Unlike the big tech sites, we meager folks at Mobility Digest have to wait for pre-orders of new devices to be delivered before we can get our grubby paws on them. For me, that’s May 5th, the day my new Surface 3 is scheduled to arrive. It’s not like I haven’t tried to get a glimpse of this sleek new beauty. Past three Saturdays at Staples and the past two Mondays at BestBuy (will be there again tomorrow morning). But all either store has to show is the Surface Pro 3, despite reports of the contrary by some lucky observers. Guess my local stores are just making too much money to care.
I’m going naked with this Surface 3, meaning keyboardless. Unlike my original Surface RT, which I ordered with two different keyboards, and could never decide which one I liked less (I never really liked either). I want to know if the Surface 3 can perform as a tablet. Actually, I should point out that I have a simple solution for all these sales tabulation services that seem to be confused at how to report the myriad of new devices. When you open the box and (gently) shake out everything that’s in it onto a table, if there is no keyboard in sight, then it’s a TABLET. If there is a keyboard, either attached, or detached, but without any wires hanging off it, then it’s a NOTEBOOK/LAPTOP. Or in some cases a 2 in 1, but it’s NOT a tablet. If the keyboard has a wire hanging out of it, then it’s a DESKTOP PC (is anyone shipping wireless keyboards with desktops yet). Can’t make it any simpler. In other words, the Surface 3 is a tablet, despite what Microsoft may think, or want you to think, it is.
Although I have yet to see the Surface 3 in person, it already feels like an old friend. I found a thin hardcover book around the house that’s only 1/4” longer, 1/8” narrower, and maybe 3/32” thicker than an actual Surface 3. Pretty close. It is only half the weight and I have been thinking of ways to make it heavier without soaking it in the sink. But have yet to come up with a viable consideration. I have also read every single review I could find on the Surface 3. Almost all of them describing it as a light duty laptop, that can also be used as a tablet if you pull off the cool (optional) keyboard. Wrong. Several sites have tried to compare it to the Apple iPad Air 2, but seem to stumble with the whole laptop/hybrid thing. So I thought it would be a good idea for me to do my own comparison, from a strictly tablet angle. DISCLAIMER: I have never actually held an iPad Air 2 in my hand, although I have seen them on display. But as I have never actually seen a Surface 3, I though this would be a fair review. Oh, and I don’t think I have consumed any KoolAid, since I was about 9. That was several years before MAN (err….PERSON) walked on the moon. I give you The Great Surface 3 / iPad Air 2 Shootout!
The Great Surface 3 / iPad Air 2 Shootout
Size: The Surface 3 measures 187mm x 267mm x 8.7mm. While the iPad Air 2 measures 170mm x 240mm x 6.1mm. So, the Surface 3 is bigger and thicker. But that’s because it has a bigger screen, all those ports and that cool kickstand. TIE
Weight: Surface 3 = 622g vs. iPad Air 2 = 437g. Ok, the Surface 3 is heavier despite using magnesium, which is 1/3 lighter than aluminum, iPad Air 2’s material of choice. Makes you think, what’s really inside an iPad Air 2 besides a battery and screen. Anyway, there are a few things to consider. First, the iPad Air 2 uses that proprietary Lightning connector, unlike the Surface 3’s universal microUSB charge connector. So unless your in California, you probably have to carry it wherever you go. That adds another 95g to your load, tipping the scales at 532g. Getting closer. Then there’s all those extra Surface ports, the larger screen, the kickstand. But ok, I’ll concede. WIN – iPad Air 2
Colors: The Surface 3 comes in Silver. While the iPad Air 2 is available in; Silver, Space Gray & Gold. Ok, no contest. The fashionistias got it. WIN – iPad Air 2
Display: The Surface 3 has a 10.8” screen while the iPad Air 2 has a 9.7” screen, so that makes the Surface screen 1.1” bigger. And bigger is always better. WIN – Surface 3
Display Resolution: The Surface 3’s resolution is 1920 x 1280, or 214ppi. The iPad Air 2 has a resolution of 2048 x 1536, or 264ppi. Yeah, well if the iPad Air 2 had a screen as BIG as the Surface 3, the resolution would drop down to 237ppi, a measly 23ppi more than the Surface 3. And how about this. My Lenovo Yoga 2 – 8” Tablet has a resolution of 1920 x 1200, or 283 pixels, even besting the iPad Air 2. But the first thing I did when I turned that tablet on was to change the scaling to 200%. So don’t give me any crap about 23ppi making any difference. Most people over the age of 21 are going to need to scale up anyway. TIE
Pen Input: The Surface 3 has a digitizer layer that uses N-trig technology, allowing for 255 levels of pressure and precise digital penning for; taking notes, drawing or writing music. The iPad Air 2 uses it’s capacitive touch layer, to let you use a 1/4” rubber tip to draw precisely. Right. WIN – Surface 3
Apps: The Surface 3 can use any program/app written for Windows, whether it be legacy programs, like; QuickBooks or PhotoShop, or apps available through the the Microsoft Store. The iPad Air 2 can run a multitude of apps available through the iTunes Store. Looking at sheer quantity, both device’s program/app selection are probably equal. When you get into flexibility though, the Surface 3 starts to move ahead. I have several programs, including; Access Runtime, SkyWallet for Desktop, PDF Pro 10, Adobe PhotoShop Elements, and a few others planned for installation on my Surface 3. All of which I couldn’t install on my previous Surface RT, btw. Additionally, the Surface 3 comes included, a $69.99 value, with a Personal subscription to Office 365 for 1 Year. That includes the 7 Suite of Office Programs; Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, One Note, Publisher & Access. Plus, 1TB of One Drive Storage and 1 Hour of Skype calling per month. Oh, and the kicker is with this Office 365 subscription, you can install it on a second tablet device, like an iPad Air 2. TIE
