Review: Updated: Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Review: Updated: Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Introduction, design and display

The tablet market has become a very different place since Sony last launched a 10-inch tablet. Where then the Xperia Z2 Tablet was a credible threat to the iPad in a new and exciting arena, the Xperia Z4 Tablet has landed in a very different world.

Right now there isn’t really any Android device standing up against the almighty iPad Air 2, with the Nexus 9 not proving all that popular and Samsung having stopped flooding of the market with a huge range of slates.

Sony now has a chance to smash and grab with a fantastic Android tablet and it comes at a good point in its launch cycle as well, as due to the Sony Xperia Tablet Z3 Compact coming through in the latter half of last year we’ve not had a full blown 10-inch slate from the company for over a year either.

Design and display

Sony’s design is as polarising as you can get – you really do either love it or hate it.

If you can see what the brand is trying to do, then the first thing you notice when picking up the Xperia Z4 Tablet is the weight. It’s lighter than ever before at 392g, and the difference is noticeable.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The back of the Xperia Z4 Tablet isn’t as cheap-feeling, or looking, as on previous iterations. This time around it’s a high-end polycarbonate material that, while not feeling as nice as the iPad’s brushed metal, looks great and feels easy and comfortable to grip.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Sony has managed to make the slate even thinner this time around, without giving it a flimsy feel. It’s only 6.1mm thick, the same as the iPad Air 2, but you get the feeling it would blow away a little more easily than Apple’s slate would.

At one point I was taking some photos of the sky with the Xperia Z4 Tablet (for reviewing purposes –I’m not into clouds or anything), and I did have to tighten my grip at one stage due to a slight gust – if you weren’t paying attention this tablet could easily be blown from your hands.

Sony’s infamous flaps are once again in play, there to keep the tablet water- and dust-resistant to a high degree of IP65 and IP68, but they don’t protrude as much as on previous models, and are a lot less obtrusive at first glance.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The Z4 tablet is sturdier too, despite being thinner. When reviewing the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet I managed to break off one of the flaps by mistake – it just snapped off in my fingers when I was trying to open it to charge the tablet.

This time around Sony has taken the criticism of the flap system on board, and while not replacing them entirely, it has refined them to make them a little sturdier, and much easier to pop in and out without the risk of them coming off.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

The waterproofing is a big bonus, and makes the tablet a lot more useable around the house – take it into the bath to read a book or watch a video and you won’t have to worry about it slipping from your grasp.

I find the feature particularly welcome when I’m cooking – it doesn’t matter if you manage to slather your slate in flour and grease while using your grimy finger on a recipe app, as you can just wipe it clean.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Although the waterproofing arguably makes the Z4 one of the most robust tablets on the market, the rest of the design does give you the feeling that it would snap on the slightest drop.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The power button is on the left-hand side, with the volume rocker just underneath. Both are difficult to reach, but it’s not clear where they could be better located on a 10-inch slate – you’ll just have to deal with the fact that you’ll be using two hands when changing the volume or turning the screen on and off.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

A big design change is the lack of a dock connector at the bottom, which enables the tablet to be made that little bit thinner.

Display

The display is a 10.1-inch stunning 2K job with a pixel resolution of 2560 x 1600. It looks great, delivering really sharp images, and is a real step up compared to the 1200 x 1920 setup we saw on the Xperia Z2 Tablet.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Watching video is a real treat here – you’re getting 299 pixels per inch sharpness, better than the 264ppi on the iPad Air 2, in addition to the screen itself being significantly bigger than Apple’s alternative.

As with previous models, Sony has surrounded the tablet with pretty hefty bezels. These have been whittled down a little further than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet, but they’re still quite cumbersome.

I like them though – I’ve got some pretty thick thumbs to fit in those bezels and it means I’m not tapping the tablet when I’m focusing on a different area, as I sometimes find myself doing with a caseless iPad.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

They’re not to everyone’s taste, though, and Sony could do with shaving them down a little more and making the slate a little smaller overall.

The display reproduces colours beautifully. Whether you’re using apps,watching video or just browsing the web the image quality is very impressive.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The screen brightness leaves a little to be desired though; while using the tablet outside I sometimes struggled to see the picture clearly, and got a lot of glare off the front.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

I didn’t have any issues while using it in our brightly lit office, but you’re likely to need to set the brightness to maximum when you’re out and about.

Key features and laptop dock

Key features

Sony has a few unique selling points up its sleeve, including one which may even tempt gamers away from Apple’s tablets. PlayStation Remote Play support enables those with a PS4 to connect over the same Wi-Fi network as the tablet and use it as a second screen.

It’s been available on Sony’s other flagship products before, and this isn’t the first time a tablet has been compatible, but the display on the Z4 Tablet is another level compared to previous Sony devices, and it just makes me want to use it to play games on.

Connecting up your PS4 here allows for a second 2K screen – you really can’t fault that. I hooked the Z4 tablet up with my PS4 at home and, believe me, you’re not going to want to clip it onto your controller. The weight isn’t an issue, but it’s just too big to wield.

Instead I found myself just leaning it up against something on a table, connecting up my controller and playing games in beautiful 2K.

The Wi-Fi signal dropped out once when first connecting, but from there I managed to fit in a full 30 minute GTA V session without any issues. I’ve even managed to connect it up and play a couple of games of Rocket League in my kitchen while someone else uses the TV in the living room.

