Microsoft has officially filled the gap in its tablet line-up left by the demise of the Windows RT-powered Surface family by announcing the Surface 3, a cut-down variant of its full-fat Windows 8.1 Surface Pro 3.
When Microsoft first entered the tablet market, it did so with two very different products: the Surface, which used ARM processors from a small number of approved manufacturers and a cut-down operating system dubbed Windows RT; and the Surface Pro, which used the same design but with an Intel chip and the full-fat Windows 8 operating system. When it announced the impending launch of Windows 10, however, it confessed that Windows RT was for the chop following slow sales and lack of third-party manufacturer uptake. The result: by the third generation of devices, only the Surface Pro family survived.
Now, there's a new non-Pro Surface: the Surface 3. Its announcement late yesterday by Microsoft's Panos Panay, however, does not indicate a reversal of Windows RT's fortunes: the device uses the full-fat Windows 8.1 and an Intel processor, just like the Surface Pro 3. Where it differs is in its specifications, which are significantly lower - with, as you might expect, a knock-on effect for its selling price.
The Surface 3 is described by Microsoft as the 'thinnest and lightest Surface we've ever shipped,
' measuring 8.7mm thick with a 622g weight. Based on the design of the Surface Pro 3, the smaller Surface 3 uses the same 3:2 aspect ratio but with a 10.8" diagonal compared to the Surface Pro 3's 12" and with a 1,920x1,280 resolution. The cameras nobody ever really uses on a tablet are present and correct - a 3.5 megapixel front-facing and eight megapixel rear-facing with autofocus - and the three position kickstand that is the Surface family's defining feature.
Internally, the Surface 3 does away with the Intel Core family chips that power the Pro variant in favour of Intel's new Atom x7, a quad-core Cherry Trail part available running at 1.6-2.4GHz with 2GB or 4GB of RAM depending on model purchased. As you might expect from a low-power Atom design, the Surface 3 is fanless and silent-running. Other changes include a micro-USB connector for charging in place of the proprietary magnetic connection of previous models, and a lower price: the 32GB/2GB model starts at £419 with a year's Office Personal Edition subscription, while the 64GB/4GB model is £459. The top-end model, with 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM, is priced at £499 and will be followed by as-yet unpriced variants with integrated 4G LTE mobile broadband connectivity.
Sadly, not everything has changed. In particular, Microsoft still insists on selling the Touch Cover and Type Cover accessories - the Surface's major selling point, protective covers which double as keyboard and trackpads when the kickstand is in use - separately, rather than bundling them with the tablets. Other optional accessories include the pressure-sensitive Surface Pen and Surface Docking Station.
The Surface 3 family is due to launch on the 7th of May, with more information available from the company's official announcement