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Early View: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2

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Early View: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2

Microsoft marketed the Surface Pro 2 as "the tablet that's got it all," but apparently that wasn't quite true, given the big leap forward the Windows maker has made with the announcement of the Surface Pro 3.

Although everyone anticipated Microsoft would unveil a smaller Surface (and the event invitations seemingly confirmed such a device), the folks in Redmond went in the other direction, bypassing a new model of its ARM-based Surface tablet in favor of a larger Surface Pro instead.

Available for pre-order starting Wednesday, May 21, the Surface Pro 3 certainly looks like it lives up to Microsoft claims that it's "the tablet that can replace your laptop," but is it marketing hype or truly a significant upgrade to the Surface Pro 2?

Surface Pro 3 display


The Surface Pro 3 is certainly larger than its predecessor, with a 12-inch diagonal ClearType Full HD screen that abandons the previous 16:9 aspect ratio of earlier models for a unique 3:2 aspect ratio. That makes for a nice 38% increase in screen estate compared to the Surface Pro 2's 10.6-inch display.

But it's not just about the size of the screen: Surface Pro 3 also packs in 2160 x 1440 pixels compared to the Pro 2's 1920 x 1080 (a 50% increase) for what Microsoft calls a "pixel-free" display with the highest contrast ratio in the industry. Windows 8.1 also includes optimized scaling specific to the Surface Pro 3.

Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover


There's no mistaking the Pro 3 is a Microsoft Surface product, although the 0.36-inch (9.1mm) thin build certainly makes the 0.53 inches (13.462mm) Surface Pro 2 look downright pudgy by comparison.

For further comparison, Microsoft claims Surface Pro 3 is half as thick as one of Apple's MacBook Pro notebooks, and even 30% thinner than its slimmest 11-inch MacBook Air model.

Surface Pro 3 is also made from a silver-hued magnesium, which Microsoft claims has been custom machined and "designed to fit" compared to the Pro 2, which was made from dark titanium.

Perhaps Microsoft's most impressive feat with the Pro 3 is how they were able to slim down an even larger device, which weighs in at only 800g (1.76 lbs.) compared to the Pro 2's heavier two pounds (just a hair over 907g).

Surface Pro 3 processor


For all the effort Microsoft engineers put into slimming down Surface Pro 3, it might be easy to forgive the company for sacrificing on what's inside, if that was the case. Judging from the amount of time Redmond spent detailing the guts of its latest tablet, the Surface Pro 3 seems like it can handle whatever is thrown its way.

For starters, Microsoft claims Surface Pro 3 is the "thinnest Intel Core product ever made" - a bold claim that applies even with a Type Cover attached. And for the first time ever, Microsoft has found a way to cram a more powerful Intel Core i7 processor into such a diminutive frame.

By comparison, last year's Surface Pro 2 topped out with a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, although the Pro 3 will be available in i3, i5 and i7 flavors to suit most any budget.

Last but not least, Surface Pro 3 takes the "fanless" concept to new heights, with what Microsoft claims is a 30% more efficient cooling system than any other product on the market.

Surface Pro 3 vs. MacBook Air


Faster processor equals less battery life, right? Not so fast, says Microsoft, which claims the Surface Pro 3 manages to squeeze out more than 20% battery life compared to previous models. This is in keeping with the company's new "no compromises" mantra.

In the case of Surface Pro 2, Microsoft proclaimed seven to 12 days of idle life, although their official specs fell short on how many hours it might last while in use. Our own tests of the Pro 2 managed just short of seven hours on average use - not quite MacBook Air numbers, but still improved from the original Surface Pro.

By comparison, Microsoft claims the Surface Pro 3 can be used for up to nine hours, which winds up somewhere in the neighborhood of 10% better than the previous Surface Pro 2.

Surface Pro 3 kickstand


Surface Pro 3 includes all of the features that made Surface Pro 2 great, including a full-sized USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader, headphone and Mini DisplayPort jacks, but those accustomed to using their Surface Pro on a lap will find one major change.

That change is what Microsoft calls a "continuous kickstand" designed specifically for the Surface Pro 3. The kickstand includes an adjustable friction hinge capable of taking an angle from zero to 150 degrees for what company executives call better "lapability." Needless to say, that's a huge improvement over the dual-position kickstand on the Surface Pro 2.

Audio is another area the Surface maker managed to improve upon with Pro 3. It now includes front-facing speakers with Dolby sound that are up to 48% louder than the Surface Pro 2.

Surface Pro 3 stylus pen

Microsoft is also beefing up the included stylus pen, which promises a more natural, organic ink-to-pixel experience than the previous model. Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Surface Panos Panay demonstrated clicking the pen to wake up the Surface Pro 3 directly in note-taking mode with OneNote, for example.

Last but not least, longtime partner Adobe demonstrated a forthcoming touch-optimized version of Adobe Photoshop CC, featuring a user interface with buttons and icons that have been enlarged by 200% to make them more finger-friendly.

Surface Pro 3 Type Covers


Microsoft has rightfully received plenty of accolades in the past for its Type Covers, but the latest generation promises to improve on that legacy.

Available in five colors, the new "click-in" keyboards feature 63 percent larger trackpads, while offering greater stability than the previous generation. The Type Covers now magnetically seal themselves against the edge of the Surface Pro 3 for improved lap use in conjunction with the new kickstand.

Surface Docking Station

For users who spent an equal amount of time at their desk and on the go, Microsoft is introducing a new Surface Docking Station. Judging from the company's demo, the dock is as easy as sliding the Surface Pro 3 into place, with support for external 4K Ultra HD displays.

Redmond played coy on exactly when the Surface Docking Station would be available beyond sometime "in the next few months."



Last but not least, Surface Pro 3 manages to best its predecessor in one final key area: Price. The latest and greatest model will start at only $799, although it's important to note that's for a Core i3 model.

Microsoft will begin accepting preorders at 12:01 AM EST tonight on its website, expanding to Microsoft retail stores and Best Buy locations on May 21; Surface Pro 3 will be available for purchase in stores or from authorized resellers starting June 20 in the US and Canada, expanding to 26 international markets by the end of August.

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