Microsoft’s Surface 3 is one of the least expensive, most portable Windows 2-in-1 systems available. While not universally loved, its $499 price point and ability to run full Windows 10 makes it a good option for productivity.
It has a new challenger, however, in the form of the Pixel C. This Android 2-in-1 follows a similar design philosophy, boasting a 10-inch display and a detachable keyboard dock. Does it make Microsoft’s option look obsolete?
Microsoft Surface 3
|Size||10.52″ x 7.36″ x 0.34″||10 inches tall, other dimensions tba|
|Display||10.8-inch||10.2-inch 308 ppi|
|Resolution||1,920 x 1,080 203 ppi||2,560 x 1,800|
|Operating System||Windows 10||Android 6.0 Marshmallow|
|Storage||64, 128GB||32GB, 64GB|
|Processor||Intel Atom x7-Z7800||Nvidia Tegra X1|
|RAM||2GB or 4GB||3GB|
|Camera||Rear 8MP, Front 3.5MP||N/A|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.2||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (possibly more)|
|Sensors||Ambient light sensor, Proximity sensor, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, MagnetometerLTE models include GPS||Gyrometer, accelerator, ambient light sensor (possibly more)|
|Battery||Up to 10 hours||Up to 10 hours|
|Charger||Micro USB||USB Type-C|
|Marketplace||Windows Store||Google Play|
|Price||Starting at $499 for 32GB with 2GB RAM||$499 for 32GB, $599 for 64GB|
|Availability||Available now||Holiday 2015|
|DT review||Full review||Hands-on|
From a distance the Microsoft Surface 3 and the Google Pixel C are pretty similar. They have 10-inch displays with a form factor that’s closer to square than most, and they feature docking keyboards powered by their respective tablets. But thats where the similarities end.
The main difference is the design of the laptop mode. Microsoft’s Surface 3, like the Surface Pro, uses a kickstand. It can stand upright all on its own, and the keyboard acts as a cover that can protect the screen when not in use.
Google’s Pixel C has a hinge on the keyboard that magnetically holds the display upright in a fashion similar to a clamshell notebook. It’s also possible to use the keyboard as a cover, or slap it around the rear of the tablet to keep it handy, but out of the way.
We haven’t reviewed the Pixel C yet, so we can’t say for sure how well it works. But from pure specifications and hands-on impressions it appears to have the superior solution. The Surface 3 is awkward to use on your lap, or any uneven surface. The Pixel C should have no issue.
This is an area where the Pixel C clearly wins. It offers a 2,560 x 1,800 panel with over 300 pixels per inch, while the Surface makes do with a 1080p screen that barely clears 200 pixels per inch. When the two systems are used as a laptop, the difference won’t much matter — you’ll be too far away to notice. But when using either as a tablet the Pixel’s advantage should be clear.
CPU performance between these two is a real apples-to-oranges comparison. Technically, in terms of raw compute power, the Intel Atom is probably quicker than the Tegra X1. But the massively different operating systems used by each makes it hard to judge.
RAM is also not clear-cut. The Pixel C wins in the budget model with 3GB, while the base Surface 3 has only 2GB. But you can spend more and upgrade to 4GB.
Graphics performance, on the other hand, will be a clear win for the Pixel C. Again, this is a bit of an apples-to-oranges scenario, but the Intel HD graphics used by the Surface 3 is so bad it’s bound to lose. It’s not at all cut out to play modern Windows games, while the Pixel C, powered by Nvidia, will easily handle any game on the Android app store.
Both of these systems claim up to ten hours of endurance in a best-case scenario. In the worst case, life may be significantly less. We measured the Surface 3’s battery life at 6 hours and 32 minutes in our heavy-load web browsing test, and expect the Pixel C will be similar.
No one knows exactly how heavy the Pixel will be, either, but I doubt the difference will be more than a few tenths of a pound. Overall, portability is a dead tie.
Connectivity goes to the Surface 3, primarily because it offers an LTE model for use away from Wi-Fi. Google has not announced any such version of the Pixel C.
Both systems have 8MP cameras, but the Pixel C has a better front-facing camera. I also suspect its overall photography experience will be better due to the wide range of photo apps for Android devices.
The sensors available to each are similar. However, the LTE version of the Surface 3 includes GPS.
Price & Availability
The Surface 3 has been available for a few months. It starts at $499 for 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, and goes up from there. The most expensive model, with 4GB of RAM, 128GB storage and LTE, is $699.
Google’s Pixel C starts at $499 for 32GB off storage, but it also has 3GB of RAM. You can double the storage for $599. There’s no RAM upgrade or LTE model available. A firm release date has not been set.
Neither comes with a keyboard. The Surface’s keyboard cover is $130, and the Pixel’s is $150. That brings the total price for a base surface to about $630, and the Pixel C to $650.
So, which one wins this spec comparison? I’ll give the gold to the Pixel C. It has a clearly superior display, more RAM in basic configuration, and a superior GPU. While it loses in storage, keep in mind that Android takes up far less space than Windows, and Android apps tend to be smaller in size. The Surface 3 does win in connectivity and maximum RAM, however.
We’re eager to get the Pixel C in for review so we can see if it’s as good in reality as it looks on paper.