Microsoft's Surface Pro 3: Laptop killer?

Microsoft's (MSFT) invitation to the unveiling Tuesday of its new Surface Pro 3 tablet was cleverly understated: "Join us for a small gathering." That modest phrase belied the importance of the new Windows 8-based device for Microsoft.

More than a simple processor update, the Surface 3 has some important strategic improvements that might make it a compelling laptop replacement for users who have been waiting for a reason to switch to a tablet.

By contrast, Microsoft is trumpeting the trim specs of the Surface 3. It's extremely small and light, at just 0.35 inches thick. In comparison, the MacBook Air is twice as thick, and the Surface is only barely thicker than the iPad Air's 0.29 inches. The Surface weighs a mere 1.7 pounds.

Despite the tiny frame, Microsoft has responded to users who clamored for a bigger screen with a 12-inch display. The older Surface 2 has a 10.6 inch display. Microsoft claims that the new Surface's screen, which has a resolution of 2160-by-1440 pixels, actually shows 6 percent more content than the MacBook Air's larger 13-inch screen.

Of course, the Surface is a touch-enabled device, but it also comes with a stylus for writing and input control. Knowing how important note taking is to tablet users, Microsoft got clever; press a button on the stylus, for example, and it automatically launches OneNote, even if the Surface was powered off. You can also use the stylus to copy, move and delete text, as well as a remote to trigger the Surface's camera.

And while talking about the Surface's kickstand might seem like a reach, the fact remains that Microsoft emphasizes the kickstand as a core feature of its tablets. The Surface 2 got a small update in the way of two kickstand angles for more convenient operation, and the Surface 3 goes even further. You can set the tablet to stand at almost any angle from an upright 22 degrees all the way to a nearly flat 150 degrees.

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the launch of the new Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet computer May 20, 2014, in New York.

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

Under the hood, the Surface accommodates processors from the i3 to the i7, and prices vary wildly depending upon the configuration. At the low end, you can get a model with the i3 processor for $799. But Throw in an i7, and you'll pay a heart-stopping $1949 (you also get 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM for that). One thing you won't get is a keyboard -- the keyboard covers are an optional accessory, available for another $129.

That's an off choice for Microsoft, since the company is positioning the Surface 3 as a do-everything laptop replacement. That pushes the cost of a fully equipped, high-end Surface 3 to well over $2,000.

If you think that the third iteration of Microsoft's Windows 8-based tablet is finally a winner, you can pre-order it starting today. The device will be in stores on June 30.