One of the biggest missteps of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) was the Surface RT. The Windows tablet aimed at the consumer market had decent hardware and there was certainly demand for such a device — but even slashing its price to $349 did nothing to spur sales. MSFT ended up taking a $900 million write-down and it pretty much all came down to one flaw: people hated Windows RT. Dropping “RT” from the name — but not the device — did little to convince people the follow-up Surface 2 was any better.
This time, Microsoft is taking no chances. MSFT announced the new Surface 3 switches to Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) processors and ditches Windows RT altogether for Windows 8.1.
Surface 3 Says Goodbye to Windows RT
Windows RT was a disaster for MSFT. The company tried to make a version of the Windows operating system that was optimized for tablets and able to run on ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) mobile processors. Windows RT couldn’t run actual Windows software — it needed its own apps. This confused buyers, developers failed to flock to the platform and Microsoft’s Windows RT hardware partners bailed.
On March 31, MSFT announced the new Surface 3, its third-generation tablet aimed at the consumer and education market. And this time, the ARM processor has been replaced by an Intel chip and Windows RT has been banished, replaced by Windows 8.1.
Rolling in the Best of the Surface Pro 3
MSFT also struggled with the Surface Pro, its Windows tablet aimed at the prosumer/professional market. But with last year’s Surface Pro 3, it did just about everything right (read our review here).
The new Surface 3 doesn’t just ditch Windows RT, it incorporates some of the key improvements from the Surface Pro 3. The display is now a 3:2 aspect ratio, making the device much more useful when used in “laptop” mode and less awkward when used as a tablet. Further supporting its use as a hybrid device, the new Surface 3 Type Cover uses magnets beneath the screen to attach much more snugly than previous generations. The Surface 3 also supports the touch-sensitive Surface Pen. And Microsoft is offering a dock for the Surface 3, a power-user option previously available only for the Surface Pro series.
Surface 3 Key Specs
- 10.8-inch ClearType FullHD+ (1920 x 1280) multi-touch display with 3:2 aspect ratio
- Quad-core Intel Atom CPU @ 1.6GHz
- 2GB RAM with 64GB storage, or 4GB RAM with 128GB storage
- 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
- Full-sized USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, Micro USB charge port, microSD card
- 8.0 MP autofocus primary camera, 3.5MP front-facing camera
- 3-position kickstand
- Magnesium alloy case
- Battery rated at up to 10 hours use
- 10.52 x 7.36 x 0.24-inches, weighs 1.37 lbs
- Runs Windows 8.1 (with free upgrade to Windows 10)
- Includes one free year of Office 365 Personal
- Priced from $499
MSFT Surface Lineup Now Complete
With the new Surface 3, MSFT finally has a complete lineup of Windows tablets.
The Surface Pro 3 remains the high-powered, super-sized tablet and laptop hybrid of choice for the professional market.
With its $499 starting price, the Surface 3 offers a full-blown Windows experience for the same price as Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad Air.
With the ability to run Office (one-year subscription included for free), its relatively compact size, 10-hour battery life and reasonable price tag, MSFT is also pushing the Surface 3 for the education market, where it takes on the iPad and the incredibly popular Google (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) Chromebooks.
And road warriors who wanted the two-in-one hybrid laptop/tablet experience of the Surface Pro now have a much more affordable (and slimmer) option.
The primary complaints MSFT is likely to see with the Surface 3?
The relatively anemic Intel Atom CPU (which is nowhere near as powerful as the Intel Core CPUs in the Surface Pro 3) will make running demanding Windows software a chore, especially in the base 2GB RAM configuration. And the fact that the tablet is promoted as a laptop replacement and usually pictured with the Type Cover and Surface Pen ($180 worth of add-ons) will lead to sticker shock for shoppers when they start adding up the full cost.
Still, there’s no worrying about the Windows RT boat anchor and that alone will ensure the new Surface tablet will do better than previous generations.
The Surface 3 is available for pre-order now, with delivery (and in-store availability) beginning May 5.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.