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Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 Comes Close, But Can't Win Over Its Critics

Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Surface Pro 3 is a dramatic improvement over its prior Surface Pro models -- unfortunately, that's still not good enough. Although critics generally agree that Microsoft continues to make great strides in improving the laptop/tablet hybrid form-factor, most believe that the Surface Pro 3 still comes up short.

To make matters worse, Microsoft's decision to market the device as a direct alternative to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) Macbook Air seems to have only exacerbated the problem.

Microsoft continues to iterate on its vision
Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 embodies, better than any other device, Microsoft's vision for personal computing. With a 12-inch touch-screen and optional keyboard that doubles as a protective cover, Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 may be the first device that can truly claim to double as both a laptop and a tablet, and make use of the hybrid nature of Windows 8.

The Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 also tried to accomplish this feat, but were hamstrung by a number of limitations. Although they were capable of running just about any piece of software written for Microsoft's Windows operating system, they weren't ideal tablets -- too thick and too heavy, with bad battery life and few mobile apps. They didn't make for the best laptops, either, as their 10.6-inch wide screens were too small for productive work, and their kickstands required the use of a solid surface like a table or desk.

Microsoft's latest Surface Pro fixes many of these problems, with a larger display, thinner and lighter design, and better kickstand. Reviewers have almost unanimously praised these improvements.

"Writing on the Surface Pro 3 [is] easy," wrote the LA Times' Salvador Rodriguez. "[It] was more comfortable to use on my lap than any laptop I've tried."

PCWorld's Mark Hachman is a fan of the new form factor, claiming that the "slimmed-down Surface Pro 3 feels like a proper modern-day tablet."

Too many trade-offs
But in spite of the improvements, many reviewers remain wary of recommending the device, particularly when compared to Apple's Macbook Air. Microsoft itself is responsible for the comparison, going so far as to offer owners of Apple's laptop credit toward a Surface Pro 3 when they trade in their device.

"Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Doesn't Stand Up to MacBook Air" declared Re/code's Katherine Boehret. Although Boehret agreed that the device could, in theory, replace both a laptop and a tablet, she found it to be lacking on both fronts. As a tablet, Boehret found fault with the over-sized screen, and as a laptop, she took issue with its awkward top-heavy build and "flimsy keyboard."

AnandTech's Anand Lai Shimpi was more favorable in his review, but ultimately came to a similar conclusion, stating that he would "rather carry a good notebook and a lightweight tablet."

The New York Times' Farhad Manjoo called the Surface Pro 3's flaws "damning" and characterized the device as nearly worthless for intensive work. Rather than compare it to Apple's Macbook Air, Manjoo thought it more similar to Apple's iPad -- a much cheaper, far more portable device.

Microsoft's hardware ambitions
In so far as consumers use reviews to make gadget purchasing decisions, it doesn't appear that Microsoft's latest Surface Pro will be a runaway success. Holding the device up against what's arguably the best Ultrabook on the market, Apple's Macbook Air, hasn't resulted in many favorable comparisons.

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Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 29, 2014, at 12:32 PM, groberys116 wrote:

    By critics you mean all the Microsoft haters, Apple/Google fan boys and most importantly all of the so called journalist writing negative critics for pay. Fahad's rant was mainly about his alleged difficulty using the SP3 on his lap stating his biggest problem was the track pad did not measure up to the MacBook Air's track pad. Really, comparing track pad's when the much more useful control device is the touch screen on the SP3. No matter how good a track pad is it in no way matches the usefulness of a touch screen on a laptop especially when the track pad is on one's lap.

  • Report this Comment On June 29, 2014, at 12:35 PM, groberys116 wrote:

    1st sentence I wrote critics, I meant critiques.

  • Report this Comment On June 29, 2014, at 11:26 PM, JJ82 wrote:

    The problem is not that they are targeting the MacBook. The problem is the VISION itself.

    MS advertised it as the tablet that will replace your laptop.

    No, it wont.

    Its too small for most laptop work and its too big for most tablet use. Its a crap hybrid. Hybrids are never good and are either average or WORSE.

    Make a product for a market, focus on it and actually serve the NEEDS OF THE MARKET. This is something that MS has not done with hardware since the Xbox 360...that was a LONG time ago. They have become the ACME of the computer world, even their software is suffering because it is now being made around this idea of try to be everything in every market and do nothing good.

  • Report this Comment On June 30, 2014, at 10:42 AM, Drichter wrote:

    The Motley Fool comes close, but can't stop itself from coming up short.

    Why some of those reviews were negative should be pretty obvious from context. Give a bunch of bloggers and journalists who spend the vast majority of their time hunched over a keyboard in their lap - and are already enamored with their shiny new status-symbol MacBooks - anything else and they will do their damnedest to nitpick it to death. Most of those reviews are next to worthless for anything aside from comedy, particularly the one with a gif of someone trying desperately to flip the surface over with exaggerated motions straight out of an infomercial.

    Meanwhile, normal people are loving the device, as you can pretty clearly see from actual customer reviews.

    Do your homework before you spew toxic and uninformed pieces like this into my news feed, motley fool.

  • Report this Comment On June 30, 2014, at 1:16 PM, kmcd wrote:

    This article conveniently highlights the negative reviews while ignoring all the positive reviews. There's a good number of both negative and positive reviews.

    Most negative reviews focus on the keyboard and using the device on your lap. They also tend to mention how large it is when using it as a tablet. The positive reviews focus on the how thin it is (for a i3/i5/i7 device), as well as the screen resolution, and the pen.

    This is the perfect device for some people, and an awful device for others. It all depends on your needs. For how I use it, it is nearly perfect. I use it as a tablet and as a laptop. I'm a programmer, so I'll read through code while using it as a tablet, but when I write code, I use it as a laptop. The resolution of the SP3 is higher than my 24" desktop monitor, so I have more room to work with on the SP3. The icons and text are smaller, but it's configurable. I actually made the text smaller, so that I would have more room to work with.

    This is the device that CAN replace your laptop. It did replace my laptop, and I don't have any regrets. It's not the device for everyone, especially considering the high cost. If this isn't the device for you, please don't assume it's not a great device for others. If you only check email, and browse the internet, then you probably only need a cheap tablet. If you play high-end games or run complex simulation software, then a powerful desktop would be best.

    Determine what your needs are, and if you think the SP3 might be what you want, then go to Best Buy and play with the demo unit. Understand the negative aspects of the product, as well as the benefits.

  • Report this Comment On July 01, 2014, at 8:23 AM, TelsaRowe wrote:

    I own the newest air and the new surface pro 3. The surface pro 3 is far superior. The screen resolution is the best i have seen on any device heretofore and is so good that even at 12" i can see the content better than i can on my 15" desktop screen. The sp3 is awesome and i think that a lot of mac/apple users revuew negatively because there is a learning curve to using the windows 8 os and they are used to their dumbed down mac/apple products. If you learn how to use windows 8 and then get the surface pro 3 you will never go back to anything. Well done microsoft.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2014, at 9:00 AM, ConstableOdo wrote:

    Microsoft's motto is... If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again. You know, Microsoft might actually get it right in the Surface Pro 8 if there's anyone left who really cares. Microsoft should stick to making high-profit software and let its partners do the hardware.

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Sam Mattera

Sam has a love of all things finance. He writes about tech stocks and consumer goods.

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