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Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2 comparison: new Windows tablet is bigger and better - but who will buy?

During the launch of the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft freely admitted that it hadn’t quite got it right with the original Surface Pro and even the Surface Pro 2. It claimed the Surface Pro 3 is the first tablet that can truly replace your laptop, so in our Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2 comparison, let’s see why.

(This comparison is based on our full review of the Surface Pro 2 and the hands-on Surface Pro 3 review. We’ll update this article when we have the full test results for the Surface Pro 3.) See also: New features in the Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 starts at £639 inc VAT, and that’s for the Core i3 version with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. Currently, the Surface Pro 2 still costs £719 for the 64GB model - £80 more than the new model. However, that does come with a 4th Generation Core i5 processor, which will be quicker than the i3.

However, if you want a Surface Pro 3 with a Core i5 and 128GB of storage, the price jumps sharply to £849 inc VAT. A Core i7 model with 256GB of storage is a whopping £1339 inc VAT. The equivalent Surface Pro 2 (albeit with the Core i5) costs £1,039 inc VAT.

Both tablets share a similar design, but the Pro 3 is thinner at 9.1mm (the Pro 2 is thicker at 13.5mm).

Naturally, the Surface Pro 3 is larger (292x201) than the Pro 2, which measures 275x173mm.

Impressively, the new model is 100g lighter than the Pro 2, tipping the scales at 800g.

Another improvement is the kickstand. No longer limited to two positions, the new friction hinge opens to the usual 22 degrees, but can then hold the Surface Pro 3 at any angle up to 150 degrees (the new ‘canvas mode’).

The chassis is still made from magnesium (and each tablet is individually machine finished), but has now turned silver instead of the Pro 2’s ‘Dark Titanium’ finish.

The new Surface Pro has a 12in screen with a 2160x1440 resolution. This is almost 40 percent more screen real-estate than the full HD Surface Pro 2 but – crucially – gives you exactly 50 percent more pixels.

It also has a new aspect ratio. Instead of the TV-style 16:9 aspect which has been used for the 10.6in Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2, the Pro 3 has a 3:2 ratio. That’s very close to an A4 sheet of paper, which Microsoft says makes the device much more personal.

That’s debatable, but it does make more sense for displaying more than one app on screen at a time, and that’s easily done on the Surface Pro 3 since it runs full Windows 8.1.

Compared to the Surface Pro 2, the Pro 3 has a thinner display assembly which makes a noticeable difference. When used with the new Surface Pen, you get a much more authentic ‘pen to paper’ feel, since there isn’t a thick piece of glass separating the stylus tip from the actual pixels.

Microsoft also claims the new screen has the highest contrast ratio in the industry, better than the Surface Pro 2 and therefore better for avoiding eye strain.

Where the Surface Pro 2 had a Haswell Core i5 processor, there’s now a choice of 4th Generation chips for the Surface Pro 3: i3, i5 and i7.

Both tablets rely on the integrated GPU, which is the Intel HD Graphics 4400.

Storage-wise, the Surface Pro 3 is available in the following configurations:
Core i3, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage (36GB available)Core i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage (96GB available)Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage (211GB available)Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage (211GB available)Core i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB storage (450GB available)
The Surface Pro 2 is available in the following configurations (all Core i5):
4GB RAM, 64GB storage (36GB available)4GB RAM, 128GB storage (96GB available)8GB RAM, 256GB storage (211GB available)8GB RAM, 512GB storage (450GB available)

The Surface Pro 3 has upgraded cameras, with front- and rear-facing 5Mp snappers which can record 1080p video and capture 5Mp still images.

The Surface Pro 2 has two 720p cameras.

In terms of ports, they both have a full-size USB 3 port, a microSD card reader, a standard headphone jack and a Mini DisplayPort graphics output.

Both also have Bluetooth 4.0 LE, but the Surface Pro 3 gets upgraded Wi-Fi in the form of 802.11ac, which is also backwards compatible with 802.11a/b/g/n.

With larger dimensions, the Surface Pro 3 needed a new Type Cover and Microsoft has obliged. The Surface Pro Type Cover’s touchpad is 68% larger than the Type Cover 2 for the Surface Pro 2, and it’s much smoother as well.

It weighs 295g and adds 4.8mm in thickness to the Surface Pro 3 (making it just 0.4mm thicker than the Pro 2 without a Type Cover 2.

A slight design change involves an extra hinge: you flip up the back edge of the keyboard against the screen bezel for extra rigidity and stability. Magnets hold it all in place.

Both covers cost £110, but the Surface Pro Type Cover is available in black, cyan, red and purple.

Microsoft claims up to 9 hours of battery life from the Surface Pro 3, which we will be testing in due course. Our streaming video tests on the Surface Pro 2 showed it could manage just six hours before needing a recharge – not a huge improvement over the original Surface.

The Surface Pro 3’s bigger screen is clearly the key differentiator, but it isn’t the first 12in tablet. Not by a long shot. The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 is one of the Surface Pro 3’s competitors, but we’re concerned here only with the Surface Pro 2.

Given that the main reason for buying a Windows 8 tablet is that you get to run any Windows application you like, the Surface Pro 3’s larger screen (and higher resolution) make it a better choice for getting some real work done.

As we said in our Surface Pro 2 review, a 10.6in doesn’t cut it and arguably makes that tablet the worst – rather than the best – of both tablet and laptop worlds.

With the Pro 3, Microsoft could well be right in saying that it’s the first tablet which can genuinely replace your laptop. And at only 800g, it weighs considerably less (it’s a shade under 1.1kg with the Surface Pro Type Cover attached). Clearly, it’s the one to choose in this particular versus battle.

One of the Surface 3 Pro’s problems is the price. Using Apple-like tactics, the base model seems a bargain at just £639 but that’s has the entry-level Core i3 CPU, only 4GB of RAM and just 36GB of available storage. If you want it to replace your laptop, you’ll need to add the Type Cover which brings the price to £750. And you can get a very nice laptop for that sort of money.

Move up to more serious hardware – the i5 with 8GB of RAM – and with the Type Cover added to your cart, you’re looking at £1,219.

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