By May 20, 2014 Read More →

Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 3 goes head to head with MacBook Air

The first applications demonstrated were Autodesk Revit and Adobe Photoshop. Is the enterprise ready to standardize on a Windows tablet?

[Editor’s Update: In paragraph five below, we wondered if the Surface Pro 3 was running an installed version or a networked version of Autodesk Revit. It was an installed version of Revit 2015.]

Microsoft gathered the computer press in New York City today to introduce the third iteration of its Surface Pro tablet, a device it hopes will propel Windows back into contention as an enterprise mobile platform. But the competitive pitch did not put the Surface Pro 3 (SP3) against the genre-leading iPad, but against the now heavier and less graphically dense MacBook Air.

Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch ClearType Full HD display, 4th-generation Intel Core processor, up to 8gb of RAM and up to nine hours of Web-browsing battery life, starting at $799. The keyboard/cover and pen are extra, as are an Ethernet connection and a docking station. (Source: Microsoft)

Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch ClearType Full HD display, 4th-generation Intel Core processor, up to 8gb of RAM and up to nine hours of Web-browsing battery life, starting at $799. The keyboard/cover and pen are extra, as are an Ethernet connection and a docking station. (Source: Microsoft)

The new SP3 is running a full version of Windows 8.1, thanks to the latest Intel Core i-series processor; i3, i5, and i7 are all available. Even when folded up with the detachable keyboard, it is thinner (.36 inches) and lighter (1.76 pounds) than the MacBook Air. Also, the screen real estate is larger (12-inch diagonal) and the pixels denser (2160×1440) than the Mac. The aspect ratio is 3:2, which makes the tablet seem more like a familiar paper notepad.

Microsoft spent a lot of time on the “ultimate question,” as posed by Panos Panay, corporate vice president, Microsoft Surface. It is the “either/or” question every consumer asks: tablet or laptop? It is the question that led the budget-saving Chromebook to become a consumer laptop best-seller. With an updated snap-on keyboard that does a better job of becoming one with the tablet, and a new kickstand that can adjust to any angle, Microsoft may have met the ergonomics challenge of being both a useful tablet and a useful laptop.

The keyboard is an extra purchase, as is the new Surface Pen, which has a clicker on the top that turns the tablet on or off. There is also a docking station. The intro price of the SP3 with a Core i3, 64gb memory and 4GB of RAM is $799. But add the keyboard/cover ($129), the pen ($49) and the docking station ($199) and you are at $1176 for the base model. The top of the line SP3 has a Core i7 CPU, 512gb memory, and 8gb RAM for $1,949.

During the unveiling, Microsoft stressed how the SP3 is a device for creating, not consuming. The first software it demonstrated—albeit briefly—was Autodesk Revit, its 3D architectural modeling software. Revit is heavyweight software, not an app. Last year Autodesk and Citrix created a version of Revit which runs as a Citrix client; we can’t help but wonder if today’s demo was tied to a server running Revit elsewhere or if the Surface Pro had Revit installed locally. We have asked both Microsoft and Autodesk, and will edit this article with an Editor’s Note at the top when the answer comes. There was also a demonstration of a new version of Adobe Photoshop, showing how the pen can be a nice addition to the workflow.

Microsoft has been showing the prototype around, and was able to announce today BMW Group, The Coca-Cola Company and LVMH -Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton have all added SP3 to their list of approved corporate purchases.  Pre-order starts tomorrow; retail outlets are expected to have SP3 in stock June 20.

What do we think?

There is an old saying in the software business: Microsoft needs three tries to get it right. If Windows software is important, and every time you think of using a tablet as a laptop replacement you get the Oh-Oh feeling, this might be the computer for you. A lot of sweat equity went into the design, from the noiseless fan system to the any-angle capabilities of the kickstand. A full set-up with pen and keyboard will cost more than the equivalent MacBook, but then again it’s not a very direct comparison. This might be the device that allows enterprise customers to back away from the BYOD revolution (bring your own device) that was pushed onto IT when the iPad became a must-have.

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About the Author:

Randall S. Newton is Managing Editor of GraphicSpeak. He has been writing about engineering and design technologies for more than 25 years.

1 Comment on "Microsoft’s new Surface Pro 3 goes head to head with MacBook Air"

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  1. ralphg says:

    The kickstand is not “any angle,” for one (maybe minor) one is missing: standing the tablet vertically. Top of the line Surface Pro 3 is $2000, excluding keyboard.