Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: The Surface that got it right

Price when reviewed

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: Display

The Surface Pro 3’s display delivers excellent image quality. Colours are vivid and richly saturated, and while brightness and contrast are actually a little down on the outgoing Surface Pro models (the Surface Pro 3 achieved a maximum brightness of 325cd/m2 and a modest contrast ratio of 789:1) colour accuracy is competitive. Using our X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter, we measured an average Delta E of 1.77, which is as close to perfect as we’ve seen from any laptop or tablet in recent months.


The panel is also able to reproduce an exceptional range of colour: our X-Rite colorimeter measured it as covering 96.2% of the sRGB colour gamut. Microsoft’s screen calibration is some way off with darker tones, however, with the deepest greyscales blending into black.

When it comes to sharpness, the Surface Pro 3’s 216ppi pixel density isn’t perceptibly better than the 208ppi of the original Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 – the higher resolution comes, after all, with a larger screen. That isn’t a problem, though: text is still razor-sharp, and photographs are packed with fine detail. Microsoft ships the Surface Pro 3 with Windows 8.1’s scaling settings at 150% by default; you can drop this down to 100% if you want more room for your palettes and toolbars in applications such as Photoshop or Sony Vegas Pro, but be warned that this makes buttons and icons shrink to extremely fiddly proportions.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review: Performance

We tested the £849 model, which features a 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-4300U, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 128GB Samsung PM851 mSATA SSD. This capable trio helped the Surface Pro 3 along to a result of 0.62 in our benchmarks. That’s power enough for most Windows applications, but you might be surprised to note that it’s effectively no better than the Surface Pro 2, which scored 0.61 with a 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U CPU at the helm.

The explanation isn’t hard to find. Once our tests started taxing the CPU, we noted that the exterior of the Surface Pro 3 quickly grew hot to the touch. Within two minutes, internal temperatures had hit 90°C – and the CPU had automatically dialled back its Turbo Boost frequency from 2.6GHz down to 2GHz. It’s an inevitable compromise of squeezing Ultrabook-class hardware into such a thin frame: the Surface Pro 3’s tiny fans can’t dissipate enough heat to sustain the highest Turbo Boost frequencies.

Surface Pro 3 review performance full kickstand extend

Hybrid tablet/laptops inevitably involve compromise. Microsoft’s advertising bills the Surface Pro 3 as “the tablet which can replace your laptop” and we think this is a pretty good description. If a lot of your work is the kind which benefits from keyboard, mouse, and access to powerful desktop-class applications then the Surface Pro 3 works pretty well. It’s not the perfect laptop, particularly not for the price, but it’s certainly capable of being your only machine, particularly when coupled with the Docking Station (see below).

However, if you’re looking for something to use predominantly as a tablet, the Surface Pro 3 makes a lot less sense. Compared to tablet competitors like the iPad Air, the Surface Pro 3 is big, bulky, expensive, and doesn’t have the battery life to really compete. The lack of an option for LTE mobile connectivity makes it dependent on tethering to a mobile phone, and Windows 8.1 still lacks touch-native applications compared to either iOS or Android. You’ll find yourself jumping into the Desktop, where touch is very much a poor relation, far too often.

There’s more “laptopness” about the Surface Pro 3 than any other tablet, but the consequence of building something which performs capably is a laptop is to compromise the tablet experience. Some of the software issues will hopefully be fixed with the release of Windows 10, but improving the hardware to the point at which the Surface series makes as good a tablet as an iPad or high-end Android device is going to be very difficult for Microsoft to achieve.

Continues on page 3: Battery life & Surface Pen 



Warranty2 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions292 x 201 x 9.1mm (WDH)

Processor and memory

ProcessorIntel Core i5-4300U
RAM capacity4.00GB
Memory typeDDR3
SODIMM sockets free0
SODIMM sockets total0

Screen and video

Screen size12.0in
Resolution screen horizontal2,160
Resolution screen vertical1,440
Resolution2160 x 1440
Graphics chipsetIntel HD Graphics
DisplayPort outputs1


Hard disk usable capacity96GB
Replacement battery price inc VAT£0


Wired adapter speedN/A
802.11a supportyes
802.11b supportyes
802.11g supportyes
802.11 draft-n supportyes
Integrated 3G adapterno
Bluetooth supportyes

Other Features

3.5mm audio jacks1
SD card readeryes
Pointing device typeTouchscreen, Stylus
Integrated microphone?yes
Integrated webcam?yes
Camera megapixel rating5.0mp

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use10hr 33min
Battery life, heavy use2hr 20min
Overall Real World Benchmark score0.62
Responsiveness score0.73
Media score0.69
Multitasking score0.45

Operating system and software

Operating systemWindows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
OS familyWindows 8

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