Fingerprint Sensor: Ok, you got me there. WIN – iPad Air 2
Ports: The Surface 3 comes with a full size USB 3.0 port, a microUSB port (which can be converted to full USB with a $1.49 adapter), a Mini DisplayPort and a microSD card slot. The iPad Air 2 includes a Lightning port which requires proprietary adapters to change it into anything other than a charging block. That’s more expense and more adapters to carry around. Hmm, maybe I should reconsider that weight shootout again. WIN – Surface 3
Processor: The Surface 3 sports an Atom x7-Z8700, 64 bit, Quad Core 1.6GHz Processor, with burst speed up to 2.4GHz. The iPad Air 2 has an A8X 64 bit, Tri Core 1.5GHz processor. Ok, now I know some Geekbench tests have shown that the iPad Air 2 smokes the pants off of the Atom family of Intel processors. But it’s also pretty common knowledge that the Geekbench results are flawed when testing newer Intel processors. In fact, the iPad Air 2 beat out some 4th Gen Intel i5 Processors in tests. Come on now. Next we’re going to hear that the entire Internet is running on a single A8X Processor. I prefer to use the chart below for my comparison, but will err on the side of caution. TIE
Storage: The base model of the Surface 3 includes 64GB of storage memory. For comparison, we will use the 64GB iPad Air 2 (the base iPad Air 2 comes with 16GB). But hold on there. Didn’t I mention a microSD card slot. That’s right. You can add an additional 128GB of storage to the Surface 3 by inserting a microSD card in the slot. No can do with the iPad Air 2. Keep in mind that this is an “Option”. You don’t have to buy a microSD card to use your Surface 3. But isn’t it nice to know you can. I suppose if you told Cupertino that 64GB was not enough storage for your iPad Air 2, they would tell you, “you’re using it wrong”. Or, “kindly deposit another $100 in the slot for an additional 64GB”. WIN – Surface 3
Camera: The Surface 3 has an 8MP rear and 3.5MP front facing camera. The iPad Air 2 has an 8MB rear and 1.2MP front camera. Pretty sure you won’t want to be using your iPad Air 2 for Skype calls. WIN – Surface 3
Kickstand: The Surface 3 comes with a built-in kick stand, that can be adjusted to three different convenient angles. The iPad Air 2 doesn’t have a kickstand. You just have to hold it all day. Good thing it’s light. WIN – Surface 3
Split-Screen Multitasking: I threw this in because one reviewer did. Point is, the Surface 3 runs a full version of Windows 8.1, soon to become Windows 10. You can do everything and anything you could do on any other Windows computer. Split screen, multiple windows, virtual desktops, anything. The iPad Air 2 is loaded with iOS, a phone based OS. You can tap on the screen and launch apps. And then launch other apps. And then more apps. Sad really. WIN – Surface 3
Starting Price: The base model Surface 3 is priced at $499. While the 64GB iPad Air 2 is priced at $599. If you look at the LTE Models, the spread grows even larger; $599 vs. $729. But I did include the N-trig pen in my shootout, which I consider an essential option for a tablet. Like milk and cookies. And unlike a keyboard. You can get the Surface 3 Pen on Amazon for $38, but I’ll go for the full $49.99 for comparison’s sake. To be fair though, the iPad Air will need one of those rubber tipped things. So add another $9.99. That makes it $549 for the Surface 3 vs. $609 for the iPad Air 2. Had enough, or do you want more. WIN – Surface 3
UPDATE: Just in case someone comes back with a talking point stating the the 64GB Surface 3 has less storage available than the iPad Air 2 after installing that that FULL WINDOWS OS and OFFICE 365, I ordered a SanDisk Class 10 64GB MicroSD Card for $33 today from Amazon (will have it Wednesday). So now the Surface 3 is $582 with 128GB of storage vs. the iPad Air 2 at $609 with a paltry 64GB of storage. That still leaves enough extra cash for that HP case below and a nice lunch. Check Mate.
Options: Yes, you can get a slick attachable keyboard (notice I didn’t say detachable) for the Surface 3 at a whopping $129. You can also add a full docking station for another $199 to turn your nice tablet into a full fledged desktop replacement, should you really want to go there. You can get a nice ZAGG backlit Bluetooth keyboard/case for your iPad Air 2 for $74, although some of the keyboard case combinations run as high as $169. There’s lots to pick from. If you like keyboards, your covered.
So there you have it. Put your guns back in your holsters pardner. If your looking for a light tablet that comes in several different colors, and even includes a fingerprint reader, then the iPad Air 2 was made for you. On the other hand, if your searching for a well sized tablet that runs full Windows, has a multitude of available ports, precision digital ink input, expandable storage, good front and rear cameras, and even includes an adjustable kickstand, you might want to take a closer look at the Surface 3. But please, don’t buy the keyboard at the same time. It’s a TABLET!
P.S. Almost forgot. If you do decide to purchase a Surface 3 and need a simple / cheap case to keep that screen protected, I found the below HP case on Amazon Friday night for $6.73 and received it today (damn, I love Prime shipping). I’m not 100% certain that the Surface 3 will fit nicely, but my sample book fits well enough to say that it should do just fine. It’s a soft case, so won’t protect from impact or compression damage. It has a zippered front pocket for accessories, but you would want to position the screen facing back if you used it for anything. Except maybe a Surface Pen. The inside is lined with a smooth seamless gray microfiber kind of material. I wanted something to load my Surface into while transporting to work and back in my Tumi bag. This should do the job. You can find it here.