Please note, this is not an in-depth review of the Microsoft Surface Pro line-up. Such reviews have been written by many reviewers far more qualified to do so than I. This is more a “why it fits my needs” summary.
Power vs Portability
I’ve had several iterations of laptops over the course of my career. It seems I regularly alternated between power and portability. One laptop would be small and easy to carry, and after using it a few months, I’d find myself wishing for the power of my desktop. I would then get a more powerful laptop, only to find that I tended to take it with me less because of the weight and bulk. That would lead me back to shopping for lighter and more portable, and the cycle would repeat. It seemed the sweet-spot compromise just wasn’t out there for me.
Then one day in late 2015, I was visiting a local electronics store, and saw their display for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 system. It was displayed with the attachable keyboard detached to show off that capability. I was intrigued. I took the keyboard (technically called the Surface Pro Type Cover) off and on a few times, and it seemed easy enough to do. Then I wondered that, since it’s called a cover, if it can be reattached, so the cover goes to the back of the system. It could, and was very comfortable holding it as a tablet.
2 in 1 Computing
This was not a laptop, but appeared to be a tablet that could do double duty as a small laptop. It had me intrigued, so I went home and did some more research. This was a relatively new system from Microsoft that they touted as a “2 in 1” tablet/laptop computer, able to run the full blown Windows Home or Pro operating system. I was more intrigued.
The idea for a 2 in 1 (sometimes called a convertible) is pretty simple in theory, but was initially hard to actually implement.
Microsoft had offered some earlier models, the Surface Pro, and the Surface Pro 2, both running Windows 8 (or 8.1). From reviews I read, these were not very successful acting as a computer, and users were generally unhappy trying to use them as such. The biggest drawback was that those systems did not run natively designed traditional Windows desktop programs, and there were a limited number of apps developed for them.
Ironically, had the original Surface Pro, or the Surface Pro 2 been the first in the line I looked at, I doubt I would have looked much longer, and that probably would have ended my experiment with 2-in-1 computers.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Again, this is not meant to be a full review, but I’ll cover some of the specs of the computer. At the time I first looked (late 2015), the Surface Pro 3 came with Windows 10 Pro. This was no scaled down version of an OS, but the same Windows operating system that was on my current 17″ Dell Precision M6400 Workstation laptop (that was getting pretty long in the tooth.)
It came with a wide choice of cpu, memory and SSD storage options. I chose the Intel i5, with 8gb memory, and 256gb storage. I chose to increase the storage by adding a 128gb microSD card in a small slot behind the kickstand.
The built-in kickstand is well engineered, sturdy, and when closed is hardly noticeable, very nicely converting the computer into a tablet, albeit a fairly large one.
The computer has a 12″ screen, with an optional detachable keyboard (more on that further down). The keyboard doubles as a cover, and can be turned around and folder over the back when using as a tablet. I bought mine with the Type Cover.
A quick note on accessories. In short, they’re expensive. The type cover keyboard retails for $159; but you can regularly find it for $129, and sometimes as low as $100. I think the system is pretty useless without it, as it would be a very expensive tablet. The docking station retails for $259, but can pretty regularly be found in the $200 range.
I also purchased a docking station, so I could easily attach my external monitor and hard drives when I’m working at home. I find the 12″ screen fine for day to day use, even with my aging eyesight, but the extra real estate of a second monitor comes in handy for me. The system can support up to three displays (you must turn off the built in screen for the third display).
Finally, I would not recommend carrying this computer around without a case. They break easily. If you drop one, you can just about count on it coming up cracked – don’t ask me how I know. Get a case, or get an extended warranty. Maybe get both (I did, after mine came up broken). When you get a case, shop carefully. The first case I bought locks over the keyboard hinge, so it cannot be removed without removing the case. I seldom use mine without the keyboard, but I prefer my current case that allows it to be removed.
Laptop Satisfaction… Finally
From everything I had read before purchasing, Microsoft got things right with the 3rd attempt at the Surface Pro line. I was still a bit skeptical. I had purchased a few Microsoft branded hardware items in the past, and had not been impressed. After reading the reviews, I decided to take a chance, but I was fully prepared to be disappointed. I was far more impressed than I thought I would be.
I figured I’d play with it a couple of weeks, while keeping my more powerful system online for those times when the SP3 wouldn’t do what I needed. After a week of not needing the old laptop, I closed it up and cleared the space off my desk. After 6 months, I dug it back out (without having the need to use it) to make sure I had all the needed data off of it so I could wipe it and send it to a friend’s son.
I used my original Surface Pro 3 for about 2 years. My wife needed to update her very old Dell laptop, so she inherited my SP3, and I picked up Surface Pro 4. There were some minor design changes, primarily in the cooling capabilities, but basically it was a newer version of the same computer design that had become my favorite.
Surface Pro 7
I used the Surface Pro 4 for 3 years, and decided this year to treat myself to a Surface Pro 7. They offered it in black as well as silver, so I went with that just for a change. There are even more configuration options now, but I went with an i7 processor, 16gb memory, and 256gb storage. I opted for a 256 microSD card this time, so I’ve got have plenty of storage.
I asked my wife if she would like the Surface Pro 4 to replace her SP3, and she declined. She’s still happy with the performance of the computer. Her needs are pretty basic, but that’s not bad for a five year old system. So the SP4 went to our grand-daughter to use to do schoolwork at home during the pandemic shutdown. Her mother has already claimed it for hers when the kids go back to school.
One final note on the progression of the line, Microsoft has worked to ensure that the accessories are upwardly compatible with new devices (so far). The accessories I purchased for my original Surface Pro 3 all work with my current Surface Pro 7, 5 years later.
I’ve been very impressed with this line of computers, and use it for all of my personal use (I have a government issued computer that I’m required to use at work). My use includes a lot of web editing (primarily in WordPress), document writing, some graphics, light coding and database. I’m not a gamer, so I can’t offer advice in that area, and my graphics use is pretty light; but I do actually edit some videos on it with no problems.
For anything but occasional use, you’ll probably want to invest in at least an external monitor. If you have more than one or two external devices, you’ll probably want to purchase a docking station. Extra monitor(s), keyboard, mouse, a backup drive, maybe a hardwired printer, they all add up to a lot of plugging and unplugging.
This is a computer I’ve recommended to several friends, including my boss. All of them have that purchased came back singing its praises.