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Why Microsoft couldn't fully realize its Surface vision until Surface Pro 3

Brad Chacos | May 22, 2014
Surface head Panos Panay bounced around the stage at Microsoft's Surface event on Tuesday, bubbling over with enthusiasm as he detailed the Surface Pro 3's sleekness and power and fancy-pants digitizer pen. And why shouldn't he? The Surface Pro 3 is clearly the Surface that Panay and his crew has dreamed of building ever since Microsoft decided to leap feet-first into the mobile hardware game.

The Surface Pro 2 needed to atone for the sins of its forefather. The Surface Pro 3, with its larger display and additional years under its belt, does not — and it shows.

The true Surface arrives

Two years after the original Surface announcement, the Surface Pro 3 is a shining example of what is possible now that Microsoft has embraced a "rapid-fire" continuous development model and hardware truly capable of supporting the Surface vision is available.

Two major upgrades — the original Windows 8.1 update and the horribly named, uh, Windows 8.1 Update — overhauled the vanilla Windows 8 experience to the point that the operating system is no longer a burden to use, no matter whether you're using the desktop or the Modern interface and Windows Store apps. Speaking of which: Apps are slowly starting to fill the shelves of the Windows Store, and yet another future update promises to allow you use those Windows Store apps in proper desktop Windows if you so choose — a boon for a device as deeply versatile as the Surface Pro 3.

But the fruits of the rapid-fire development cycle didn't end there. The Surface Pro 3 measures just 0.35-inch thick sans Type Cover — a hair fatter than the 0.29-inch iPad air yet far thinner than the MacBook Air's 0.68-inch peak. The Surface Pro 3 is "the thinnest [Intel] Core product ever created," Panay beamed during the reveal.

Achieving that sleekness required building Surface Pro 3 from the ground up for Haswell, all while learning from the design mistakes of the previous Surface Pros. Panay says the Surface team redesigned the SP2's fan to make the Surface Pro 3's cooling system 30 percent more efficient, which minimizes bulk. (Being able to spread the heat over a larger 12-inch tablet probably didn't hurt, either.) As a result, Microsoft offers Surface Pro 3 configurations packing top-of-the-line Core i7 processors, which never made an appearance in the first two Surface generations.

Cramming a hulking Core i7 laptop-grade processor into a 0.35-inch tablet is nothing short of amazing.

The Surface Pro 3 also features a custom, ultra-thin display stack; a vastly improved kickstand with a "full friction" hinge that lets you lean the tablet anywhere from 22 to 150 degrees, ditching the limited angle options of past Pros; a Type Cover accessory with a hinged edge to accommodate that now-variable lean and a focus on improving the trackpad experience; an included N-trig digitizer pen that deeply integrates with OneNote; and a OneNote installation that itself deeply integrates with Windows and Microsoft's cloud services. "Every single Surface Pro 3 that comes off of the line is custom machined," Panay crowed.


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