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Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 Takes Aim at MacBook Air/iPad Users

Microsoft has revealed new Surface-branded Windows hardware, taking direct aim at Apple during its media event by positioning the Surface Pro 3 as the logical all-in-one replacement for those who carry both MacBook Air notebooks and iPad tablets. The company even gently poked fun at tech journalists working on Apple laptops (with, it was assumed, idle iPads tucked away as they took notes at the press event).

The much-rumored “Surface Mini” did not materialize, and in fact, Microsoft went in the opposite direction with the Surface Pro 3 by giving it a 12-inch display, a departure from the 10.6-inch screens on earlier models (see “Microsoft Surface: A Tale of Two Computers,” 11 March 2014).

The larger multi-touch Surface screen is intended to boost productivity to be on par with that of a traditional small laptop. So is the display’s comfortable 3:2 aspect ratio, which compares favorably to the awkward 16:9 aspect ratio offered by the previous Surface models.

But, showing that Apple isn’t the only company that can produce impressive industrial design, that larger screen doesn’t mean that the Surface Pro 3 is thicker or heavier than its predecessor. Microsoft claims the Surface Pro 3 is the thinnest Intel Core-based computer available, and it weighs in at 1.76 pounds (0.80 kg), down from the Surface Pro 2’s 2.0 pounds (0.90 kg) and well below the 13-inch MacBook Air’s 2.96 pounds (1.34 kg).

Microsoft has also positioned the $799 entry-level Surface Pro 3 as cheaper than the MacBook Air, but this doesn’t factor in the optional $130 Type Cover keyboard needed to make the Surface Pro 3 a functional laptop equivalent. At a comparably outfitted $929, the Surface Pro 3 fits snugly between the 11-inch MacBook Air and the $999 13-inch MacBook Air.

What’s more, Surface devices with flexible keyboard covers have always been awkward to use on the lap. Microsoft addressed this issue at the media event, saying the Surface Pro 3 is vastly more “lappable,” with an improved Type Cover that magnetically adheres more firmly and a revised kickstand that offers a larger range of positions from the nearly vertical to the nearly horizontal.

Other improvements include a larger and more responsive trackpad on the Type Cover, along with an upgraded Surface Pen (for handwriting on the multi-touch screen) and desktop dock. Surface lacks a Thunderbolt port, sporting only a single Mini DisplayPort for connecting to external displays along with a full-size USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader, and headset jack. 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are also standard.

Various versions of the Surface Pro 3 will be released in June and August 2014, with Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 processors; 4 or 8 GB of RAM; and internal storage options of 64, 128, 256, and 512 GB.

If you’re curious how the Surface Pro 3 compares to the iPad Air and MacBook Air, here’s the spec lineup.


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Comments about Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 Takes Aim at MacBook Air/iPad Users
(Comments are closed.)

JohnB (SciFiOne)   2014-05-20 16:22
Looks like a major player/competitor.
Anonymous  2014-05-20 19:09
The 12" is lighter than the 13" MacBook Air... except Microsoft does not count the weight of its magnetic keyboard, which actually makes it slightly *heavier* than that MBA. And their price is for the sluggish i3 processor in the basic Surface Pro 3, while the MBAs offer either i5 or i7 processors. (A top of the line Surface Pro 3. with 512 GB of storage, a Core i7 processor, and 8 GB of RAM, costs a whopping $1,949)
JohnB (SciFiOne)   2014-05-20 23:04
Thanks. That's way too high. If I buy a MBA it would be the smaller screen and slower CPU, but with 512GB of memory - which was not available last time I checked. (I'm not ready yet anyway.) I don't need the power anymore but keep filling the HDs!
And the price isn't for the i3, it's for the i5, that's all they're offering right now, their i3 & i7 are coming a bit latter. Prices across the board are as good or better than the MBA's when you factor in cost of digitiser system, touch-screen, expandable storage, much higher res. screen, lighter/thinner (heavier than 11" MBA when using typecover), + some other things I'm forgetting ATM.
Slightly heavier than a 13" MBA (& only very negligibly so), not heavier than the 13". Also, you're leaving out cost of an ipad & digitiser (which is not just a simple matter of getting the right pen for your MBA).

Slightly heavier than a 13" MBA
Slightly heavier than a 11" MBA
Chris Pepper  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-05-21 08:31
You should update this chart with 11" MBA & iPad Air, and note weight with Type Cover.
Phil Weber  2014-05-24 19:50
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2014-06-03 02:37
Price aside, the Surface Pro 3 offers good to excellent hardware. One thing the article doesn't mention is that the Surface has better screen resolution than any MacBook Air. But the advantages end there.

Given that the Surface Pro 3 is not yet available to test in the wild, it nevertheless can be expected that the keyboard is still too thin and thus more difficult to use than that of the MacBook Air, which is tactilely more responsive than the current Surface keyboards. This is the compromise Microsoft made by pairing the computer with the screen rather than with the keyboard, as in a conventional laptop. It was necessary if the keyboard was to be optional, but still has its downside in that MS rated a thin profile above usability. If they were to make a keyboard like those available for the iPad, for instance, which have to measure up to other Apple keyboards, the Surface would lose any hint of advantage in weight and thinness - though it would be a better machine for all that.

But what makes a joke out of their pathetic aspirations to compete with the Air and the iPad is that, however good the hardware may be, you are still stuck with Windows 8. That will be a deal breaker for just about any patron of Apple devices. The real, unspoken, target market for the SP3 is other PC users, who are hardly more likely to like Windows 8 than Mac users are. They might prefer a Surface to their current laptop and Android tablet. Maybe. But Android tablets have a huge lead in applications over the tablet side of Windows 8. While Microsoft was dithering about what tablet strategy to undertake, Android was building a substantial developer and fan base for apps and games. While still inferior in most respects to the app selection for iOS, it's miles and years ahead of Windows Metro. The only plausible market for the Surface Pro 3 is Windows users who don't currently have a tablet of any kind. And then only if their current PC is long in the tooth and begging to be retired - and they are brave enough to take the Windows 8 challenge.

Microsoft is focussing on the hardware for the Surface Pro 3 because that's all they have. That alone tells you all you need to know about their prospects.

If I were in the market for a Windows laptop, I'd be looking for one, any one, with Windows 7 installed. Windows 8 is the kludge from Hell - and most people, even Windows users, know it. Microsoft just made too many wrong turns, from the keyboards, to the RT, to the operating system(s). None of it works well enough to be competitive with anyone. They claim to be challenging the MacBook Air and the iPad, not because they actually are, but because they're trying to glean some of Apple's luster - and to distract attention from the Surface Pro 3's shortcomings, which are substantial. No doubt it will take more time and perhaps another billion dollar write-off before MS is willing to, not concede defeat - they never do that publicly - but change course with a more conventional and viable product. Or maybe they'll just give up on their hardware gambit altogether. I'm sure their OEMs would appreciate that. The question everyone is asking is, given that they have so much to play with, how long will Microsoft continue to pour good money after bad?