Microsoft Surface 3 Review: Capability And Compromises

Design and Build Quality

Those familiar with the design of the first two Microsoft Surface devices will immediately recognize the Surface 3. It's familiar, but somewhat refined. It's the company's sleekest Surface yet, and while it's very clearly a Surface slate, it's surprisingly light and incredibly polished. Make no mistake: Microsoft has its aim on Apple's iPad Air lineup, which starts at $499 yet doesn't run a full-fledged desktop operating system. The design of the Surface is on par with Apple's, but there's a lot of extra functionality baked in as well.

surface 3 on wood table

We'll start with the 10.8-inch, Full HD display. It's perhaps the brightest (430 nits) display we've seen on a 2-in-1 of this caliber, and it's a winner from edge to edge. Colors are sharp, touch response is instant, and it's a joy to watch films and games on. It's unquestionably the highlight of the entire package.

surface 3 display

The rest of the frame is a silver metallic, with one edge home to a Mini Display port, full-size USB 3.0 socket, microUSB charging port, and a conventional 3.5mm headphone/combo jack. The top lip has a power button and a volume rocker, with the opposite edge home to a notch for popping the kickstand out. Speaking of the kickstand, it's sturdy and useful, but only has three positioning points; those hoping for a device with infinite positioning there won't find it here. Still, in our testing we found the three notches acceptable, and feel that the masses will be able to find an ergonomic angle to work from.

surface 3 photos edge ports

Without an optional Type Cover, the Surface 3 is just a tablet. Toss a magnetized Type Cover on, and it turns into something entirely more functional. The $130 accessory is sturdily manufactured, providing an adequate tying experience (albeit one with shallow travel) and an all too small trackpad. It works quite well in short spans, but extended use will have some longing for a more full-size Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

surface 3 photos 4805

We should also mention pen input. There's an optional $50 stylus for doodling and taking notes with pen, but this really begins to push the entire package into nickel-and-diming territory.
A $499 tablet can quickly become a nearly $700 tablet if you add two components that many would argue are essential to making the most of a slate that runs a full version of Windows 8.1 and eventually Windows 10.

Surface 3 Dock and Pen

Surface 3 Docking Station Ports Rear

Finally, for an additonal $199 you could pick up a Surface 3 docking station which is a self-powered device that will bring out two more USB 3 ports, two USB 2 ports, Gigabit Ethernet and mini Displayport output, a security lock port and an input/output audio jack. It plugs into the Surface 3's USB 3 and power ports and charges the device as well. All told it's a nice complement to the system and adds a more solid "desktop" feel to the setup, with extended capabilities like being able to connect a printer easily, but again, it's a sizable up-charge.

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