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If you can’t decide between a laptop or a tablet, you no longer have to — the Microsoft Surface Tablet provides the best of both worlds, in one easy device.
But what isn’t so easy is deciding which Surface you will choose, as there are several models and sizes of the Surface. Where do you start? Which one is better? Which one is more suited for you?
At BestReviews, we make your purchasing decisions easier by providing thorough, unbiased analysis of different products.
If you’re ready to buy a Surface tablet, check out the matrix up above; it features five of the best Microsoft Surface tablets, and describes their most attractive features.
If you need a little more information about these dual-purpose tablets, read on through the following shopping guide.
At first glance, you might think a Surface tablet is missing some vital pieces. It looks like nothing more than a flat screen.
However, that screen is touch-enabled, and can be used for many tasks without any additional hardware; simply touch the screen, and you’re working in tablet mode. Attach a keyboard and you have a laptop computer.
For fans of the Windows operating system, it’s an ideal product as it allows them to continue to work — and play — in a comfortable, familiar environment.
A soft sleeve is an inexpensive way to protect your Surface tablet. The Type Cover provides more sturdy protection, as well as a keyboard.
Microsoft first announced the Surface hybrid in 2012. Incorporating the Windows OS, it's their first PC to be both designed and distributed in-house.
The first model introduced was the Surface for Windows RT, and the second was the Surface for Windows 8 Pro, based on the Intel processor. They were both launched alongside Windows 8. The 128GB version sold out on the same day it was released.
Microsoft has continued to regularly release even more versions of the Surface. While the Surface 3 ceased production in December, 2016, the product line continues to expand. In addition to the original tablet design, the line also includes laptops, notebooks, desktops, and an interactive whiteboard.
If you upgrade from an earlier version of Surface tablet, the same keyboard cover may not work with a newer version. Check to see if your old one will fit before purchasing.
When you’re deciding between the Surface 3, Surface Pro 3, and Surface Pro 4, consider the following specifications to determine which model will perform to your needs.
The Surface 3 has a 10.8-inch display and is 1920 x 1280 pixels. The Surface Pro 3 has a 12-inch display and is 2160 x 1440 pixels, while the Pro 4 is 12.3 inches and 2736 x 1824.
The Surface 3 also has support for 10-point multi-touch input, as does the Surface Pro 4. Multi-touch input means the screen recognizes more than one point of contact (from fingers or a stylus) at one time, and 10-point indicates exactly that — the touchscreen can interpret ten touches simultaneously.
Not everyone wants to use a touchscreen all the time. If you feel the need to make a Surface tablet more like a laptop, you can add a mouse, either plugged into the USB port or via Bluetooth.
Because of the difference in display size, the tablets are also different in overall size.
The Surface 3 is 10.51 x 7.36 x 0.34 inches, and weighs 1.37 pounds. The Surface Pro 3 is 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36 inches, weighing 1.76 pounds. The Pro 4 is a little thinner at 0.33 inches. The m3 option is lighter at 1.69 pounds, while the i5 and i7 weigh in at 1.73 pounds.
The kickstand on the Surface 3 allows only three different positions, while the kickstand on the Surface Pros is fully adjustable to any angle.
The USB port enables an infinite number of possibilities for adding peripherals, such as external drives.
This is where you’ll see the biggest difference.
The Surface 3 integrates the 1.6 GHz Intel Atom x70Z8700 CUP, with either 2GB or 4GB of RAM. The Surface Pro 3, however, includes Intel chipsets, either i3, i5, or i7, and up to 8GB of RAM, while the Surface Pro 4 offers Core m3, Core i5, or Core i7, and up to 1TB of RAM.
What does this mean to you? Simply put, the Surface Pro 4 performs faster than the Surface Pro 3, which performs faster than the Surface 3.
With the Surface 3 you have options of 64GB or 128GB solid state drives (SSDs), while with the Pro 3 you have either 256GB or 512GB. The Pro 4 adds 128GB and 1TB options. The interpretation: you can save a lot of photos and documents on these tablets.
