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Microsoft Surface Pro 3 looks like a great device for students

Panos Panay of Microsoft
Panos Panay of Microsoft
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Microsoft announced on May 20, 2014 the latest version of the Surface Pro tablet. The Surface Pro 3 is much more than just a refresh of the previous Surface Pro 2. It is a larger tablet than the Surface Pro 2, but lighter, thinner, and more powerful. Perhaps the most important overall impression of the Surface 3 is that it closes the gap between laptop and tablet functionality. This tablet is a device squarely aimed at productivity which is well aligned to the needs of students.

While form factor is not everything, it is important. The Surface Pro 3 is a 12 inch tablet. The larger screen also sports a 3:2 aspect ratio, which is analogous to the size of a sheet of paper. It is difficult to argue that a larger screen is much more comfortable to work with. For those that become concerned with the increasing weight as the screen size increases, this device is much lighter and thinner than the previous Surface Pro 2, and is also lighter than the MacBook Air.

The functionality of the Surface Pro 3 is where this device has no rival. Microsoft has continued to move away from ARM based tablet processors, using Intel chips. This device will be available in several CPU configurations to include the i3, i5, or i7 Intel Haswell chips. These processors are typically used in laptops, so the power of the Surface Pro 3 in any configuration should be superb. Notably, the Surface Pro 3 will use a new fanless CPU that reduces heat by 30%. The fanless CPU is, in part, what allows for the much thinner profile.

The killer feature in the Surface Pro 3 is really the HD screen technology with an active digitizer. The new stylus pen and screen technology will allow for the smoothest and most natural writing experience of any tablet. Writing notes is key to students, as is annotating text while reading for information. The ability to write naturally without latency appears to be a standout feature of the Surface Pro 3. Microsoft has really put a lot of effort into designing a tablet that can be used in place of paper for writing notes. Using a fine tipped pen with no screen lag is essential to a natural writing process. Combined with the 12 screen, taking notes or annotating text should be an outstanding user experience. This feature alone should raise the eyebrows of students considering tablets.

The Surface Pro 3 continues to use the full version of Windows 8.1. There is no need for compromise in software options when using this tablet. Simply put, one can run any type of Windows software just as they would on a laptop or desktop PC. This is arguably a computer that can replace a laptop in terms of CPU power and ability to run software.

The keyboard cover has been made thinner too. It also has a new type of hinge that will make the keyboard more stable when the device rests on a lap. More notably, the keyboard has a redesigned track pad that is larger and more responsive. Some applications really need mouse functionality and a cursor. The ability to type effortlessly and naturally has been addressed with this keyboard attachment, and is a must have to make the device complete.

The size of the screen also makes it possible to display two windows simultaneously. Opening a text document and having a very functional writing surface alongside will be a tremendous opportunity for students. In class notes are often accompanied by referencing text documents, or perhaps websites, making this feature of Windows highly desirable.

Despite the functionality that is well aligned to the needs of students, price is always the mitigating factor. This device starts at $799 with the i3 processor. For most students, this is plenty powerful. Adding the keyboard touch cover is $129. However you slice it, this device is expensive. Perhaps not for a business person on the go, but for students and schools, it might simply be too much cost. One could purchase a laptop for considerably less. It would be hyperbole to suggest any tablet is a must have for any student, but for any student wanting to use a tablet, this is a very good choice considering how well it is aligned with productivity needs.

While Microsoft continues to push the envelope on tablet productivity, the other competing hardware vendors have not kept pace. That means there are really no competitive products at less cost. If one wants the power, screen size, and functionality included in the Surface Pro 3, this is the only choice currently. It is likely that other hardware vendors will introduce competing products over time, but for now, this is it. The standard comparison on price is most often the Apple Air. Considering the price of the newest iPad Air, the Surface Pro is considerably more expensive, but offers unique features that are unmet by the iPad. It becomes a value proposition in the end. Take the price out of the equation, and one could make a very compelling case for the Surface Pro 3 as a superior tablet technology for use in educational settings.

For schools and students in higher education or secondary levels, it is likely that the writing features of the Surface Pro 3, larger screen, lighter weight, full version of the Windows operating system, and integrated keyboard cover will be compelling considerations. In all likelihood, passing on this device will be all about cost, not functionality.