When Microsoft invited us to a "small gathering" here in New York City, we thought that meant a smaller-screened Surface Mini was in order. Instead, the company just announced a larger Surface, the 12-inch Surface Pro 3. Like the previous Surface Pro, it supports pen input, making it a good choice for creative professionals, especially with that pixel-dense 2,160 x 1,440 screen. In addition to being the biggest, highest-res Surface yet, though, it's also the thinnest-ever product with an Intel Core i7 processor. All told, the thing measures just 9.1mm (0.36 inch) thick, putting it on par with an older-gen iPad -- incredible when you remember this is more akin to an Ultrabook than a tablet.
Surface Pro 3See all photos
In addition to being thin, the Surface Pro 3 is relatively lightweight, at 800g (1.76 pounds). And let's be clear: When we say "relatively," we mean compared to a 12-inch laptop, or even a 13-inch Ultrabook; those would weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of three pounds. Even the 11-inch MacBook Air comes in at 2.4 pounds. Of course, the Surface Pro 3 is still heavy next to an iPad Air or Samsung Galaxy Tab. But the Surface Pro was never supposed to compete with those kinds of tablets anyway. No, this is, and always was, a laptop killer.
OK, so it's just a bigger, surprisingly lightweight version of the last-gen Surface Pro, right? Not exactly. The third-gen model has a new kickstand on the back that allows the screen to sit at a near-flat angle of 150 degrees. The new Type Cover keyboard (that's the one with the physical buttons) has been improved as well -- especially with regard to the touchpad, which is bigger, more precise and now has a built-in button. Also, though the keyboard cover still "clicks in," the upper portion of the keyboard can now fold up and attach magnetically to the tablet's lower bezel. We know, we know, this may be difficult to picture, but bear with us: By doing that, you're effectively elevating the upper portion of the keyboard, creating a wedge profile similar to what you'd enjoy on a proper laptop. So, if you're uncomfortable typing on the old Surface's flat keyboard, maybe this is the ergonomic tweak you've been waiting for.
As for the included pen, it's said to weigh about the same as a normal, ink-based pen, but we can't vouch for that until we get hands-on. With this generation, too, Microsoft switched to an N-trig digitizer -- a departure from its usual Wacom tech. What's especially neat is that you can unlock the Surface just by clicking the purple button at the top -- even if the device is turned off, you can click the pen and the tablet will wake up, allowing you to access Microsoft's OneNote app from the lock screen. Also, thanks to OneNote, you can send your notes to the cloud as soon as you start writing. Sort of like how when you use OneDrive or Google Drive, you expect your changes to save as you go. This is basically the handwriting equivalent of that.
The Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 with a Core i3 processor, with CPU options of course going all the way up to i7. Storage will range from 64GB to 512GB. No word yet on any LTE models. Oh, and we're told the Surface Pro 2 will still be around for a while, so this doesn't totally replace that. We'll be getting our hands-on with the new model soon, so stay tuned for our first impressions.