The Surface Pro 3 is not an iPad competitor

Martin Brinkmann
May 21, 2014
Updated • May 21, 2014

So Microsoft revealed the third generation Surface Pro 3 yesterday. Many sites have already live blogged about it or at least published hands-on reviews about it, which is why I do not want to rehash all of those information.

But, to make a point, it is important to know more about it, so, here is a short paragraph or two about what it has to offer.

The Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch high-def multi-touch screen with a resolution of 2160x1440. It is powered by a 4th generation Intel Core i3 or higher processor, at least 64 Gigabyte of storage and 4 Gigabyte of Ram. The device weights 800 grams and ships with Windows 8.1 Pro.

You can check out the full specs of the device on Microsoft's website. The price starts at $799 for an Intel i3 device with 64 Gigabyte of storage. That's not a lot, especially when it comes to storage. The 128 GB device with an Intel i5 is available for $999, the 256 GB model with Intel i5 for $1299 and the top of the line 512 GB storage model with Intel i7 for $1949.

Unlike the Surface (without Pro), it is running a full Windows operating system which means that you can run desktop applications on the device.

It seems fairly common that the Surface Pro 3 is compared to Apple's iPad. While that may make sense on first glance, it does not when you start to think about it.

surface pro 3

The iPad, regardless which model you are using for the comparison, is a multi-touch device designed primarily for consumption. Sure, you can write texts on the device, connect a keyboard to it to improve that experience, but for the most part, it is used to consumption rather than creation.

The Surface Pro 3 offers that as well, don't get me wrong. Since it runs Windows 8.1 Pro, you can install Windows Store apps on the device to do the very same thing. But it is also much more than that.

Since you can run all legacy Windows programs on it, it is also a laptop, and that is where the similarities to Apple's iPad end.

I can run Firefox, Sandboxie, WinSCP or Thunderbird on the Surface Pro, while I cannot run Mac apps on the iPad.

If you want to compare Surface to iPad, you need to compare the devices running Windows RT. The Surface Pro has more to offer and there is currently no Apple product available that you can compare it with.

While the Macbook Air (or Pro) compares fine to the "laptop-part" of the Surface, it falls short when it comes to touch-screen support among other things.

The Surface Pro 3 may be the ideal device if you want or require laptop and tablet functionality, and either want to upgrade your existing devices or buy a new device for that purpose.

There are uncertainties though. Microsoft does not list the graphics card -- onboard I assume -- of the Surface 3 Pro on the specs page linked above. Another area that requires benchmarking is the device's battery life. Microsoft states that it is good for up to 9 hours of web browsing.

And it is without doubt that Windows Store is not as attractive as the iOS or Android store when it comes to tablet use. While you will find many popular apps here, the quality and quantity is not there yet. But since you can run desktop apps, it is mitigated somewhat in my opinion.

If you ask me, I think that the price is a bit on the high side, especially when it comes to storage capabilities. A Core i3 with 64 Gigabyte of storage of which 36 Gigabyte are available for the user -- actually less as filling the hard drive to the brim may deteriorate performance -- is not enough for most use cases. It may work if you use the device lightly and don't install large store apps or programs on it, and make sure you clean the hard drive regularly to free space on it, but it won't be enough for most users.

Still, I'm pretty sure that the Surface Pro 3 will do better sales-wise than its predecessors. What's your take on the device? Top or flop?

The Surface Pro 3 is not an iPad competitor
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The Surface Pro 3 is not an iPad competitor
Why you should not compare the Surface Pro 3 to Apple's iPad.

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  1. Randy said on September 28, 2014 at 2:49 am

    Thanks for the Great Blog!

    I have had an Original Surface Pro for about a year. It has replaced my Home Laptop and Desktop and overall I love it and cannot wait to get my hands on a Surface Pro 3. I agree with the price complaints but my only other option if you want the full range of functionality is to get both a Laptop and a Tablet is would be two devices to carry and maintain plus the cost of both would put me in the same price range so why not get the one device that does it all. I would really miss the touch screen and the stylus at this point and not be happy with the additional weight to lug around a laptop again if I stepped back to a laptop only to save a few bucks. My only issues with the surface I have are the number of finger prints I constantly put on the screen of my work computer and the 128GB of storage is too small for my needs as I do a lot of photography and Raw Images of 20 – 40+ MB Each chews through that space pretty quickly. External storage (mainly OneDrive) is the key however when importing 50 photos every few days it is a constant shuffle. The Surface 3 with 256 would be a great improvement plus the pressure sensitive Stylus will be a great improvement for my photo editing. Of course the limited space would not be a limit at all in a work environment where you should not be storing data on your computer in the first place as it should be stored on the servers except for the files you need while away from the office. If you chose the pro model you can also get a docking station that will auto connect to your desktop keyboard mouse and monitors. None of these things can be done with an Android Tablet, Chrome Book or iPad.