If you find that your Microsoft Surface tablet doesn’t have enough storage, all you need to do is add a microSD card.
The Surface 3 offers a little more here. It includes an option for 4G, which isn’t available in the Pro models. All three offer WiFi connectivity, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, a USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, and microSD card reader. And while you are forced to use the power cord that ships with the Pro models, you can use any non-Apple smartphone or tablet cable you have lying around for the Surface 3.
All three of these Surface models claim to provide “up to nine hours” of battery life. Of course, battery life varies based on a number of factors. Some applications drain your battery faster than others. Display brightness and WiFi connectivity also have an impact; the brighter your screen, the more power needed.
Virus protection via Windows Defender is included in the software. Use it to keep your device and information safe.
All three Surface tablets run Windows 10. Pre-installed along with the operating system are apps such as Mail, Calendar, People, Xbox, Photos, Movies and TV, Groove, and Microsoft Edge.
With the Surface 3 you get an 8MP rear camera and 3.5MP front camera. The Pro 3 offers 5MP cameras both front and rear, while the Pro 4 offers an 8MP rear camera and a 5MP camera in the front.
All three models offer a one-year limited hardware warranty.
For the most part, what separates a Surface tablet from an iPad is the operating system. The iPad uses Apple’s mobile OS, the same that’s on the iPhone. The Surface uses Windows, Microsoft’s desktop and laptop OS. This means you can use the same apps on the Surface that you use on your desktop or laptop.
Like most tablets, some accessories are options. Plan your budget to include pricing for items you may want to add to your Surface purchase.
The Surface Pen is a stylus that works with all three Surface tablets, as well as other Surface devices. However, it is sold separately with the Surface 3, while it’s included with the Pros.
While the Surface ships with a one-year extended service plan, you can boost it up to two years as an option.
You are not restricted to using Microsoft’s Surface Pen. Any capacitive pen will work on a Surface tablet.
After your investment in a Surface tablet, protect it with a cover or sleeve. Microsoft offers a Type Cover, combining a screen protector and a keyboard.
A keyboard is not included with the Surface tablets, but many consider it almost a necessity. Factor this into your total cost when you are looking at the price of a Surface.
If you plan on doing professional work or school work on your Surface tablet, you’ll do well adding an Office 365 subscription for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneDrive, and Skype PC.
The Microsoft Surface Type Cover allows you to add a keyboard instantly, turning your tablet into a laptop.
The pricing structure on the Surface tablets is pretty straightforward. Newer models, with the fastest components and best technical options, are more expensive. With the Surface 3 no longer in production, it is your cheapest option. The Surface Pro 4 is, of course, the most expensive option.
Each particular model also breaks down to different levels of pricing, depending on the processor speed, RAM, and storage options.
For example, a Surface Pro 4 with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB hard drive will be cheaper than a Surface Pro 4 with a faster processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of hard drive space.
Q. Do the Surface Tablets handle multitasking?
A. Yes. The Surface 3, Surface Pro 3, and Surface Pro 4 all multitask quite well to help you work more productively. A device with a faster processor and greater RAM will multitask more effectively than one with a slower processor or less RAM.
Q. Is a Surface tablet cheaper than a laptop?
A. There is no steadfast rule. It all depends on which options are included on both devices. And remember, to make the Surface function as a laptop you need to buy accessories, which add on to the price.
Q. How seamless is the transformation between the tablet and laptop modes?
A. It’s very seamless. There is no OS change, rebooting, or anything else of that nature. It’s just a matter of attaching the Type Cover, which includes a keyboard. With that attached the Surface acts like a laptop with a touchscreen. Without, it’s more like a tablet.
Q. Can a Surface tablet replace my laptop?
A. In terms of software it certainly can. There really is no difference. However, you pick up the ability to also use it as a tablet.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.