Microsoft Surface 3 Review: Capability And Compromises

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Summary and Conclusion

Microsoft's Surface 3 is a tough one to judge. For starters, the operating system onboard at the time of this review won't be the one that most buyers see. In a few weeks, Windows 10 will make its debut, sliding right atop Windows 8.1 as a free upgrade. We anticipate that the user experience will get a bit better, but major system updates generally eat up additional system resources as well. On the Surface 3, where performance isn't stellar to begin with, we're curious to see if the user experience takes a hit, gets better, or stays roughly the same. Time will tell.

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Outside of some occasional performance issues when taxing the system though, there's a lot to like about this 2-in-1. The fit and finish is superb, with outstanding materials used in construction, a stately design, a full-blown version of Windows that works with legacy applications (so long, WinRT!), and a smattering of excellent accessories.

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While the $499 starting price is eye-catching, it's also deceiving. We'd recommend the $599 configuration, which doubles the RAM from 2GB to 4GB and bumps the small 64GB of internal storage to a more reasonable 128GB. Then, you'll most likely want a $130 Type Cover if you ever plan to use it as a proper laptop. Throw in a $50 stylus for those looking to take advantage of pen input, and the Surface 3 bundle is firmly in "laptop price" territory. Indeed, you can get a pretty killer Ultrabook for around the same tally, and it'll boast an SSD that's much faster than the eMMC storage in the Surface 3.

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The issue, of course, is that most Ultrabooks can't easily become a tablet. If you're certain that you need both a tablet and a laptop in your life, it's smarter to consolidate into one product and opt for something like the Surface 3. For many, a tablet is simply superfluous, and it's the laptop where actual work gets done. If that describes you, skip the temptation to spring for a 2-in-1 and get a more powerful (but less flexible) laptop.

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The Surface 3 delivers decent performance with mainstream workloads and has excellent build-quality, but it doesn't come cheaply. We'd recommend waiting to see what Windows 10 delivers on a product like this, and who knows -- by that point, it's possible that Microsoft will be offering deals to move its Surface 3 inventory in conjunction with its shiny new OS.

  • Flexible use modes 
  • Gorgeous design
  • Great build quality
  • Top-notch 1080p display
  • Sub-par Storage performance
  • Pricey with extras
  • Type Cover's cramped trackpad

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