A Microsoft Surface tablet for $499? Sweet!
That was the news this week as the popular Surface Pro 3 was joined by a smaller, more affordable, sibling: the Surface 3. Microsoft’s idea, no doubt, is to cater to users needing less power and a lower starting price than $799, the cost of entry for a Pro 3.
Okay, so what does $500 buy you, Surface-wise? An Intel Atom x7 (Cherry Trail) processor, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 10.8-inch display. It comes with full-on Windows 8.1 (not Windows RT, may it rot in hell), and of course you’ll be able to upgrade it for free to Windows 10 come summer.
The Surface 3 weighs about 1.4 pounds and measures almost exactly one-third of an inch thick. It’s built using the same magnesium casing as the Pro 3. And it comes with a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal, a $70 perk.
The Tablet That Can Replace Your Laptop — For a Price
It all sounds pretty good so far, but here’s where I want to shake Microsoft by the shoulders and yell, “Why don’t you get it?!” See, like all Surface tablets before it, the Surface 3 does not include a keyboard. If you want one, that’ll be another $130. Oh, and the much-ballyhooed Surface pen? Another $50, please.
Now your $500 tablet costs $680. This keyboard-sold-separately approach continues to infuriate me to my very core, especially when I see Microsoft’s ads and commercials crowing about “the tablet that can replace your laptop.” It’s like Chevy touting “the scooter that can* replace your truck.”
*Steering wheel not included.
Granted, some people may buy the Surface 3 for use primarily as a tablet, though I’m hard-pressed to understand why. Windows make little sense in tablet form, and in fact it’s subject to all the same hassles as desktop/laptop Windows: viruses, driver glitches, performance that degrades over time, and maddening OS issues that exist to this day (and will probably continue to do so in Windows 10).
Target Market, Thy Name Is…?
So that leaves people who consider the Surface 3 an affordable Ultrabook alternative. But once you factor in the keyboard, it makes more sense to just buy an Ultrabook outright. For example, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is, comparatively speaking, a powerhouse, with an Intel Core M-5Y10 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, and a 13.3-inch screen. Oh, and a keyboard. List price: $699.
Let’s flip it the other way and do a straight-up tablet comparison. Indeed, based on price alone, one can’t help but look at the Surface 3 next to Apple’s iPad Air 2, which also starts at $499. The iPad gives you a smaller screen (9.7 inches) and one-fourth the storage, and obviously it doesn’t come with a keyboard, either. Or, for that matter, a USB port, microSD slot, or kickstand. There’s no denying Microsoft gives you a lot more bang for the tablet buck.
Just one thing, though: The iPad is intended to be a tablet. Apple doesn’t position it as anything else. Microsoft wants you to use the Surface 3 for all your computing tasks, which is fine if you add a keyboard. If you don’t, you’re left with what I consider a pretty mediocre tablet, one with a fraction of the apps you’re likely to want.
I’m all in favor of a more affordable Surface, especially one that runs full-bore Windows and not an app-only version. And that $499 price tag is awfully appealing — right up until you have to add $130 for a keyboard. Which you’ll almost certainly want. You just lost me as a customer, Microsoft.
Photo credits: Microsoft