There has been quite a bit of media hype around the release of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet. This is the third iteration of this device with many pundits looking for major breakthroughs that would solidify the new Surface as a true laptop replacement.

To separate the hype from reality, as well as to keep our clients informed about the latest technology happenings, Intivix purchased a new Surface Pro 3 to review its potential for replacing a corporate laptop in typical day-to-day business scenarios. Can this device deliver the capability and productivity businesses demand?

Figure 1. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (photo from Microsoft.com)

Figure 1. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (photo from Microsoft.com)

 

Summary of Our Experience

 

The Surface Pro 3’s elegant design personifies the key elements of a light, touchscreen laptop; it just happens to lack a built-in keyboard. At less than 2 pounds with a touch screen, it is extremely thin and lightweight. For true usability, make sure you also purchase the $129 Type Cover keyboard. The type cover feels much like a conventional keyboard and is backlit which helps when in low light situations. The Surface Pro 3 is a tablet which quickly converts to a laptop form factor when connecting the optional Type Cover. We liked the Type Cover’s size, which didn’t make our hands feel cramped during long typing sessions. However, we found the tablet’s 12-inch screen a bit too small to comfortably use as a primary display for extended periods (especially when switching between multiple applications).

 

Microsoft advertises the battery life of the Surface Pro 3 to last up to 10 hours during normal use. During our tests, we got approximately half of that (roughly 5-6 hours before needing to recharge). We ended up increasing the brightness of the screen for easier readability which likely contributed to the lower battery runtime.

 

Figure 2: Type Cover ($129) (photo from Microsoft.com)

Figure 2: Type Cover ($129) (photo from Microsoft.com)

 

We tested the Surface Pro 3 in various scenarios to measure its ease of use and comfort when working for extended periods. Our first test was lying on the couch doing some casual web surfing. This experience proved a little challenging as the kickstand felt uncomfortable when resting on my lap and, in fact, the first time I tried it, it slipped off my lap and fell on the floor.

 

The Type Cover also has a sharp edge that made it uncomfortable to use while balanced on one’s lap. iPads that Intivix has tested do not have this issue, at least with the fixed cover type keyboard that we reviewed. Perhaps in the future, additional 3rd party cover type keyboards will become available that will address this shortcoming.

 

After our extended review, it became clear to us that we don’t see ourselves using the Surface Pro 3 as a primary laptop desktop replacement. However, it would make a great travel companion for those taking a short trip that requires some computing flexibility. It would also be a good fit for folks looking for a lightweight, full Windows machine that can run more complex Windows software than can be executed on consumer-oriented tablets, those needing to take meeting notes, or others who need more Windows functionality than that found on an iPad.

 

Intivix’s recommendation for a lightweight primary laptop is the Dell Latitude e7440. While more expensive than the Surface Pro 3 and heavier, at 3.6 lbs., it has a much larger screen size, a more comfortable keyboard, works with the existing line of Dell docking stations, and has an option for built-in cellular broadband modem for wireless Internet on the go.

 

Figure 3: Dell Latitude e7440 (photo from Dell.com)

Figure 3: Dell Latitude e7440 (photo from Dell.com)

 

Our Criteria for Determining Value as a Laptop Replacement

 

When evaluating any laptop for business use, we expect vendors to provide the following minimum feature set:

 

  • Many ports including built-in Ethernet, Bluetooth, USB 3.0 and VGA or mini display
  • Docking station option
  • Dual monitor capable
  • Support for hard drive encryption (laptop must ship with a TPM chip)
  • Option for internal cellular broadband Internet
  • Long battery life

 

The Surface Pro 3 includes ports for USB 3.0, microSD card reader, headphone, and mini DisplayPort. The docking station is not yet available; but is expected to ship on 8/15/14. A single USB port limits flexibility and requires lugging along additional adapters for the majority of trips. We were able to purchase an external USB 3.0 Daddo docking station in order to recreate a dual monitor setup, as it is becoming an increasingly common configuration among our clients. However, we found that running the multiple monitors through the single USB port puts a strain on the Surface’s processor, which slowed down overall performance.   The Surface Pro 3 does include a TPM chip for disk encryption – an essential security requirement for any business.

 

The single USB 3.0 port required that we carry four additional items to get our work done. First we needed to purchase a Bluetooth mouse so as not to consume the sole USB port. Next, we purchased a USB Ethernet adapter to connect the Surface to our corporate network (for security we don’t allow connecting to our corporate network over wireless). We also brought along a small USB hub and a mini DisplayPort-to-VGA adapter for use when connecting to projectors. These additional items resulted in more added weight during travel and more complexity during IT support situations. Another serious issue is that these smaller components can be easily lost or forgotten somewhere.

 

Another important criterion is having Internet connectivity options while traveling. The Surface does not include an option for a built-in cellular broadband modem. Coupled with the fact that the Surface has only a single USB port, this is problematic. However, I was able to pair the Surface Pro to my iPhone and get Internet access, but incurred some extra data charges. Another item to consider is that some cellular phone providers, such as Verizon, do not support simultaneous voice and data use.

 

 

 

 

 

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