In Depth

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 targets iPad and MacBook - reviews

Third time's 'almost a charm' say reviewers of the new Surface Pro 3 tablet

Microsoft launched a larger but lighter tablet on Tuesday, hoping the device will be able to make inroads into Apple's dominance of the premium tablet market.

Like its predecessors, the Surface Pro 3 looks like a tablet, but attaches magnetically to a keyboard (Microsoft calls it a 'Type Cover') to function as a laptop. The Surface Pro 3 has a new kickstand that allows the device to sit more comfortably in a user's lap and a larger screen than its forbears.

The company's new chief executive, Satya Nadella, says that with the acquisition of mobile phone designer Nokia, Microsoft remains committed to making its own devices.

"We are not building hardware for hardware's sake," Nadella said at a launch event for the Surface Pro 3 in New York last night. "We want to build experiences that bring together all the capabilities of our company."

Microsoft executives frequently compared the device with the MacBook Air at Tuesday's launch, making it clear that they regard Apple's flagship laptop as one of its main rivals.

So how effectively does the new tablet fulfil the venerable tech company's hardware ambitions?

"Third time is almost the charm" for Microsoft, says The Next Web, praising the Surface Pro 3's size, appearance and overall performance. But in its hands-on review, it says that the device works better as a tablet than a laptop, so it is unlikely to pose a real threat to the MacBook Air. The Next Web also questions the Surface Pro 3's price tag – "at $799 (£639) for the Core i3 version without the keyboard, it's a tough price tag to swallow".

IGN's Melissa Grey agrees, noting that "the latest iteration of Surface, running Windows 8.1, does offer some notable improvements on its predecessors, (but) I'm not entirely convinced that consumers will abandon their laptops en masse for this supercharged tablet".

In her review, Grey praises the reconfigured kickstand, which makes the device more portable. She also likes the new 'Surface Pen' stylus, describing it as "one of the nicest I've come across". It feels like a "proper pen" but allows you to draw, operate the camera or play Sudoku.

Still, Grey concludes that overall the Surface Pro 3 is no laptop killer. Rather, "it's a well-designed device that delivers improvements on its predecessors and some new features that might boost your productivity compared to a standard tablet". 

MacWorld takes a predictably partisan view of the new device, noting the similarity in design between the Surface Pro 3 and the iPad Air, but in their view, the operating system does not stack up against Apple's "wonderful" iOS 7.

Microsoft does have the edge in some departments, however, and MacWorld acknowledges that Apple is rumoured to be addressing the superior accessories offered for the Surface Pro 3 – including the new Surface Pen stylus and the Type Cover – when it releases its next iPad.

PC Mag's Brian Westover praises the Surface Pro 3's switch to a new aspect ratio which "better replicates the feel of a pad of paper. When you hold it in the crook of your arm it feels much more comfortable". Westover also notes that the device has a USB dock and a mini-display port for output to monitors and televisions, and a MicroSD card slot for adding extra memory. 

Pre-orders for the Surface Pro 3 began today in the US, UK, Canada and Europe. The 64GB i3 Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 or £639. 

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