Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: Design

The Surface Pro 3 hardware has the grace and attention-to-detail that you’d usually associate with Apple. It’s so very light and really feels no bigger than it needs to be. While it’s obviously bigger and heavier than an iPad Air – around 800g vs 437g – their shared magazine-like shape means I can’t imagine a situation where I’d take an iPad Air where I wouldn’t take the Surface Pro 3.

However, there are lots of places where I’d use the Surface Pro 3 where I wouldn’t - or at least wouldn’t want - to use a full-sized laptop like the 15-inch MacBook we've sat it next for comparison below, such as if I don’t get a table seat on the 6.08 from St Pancras tonight and have to sit in a standard seat. And even if I’m standing, I can draw, read or watch on the Surface Pro 3.

Using the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop means clipping on the keyboard – which I’ll get to in a sec – and pushing out the kickstand at the back. The kickstand’s necessary to keep the Surface Pro 3 upright as the components are behind the screen - not under the keyboard as with a traditional laptop. It works well unless you treat the Surface Pro 3 like a laptop and attempt to use it perched with your knees lower than your hips, and have to leap forward ungracefully to catch it when it tips off away from you. Thought that might just be an issue for me.

Pull the keyboard off, and the Surface Pro 3 is nicely sized for sketching and drawing, cradled in your arm, with the Surface Pen stylus.

Aesthetically, the design of the Surface Pro 3 is nicely understated. The only branding is a small Windows logo and the word Surface on the back of the device – and with its slim, unfussy design you get the kind of envious looks in meetings and while travelling you used to get when the iPhone, iPad or ultra-skinny MacBook Pro first came out.

Windows 8.1 feels a lot more natural when you can touch it to use it. Even with the keyboard connected, you find yourself touching the screen to quickly scroll (assuming the app your using supports this), select items (assuming they're big enough) or switch backwards and forwards between apps. The split old-school and Metro UIs still jars, but really it’s no weirder than moving from Adobe’s UI in Illustrator to Microsoft’s in Word to Evernote.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: Keyboard

The clip-on keyboard is passable but I’d prefer the option of something more like a standard laptop keyboard – and if you spend much time writing as well as designing, you will too.

The keyboard is sold separately to the Surface Pro 3, but it’s a must have unless you’re going to use this Surface for drawing alone. Typing more than a few sentences on the on-screen keyboard with no tactile feedback is pretty horrible.

The backlit keyboard has its merits. The way it effortlessly clips on using magnets is a wonderful design detail. It's also a cover for the Surface when you’re travelling and it tucks neatly around the back when you want to draw or watch, turning itself off when it’s behind the Surface.

However, there’s no real bounce to the keys, so you have to type in a slower, more considered way if you want to write accurately. If Microsoft are going to make this an option, then the choice of a proper keyboard would be a definite bonus.

Next section: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review - Ports