On March 31, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) formally unveiled its next generation Surface 3 tablet. The device is as rumored, featuring full Windows 8.1, an Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Atom processor, and a fanless design. However, with the device now "official," Microsoft has given out more details about this device.

Is the Surface 3 a winner, or will it suffer the same fate as the prior generation Surface RT and Surface 2 tablets? Let's take a closer look.

Solid specifications, but a bit pricey
According to AnandTech, the Surface 3 features the following specifications:

  • 10.8-inch 1920-by-1280 display
  • Intel Atom x7-8700
  • 64GB (with 2GB of RAM) or 128GB (with 4GB of RAM) storage options
  • LTE option
  • 3.5MP front-facing camera, 8MP rear-facing camera
  • 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity

The performance of this device, particularly the 128GB model, should be quite good. The new Atom should offer a solid improvement in CPU/graphics performance from the prior generation Surface 2.

Full compatibility with all traditional Windows applications should also be a huge selling point. Not only is this a win for customers who want to run traditional productivity applications, but the device should be able to run quite a lot of traditional Windows games at respectable performance/quality levels.

The lower storage/RAM model comes priced at $499 and the higher storage/RAM model costs an extra $100 at $599. Microsoft will also sell you a "Type Cover" (i.e., a keyboard) for an additional $130, so in order to get the full benefit of this device, it'll cost you either $629 or $729 depending on your storage/memory choice.

Much better than the Surface RT and Surface 2, for what it's worth
The Surface 3 is a huge step above what Microsoft delivered with the prior generation Surface RT and its successor, the Surface 2. It has an Atom processor that I think will deliver respectable performance in both Windows Store and traditional desktop applications, the latter point alone guaranteeing that it's vastly more functional than its predecessors.  

Further, I like what Microsoft is doing with the storage/RAM pricing. For an extra $100, Microsoft gives the customer twice as much storage and twice as much RAM (both of which should help with the longevity of the device), which I think is a compelling enough offer to drive a sell-up for users interested in this device.

The big question, then, is whether these improvements will be enough to make this device a "success" for Microsoft. I have no doubt that the Surface 3 will sell better than the prior Surface RT and Surface 2 by virtue of the fact that Microsoft is delivering a lot more value to the customer with this device than it did with the prior ones. Whether that'll be enough for Microsoft to turn a profit on Surface 3 -- after factoring in R&D and marketing spend -- time will tell.

Availability and, hey, where's the Surface Pro 4?
The Surface 3 is available for preorder now, with shipments of the Wi-Fi only models happening "by May 5th" and the LTE-capable models "by June 26th" according to Microsoft's website. This should be in-time for the back to school shopping season.

What I find interesting, though, is that Microsoft didn't announce an update to the current Surface Pro 3 models, which currently feature Intel's 4th generation Core processors, to include the recently launched 5th generation Core chips. In order to hit the back to school season, I expect Microsoft to either update the current Surface Pro 3 models to include the newer chips, or I expect a new industrial design based on those new chips or, perhaps, the lower-power Core M in order to enable a fanless design.