Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: The pen

Pressure support for the Surface Pen stylus was also more limited. Again Photoshop worked effortlessly, but Painter and Illustrator required installing a driver from the stylus's developer N-Trig (which Microsoft is rumoured to have just bought).

Once up and running though, the Surface Pro’s Pen was just as good as using a Cintiq. Thinner and more like a biro than a traditional Wacom pen, the Surface Pen initially felt rather weird. After getting used to it, I discovered – oh heresy – that I actually preferred Microsoft’s stylus, as it’s thinner stem made it as easy to use accurately on the Surface Pro’s 12-inch screen as Wacom’s more cigar-like pen on a 24-inch Cintiq.

Some reviewers have complained that there’s nowhere to clip or put the stylus on the Surface Pro 3, but this never bothered me. I just stuck it in my pocket or bag. A pen holder would have just made the Surface Pro 3 bigger, so I’m happy for Microsoft to leave built-in pen holders to the likes of V-Tech’s Innotab, whose audience of 4-6-year-olds need help not losing their stylii (and yes, I mean you, my daughter Alice).

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: Performance

The Surface Pro 3 review unit Microsoft supplied to me was a mid-range model, with a Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD – which with the ‘optional’ (it’s not optional, you need it) keyboard comes to £798 plus VAT. This was good enough for most of what I wanted to do - but I’d suspect for long-term use, you’d want at least the £1,014 model with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The extra RAM will be appreciated and you’d quickly fill the 40GB or so of space left after accounting for Windows 8.1 and a moderate amount of creative apps.

More demanding users who want to regularly work in Photoshop on photos or artworks with 25 layers or more, or with wildly complex vector art, or in Corel Painter, or do more than simple rough cuts in Premiere Pro, might be able to get this from one of the Surface Pro 3 models with a Core i7 processor – though the price can get high here (up to £1323 plus VAT, including the keyboard. However, we’ll reserve judgement until we get one of these for review.

Benchmarking the Surface Pro 3 makes it seem worse than it is. It’s by far the least powerful computer we've been able to meaningfully test since we moved to our current testing suite of Cinebench R15, After Effects and Premiere Pro CC 2014 and SPECwpc. Only Lenovo’s alleged Surface-rival Yoga 3 did worse, as we couldn’t get any of those to run on it, and Photoshop juddered before hanging. The Surface Pro 3 couldn’t handle SPECwpc and took so long to render scenes in After Effects and Premiere Pro – over five times longer than Dell and HP’s models – that it really wasn’t worth doing the tests. You’d never use a Surface Pro 3 for that. Cinebench results were poor too.

However, by extensive use, I found that Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator and even Premiere Pro were perfectly usable on the Surface Pro, as long as left the heavy-duty stuff until I got back to my iMac. It’s a sketchbook not a canvas on an easel, and as long as you treat it as such, the Surface Pro performs fine.

Next section: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review - Design