Microsoft's flagship tablet series has a lot to offer people looking for a mobile computer as a Christmas gift this holiday season. The Surface 3 is the counterpart to Microsoft's higher-end Surface Pro 3, which has parts similar to those found in full-powered laptops.
The Surface 3 is designed to go head-to-head with mainstream tablets from manufacturers like Samsung and Apple, which is reflected in its focus on design. The tablet has dimensions of 10.5 x 7.4 x 0.34 inches and a weight of 1.4 pounds.
In our hands-on testing, we found a lot to like about the tablet's build quality. The smooth metal case gives the Surface 3 a premium appearance, and it's helped with support for connectivity options like USB and microSD. An 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and 3.5-megapixel front-facing camera produced decent image quality in sample photos.
The tablet's weight and dimensions limit it compared to smaller competing tablets – the bulk can be difficult to handle for some users – but this is slightly offset by the solid 10-inch 1920 x 1080 display. In our hands-on testing, the screen cleanly handled tasks like displaying text and high-definition photos.
The Surface comes preinstalled with Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft's operating system. The update refreshes popular aspects of Windows, including Internet Explorer and search commands. Windows 10 maintains the company's unique approach toward its operating system layout. Like past versions, Windows 10 is built for both touchscreen and non-touchscreen devices. Tablet mode works like most tablet displays and features large scrollable icons with touch-friendly functionality. By comparison, the Surface's standard mode works like past Windows computers with features like the Start menu and a mouse-based design.
However, some of Windows' features stumble because of the Surface's accessory limitations. The tablet's Type Cover – a combination keyboard-cover – and Surface Pen stylus aren't included with the Surface. While the Surface can still be used without either accessory, the stylus and keyboard make the Surface a powerful and versatile tablet.
Elsewhere, the Surface benefits from stronger-than-average specifications for a standard tablet. Microsoft offers configurations that feature 64GB or 128GB of internal storage, along with 2GB or 4GB of memory. The Surface's storage can also be supplemented with microSD cards. Cellular data plans can be added on for an additional fee.
The Surface relies on Intel's Atom series of processors, which provide enough speed for tasks like web browsing and basic work. They're a notable step behind the Surface Pro, which uses Intel's Core series for faster performance comparable to a full-powered laptop. This is beneficial if you want to use the Surface for applications like gaming, photo editing or illustrating. Still, if you're only looking to do basic tasks on your tablet, the Surface has beneficial flexibility.
Ultimately, the Surface's biggest strengths come from its ability to bridge the divide between traditional laptops and tablets. While the Surface isn't without some occasional missteps, the Microsoft tablets remains an excellent way for Windows users to make the jump into tablet computing.