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Surface Pro 3: A mature Microsoft tablet arrives

There's an old adage that Microsoft (MSFT) doesn't get things right until the third release. Look no further than Windows, which didn't get meaningful traction until version 3.1, for evidence. In more modern times, you might be able to say the same thing about the Surface tablet.

Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 has finally arrived at retail. Promised for months, every iteration is now available at your local Best Buy (BBY) or Microsoft store, and if you were sufficiently motivated to pre-order, you should soon receive a shipping notification (if you haven't already).

The Surface Pro 3 comes in five versions, varying by processor and memory:

  • Intel Core i3 with 64GB storage and 4GB RAM for $799
  • Intel Core i5 with 128GB storage and 4GB RAM for $999
  • Intel Core i5 with 256GB storage and 8GB RAM for $1,299
  • Intel Core i7 with 256GB storage and 8GB RAM for $1,549
  • Intel Core i7 with 512GB storage and 8GB RAM for $1,949

One complaint about the Surface Pro 3 is that the Type Cover -- the screen cover with integrated keyboard -- is an additional accessory priced at $130. That makes the low-end tablet over $900 and the high-end version very nearly a heart-stopping $2,100.

One could argue that other tablets don't ship with keyboard covers, but most other tablets aren't positioned as laptop replacements, for which a keyboard is essential. Clearly, the Surface Pro 3 isn't trying to attract your attention through budget pricing.

So, what do you get for $900-$2,100? A surprisingly polished tablet, for starters, one that has learned a lot from the previous iterations of the Surface.

The display is nearly 40 percent larger than the Surface Pro 2, now at 12 inches with a resolution of 2,160 by 1,440 pixels. It also features a more standard (and usable) 3:2 aspect ratio. And it's smaller and lighter than the Surface Pro 2, specifically a quarter-pound pound less (now at 1.75 pounds) and 0.23 inches thinner (0.36-inches).

Overall performance is impressive. The machine boots in just about 4 seconds (faster than most computers can wake from sleep mode). The battery is rated at 9 hours, though hands-on it's more like 4 to 5 hours in routine use. And it switches elegantly from tablet to laptop, thanks to an ergonomic variable-position kickstand.

In addition to functioning as a traditional touch device, the Surface 3 comes with a stylus that you can use to draw and write on the screen using e-ink. Very cool. If you're a dedicated OneNote user, you can rouse the Surface from sleep just by holding a button on the stylus. That wakes the tablet and navigates you instantly to OneNote.

Of course, the Surface Pro 3 is the flagship of the fleet, and it runs the latest Windows 8.1 update. You don't get the promised revitalized Start Menu yet, but Windows 8.1 is a far cry from the fairly broken and maligned experience that customers were subjected to two years ago in the initial version of Windows 8.

Photo courtesy Microsoft.

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