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Microsoft Announces Surface Pro 3

By Norman Chan

No 7-inch Surface tablet announcement.

Only eight months have passed since Microsoft announced the second-generation Surface devices, and Panos Panay once again took the stage at a press conference in New York to unveil a Surface Pro refresh. This time the differences and upgrades feel a little more meaningful, or at least more focused for Surface's intended users (students and professionals). Surface Pro 3 was the only new product announced today, and it's not just a spec bump from the Pro 2. This is still Microsoft's laptop replacement--an x86 device (running Windows 8.1 Pro, natch) meant to compete with Apple's MacBook Air. To that end, its LCD screen is now bumped up to 12 inches, with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a native resolution of 2160x1440. That's a pretty significant bump from the 10-inch 1080p screen of the previous Surface Pros, with the change in aspect ratio the most meaningful difference for multi-window and portrait orientation use. The capacitive Windows Start button is now moved to the short edge as well to encourage portrait orientation when used without a keyboard.

Speaking of the keyboard, Microsoft has also updated the Type Cover with magnets so it can stick to the screen when, you know, used as a cover. It also has a larger trackpad. The Surface kickstand gets not just one new angle, but is now "continuous", meaning it can stay rigid at many more angles--the example Microsoft gave was a "canvas" mode for drawing. It's reminiscent of the flexibility of Lenovo's Yoga laptop, but hopefully with more stability at low-angled orientations. What will also help is the weight of the Surface Pro 3, now reduced to 800 grams (1.76 pounds) without any accessories. Decidedly a two-handed device, if used as a tablet. Battery life is pegged at 9 hours for web browsing, according to Microsoft.

This Surface Pro still includes a pressure sensitive digitizer pen, as well as a USB 3.0 port and microSD slot. Microsoft also chose to stick with Intel's 4th-gen mobile Haswell chips, with the Core i5 model being the Core i5 4300U processor with HD4400 graphics. The entry-level Surface Pro 3 will run on the Core i3 processor (as yet unspecified), which allows Microsoft to set the base price to an attractive $800. My guess is that this was a last-minute decision to respond to Apple's MacBook Air price slashing earlier this month, and would recommend that you look closely at the specs. The $800 Surface Pro 3 has 64GB of storage and 4GB of memory, with the 128GB SSD model bumping the price to $1000. People who are going to use the Surface Pro 3 as their primary computer will likely want the Core i5 model with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM--which starts at $1300. Ad is the new Type Cover ($130) and that's $1430 for a well-spec'ed system before tax. That's the one I would get if I was in the market for a Surface Pro 3 as my daily carry.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 goes on sale tomorrow online and at Microsoft stores. We're most interested with what users can get with the starting price of $800, and will likely be testing that model. Clarification: Pre-orders for the new Surface begin May 21, and only the i5 models will start shipping on June 20th. The other configurations, including the $800 i3 model, will ship in August.