I gave the Surface Pro 3 a miss (and chose the Surface Pro 2)

When the original Surface promo video made it rounds, I was enamoured by both the vision and the hardware (wot, a keyboard in a cover, you say?). Still I resisted purchase of the Pro, mostly in consideration of the lackluster battery life and relative bulk.

But honestly, how could you watch this and not have been awed?

Fast forward – Microsoft has now launched the third iteration of their visionary and controversial product. The questions remain, but the positioning is clearer. Is it a tablet? Is it a laptop? It’s both, but more the latter, or just about everything I’d want in a mobile productivity machine. At least on paper! Even today, the product (what else can I call it?) with an identity crisis still stands out in the market. Sorry VAIO, but this kickstand, type cover and now that OneNote-integrated pen is much more attractive package.

Today though, I’m typing this on a pre-loved Surface Pro 2.

Not because I bought it too early – rather, it was a conscious decision on my end to give the Surface Pro 3 a miss. Why? Let’s get to it…

Is Two better than Three?

Since I got the two, three must be worse, right? Well, not quite – while I haven’t actually held one, it’s a fact that the Pro 3:

  • Is lighter, thinner, yet larger. By 12%, 30% and 13% (display) respectively. 12% doesn’t sound like much, but it mostly puts it on par with the MacBook Air 11″ including the keyboard cover. The thinness and 3:2 aspect ratio also go a long way into making it more tablet-able.
  • Has better battery life. 3-5 hours battery may once have been the standard to reach, but now people expect much more out of their electronics. The Pro 2 improved on this, and it seems the Pro 3 does even better – while still a distance away from the 13″ MacBook Air, at least it’s pretty close to the 11″. But of course, the Pro 2 has the optional Power Cover.
  • And an incredible kickstand. Wow, 150 degrees? Opens a lot more usage scenarios, as our friends from Gizmodo show.
  • With an improved keyboard. The main improvements here are the TouchPad and second magnet, which lets you “dock” part of the cover against the Surface. This essentially elevates the keyboard, which helps make it feel more laptop-like and easier to use, well, in your lap. I didn’t think much about this, but having tried the Surface Pro 2 on my lap, I could see how this helps (more on that in another post).
  • And a new pen with fancy (and actually useful) OneNote integration. Panos Panay was quick to point out that the Pro 3 was borne out of close collaboration within different divisions, and I think this feature alone is critical evidence that maybe Microsoft is really getting it. Think about the entire user experience, not just from within the confines of a division. I hope it’s a precedent for everything coming out from Redmond here on.
  • Connected Standby. This is a small note for me, since I use it more as a laptop replacement. It could be important for those looking to replace their tablet – connected standby helps the Pro 3 resume faster and lets apps receive data, even while it’s in sleep mode.

Sounds awesome? Because it is. But…

The Decision

The Pro 3 is better – yet most of the changes are external. That’s not to downplay their impact on the user experience, but it’s a fact that the internals are more or less the same (unless you’re willing to splurge for the i7 and HD5000 graphics). As shown by Anandtech, in some instances the Pro 3’s performance throttles slightly faster than the Pro 2. (He concedes that was more due to temperature management) Adding to that, the Pro 2’s price is now on a downward trajectory – with price cuts in some countries and more to follow.

If the Pro 3 came out on a Broadwell chipset (not Microsoft’s fault), I would probably have ordered it. But, alas it didn’t. Mid-cycle is a bad place to be ordering tech – too early for the product to be discounted significantly, yet so close to a refresh that buyer’s remorse is near inevitable.

So that’s why, when the price was right, I snapped up a Pro 2 (a potential 35% saving off the equivalent Pro 3).

I’d also like to credit a few posts and videos that helped me make the choice:

  • AnandTech’s comprehensive review – if you’re a real geek, this should satisfy you, with in-depth benchmarks and commentary.
  • Lachlan’s gaming review – this convinced me that the Pro 2 was enough for my occasional gaming needs.
  • Gabe from Penny Arcade and his review – if you want to know how good the pen input is, why not find out from a digital artist?

Enjoy!

All’s not Perfect

That said, life with the Pro 2 is not all plain sailing. I can already imagine the impact that the Pro 3 would have on my experience, but that’s a story for another day.

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