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Microsoft Surface 3 review

Hot on the heels of the T100 Chi review (I will refer to the T100 Chi as just the Chi from here on) I did I decided in spite of some of my reservations with the Surface to go ahead and grab one. It was on Black Friday sale for $140 off. Now even with that discount the surface is no bargoon. But I have heard so many people rant (pros and non pros alike) about the surface that I decided to try for myself. Now buying it and keeping it are two different things. The reality is that at $639 Vs $419 that I paid for the T100 Chi it has be better enough for me to justify it in my mind. And that by the way is WITHOUT a keyboard on the Surface (Vs with on the Chi). Which is another $150. But honestly, while I like the thinness and convenience of having the Surface’s type cover I am not sure I like the the feel of the keyboard. I guess I can make up my mind on that later. At $150 it is not a cheap keyboard. And of course I have my Lenovo Bluetooth keyboard that I love anyway …

My use case is for a general use tablet, used primarily on my lap, along with digital note taking using a stylus on the go, out and about. So a dual use device.

Say anything you want, but the physicals on the Surface really are a thing of beauty. The screen is bright and crisp. The materials all feel top quality.

Out of the box the Surface came with Windows 10. A first for me. The Chi had to be upgraded from Windows 8. The Surface also on first boot asked about setting up a PIN. Something that makes using a Windows tablet a whole lot more convenient. Why this has not come up at setup on any other device is a mystery and easy to setup anyways but none the less …

Weight wise the Surface weighs in at 622g (Vs 570 for the Chi). Not as light as other tablets but that is the price of having a solid well made tablet. Magnesium is heavier than plastic πŸ™‚

Thickness is 8.7mm (Vs 7.2mm on the Chi). The edges are angled Vs round. The added thickness and weight are noticeable.

The surface’s screen is 10.8″ (Vs 10.1 for the Chi). Of course this unique size means none of the universal 10 inch tablet cases fit. Resolution is 1920×1280 (Vs 1920×1200 for the T100 Chi). I applaud Microsoft (and Asus) for making a higher resolution device. So many others are not … This really is a VERY good screen for the market. I am at the point where this is something that is a decision maker for me (screen resolution).

Jack wise the tablet comes with a microUSB charging port (which also can function as USB OTG), a full size USB 3 port (yay!), a display port (pooh, I would have WAY preferred an HDMI port) and a standard 3.5mm audio jack. There is a dock you can get for it that adds ports and makes it even more convenient. There is a power button on the top of the unit that is very well designed and easy to press, probably one of the better ones on the market. It’s a small thing but makes it a whole lot less irritating than pressing the button a couple times before the darn thing powers on (which happens sometimes on my T100). There is no physical Windows key, instead there is a soft key on the front of the screen which for me is WAY better anyway. A much better choice.

The power adapter on this one is different than other Surfaces, it is a standard microUSB rated at 5.2V 2.5A or 13W. The positive is that it is not a proprietary adapter, you can use a normal cell phone charger with it. The negative is you are limited in the current that could be used to charge the device faster. It does have a nice light to show you it is charging but the light does not change color once fully charged. The tablet went from 57% to 93% in 1 hr 52 mins which would extrapolate out to 5.2 hours to charge from dead (down from 7.1 on the Chi).

The mini display port can be converted to HDMI (including audio) or VGA or DVI with converters which are sold inexpensively on Amazon ($10-20). I bought a VicTsing (that’s the brand name) off of Amazon for $14. It has both HDMI out as well as VGA. Both work fine, but I decided to try both at the same time. Oops bad idea. It consistently crashed the Surface :=(
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The HDMI by the way did include the audio, and muted the speakers on the tablet so it worked perfectly. Amazon also have smaller ones with just HDMI (or just VGA) as well. It is one more dongle to carry around, but your not carrying around a USB OTG cable so I guess it’s a wash πŸ™‚ There are a number of what are called MST hubs that can take the single mini display port and drive two monitors (such as a Startech MSTMDP122DP). The Surface apparently supports up to three.

The tablet is sold with 2G Ram/64G SSD or 4G Ram/128G SSD. The one I bought is 4G/128 and was $139 more than the 2G/64. I could care less about the extra SSD but the RAM was important to me.

The SSD on it gets 33.5MB/s write and 66.7MB/s read (Vs 32/78 for the Chi). So very similar. I had hoped this would be an area Microsoft would have spent some cash on to justify the elevated price and given the tablet a performance edge. Sadly … not. This is a rare area where the surface is a me too product.

The kickstand is a throwback to past surfaces in that it is not infinitely adjustable. Behind the kickstand is the microSD slot, which you could easily miss if you didn’t know it was there. The kickstand works well on hard surfaces but really was never made for your lap. I have to say I was surprised the kickstand did not bother me on my lap as much as I thought it would.

