The launch of the Microsoft Surface 3 has refueled conversation around device choices and worker needs. Arguably the most popular 2 in 1, the Surface Pro 3 has been the device of choice for many by virtue of its fast Intel Core i5/i7 processor, dual tablet and laptop modes, convenient kick-stand, optimized pen computing, and even a desktop dock. It is a full PC replacement product. So where does the new Surface 3 fit?
Microsoft positions the Surface 3 as “the perfect balance of performance and value”. Part of the performance-value equation is tied to the new Intel® Atom™ X7 processor. Previously known as CherryTrail, this is a third generation quad core Atom built on Intel’s 14nm process. The version inside the Surface 3 supports 1.6GHz speeds with bursts up to 2.4GHz. While faster than the previous generation Atom, its performance is far below Intel’s 5th generation Core processors. At 2 Watts, the Atom advantage over Core is delivering less than half the “scenario design power”, resulting in true “tablet-first” designs.
So the news here is that small form factor Windows devices just got faster, a boon to PC-compatible ultra-mobility. The Surface 3 is the latest proof point of that, utilizing Atom for a thinner, lighter, longer-lasting Surface than the Core-based version. Because the Surface 3 is a tablet first design, its use cases will be primarily as a PC-companion or vertical industry device. The vertical industry use cases are well-understood and covered in the first blog of this series. However the companion device use case is worth exploring further.
The popularity of the 2 in 1 category is proof that for business users who might need a tablet only a fraction of the time, a PC-first design is sufficient. To me, “PC-first” means higher performance, more memory/storage, bigger screen and a keyboard/mouse. Which means that users who prioritize these things are better served by getting a nice desktop computer or All-in-One for maximum productivity at their primary work area. Then the same user can enjoy a tablet-first design for their mobile needs. As you can see, I’m not advocating folks get two mobile devices – I’m advocating a Surface 3 as a desktop companion. For many users, the economics of this two-device model are actually better than with a 2 in 1, which often gets docked/connected to a larger display and full size keyboard/mouse anyway or users are forced to stare at a small 11”- 13” screen all day.
The beauty of a tablet-first design like the Surface 3 for mobile use cases is you can surf the web better, watch videos better, read documents more intuitively, and even do a better job taking notes in meetings with free-hand annotations and drawings. Plus with the Surface Pen, you’re always one-click away from a blank One Note page. There are enough better-on-tablet use cases out there that it’s time for more folks to consider separate but compatible optimized devices for desktop vs. mobile computing.