    As a computer tech working with users that have iPads and other tablets I can tell you that even the Surface RT beats the competition if you want to produce anything. If you don’t like the Surface Keyboard you can always get a Bluetooth or USB Keyboard and mouse combo, the advantage of the Surface keyboard is the portability it is thin an lite and protects the screen when not in use plus the surface detects when you close it just like closing the lid on a laptop. Of course there are more Apps for the other systems but out of the box for doing any type of Office Function the Surface RT is more capable than any of the others I have seen.

    The only fair comparisons are between the Surface RT and the other tablets; then the Surface Pro with any other Laptop on the market but comparisons between the Pro and the iPad are like comparing a F350 with a Prius.

  2. jimmyjamesjimmy said on May 26, 2014 at 11:36 am

    I looked at the RT and Android but I need to run a full version of Windows as I run a Labtech install. Plus Windows 8 Pro also means I can test add my tablet to a domain and I can run full versions of software which you just can’t do on a cut down system.
    I also chose the i7 and 512GB storage because I like to do other things than just cmd and rdp with my phablet, like run steam ;)

  3. archie said on May 26, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Network administration is an original point of view; I don’t quite see the need for cpu power though…

    I haven’t done a lot of netadmin but when I used to, I had the incredible HP TC1000 (back in 2003), which is a 10″, sub 3 pounds tablet, with decent battery life for the time. Still a TabletPC legend today.

    Opening a RDP session on a Windows server was as close to the network as it comes and I didn’t have to carry sensitive data on a mobile/exposed device. This is actually what got me hooked up with tablets, even mobility as a whole. Not so much so before then.

    Today’s ARM tablets, with their huge screen resolution and battery range, are capable netadmin tools with RDP. A better keyboard than those provided as accessories is all you really need, probably with a touchpad and maybe external monitor capability. And a slot for removable memory. In this regard, the better platform seems to be Android here: no need for expensive, proprietary accessories, as is the case for iPad and Surface.

    Surface pro seems a bit overkill remote client, which should be the only way to touch a network with high credentials: it’s still a mobile, exposed device.

    If you want to stick to a Windows client, which can be understood in some corporate environments, the RT surface is probably as valid a choice as a surface pro. It comes down to the stylus, which seems beside the point.

  4. jimmyjamesjimmy said on May 26, 2014 at 7:59 am

    i must say I’ve been waiting for the SP3 to come out.
    I’m a network admin and I don’t like carting round a big hunky laptop. Ultrabooks also seem to bulky for me. Netbooks just have no cpu power. Apple Air is also too bulky and doesn’t have much battery life.

    So SP3 with 9hrs battery life, 512GB storage and i7 weighing in under 800g just makes sense to me. Price is not an issue though.

    I agree it’s not for everyone, it’s not cheap but it’s exactly what I am after and nothing else comes close in that weight.

  5. ansar said on May 22, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    IMO, they messed up with the entry model not having a 128GB SSD.

  6. InterestedBystander said on May 22, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I’m on the road right now, and working on a slightly-upgraded netbook. The SurPro3 actually has a slightly bigger screen than what I’m using, and more processing power, but less storage. Mine cost around $260 US. So, what was said: the SurPro will compete with light laptops, not tablets. But in that market there’s already a lot of competition. That said, it’s high-priced only until you compare it to a MacBook Air. For tablets, most content consumers will stick with iOS and Android — with the absolute cheapest at one tenth the price of the SurPro3 and decent models at half the price, most casual users will probably balk at the SurPro3.

    *shrug* It’s another option, but not a game-changer in any direction.

  7. Buffet said on May 22, 2014 at 5:20 pm


  8. fokka said on May 21, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    i like what they are doing with surface, but personally i’d still prefer a nice ultrabook. for me touch is a gimmick on a pc and the kickstand plus type cover are nothing more than crutches compared to a real laptop. still, this is by far the most appealing tablet i’m aware of.

    as for the prices, they are borderline insane. at the top end they should’ve included a 1tb ssd, they aren’t even that expensive anymore. the 64gb edition is a bit of a joke, as it was with the surface pro 2. also i’d love to see an i5 version with 500gb/1tb of storage. just because i need much space doesn’t mean i wanna pay the premium for the slightly faster i7.

    it’s impressive how thin and light they managed to make it, but personally i’d always prefer a beefier battery to shaving off a millimeter or two. it’s nice if this will run “up to” 9 hours, but how will the non-replaceable battery fare after 1-2 years of heavy use?

  9. Uhtred said on May 21, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    I’m sure a lot will like it but it doesnt sound good for my needs as emptying a 2 hour photoshoot from a decent DSLR into it and post processing with prog like photoshop will fill it up far too quickly, and my music libray wouldn’t fit, not even started to load research docs etc.. If they’d pushed to give it a minimum 1TB storage (user expandable) it would be better…They’d be way ahead of the other tablets, be more like and compete with laptops in useability (all your main stuff in one place) and I think would appeal to a lot more people.. Cloud storage is an option, if you have decent signal when you need it, but syncing takes resources and cloud can cost..

  10. Andrew said on May 21, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    This really looks like a beautiful device, but the price kind of kills it for me, especially since you also need to buy the cover. I still think i’d rather get an “ultrabook”. All and all though I could see this layout become more norm replacing laptops.

