I have been a heavy user of my first generation Surface Pro for the past fifteen months, and I really enjoy the device. It is my de facto laptop when on the road, giving me access to corporate and personal email and the full suite of Microsoft Office 2013 products (including Project and Visio), as well as my fully-synchronized OneDrive and Dropbox files.
The touch screen, digital pen, and ability to use it in tablet form make the Surface Pro a great travel companion while on a plane or train, and I find it frustrating reverting to my Windows 7 non-touch screen laptop when I am back in the office.
So after patiently holding off on the second generation device, I was thrilled to read earlier this year about the significant enhancements coming with the Surface Pro 3. Having now had the chance to visit a local Microsoft Store and spend some time with the device, I can confirm much of the positive press it has received. That said, there are significant reasons keeping me from trading up to Microsoft’s latest flagship tablet.
Bigger, faster, better in every way
There is no doubt that Microsoft listened to customer feedback when designing the Surface Pro 3. It manages to offer a larger and better-proportioned screen while at the same time reducing unit thickness. The type keyboard and trackpad are more responsive, and the keyboard’s trick of magnetically folding up to the screen makes it more comfortable for prolonged use. The tablet’s kickstand provides numerous viewing angles and a much more “lapable” experience. The digital pen is also improved, now with the ability to power on the unit and open OneNote for immediate note-taking.
Earlier generation Surface Pros were no slouch in the specifications department, and the Surface Pro 3 is no exception. Improved Intel chips provide faster processing speeds and improved battery life, and the unit’s 8GB capacity means it can handle most anything you throw at it.
My first generation unit continues to perform well while running multiple applications, and the Surface Pro 3 seems future-proof for at least several years to come. Throw in 802.11ac networking support for the latest Wi-Fi connectivity and a variety of other improvements to the cameras and audio system, and the Surface Pro 3 is a significant generational jump from earlier models.
So what’s not to like?
No Cellular option.
Despite offering built-in 4G LTE connectivity in its Surface 2 (non-Pro) line, there is no cellular option for the Surface Pro 3. This is huge for me, and I cannot figure out why Microsoft has omitted what appears to be such a key feature for busy professionals.
Public Wi-Fi networks are often slow, non-secure and unreliable, and tethering from my smartphone can be a cumbersome and battery-draining experience. Yes, I could purchase a USB cellular modem, but then I’m stuck monopolizing the Surface Pro’s only onboard USB port or having to plug in a hub – another inelegant solution, especially while in transit.
The sole reason I still carry an iPad Mini is the ability to boot it up instantly while in the back of a cab, or when waiting in line at the airport or train station, to read my email or the latest edition of The Wall Street Journal. Until Microsoft offers a cellular option I don’t see how I can dump my iPad – and isn’t one of the selling points of the Surface Pro supposed to be its ability to replace both your laptop and your tablet?
The Half-Baked state of Windows 8
Another reluctance comes from the current state of Windows 8. Unlike some others, I actually like the direction Microsoft has taken with its latest operating system as it moves further into the world of tablet and phone computing. However, the continued disparity between Metro and legacy desktop applications, the lack of a touch version of Microsoft Office, and the seemingly endless talks of the return of the Start Menu tell me that Windows remains very much in a state of flux.
Throw in the continued evolution of Windows Phone and the emergence of universal applications, and you can see why developers may be holding back until the dust settles. All this may be sorted out in another year, but it gives me pause about dropping further resources into another iteration of Microsoft hardware.
A big hit to the wallet
And that gets me to the ultimate reason I’m not rushing to order a Surface Pro 3 – price. While I can use MicroSD cards to compromise on internal storage, I would insist on the Intel Core i7 CPU and 8GB of RAM to make the upgrade worthwhile, putting me at over $1,500 for the 256GB model.
The type keyboard – which everyone agrees should be bundled with the unit – is an additional $129, and if I go for the docking bay it’s another $200. That’s a lot of money for a unit that is lacking what I consider a key feature for on-the-go professionals, particularly since it’s been just over a year since I dropped over $1,000 on the first generation device (which will probably fetch me only $300-400 on eBay).
I’m disappointed to be holding back, because I really like my Surface Pro and feel the next generation would make me that much more efficient while on the road. And maybe I am making too much of the Wi-Fi-only nature of the device and can continue to work around that limitation.
But the cost of the Surface Pro 3 seems too high to compromise on what I see as a key feature – so unless there is a significant price drop, a generous Microsoft Store trade-in credit, or some other incentive to soften the financial hit, it looks like I am holding off for now.