Microsoft has been trying to create a post-laptop device since before laptops even became household items. In 2012, the first Surface Pro device was released, with the second iteration following a short time later. These have followed a long line of underwhelming, pre ios/android tablets. Now, with the Surface Pro 3, it looks like they might have finally cracked it.
The Surface Pro 3 is being marketed as a laptop replacement, a genuinely portable PC, rather than a tablet to rival the iPads of this world. There was a huge deal of excitement about the iPad when it was first revealed (and there still is), but it quickly became apparent that it wouldn't replace a desktop or laptop just yet. The Surface Pro 3 moves closer to this ideal by utilising true PC specification components and including a high speed USB 3.0 port to connect peripherals, a Micro SD reader and mini display port. The operating system is also the same as what Microsoft ships its laptops and PCs with, Windows 8.1.
Tablet or PC?
Although it looks and feels like a tablet, the Surface Pro 3 is probably best compared with laptops as it is capable of doing pretty much everything that they do. It's difficult to fit real PC technology, such as an Intel Core processor into a thin and quiet device, that needs to stay cool. However, the Surface Pro 3 does it, and you can choose from versions with an I3, I5 or I7 processor at varying price points. This is perhaps why the first two iterations of the Surface Pro weren't runaway successes. They were trying to do too much within strict limits of space and technology - and ended up missing their mark. The Surface Pro 3 can also cram in 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage space.
There are worries, however, that this hardware will generate too much heat for a hand-held device. Even though it has a fan, ventilation still isn't going to be great on a small device that is virtually sealed all the way round. Heat is a killer for all devices - so this is a potentially large stumbling block.
Pen accessory - fad or necessity?
The Surface Pro 3 comes with a pen accessory called "Surface Pen" which can be used for jotting hand-written notes. One click of the button on top will open up your note taking application, where you can scribble or draw away. Two clicks takes a screen shot, and the pen can also be used for waking the device from sleep mode. Ingeniously, Microsoft have considered that you need to rest your hand as you write, and this will most likely be on the screen. They have therefore developed "Palm Block" technology, so you don't accidentally press things and mess with the display as you attempt to write.
True Productivity in a Tablet
This is a tablet that you can install full desktop software, such as Photoshop, onto. How this works with the pen accessory will be exciting to see, and could result in surges of sales for the Surface Pro 3 from graphic designers. You can run the full Office Suite, and virtually anything else.
This is very much a device which is focused on productivity on the go rather than fun and games. The front and rear mounted cameras are both 5MP - which is only decent by today's standards - but they will film in 1080p so you can appear crystal clear in your video conferences.
At the moment, there is only a wifi version - which may impact productivity for many using this as an on the go business device. Despite large advances in wi-fi coverage, there always seems to be somewhere where you just can't get on it - and it's always better not to be restricted to any particular location.
One major improvement over previous versions however, is the battery life. The Surface Pro 3 can last 9 hours, vastly improving your productivity on the go and preventing you from being tied down.
Breaking the Bank
Unfortunately the Surface Pro 3 looks like it is going to be rather pricey. The most basic model is entering the US market at $799 - roughly £475. That's a lot of money to drop on a device that might not live up to its laptop replacing billing , and that's only the Core i3, 64GB 4GB RAM version. If you want a powerful processor such as the i5 or i7, 8GB of RAM and 256GB or 512GB of storage space, you're looking at £900 to £1,200. And then there's the keyboard acessory which doesn't come packaged with the device and costs an additional £79. That's an additional £79 that you're probably going to want to spend. Without the keyboard accessory, this device will suddenly become a lot more limited.
This new product from Microsoft is an exciting development for the technology world. Even if the Surface Pro doesn't usher in a new dawn, it may just push other portable ultrabook and tablet manufacturers to the next level. Microsoft believe this is the first true laptop replacement. That remains to be seen, but it certainly promises much, with specs comparable with desktop PCs. The acid test will be whether desktop specification components can run efficiently in a hand held device, or if Microsoft's ambition will prove to be too far ahead of the current technology curve. Price point and heat management seem to be the main obstacles - but if those are passed, then the Surface Pro 3 could be a runaway success.