Can the Microsoft Surface 3 really replace your laptop?

By Chris C., February 9 2016
Can the Microsoft Surface 3 really replace your laptop?

For years now, I've been lugging around a 3kg Dell XPS laptop whenever on the road, convinced that no tablet or 2-in-1 could ever handle everything that my 'real' laptop does.

This changed last week when I picked up a Microsoft Surface 3, along with the optional Type Cover (keyboard) which doubles as a screen protector when not in use, and a Surface Pen for writing directly onto the screen.

Being powered by Windows 10 gets the Surface off to a good start: you can run everyday desktop apps like Microsoft Office, Photoshop and MYOB and, if desired, also install special 'Windows apps' via the Microsoft Store.

What's more, a standard-sized USB 3.0 port on the side makes it easy to connect an external hard drive (or even thumb drive), or plug in a wireless mouse to help replicate that 'desktop' feeling.

There's also a USB Ethernet adaptor (also sold separately) to connect the Surface to wired Internet networks, such as at hotels and workplaces where WiFi can sometimes be slow, spotty or non-existent.

Further, you'll find a handy and built-in MicroSD card reader tucked away underneath the kick stand: useful for a more permanent boost to your storage space...

... or as a simple way of transferring your holiday snaps to the Surface itself without the need for cables or USB card readers.

Even if your camera uses a more traditional (and full-sized) SD card, MicroSD-to-SD adapters are a cinch to find and inexpensive to purchase: just slot a MicroSD card into the bottom and the adapter into your camera...

... and any photos you take will now be saved straight onto the MicroSD card, ready for quick and easy copying over to your tablet.

Microsoft Surface 3: tech specs

Weighing in at just 622g on its lonesome or around 887g including the Type Cover, the Surface won't weigh you down: nor will it take up too much real estate in your carry-on being only 8.7mm deep (add 4.9mm for the Type Cover), 267mm long and 187mm wide.

The screen itself measures diagonally at 10.8 inches, boasts a 1920x1280 Full HD resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio – the latter resulting in black bars at the top and bottom when watching widescreen content, but which aren't too noticeable when the surrounds are already black:

Also on the downside, while battery life sits around the 10-hour mark for video playback, we found the Surface conking out after just five hours of more traditional word processing and web browsing when the Type Cover was connected and the keyboard backlight activated.

With charging done via a Micro USB port, it's not an issue when AC or USB power outlets are handy – such as in American Airlines' first class office in the sky between Sydney and Los Angeles...

... but when out and about or when shifting from office to office, it's something to keep in mind.

Depending on your needs, Microsoft offers a choice of a 64GB solid state drive with 2GB of RAM or 128GB of storage with the RAM doubled to 4GB, which we'd recommend as computer applications, movies and of course Windows itself chews up most of that 64GB and leaves you little room to play with.

Both sizes pack a quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor with 2MB Cache @ 1.6GHz (increased up to 2.4GHz with Intel Burst technology), while 4G/LTE connectivity is another optional extra with the 128GB model, allowing you to stay online wherever you go without tethering the Surface to your smartphone, using a portable modem or relying on WiFi hotspots.

Also aboard are front and rear cameras, a 3.5mm headphone jack, built-in speakers which prove adequate but with limited bass and a Mini DisplayPort outlet for connecting monitors, projectors and TV screens: great when giving presentations and much as you'd expect of a laptop.

Microsoft Surface 3: on the road

Beyond the weight savings and further absence of those traditional (and often also-heavy) laptop power bricks, another strong advantage of the Surface is at the airport security checkpoint where you can sometimes leave it inside your bag rather than having to whip it out plonk it into a tray.

As we found though, that depends on where you are and how you pack: we were encouraged to leave it in our bag when passing through Virgin Australia Premium Entry in Sydney with a light load, but in other airports were asked to separate it when the bag was full with other items.

Its size also meant ditching my usual laptop bag and simply slipping it into my standard cabin bag while roaming. When it comes time to board, it's easily removed in the lounge and slotted straight into the seatback pocket on the aircraft...

... or indeed used from gate to gate – another advantage over a standard laptop – provided it's held in your hand for take-off and landing with the keyboard detached, such as when reading newspapers and magazines via the PressReader app for Windows:

With my own wireless mouse plus a trackpad built into the Type Cover, the Surface Pen didn't add a great deal to the experience, and unless you're visually marking up documents or like to draw, it's not really necessary.

That just leaves the keyboard itself, on which we did make a few more typing errors than we typically would on the larger keyboards of desktop-replacement laptops, but few enough that I can confidently say that the Surface 3 will now well and truly replace my laptop on most trips in the future.

The Microsoft Surface 3 comes in the following variations:

Microsoft Surface 3, 64GB storage, 2GB RAM, WiFi: $699
Microsoft Surface 3, 128GB storage, 4GB RAM, WiFi: $839
Microsoft Surface 3, 128GB storage, 4GB RAM, 4G/LTE + WiFi: $979

Add-on: Surface 3 Type Cover: $179.99
Add-on: Surface Pen: $59.99

Also read: Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7"

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1024

Anything with Windows 10 is a non starter.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Mar 2015

Total posts 13

sorry but this article is out of date. there is a pro 4 on the market however dont expect cheaper prices for the pro 3. the 8gb 512gb i7 is the one to get for its size and power but still expensive. harvey norman recently had this model (the pro 3) at $2600 but when this was first on the market it was $2294 (AUD) microsoft also had this advertised at the latter price saying it was down from the former. the pro 4 same size is pushing $4000.  getting ripped off left right and centre.

i was dead set keen on this but now looking at the HP equivalent

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2438

Microsoft has three current Surface models on the market and which it sells and promotes: the Surface 3, the Surface Pro 3 and the Surface Pro 4 (each with variations for storage/RAM). In the same way that writing about an iPad Air isn't out of date simply because there's also now the iPad Pro, the Surface 3 is the newest 'non-Pro' variant in the market and for many readers it's all they'd need, so it's very much in-date.

(Granted, if we were writing about the Surface Pro 3 when there's also now the Surface Pro 4, the content could indeed appear a little dated despite it still being a current line, but with all of these models still on the shelves, we've no issue in covering them.)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Mar 2015

Total posts 13

yep you got me - when you mention "surface" i naturally thought of the pro series. 

i still do like this but they need to drop the price for me to purchase one.  

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

18 May 2016

Total posts 7

Prior to Surface 3, I lugged around a laptop for work but had to also carry an iPad for in-flight because I could not find a PC with a tablet mode that was acceptable.

Bought a Surface 3Pro 512GB a few years ago and it was absolutely brilliant to replace the 2 devices.  Can safely work in cattle class, even if the seat in front reclines.  It also coped with running all usual software plus SQL Server & other software development apps & video processing.
Upgraded to a Surface Pro 4 1TB at the start of the year - only because I filled the 512GB storage & needed more.  Again, very happy with the unit. For once I have found that the marketing did live up to the hype - a tablet that replaces your PC (for me anyway).

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