Surface 3: What iPad?

I got an iPad earlier this year. An Air 2. A somewhat frivolous purchase on my part, as I tend to make occasionally. It was to be used as an easier, lighter option to take notes and such during my classes and to watch TV and such where an actual TV couldn’t be found. It served this purpose very well for several months.

For note-taking, I have recently become addicted to online note management tools like Evernote, so I got a Wacom Bamboo Stylus Fineline pen to use with the iPad. the relationship between me, my iPad, and the pen became tempestuous, at best. The pen had to be charged frequently, the lack of a digitizer on the iPad made for shitty handwriting, and no app seemed to have palm rejection that worked in any way shape or form. The best app I came across was Noteshelf, which made the best of the capabilities of the pen and was super easy to use, so that would be the choice if you’re an iPad note taker.

So eventually the iPad wasn’t taking care of what I had coughed up a huge chunk of money for it to do. I started looking for a replacement while the resale value of the iPad was still somewhat high. The fact that the entry-level Surface 3 had a digitizer along with an optional pen had me intrigued, and the price was certainly right at much less than my iPad along with an educational discount. Luckily I have a Microsoft store near me, so the purchase was quick and easy. MS stores seem to be a lot more laid back than Apple stores, since they have demo stations that have lots of tools and such to play with and actually include chairs so you can sit and try things out. Major kudos to Microsoft on that.

I got the base model Surface 3, sans LTE, 16GB SSD and 2GB RAM. It runs on an Atom processor with the new Cherry Trail architecture. The storage may seem puny, but the Surface 3 includes a microSD card reader, so a quick trip to Amazon will resolve any space issues you may have. The screen is 1080p, and looks fantastic, although sometimes certain programs don’t scale too well and appear slightly blurry. It’s got the now prerequisite dual webcams as well. The type keyboard and the Microsoft pen were extra purchases. I can understand the pen being extra, but Microsoft should really bundle the keyboard. It’s stupid not to.

The keyboard – for being a thin snap-on cover – is excellent. Despite the keys being slightly scaled down to fit, they don’t feel too small. It’s very comfortable and buttons haven’t been moved to weird locations (looking at you, every Android tablet keyboard I’ve ever used) so my typing speed hasn’t been negatively affected at all.

The pen is what really makes the Surface an incredible device. Writing is accurate and pretty much perfectly replicates my handwriting as it would look on paper. Palm recognition isn’t perfect, but works much better than on my iPad apps.

And now for the knockout punch. The Surface 3 runs full-on Windows 10. It can run most all Windows programs within its strength. I’ve ended up using mine for fun, as well as hardcore work activities. The little Atom processor, which doesn’t even require a fan, encoded a 1.5 hour GoToWebinar recording to MP4 in about 30 minutes. Much better than I expected from a tablet running on a SoC. The only times I’ve had the Surface 3 struggle was with a lot of Firefox tabs open (which can even bring my “big hoss” work iMac to its knees) and if I have several programs open and running operations at once.

If the recently-released iPad Pro would have included OS X instead of iOS, the Surface would have actually had a reasonable contender from Apple. But it didn’t, so that’s the end of that. In terms of bang for your buck, the Surface line kicks ass in most regards.

It’s got a kickstand, too.