  11. Ajay said on May 21, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    The device looks very impressive although it falls midway between a 10 inch tablet and a 13 inch laptop. The only thing that is deterring currently is the huge price tag.

    I’d be more inclined buying the 11 inch macbook air with an i7 processor and 8gb RAM which works out to be around £240 cheaper than the Surface. You do, of course, lose the option of the touch screen, which I don’t think is a big issue if you want a laptop.

  12. Marco said on May 21, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Total flop for me. The keyboard is the weakest part, but of course this device is far too much expensive.

    1. JohnMWhite said on May 21, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      Agreed. With a full OS it is a bit more functional than an iPad, but it’s not $800-1000 worth of more functional. For that price you can get a vastly more powerful laptop with much more storage that’s still quite light. Who is this supposed to be for, exactly? Business people with huge amounts of money and very little in the way of storage or power requirements?

  13. David said on May 21, 2014 at 11:15 am

    Does anyone know which i3 and i7 processors are used?

    The i5 models use a Core i5-4300U (1.6GHz, turbo up to 2.9GHz) with Intel HD 4400

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on May 24, 2014 at 10:29 am

      According to ZDnet, the following processors are used:

      Base model: i3-4020Y processor, running at 1.5 GHz, with Intel HD4200 graphics
      Mid: i5-4300U processor, running at a clock speed of 1.9 GHz and Turbo boost up to 2.9 GHz, with HD4400 graphics.
      Top: i7-4650U processor, running at a clock speed of 1.7 GHz with a maximum Turbo frequency of 3.3 GHz and HD5000 graphics

      1. archie said on May 24, 2014 at 2:17 pm

        My comment on tabletPC performance was inaccurate: as for CPU performance, the base surfacePro, with its Haswell I3, is totally in the traditional TabletPC ballpark, outperforming the old T7600 core duo (which was top of line in TabletPC back in 2009) by about 80% and playing in the low end desktop ballpark from 2010 (i3540)…. with a theoretical 84% increase in energy efficiency.

        Compared benchmarks with i3 540 (desktop) and (T7600 mobile):
        unless I’m mistaken, ARM based tablets do not play in the same field.
        For reference, the T7600 used to look very good with W7 and even more so with W8.

        That’s very impressive for that thin a device, now I will be looking closer :) Thanks !

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on May 21, 2014 at 11:21 am

      I cannot find any information about that unfortunately. It is strange that Microsoft won’t display the information on the “all specs” page.

  14. sades said on May 21, 2014 at 10:03 am

    It will fill a niche market that it won’t even make Apple bat an eyelid.

    It will not save Windows 8 either.

    1. rojer said on May 23, 2014 at 5:58 am

      Surface RT should be compared to the iPads. Then we can talk price.

      Comparing a tablet PC to a tablet is like comparing a piano to a harp. It all depends on whether you’re interested in covering Chopin or whistle a tune for your betrothed. You could also become a master at the harp, but that’s another debate.

      The surface pro is a TabletPC. That’s a full fledge computer with ports, x86 and amd64 apps, access to external storage and peripherals. And a Wacom pen. With pressure sensitivity.

      Microsoft has supported ink and Wacom stylus integration for more than 12 years, on its dime, not giving up ignoring the public’s reluctance to adopt the format. Digital ink is now so mature in the Windows world that the competition just does not exist and won’t any time soon.

      Only Wacom tablets and TabletPC users have an idea what a proper stylus does to your digital life. Once you’re in… you’re in.

      TabletPC’s are about ink and styluses. An article overseeing this is… well, overseeing this.

      The Surface pro is like the ultimate tabletPC. The RT Surface is a nice tablet, less expensive and more feature packed than the ipad (ports and external memory. That it would only carry windows phone OS is not worse than the iPad carrying Apple’s phone OS.

      The only downside to tabletPC’s evolution seem to be the disappearance of a proper south-bridge access: used to be PCi/PCIe through PCMCIA, is now restricted to USB. Intel and Windows getting better with USB makes it less of a problem but still: PCIe is also making progress as for overhead and bandwidth. The lack of non USB ports is the only (recent) thing that separates a tabletPC from a full fledge computer. Don’t get me started on what separade the iPad from a computer. (Everything?). It’s not like Apple is planning on offering thunderbolt on the iPad…

      As for the price, tabletPC users will agree than it’s getting at an awesome low with steady improvements in build quality, energy efficiency and weight. Processing power (which was always in the notebook ballpark) recently took a dive to gain some battery life, but is climbing back since Haswell. Will soon be back to where it should be if Intel keeps on the same track. That’s an awesome future for TabletPC freaks.

      Comparing an ipad to a tabletPC was never a possibility, yet it became an issue from the start. Remember back in 2010 ? People are just like that.

      This blog entry makes a valid point. What’s amazing is that it would have to

    2. Tom said on May 21, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Just curious, if Windows 8 needs saving, then surely Apple does too given that Windows 8/8.1 has more OS market share than Apple?

      1. sades said on May 21, 2014 at 3:28 pm

        Why do it has to be apple? You know who else has OS other than Windows 8 on the market right now? Microsoft themselves.

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