The Microsoft Surface 3 vs the Surface Pro 3

Choose between these two Surface tablet PCs

Microsoft Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3
Microsoft Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3. Microsoft

Microsoft released a Surface tablet PC, so now there are two in the family. Which one could be right for you? Let's take a look.

Both tablets run Windows 8.1, unlike the previous Surface RT model which came with a dumbed down version of Windows. Both tablets can be used with a keyboard cover (with backlit keys!), a stylus, and other accessories such as a docking station and wireless display adapter.

Besides the different sizes, they both look about the same from the outside, but this is where the similarities stop.

The New Surface 3

The Surface 3 is the more affordable tablet of the two, priced at $499 for the model with 2 GB of memory and 64 GB of storage. For $599 you can get double the memory and storage.

It has a 10.8 inch display with a 1920x1280 resolution and runs on a Quad-core Intel Atom x7 processor--not as powerful as the Surface Pro 3's Intel Core processor, but better for longer battery life (up to 10 hours).

While the Surface 3 comes with one year of Office 365 Personal and 1 TB of storage on OneDrive, the Surface Pen is an extra $49.99 with the Surface 3.

Finally, this tablet's kickstand only has three positions, unlike the multiple positions of the Surface Pro 3.

In general, this is more of a tablet that competes against Apple's iPad than a laptop competitor. The full-size USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader, and Mini DisplayPort (adapters are available for other monitor connections) give it an advantage over the iPad, plus it runs full Windows just like a regular laptop.

The Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 could be your full laptop and tablet replacement. The 12-inch tablet has a 2160x1440 sharp display and comes in many more configurations with the more powerful Intel Core processor:

  • 64 GB storage, Intel Core i3 (1.5 GHz), 4 GB RAM for $799
  • 128 GB storage, Intel Core i5 (1.9 GHz), 4 GB RAM for $999
  • 256 GB storage, Intel Core i5 (1.9 GHz), 8 GB RAM for $1,149
  • 256 GB storage, Intel Core i7 (1.7 GHz), 8 GB RAM for $1,549
  • 512 GB storage, Intel Core i7 (1.7 GHz), 8 GB RAM for $1,949

As you can see, these are more laptop prices than tablet ones, and the Surface Pro 3 goes up against the MacBook Air and the new MacBook Pro than it does the iPad, although it functions like a tablet too.

The kickstand is multi-positionable and the Surface Pen is included, but Microsoft Office is sold separately. Battery life on the Pro is also only up to 9 hours of web browsing.

On the downside, the Surface Pro 3 has the same ports as the Surface 3--not enough USB ports in my opinion. It's also a little heavier than the Surface 3, at 1.76 pounds versus 1.5 pounds.

Which Surface to Buy

The big question, as with choosing any laptop or tablet, is what do you need it for? Although the Surface 3 has the same Windows 8.1 experience as the Surface Pro, its smaller size and less powerful specs might make it better for tablet use or as your travel laptop.

The Surface Pro 3 makes a better laptop replacement--or, when docked, desktop PC replacement. I've been using the Surface Pro 3 for a few weeks and overall enjoy the machine, particularly the multi-position kickstand, since many laptops can't be positioned so finely.

Of course, rumors have it that the Surface Pro will be here any day soon, so later we'll need to compare that next-generation model to the Surface 3 that just arrived.