Well, this comes out of absolutely nowhere, but Microsoft has just announced the Surface 3. Not the Surface Pro 3, but the Surface 3, and it could very well solve a lot of problems and could be hugely successful. It also could make OEMs such as Dell very upset.
The Surface Pro 3 is an eminently capable device, running a Core i3 at a minimum. Starting at $799, though, without a keyboard, it isn’t an insignificant technology purchasing decision.
Surface 3 Price and Specs
The Surface 3, however, starts at $499, and while it doesn’t have a 12″ screen, it is nonetheless a very tempting device that will probably cover everything a tablet user needs to be productive. It has a 10.8″ screen, has a 1920 x 1280 display (9:6 aspect ratio), and uses Intel’s latest Cherry Trail-based Atom processor (x7-Z8700) instead of a Core. The base model has 64GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, and for $100 more, you can get 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. It has a USB 3.0 port, as well as a micro SD slot and a mini display port. And, for a limited time, it includes a free 1-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which is an interesting decision, considering that it was believed that only devices 8 inches and smaller would get the one-year-free Office 365 license. (I’m of two minds about the Office 365 scheme. On one hand, it’s not a bad value in general, and the argument has always been that buying Office 2013 outright will cost approximately $300 anyway, and you’ll just have to do that again when Office 2016 comes out–you’re just spreading the cost out on a yearly basis. But there’s something that rubs me wrong about the free one-year license; it isn’t as good a value as I got when I got my Venue 8 Pro last year and it came with the full version of Office 2013, no subscription required.)
The tempting price comes with some caveats: just like with the Surface Pro 3, you will need to buy the Type Pad ($130) separately. More vexing is the fact that you also need to by the stylus separately ($50), which was also a requirement with my Venue 8 Pro, but it comes standard with the Surface Pro 3 (of course, the SP3 doesn’t come with Office, so there are always tradeoffs). It’s obvious at this point that I think that a stylus is essential, so the price of this device should really be thought of as $549 and $649. At these price points, while they are a titch higher than ideal, they are still intriguing when compared to similarly spec’d iPads.
Surface 3 Compared to Other Options
Dell makes the Venue 11 Pro, which, unless a hardware update is in the works, uses last year’s Bay Trail Atom chips. It also has a lower resolution screen (1366×768), and starts at $429 with less available storage (32GB) though upgrading to 64GB is a minor cost bump (it’s an extra $30). Getting a full-HD screen brings the price up to $499, but it does come with 64GB of storage in that configuration. There’s really no reason to buy the Venue 11 Pro, though, when the Surface comes with a newer processor, and the Microsoft stylus is in my opinion quite a bit better than the Dell Active Stylus. (They’ve made a lot of improvements to the pen, and are now on Rev. A03. It’s perfectly usable now, but it still isn’t quite as nice as Microsoft’s stylus.)
ASUS has announced the Transformer Chi line of devices. The Chi t100 is a 10.1″ device, and starts at $399, which makes it an intriguing option. Like the Dell Venue 11 Pro, however, it sports last year’s Atom chips, and it includes only 32GB of storage. A 64GB option starts at $449. However, while the active stylus (which, in screen shots appears identical to Dell’s stylus) is sold separately, it includes a keyboard, which is a nice touch. The screen resolution is also quite stout at the price point, coming in at 1920×1200. If you’re looking instead at machines in the 12.5″ range, Asus also makes the Chi t300 which starts at $699 running the new CoreM processor.
All in all, though, the Surface 3 is a strong competitor to this segment, which may ruffle some OEM feathers. Nonetheless, it is a very welcome surprise. Preorders will start shipping in May, and it will be interesting to see if this summer brings a Surface Pro 4 to the table.