Microsoft Surface 3 review: a tablet to replace your laptop?

Laptop-tablet hybrid does a passable impression of both devices, but is still no match for the purebreds, reviewers say

Microsoft Surface 3
(Image credit: Getty)

Microsoft's early attempt to win customers from both the laptop and the tablet markets with its crossover device, the Surface, was regarded by many within the industry as a valiant failure. But with each new iteration, the company has refined and improved on the original, getting closer to a device that can genuinely compete in both categories.

So can the Surface 3 finally succeed where its predecessors have fallen short?

Microsoft Surface 3 design

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The Surface 3 looks very much like its immediate forebears, the Surface RT and Surface 2, The Guardian says. The device manages to shave some size and weight off the previous models. At 8.7mm thick and weighing 622g it is 2mm thinner and 54g lighter than the Surface 2. But compared with most tablets, it is still on the heavy side. The iPad Air 2, for example, is 6.1mm thick and weighs 437g.

Curiously, the Surface 3 does not come with one of the key components that marks it as a crossover device: a keyboard. The Type Cover keyboard is sold separately and costs a hefty £109.

Microsoft Surface 3 display

The Surface 3's 10.8in full HD screen delivers "excellent image quality", PC Pro says: "Colours are vivid and richly saturated", and while the brightness and contrast are not as good as the Surface Pro models "colour accuracy is competitive."

Microsoft Surface 3 pen

The pen for the Surface 3 does everything its predecessors could do, and introduces a few "new tricks", Engadget says. It now supports hovering and the top button can be used as a rubber with some apps.

The button on the pen can also wake the device up. But there is still no place to stow the pen within the device, Engadget notes, meaning that it you are "on your own when it comes to making sure you don't lose your writing implement".

Microsoft Surface 3 Type Cover

Because the Surface 3 is a different size to its predecessors, owners of previous generations of Surface won't be able to use their old Type Covers. Fortunately the latest covers are a "big improvement" on previous editions, with keys that light up and a magnetic hinge that easily connects the cover to the tablet. In fact, the Type Cover is "the cleverest bit of engineering about the Surface line," says CNet.

Microsoft Surface battery

The Surface 3's battery is better than any other model, including the Surface Pro 3, but not by a great deal. The Surface 3 will run for seven hours and 41 minutes, a 13-minute improvement on the Surface Pro 3, which runs for 7 hours 28. However, this still doesn't come close to a PC laptop, CNet notes.

Microsoft Surface 3 software and apps

The Surface 3 comes with a year's free subscription to Office 365 Personal, which would normally set you back £60. However, the device still runs on Windows 8, which is "the least good mobile Operating System", PC Advisor says. The interface is neither "slick nor intuitive", but the greatest problem is the apps. "Even when you can get the one you want, it's usually inferior in quality or features (or both) to the iOS or Android version," the site says.


At the £419 starting price, "this all sounds like rather good value," Pocket Lint says, "but add the £109 keyboard and the £528 total is pushing towards more powerful mid-level laptop territory".

The Surface 3 works well and does a "passable impression of a laptop", PC Pro says, and it will be perfect for anyone who already knows that they want a Windows tablet. But for anyone else, it "doesn’t really compete well with non-Windows tablets like the iPad Air or larger Samsung Galaxy Tabs", the site concludes.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.