Microsoft announces 12-inch Surface Pro 3, 'the tablet that can replace your laptop'

It turns out that support page name-checking the Surface Pro 3 wasn't a typo after all. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced the all-new Surface Pro 3, but this version is more than a mere spec boost over the Surface Pro 2: It's a whole new entry in the Surface lineup, and one designed "to replace your laptop."

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The Surface Pro 3 blends full Core i7 power—Surface head Panos Panay calls it "the thinnest Core product ever created," designed in close conjunction with Intel—with true tablet sleekness, sheer screen size aside. The Surface Pro 3 measures in at a mere 0.35-inch thick without a keyboard cover, just a hair thicker than the iPad Air's 0.29-inch frame and far less than the MacBook Air's 0.68-inch apex.  

Panay drove the point home by weighing the Surface Pro 3—again, sans cover—and a MacBook Air side-by-side on a scale.

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The device still isn't fanless—the new Haswell Core processors are much more energy efficient than their predecessors, but they still toss off heat, especially in the high-end Core i7 versions. But, Panay says, "we reinvented the fan to make it 30 percent more efficient than any fan in any product today, radially emit air so you never feel it or hear it or see it." The Surface Pro 3 also includes a perimeter vent, just like the Surface Pro 2.

The screen steals the show on this device, measuring in at 12-inches with an eye-popping 2160-by-1440-pixel resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio designed to mimic the paper notepad experience. Panay says the display boasts the highest contrast ratios in the industry.

"Just look at this screen—it's gorgeous," bragged Panay.

Microsoft's also improved the Surface Pro 3's kickstand, with a multi-position kickstand. The tablet still has the Surface line's traditional 22-degree angle, but the hinge has been improved to add full friction, allowing you do push the Surface Pro 3 back to an almost-flat 150-degree angle that Microsoft dubbed "Canvas mode," for adjustable "lapability" and ease when using the stylus. 

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A focus on note-taking

The Surface Pro 3 gives its mobile roots a nod with the inclusion of a full-fledged digitizer pen with 256 points of pressure sensitivity. (The pen is made by N-trig, replacing the Wacom pen in previous Surface Pros.) In fact, the entire Surface Pro 3 design revolves around note-taking; beyond the 3:2 aspect ratio, Microsoft has baked OneNote integration deeply into the pen. 

"You have to know you can write immediately," Panay said.

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An Adobe executive took the stage to show off an upcoming Photoshop update being optimized for the Surface Pro 3.

Clicking a button on the top of the Surface Pro 3 pen opens OneNote at once, even if the device is powered off. And as you jot down your notes, clicking the button again instantaneously saves your note to the cloud, where it will show up on all your devices with OneNote installed—yes, even Apple devices

If your camera is open, double-clicking on the pen's button will capture the image in OneNote, where you can mark it up and save it to the cloud. 

Accessories

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Microsoft also announced new accessories for the Surface Pro 3, including a docking station and redesigned Type Covers. The new Surface Pro 3 Type Cover includes a redesigned trackpad that's 68 percent larger with 70 percent reduced friction—Panay admitted the Surface Pro 2's wasn't very well-received—and a new hinged cover that magnetically seals to the screen, to allow the cover to adjust to whatever angle you position the tablet using the full friction kickstand.

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Sure, 12-inches is kind of an awkward size for a tablet ostensibly designed for portability, but Panay emphasized that the Surface Pro 3 was designed to bring you tablet portability and laptop-like productivity, all in one device, citing a statistic that claims 96 percent of all iPad users also own a laptop. 

Introducing a larger Surface makes sense given the Surface lineup's penchant for productivity, as it gives Windows desktop programs and Snapped Windows Store apps room to breathe. Paired with a Touch Cover, the original Surface Pro tablets already mimed a miniature Ultrabook—the Surface Pro 3 just embraces the heritage all the more, while still staying slim and allowing for keyboardless use.

"Can we design and build a device that enables any individual to be able to read and to be able to create and write?" Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pondered during the event's introduction. "Allows you to watch a movie and make a movie; enjoy art and create art? That was the motivation for the Surface line."

That guiding vision, one that Microsoft's tablets have strived for from their very introduction, looks like it's starting to pay dividends. The Surface Pro 3 is a pretty damned appealing piece of hardware at first glance.

Prices start at $799, with pre-orders opening tomorrow, May 21. The Surface Pro 3 will hit the streets on on June 20.

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