After Two Months, Does the Surface Pro 3 Keep Its Shine?

I’ve been using a Surface Pro 3 more or less as my main personal computer for the last two months. It has been an interesting experience, to say the least. I have found that pretty much anything I did regularly on my Mac or iPad can be done with this device, not that it should come as too much of a surprise. Of all the computing platforms, Windows has always had the largest selection of software.

The Surface Pro 3 does falter in the usual Windows ways, of course. You don’t get software like iTunes, iPhoto, or iMovie with it. Oh, you get a media player and you can download software to do basic photo and video editing, but Apple’s media apps are far more user-friendly.

One of the main reasons I switched to the Surface Pro 3 was to get my hands on an ultra-light device to use with Scrivener, my writing software of choice. An iOS version has been in the works for over two years, but its development has been hit with frequent delays. There are ways to edit Scrivener documents on the iPad, but they are neither elegant nor simple. They also do not support many non-text functions that Scrivener provides, such as archiving of research, outlines, and note cards.

The Surface Pro 3 appealed to me because it can serve double-duty as a tablet and a laptop. Most real work still requires a laptop, at least part of the time, but tablets outshine them when it comes to reading. Writers spend a lot of time reading their work (and the work of others), so having a single device that can excel at both is invaluable. Although I certainly pondered pairing my iPad Air with a MacBook Air, such a combo would weigh almost twice that of a single Surface Pro 3, and be far more cumbersome.

It is also nice to be able to play games on a tablet. The iPad has lots of games, true, but not as many as Windows, and most games on iOS are nowhere near the caliber of their PC brethren. More than that, as a fan of retro games, I can also emulate classics that I otherwise couldn’t easily carry with me on the go.

I am currently looking at moving my iPhoto library to Lightroom; it’s not as simple a task as it should be, and syncing the data between my MacBook Pro and Surface Pro 3 is not going to be easy, so I’ve put it off for the time being. I’ve dabbled with Lightroom, which is basically iPhoto for professionals, so I have no doubt it can take iPhoto’s place.

It takes a little while to get used to how the Surface Pro operates. It has separate interfaces for touch-focused tablet-style apps and traditional Windows software. The app store for touch-based software still doesn’t hold a candle to what’s available on iOS or Android, and the market is full of fake and unofficial apps. Google doesn’t support the platform at all. You can still access their services via the “classic” Windows side, but it’s shocking to see there still isn’t an official YouTube app! It’s not an insurmountable problem, but it is a little annoying.

In fact, I have only two issues with the Surface Pro 3 at this point: it still has unreliable wireless functionality, and it’s unreasonably fragile. Let’s start with the simple one first: sometimes, when you wake the Surface Pro 3 from sleep, WiFi and Bluetooth stop working. The OS insists no hardware for this functionality is available. A restart fixes the issue, and the device restarts very quickly, but it’s incredibly annoying, and happens with frustrating regularity. The issue presents itself almost daily. Microsoft has put out several firmware updates, none of which have addressed this issue. It’s annoying, and it has gotten old. It needs to be fixed. If it’s a hardware issue, then there needs to be a recall/repair program. Wireless connectivity is not optional or trivial in 2014.

The bigger complaint I have — and it’s one that makes me reexamine my suggestion that others purchase the device — is that it is shockingly delicate. The Surface Pro 3 marks the first time I have broken a portable device since I was in middle school. I’ve owned eight personal laptops, four work laptops, three tablets, fourteen portable gaming consoles, and nine cell phones since 1998. I have never broken any of them. Part of the reason I am able to afford such nice hardware is that I take really good care of it and sell it when it still holds a reasonable value.

I dropped the Surface Pro 3 from less than two feet, and the screen entirely shattered, rendering it unusable. Granted, a drop is a drop, but nearly every device takes a short tumble or two in its lifetime. I have dropped my iPads in exactly the same way as my Surface Pro 3 (not often, mind you, but once or twice, sure), and they have nary a scratch to mark the ordeal. It’s not just me. IFixIt did a teardown of the Surface Pro 3, as they do for every major consumer electronics device, and found it to be one of the most delicate things they ever worked on. They could not keep from breaking the screen while trying to remove it.

Further compounding this issue is Microsoft’s handling of it. Although they offer a $300 replacement service, you have to mail the device to them and wait for them to mail back another one. Even if you go to a Microsoft Store, they will only offer to mail it out for you. It’s frustrating, because I know that if I walk into an Apple Store for the same service, I’ll walk out with another device in that same trip. When you pay a premium price for a product, you expect premium service to go with it. The representative at the Microsoft Store I visited was able to get his manager’s approval to swap my device in-store, which I greatly appreciated. However, I can’t guarantee you'll have the same experience.

If you purchase it from them directly, Microsoft offers a $150 insurance plan on the Surface Pro 3. It covers a single accident. I usually don’t recommend insurance policies on hardware, but in this case, I’d take it. It’s a useful, exciting device, but it pretty much the polar opposite of robust. The knowledge of its fragility makes me reconsider the reliability of the device. I still really like it, but the honeymoon is over.

Posted on September 1, 2014 .