It feels really firm, reliable, and smooth, and it's able to sit at a much lower angle now, which should make it easier to use while writing from above. This hinge works at any angle within its range and at least at first blush, we're not too worried that it will not be able to hold its angle over the life of the device. Microsoft is touting the Surface Pro 3's "lapability" and indeed, putting the Surface on your lap is much less awkward than it used to be (but no, it's still not quite as hassle-free as an actual laptop).
The other big change on this Surface is its display. The Surface Pro 3 has a 3:2 aspect ratio, rather than the unwieldy 16:9 ratio of the earlier tablets, and includes a dense 2160 x 1440 panel that looks really sharp with bright colors and very wide viewing angles. Microsoft has also designed a new stylus for the tablet that the company wants to be as natural as an actual pen. In practice, it looks good and responds really well — in fact, it might be the best writing experience on a tablet that we've seen yet.
Unsurprisingly, Windows 8.1 runs quickly and smoothly on the Pro 3, and the touchscreen had no issues tracking our swipes and inputs. The new Type Cover keyboard cover features a new touchpad that's tremendously better than earlier models, as well as backlit keys. The keyboard can magnetically attach itself to the front of the Pro 3 to offer improved stability while on your lap, and in our brief tests, it seemed to work as expected — though it did cause the keyboard to feel a little mushy and bouncy when you're really banging on it. The real test will be how well it works while in a fast moving train.
Preorders for the tablet will begin tomorrow at $799, with the base model including a Core i3 processor. Among the models, internal storage ranges from 64 to 512 GB and RAM ranges from 4 to 8 GB.
Based on our initial impressions with the Surface Pro 3, there's a lot to like here. We'll reserve final judgement until we can give it the full review process, so stay tuned.