With Surface Pro 3 and no Mini, Microsoft delights and disappoints
Today's Microsoft event in New York City was something of a mixed bag with its fair share of highs and lows. There was an obvious highlight -- the Surface Pro 3. It was a highlight for two reasons. Firstly, despite expectations to the contrary, this was in fact the only device to be announced today. Secondly, at least in terms of looks and specification, it's bloody amazing. But there were at least a couple of low points. No Surface Mini, and the frankly bonkers, nuts, crazy, mad Surface Pro 3 pricing.
The Pro side of Microsoft's Surface range has long been criticized for being a little on the pricey side, but the third generation takes things to the extreme. At the top end of the scale -- a rather juicy sounding Intel Core i7 device packing 8GB RAM and 512 GB of storage -- you'll need to save up an astonishing $1,949. Panos Panay made a great deal of noise about how this is the tablet that can replace your laptop. For that price, I should flippin' well hope so. For that price I can buy a top of the range laptop and still have enough left over to buy a decent tablet. I could even venture into Apple territory if I was feeling a little saucy...
Sure, there are cheaper models available, starting off with the 'entry level' version with Intel Core i3, 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage -- but even this will set you back $799. That's a lot to ask for a bottom of the range device. A heck of a lot. Yes, it's sleek and sexy looking, but Microsoft is already facing an uphill battle winning people over to Windows 8.1. Could this be the reason Windows 8.1 Update lowered the system requirements for the operating system? And don’t forget -- the price you pay for the Surface Pro 3 is only the start. For the asking price you get a tablet. But this is meant to be able to replace your laptop.
What do laptops have? Keyboards! While a cheap and cheerful wireless keyboard can be picked up for a few dollars, if you're really going to show your Surface love, you're going to need a Type Cover. Yours for a mere $129.99. So the price of an entry-level Surface Pro 3 jumps up to $929.98. That's a lot of f-oldin' money; no two ways about it. At the top end of the market you're looking at over two grand for a fancy tablet. That's a lot of Nexus 7s or iPad minis!
But still I love it. There is so much right about Surface Pro 3 that it is possible to forgive the pricing insanity. I'm not going to rush out and buy one -- my first generation Surface Pro serves me well, thank you very much -- but the point is… I want to. Microsoft may not have quite reached the aspirational highs of Apple products, but Surface Pro 3 is getting there. It is expensive, but it knows and doesn’t give a damn. If you want this baby, you’re going to have to pay for it!
With this iteration of the Surface Pro, Microsoft has introduced a lot of enticements. The new screen ratio is very appealing. Widescreen may be very a la mode, but Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 did take things to the extreme. The 3:2 aspect ratio provides a more comfortable resolution, and the 2160x1440 is not short of a pixel or two. Nine hours of battery life (obviously a theoretical maximum), may not quite be the all-day performance everyone hopes for, but it's getting there.
I'm quite enamored with the SP3 -- as I've decided to call it, recalling days of XP Service Packs -- but is it enticing enough to compel me to upgrade from my first gen model? Well, yes, it is -- but there's a catch. The screen looks incredible, the kickstand is a great leap forward from the single position unit I use, and the whole thing is thinner, lighter, and generally lovelier.
But as lovely as all of these features are, I'm not sure there is quite enough to draw me in. The undoubted stumbling block is the price. I fear heavy narcotics may have been involved in dreaming up those figures. My problem is, what 'extra' would I be getting for my money -- is that worth it. And, sadly, it's not. My trusty Surface Pro is a workhorse -- but there's little that the top of the range SP3 can do that I can't already. The (slight) extra turn of speed and additional storage space is not worth two grand of my money? Microsoft is going to have a battle on its hands convincing significant numbers of people that it's a worthwhile investment. In truth, it is worthwhile, but it is a colossal outlay for what is, ultimately, just a very nice laptop -- and one that, despite protestations to the contrary, does involve making compromises. Microsoft wants to simultaneously compete with everyone and no one with the SP3, but it really ends up being a very expensive gamble for anyone who is tempted.