Microsoft is at it again with the Surface 3, a slightly smaller version of the Surface 3 Pro that’s aimed at students and those who want full Windows on a budget. The tablet is a follow-up to the Surface 2, but it offers up more functionality than the old Windows RT tablet.
Updated on 03-31-2015 by Malarie Gokey: Added quotes from an interview with Microsoft’s Dan Laycock.
The Surface 3 looks like all the other Surfaces Microsoft has made, as it’s relatively thin and light at just 8.7mm in width and 1.37 pounds. Its 10.8-inch screen is a tad smaller than the Surface Pro 3’s 12-inch Full HD screen, and it offers lower resolution, at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. There’s a 3.5-megapixel camera on the front for Skype chats, and a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera on the back for all your other needs. Microsoft says the Surface 3’s battery will last you 10 hours before it needs a recharge.
The tablet is designed to be more portable than the Pro 3, and falls more in line with the tablet form factor, even though it has the processing power of a laptop.
“At the highest level, we think this will resonate well with families and students,” Microsoft’s Dan Laycock told Digital Trends. “A lot of people work on the go.”
Related: Read our Surface Pro 3 review
A quad-core Intel Atom x7 processor powers the device, and although it’s not as powerful as the Pro, Laycock says it’s powerful enough for your average user, who only browses the Web, uses Office, and a handful of other apps.
“If you use any kind of demanding software like Photoshop, Illustrator, you do a lot of video editing, or you always have 30 browser windows open, you’re going to want the Surface Pro 3,” Laycock explained. Even so, Laycock describes the Surface 3 as “the best of Surface Pro 3 distilled into a smaller package that’s more accessible and affordable.”
Microsoft also gives you a few options so you can make the Surface 3 more powerful. Although you can’t change the processor, you can get either 2 or 4GB of RAM and your choice of 64 or 128GB of built-in storage. The upgrades will cost you $100 more, but for some users, it might be worth it.
As it stands, the entry-level Surface 3 with 2GB RAM and 64GB of storage goes for $500, while the Surface 3 with 4GB RAM and 128GB of storage will cost you $600. The 4G LTE version of the Surface 3 is also $100 more than the standard, Wi-Fi-only version at $600. If you want 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage as well as 4G LTE, you’re looking at $700, which is the same price as a mid-priced laptop.
However, there are a lot of perks that come along with the Surface 3 that might make it worth the coin. First of all, it runs full 64-bit Windows 8.1 and it’ll be upgradable to Windows 10 for free as soon as that upgrade is available. The purchase of a Surface 3 will also net you a free one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, which comes with full versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote, as well as 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage.
Related: Hands on with Windows 10 preview
Sadly, the Surface 3 pen will be sold separately for $50, so you won’t get it bundled in with the device. The Type Cover, Docking Station, and other accessories are also sold separately. In order to get the Surface 3 Type Cover, you’ll have to shell out $130, and the Surface 3 Docking Station costs $200.
Laycock told us that Microsoft is always asked why it doesn’t sell the Surface with the keyboard included, but the answer is simple. “Most people want to be able to choose their keyboard,” he explained. However, at this point, you really only have the one choice with the Type Cover, and Laycock couldn’t say whether Microsoft will make more keyboards for the device. He did add that the Surface Type Cover is quieter, has better travel, and comes with a more accurate, albeit smaller, trackpad.
Starting May 5, a handful of retailers will sell the Surface 3 and its accessories, but it will be available at more stores, in 26 markets, on May 7. The 4G LTE version of the Surface 3 will hit T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless later this year. Microsoft will announce further availability of the 4G LTE model at a later date.
For now, here’s a list of all the countries that will have access to the Surface 3 on May 7: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and the U.K.