One of the big pluses of the Surface is the pen. The Surface 3 pen is $49. The newer pen for the Surface 4 is compatible with the Surface 3, but is a lot more expensive, $79. It includes new functionality within OneNote including an eraser on the top of the pen and programmable buttons. This is now the third generation of pen for the surface and it keeps getting better. Microsoft keep evolving it nicely. The Surface 4 pen now includes a light when pairing (so you know its doing something), can be twisted at the top to turn it off (brilliant) and the button on the top has more functionality. Why this can’t be achieved through software on the older pens is beyond me, but none the less, the button on the top when pressed and rubbed acts as an eraser, single push the button and OneNote (metro version) is launched, double click it and the you get a screen clipping tool. All very nice. The button on the side of the pen is now a lot more recessed. This is good and bad. First of all it’s much less common to push it by accident but it is also harder to find/press when you really want it. And there are no longer two buttons on the pen (as there is on the surface 3 pen) there is only one. The pen tip can easily be replaced and their are three different pen tip sizes that come along in the box. There is no argument the pen on the Surface is the best in the business. If you have to have a pen this is the one to have. But given that others come pretty close, is it enough to justify the premium extracted for this device (and the pen itself)? That’s up to you to decide. Considering how most of the other vendors leave you on a magical (or frustrating) quest to find a pen for your tablet and replacement parts, Microsoft embrace the tech of the stylus! Interestingly, of the few people I know with Surfaces, a number of them rarely if ever use the pen 😦

On the T100 Chi the USB 3 port seemed to be limited and capped out at 50MB/s. On the Surface no such burden, I managed 123MB/s out of a USB flash stick (limited by the speed of the flash stick) that gets about the same on other computers. This is important if you are going to use a docking station (for video and the like) or want to add a hub etc. Sadly the microSD slot is still limited. On the card capable of 48 MB/s I only get 29 MB/s. Same was true on the Chi.

I went to download Chrome and Google wanted to load the 32 bit version. Being the bright light bulb I am I decided to go with the 64 bit version since the Surface is running 64 bit Windows. Sadly 64 bit chrome ran like a dog, was jittery and scrolling was a throw back to days past. Uninstalled 64 bit and went back to 32 bit and all is now well with the world. This was going to be a show stopper. I use Chrome all the time on all my devices.

The Surface does not have a built in GPS so you can not use it as an in car GPS. Frankly the 10″ is too big anyway so no big loss there. The T100s don’t have one either btw …

The Surface is the first device I have seen that had hibernate set by default. It was set to 6 hours. Why this isn’t the default for all Windows tablets is a mystery to me. Leave your tablet in connected standby mode and eventually it will be dead. Why not use hibernate for long periods of inactivity? Hibernate is still not an option on the power drop down but can easily be added.

In 6 hours in connected standby the battery went down 9% or 1.5%/hr. The T100 chi was better at 1% per hour.

I’d love to have a laundry list of things I don’t like about the Surface. if price was not an option than this review would be dead easy. But who doesn’t have more things to buy than money will pay for? Places to go, things to see, wine to be drunk, food to be eaten … The Surface is an amazing device. Probably one of the best Windows tablets to date, even without the stellar pen. Performance is good, display is excellent, reliability is above average. Lets do a comparison with the T100 Chi:

Physicals:
Well this one goes to the T100 Chi. With it’s included great keyboard, infinite angles for the display, thinner and lighter form factor T100 Chi is hands down the winner. And it’s lighter too. Since the Chi is more of a standard size my universal 10″ cases also work. So I would need to buy a case just for the Surface, yet another expense

Processor:
The Surface wins this one with the Cherry trail supporting 4G of memory and faster than the Bay Trail in the T100. But in reality the performance difference even comparing 2G Vs 4G of Ram is not night and day.

Display/SSD:
A wash. So similar as to be identical.

Jacks/ports:
Connecting to the outside world is important. The Surface gets the nod for having a full size USB 3 and not limited in speed. The T100 Chi gets the nod for including HDMI but a $20 adapter renders this moot.

Pen:
The pen on the t100 chi is fine, but just does not compete in the same league as the surface. The palm rejection on the T100 is definitely more hokey than on the surface. And the run around I got from Asus about the pen, the hours burned researching what pen actually worked, and how good it was is really a complete waste of consumers time (frankly any sane person would have given up). Asus really need to learn better customer support while they still have customers like me to kick about …

Cost:
Well this one is also dead easy, hands down winner is the Chi. For the Surface even at the reduced price it was $599 + $79 pen (the Chi’s was $49) + $150 keyboard (included on the Chi) + $15 display port to HDMI converted $20 (Vs $5 USB OTG cable for the Chi). Sheesh.

And now the conundrum, I surely don’t need both the T100 Chi (as well as my older T100 TA) as well as the Surface. What to do …

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December 3, 2015 - Posted by | Windows tablets

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