Ditching the MacBook Air for Microsoft's Surface Pro 3

Sarah Silbert
S. Silbert|05.29.14

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Ditching the MacBook Air for Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 image
Ditching the MacBook Air for Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 image

​I, like many others, participated in what could be called the unofficial Surface Pro 3 challenge: trading in my regular laptop for the company's new device for a week, with the intent of doing all my work on the new notebook-tablet hybrid. Well, here I am, six days in, back writing on my MacBook Air. I didn't want to give up or cheat, but there are deadlines to meet, and I simply don't have enough hours in a day to pound out posts on the Pro 3's flimsy Type Cover keyboard.

Those may sound like fighting words, placing me firmly in the "not a fan" camp when it comes to Microsoft's latest, productivity-focused product. But I actually think this is a great device for everything except typing. For someone who writes for a living, the Pro 3 is -- for lack of a better description -- a great laptop that's just missing its keyboard.

I have the $1,299 model, with a Core i5 processor and 256GB of storage, and the Type Cover that will retail for an additional $130. That's not cheap, but this is supposed to be your laptop and your tablet, and Redmond has refined the design a ton compared to the previous generation. Though the keyboard itself is mushy, with barely any travel, the trackpad is actually quite solid this time around. Microsoft made it bigger than the version on the Surface Pro 2, for one thing, and gestures such as swiping and pinch-to-zoom work well. The only glitch came on the day when two-finger scrolling stopped working, and the problem couldn't be solved with anything short of a full system update. Harmless enough, I suppose, but I did spend about an hour trying to fix the issue by tinkering with settings in the control panel to no avail.

It's a great laptop that's just missing its keyboard.

I encountered one other strange bug while using the Surface Pro 3 on a flight: The WiFi driver appeared to be missing until I rebooted the machine. After that, I was able to connect to Gogo, but the problem itself was pretty confusing. It's a lot easier to forgive such hitches in a tablet, rather than a laptop, too. If Microsoft has its way, this is the only gadget you'll be traveling with, and it would be a pretty big problem if critical functions weren't working reliably.

Speaking of using the Pro 3 on a plane, the kickstand design was a bit difficult to handle with a tiny tray table; it would only fit if I propped it up at a very steep angle or titled it to the right or left. Luckily, though, the machine's made to be comfortable in your lap -- remember that whole "lapability" spiel at the Microsoft event last week? -- with a magnet system that allows the Touch Cover to be used at an angle.

Finally, that 12-inch, 2,160 x 1,440-pixel display is gorgeous, and I especially enjoyed it when watching HD video. Watching something in standard resolution, on the other hand, wasn't as great; an episode of the original House of Cards streamed on Netflix looked soft and pixelated. It's the same problem you'll encounter with any high-res screen like Apple's Retina panel, though, and I'm certainly not complaining that Microsoft made this one so bright and crisp.

Over the course of six days, I wrote countless emails, sent several tweets and wrote one Engadget post on the Surface Pro 3. The fact that I could do that much says a lot about how much progress Microsoft has made in its quest to reduce our dependency on two separate gadgets: one for work and one for play. That said, I still had to cheat when I needed to get work done quickly. If I had copious amounts of time and patience, I could probably train myself to be a great typist on the Surface Pro 3's keyboard cover. I have neither, though, so that's why I won't be packing the device when I leave for a work trip tomorrow.

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