Surface 3: what we want to see
2nd Oct 2014 | 15:29
Done right, Microsoft's next Surface could stand out from the crowd
What do we want to see on the Surface 3? Many of the qualities we would expect from a new Surface tablet - namely slimmer dimensions, a lighter chassis and longer battery life - arrived on Microsoft's capable Surface Pro 3, making it a little harder for any potential new tablet to stand out from the crowd.
Until recently, details of a successor to the Surface 2 have been thin on the ground. The quiet was shattered by a DigiTimes report that claimed a new 10.6-inch Surface was gearing up to enter production in August ahead of an October release.
There's been no news since then and we're now in October so it's not looking likely, though with the Surface 2 launching in October of last year it's still a possibility.
In any case, according to the report, the new device will be thinner and lighter than the 12-inch Surface Pro 3 and will possess more sales and performance clout than competing devices released in 2014.
The question is: being a Surface device, will it once again run Microsoft's much-maligned Windows RT 8.1, or could it be the first to feature full-fat Windows 8.1? And with Microsoft having axed the Surface Mini, is a smaller Surface out of the question?
As we ponder the possibilities, here are some of the features we would like to see on the Surface 3.
A pixel-packing, roomy display
The Surface Pro 3's display made the switch from the Surface Pro 2's 16:9 aspect ratio to 3:2, which did wonders for productivity by ramping up screen real-estate. For that reason, whatever size the Surface 3 arrives in, we hope it follows suit.
A high-resolution display would only sweeten the deal. The Surface Pro 3's 216-ppi display dazzles, and even though you could say that 16:9 is the preferred option for viewing movies, playing games and viewing other multimedia, some find 3:2 is better suited for handling both tablet and desktop-oriented tasks.
Should the Surface 3 feature a display smaller than nine inches, it would have the opportunity to join a very short list of small Windows 8.1 tablets with high-pixel-density displays. Lenovo's ThinkPad 8 (with a display resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels) stands out for being the only one, with most 8-inch slates featuring a comparatively lacklustre 1200 x 800 pixel-resolution.
That sturdier kickstand and keyboard cover design
We were big fans of the new hinge touted on the Surface Pro 3's kickstand. No longer locked to three distinct angles, the new kickstand proves to be a boon for a number of activities. What immediately comes to mind is how digital artists have made use of the new kickstand.
But its lap-side entertainment capability has turned out to be fantastic as well. Playing touch-controlled games in front of the TV feels better than ever, with the kickstand bent all the back. Not to mention how the kickstand has improved lap typing.
Speaking of which, we hope the new keyboard cover design appears alongside the would-be Surface 3. That, coupled with the magnetized bottom bezel, has vastly improved typing on Microsoft's pro-bent tablet. Frankly, both features seem like shoo-ins, given their critical reception.
Full-fat Windows 8
Windows RT's concept was sound: as an alternative to full Windows 8, it would be driven by touch-sensitive Windows 8 apps (Office aside) and run on ARM-based hardware, allowing devices to be thinner and cheaper while offering longer battery life.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, RT's inability to run legacy Windows programs and confusion around the platform have seen it shunned by many. Moreover, thinner, lighter and cheaper Intel-powered devices running full-fat Windows 8.1 have arrived on the scene toting near all-day battery life, meaning that it simply doesn't make sense for anybody to put up with Windows RT's limitations any more.
Should the Surface 3 turn out to be nine inches or under, it's likely that Microsoft will offer it with Windows 8.1 with Bing, a tailored version of full-fat Windows 8.1 that's being offered to its hardware partners at a reduced cost. Which brings us onto...
Specs to suit a wallet-friendly price point
Although the entry-level Surface Pro 3 comes in at a lower price point than previous Surface Pro devices, it's still seen as a premium device, topping out at $1,949 for the Core i7 model with 8GB and a 512GB SSD.
Microsoft's Surface RT-powered tablets have always come in at a lower price point than those in its Pro range, and we're hoping that, with the introduction of Windows 8.1 with Bing, the Surface 3 will be the first to feature Windows 8.1 while remaining affordable. As such, we reckon it'll have to pack an Intel Atom processor to keep the costs down while providing enough beef to run both Windows 8 apps and legacy desktop programs without a wheeze.
So, how cheap is cheap? We'd like to see the Surface 3 come in at under £200 (around US$337, or AU$361) to differentiate from the Surface Pro 3 and give it a real chance in the market.
The original version of the Surface 2 missed out on 4G, which was baked into a new model - the Surface 2 4G - six months after the original device's release.
The Surface Pro 3 doesn't feature 4G LTE (or GPS), presenting two opportunities for the Surface 3 to get one over its elder cousin from the outset. With rumours pointing to a thinner and lighter Surface, the need for faster mobile connectivity is a given - even if it exists as an optional nice-to-have.
According to rumours, the Surface Mini was initially delayed so that it could be launched at the same time as Microsoft's touch-friendly version of Office for Windows, codenamed "Gemini". With the Surface Mini canned (for now), the Surface 3 is the frontrunner to launch with Microsoft's long-awaited tactile productivity suite.
The arrival of touch-friendly Office would finally give you the best of both worlds: full-sized desktop Office for keyboard and mouse users, and touch-sensitive Gemini apps for those who prefer a tablet-like experience when being productive. What's not to like?
More crazy keyboard covers
Microsoft successfully iterated on what had gone before when it came to the Surface 2's optional keyboard covers. Its Touch 2 and Type 2 covers benefited from a backlight (and came in more colours), allowing you to work in the dark without hitting the wrong keys.
Further innovation was to be found in its Surface Remix cover, which snapped to the Surface 2 and allowed you to interact with a Gargeband-style DJ app. Are you listening, Microsoft? We want more crazy covers (sold at a non-crazy price).
We'd also like to see any new covers take cues from the Surface Pro 3's new Type Keyboard cover, which made it easier to type on your lap by adding a magnetic strip that attaches it to the screen, improving balance.
A smaller bezel
Microsoft's Surface tablets haven't been the worst offenders for bezel size, but there's a clear opportunity to reduce the size of the black border surrounding the screen. Apple's iPad Air managed to slim down its left and right-hand bezels, and it would be pretty cool if Microsoft could do the same.
Additional reporting provided by Joe Osborne
- Can't wait for Surface 3? Read ourSurface Pro 3 review!