So it was a small gathering and a big release.
Yesterday Microsoft held its big announcement and instead of the rumored Surface Mini, we were shown the Surface Pro 3. The Pro 3 is a revamp of the Surface Pro line and will replace the Surface Pro 2 in the lineup.
Well off the bat I am shocked that they didn’t show a Surface Mini and I was really looking forward to it, but maybe Microsoft made the right call in focusing the event on the Surface Pro 3. The Pro line after all never had the weird backlash given to the Surface RT. No one has ever really questioned the Pro’s reason to exist.
In some ways Tuesday’s presentation was about stating why the Surface brand matters. I think it was important that Satya Nadella appeared on stage at the beginning of the hour plus press event. Up until then there have been questions about whether Microsoft’s new CEO would want to continue such an venture. In a short opening speech, which included a nice retort to Apple’s Tim Cook, Nadella stated Microsoft was not trying to make, “refrigerators or toasters; but build experiences that bring together all the capabilities of our company.” He also stated that Microsoft wasn’t building hardware or its own sake or to compete with its hardware partners (how I wish they would). Instead Nadella stated the goal was to create new categories (something they tried to do but this time they take the lead in making the product).
Then Panos Panay, Corporate Vice President Surface Computing, took the stage. As in times past Panay introduces the latest product to carry the Surface brand. He always comes across as a humbled by the job and a bit harried; this time he also seem to be aiming his presentation not only at the assembled press but also Nadella and his immediate boss Stephen Elop who was also there.
“This is the tablet that can replace your laptop.”
These will be words that will either hang the Surface brand or prove the three year project right. Panay started off by talking about “death” of the PC and the ascendance of tablets that hasn’t happened. He highlighted the fact that the room was filled with reporters with laptops sitting on their laps. He also made a note of the fact that most of those said laptops had glowing apples on them. As Panay continued on it became apparent that the device people would see was a new Pro (meaning Windows 8.1) device. And after he concluded his opening talking about the difficulty in deciding to buy a laptop or a tablet (something I know is confusing) he introduced the Surface Pro 3.
Now at this point I should say when I saw the first Surface announcement I liked the devices but thought something by Dell, HP, or Lenovo would be a better fit. But overtime I came to like, and sometimes lust, after the Surface line. Its apparent that the people behind the Surface want to build the best Windows device. Its not that PC makers don’t aim for the same, but their efforts feel like obligation and not passion. And the Pro 3 shows the passion of the Surface team.
The Pro 3 is 12 inches and packs Intel’s Core series chips; the same kind of chips used for laptops and Ultrabooks. They put a laptop chip into a chassis that is not bigger than the Surface 2 that runs on essentially a mobile phone chip. The Pro 3 also adopts a 3:2 aspect ratio that makes it a better fit as a tablet than either the previous pros or the Surface ARM devices. The Pro 3 also changed up the digital pen; going rom Wacom to N-Trig and connecting the pen to OneNote with the push of a button.
During the presentation it became apparent that the Surface Pro 3 was being aimed at business and education. Except for a New York Times crossword app, the focus was on creation and productivity. Adobe’s Michael Gough took the stage to show off Photoshop optimized for the Pro 3. Another apparent fact was the Pro 3 is being positioned to take on the MacBook Air line. Several of the changes made to the Pro 3 were about making it feel more like a notebook. Things such as the new kickstand and the magnetic strip at the top of the new keyboard that locks it in place. The larger screen also makes the Pro 3 easier to be an on the go device.
The Surface Pro 3 was well received in the initial hours and Microsoft was confident enough in it as to let out loaners to attending press (even though I think it’ll bite them in the butt). One surprising reaction was from Richard Sherlund, a tech analyst best known for advocating Microsoft selling off Xbox, Bing and getting out of the consumer market.
For all the excitement and good will generated there are some questions. The Pro 3 is an expensive proposition with prices that reach Mac territory. And there is a risk in taking on the MacBook Air which doesn’t have to climb the same hurdles of acceptance. Having said that I would love to play with one these bad boys and Microsoft seems to be thinking strategically with the Pro 3; so let the games begin.
So for you gadget junkies these are the specs and prices for the Surface Pro 3:
The Pro 3 is 12 inches with a 3:2 aspect ratio, and thinner, it is as thin as the Surface 2. Design wise the Pro 3 takes its cues more from the Surface 2 than the Pro. It has a silver finish (what Microsoft calls the natural VaporMG color) and the Micro SD slot has been moved under the kickstand. The Pro 3’s kickstand has also been upgraded to be multi-positioned up to 150 degrees. The new Surface also comes with a near Retina screen that is 2160 x 1440 “Pixel Free” ClearType display. The Surface Pro 3 runs on an Intel Core processor and comes in i3, i5, and i7 configurations. The bass model (i3 with 64GB) will run you $799 before tax and without the keyboard.
Images courtesy of the Verge and Microsoft