You can play games without a controller and use the display instead, but I really don’t recommend it unless you’re just playing some puzzle games; it’s too unwieldy. You’ve likely already got a PS4 controller if you have the console, so just connect that up and get the full experience.

It’s a big selling point though – and will become more so as Sony begins to expand its Remote Play service so that it can run off different Wi-Fi signals. It’ll be possible for you to play PS4 games running in your living room at home on the train, or in another country when you’re on holiday.

Some might not like the idea of their PlayStation still running at home as you play it on a second screen, but it’s arguably the future of mobile gaming, and it’s a feature many are clamoring for.

Keyboard and docking

Sony has never really been one for accessories in the past, but it has decided to buck the trend with the Xperia Z4 Tablet and offer a Bluetooth keyboard alongside it.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I had one to test alongside the review tablet, and I loved it. I’ve always found Sony’s slates to be a little difficult to prop up, so having a Bluetooth keyboard to dock it into so it doesn’t fall over works a treat.

Sadly the dock only goes to one position. This is certainly not the Surface Pro 3, with countless options for propping it up, but it does give you a good view when you’re typing and for watching movies.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The keyboard connects via Bluetooth – the tablet automatically recognises the keyboard and notifies you to turn on Bluetooth, which is a nifty feature, giving you a quick kick under the table to warn you why nothing’s happening when you type.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I found that the keyboard connected quickly without any issues. The keys are well placed but they take some getting used to – but then again so does every new keyboard.

The trackpad is a little on the small side, and I found myself ditching it in favour of the touch functionality on the main screen. Some users will prefer the trackpad, but I found it a little slow as well.

Another smart feature is that the Xperia Z4 Tablet automatically opens up a little taskbar along the left-hand corner of the screen with key apps you’re likely be using when the keyboard is connected.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

These kick off with Google apps such as Chrome, YouTube and Gmail, but you can easily swap in other apps by pressing the two dots to the right to open up a menu.

The slate also snaps down onto the keyboard to give it that little bit of extra protection when it’s in your bag. Be warned, though, that while the tablet is waterproof and dustproof, the keyboard isn’t.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Everything just kind of works with the new Bluetooth keyboard, but the main sticking point could be the price. If you could pick it up alongside the Xperia Z4 Tablet for under £100/$120 it would be a great accessory, but my inkling is that Sony may want a little more for it; pricing hasn’t been announced at the time of writing.

Battery life and interface

Battery life

The Xperia Z4 Tablet has a 6,000mAh non-removable battery inside, a hefty unit for any tablet, but it hasn’t changed since the same cell was included in the original Tablet Z many moons ago.

Considering that Sony has upped the display – the biggest battery drainer – it begs the question as to whether the battery should have been improved as well.

The Xperia Z4 Tablet has a similar battery life to the 17-18 hours of video Sony was stating at the Z2 Tablet launch.

Sony should be praised for delivering that kind of battery life considering the sharpness of the Z4’s display – you’ll be able to get through a long-haul flight’s worth of movies and not have to worry about the tablet dying on you.

We ran the Nyan Gareth video – our traditional battery test of a 90-minute straight video at 100% brightness – and managed to get a score of 79%.

Considering that the Xperia Z2 Tablet scored 72% this is quite impressive, and Sony has clearly made some improvements under the hood to obtain this level of performance.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

I then ran the test again at 60% brightness, as personally I’m willing to sacrifice a little screen brightness for an extra film’s worth of battery life, but I only managed to get a score of 81%, so it’s not really worth dropping the brightness when watching video, as you won’t see a big difference in battery life.

General battery life proved impressive as well. I had the Z4 idle in my bag idle over a weekend and I didn’t see more than 20% of the battery drain, even though the tablet was connecting to Wi-Fi and receiving notifications.

It just proves that the big battery drainer here is the display – although it’s worth it for such a beautiful-looking screen.

I did find charging an almighty task though. Tablets usually take quite a while to get up to full charge, but using my normal phone charger made for a particularly slow process. Fast charging technology would be a nice touch here.

Also it’s worth noting that there’s no wireless charging option, which would have been a welcome addition for those who don’t want to be restricted by a cable.

Interface

The Xperia Z4 Tablet comes with Android 5.0 Lollipop, and you get to use all of Google’s freshly implemented features.

However, Sony’s UI is as prevalent as ever, which will disappoint some. It doesn’t really add much to the Android experience, and I can see how it may confuse new users. Sony isn’t likely to drop it though, so it seems that we’re stuck with it.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Sony has taken inspiration from Google’s Material Design, but the new design language isn’t fully implemented; I like the new minimalist design Google is offering with stock Android, but Sony changes all the icons to its standard look, which puts a dampener on the user experience for me.

One of the big new features of Android Lollipop is lock screen notifications, and these come in very useful. Instead of having to swipe down to read your latest goings on you can just hit the power button on the left-hand side and everything is there.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Tap and unlock to view the notifications in more detail, or just swipe them away if you’re not that interested. It’s smart, and it’s one of the nicest Android additions we’ve seen in a few years.

With Samsung dropping a lot of its bloatware apps from the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, Sony is becoming potentially the biggest culprit for filling its devices with largely useless services.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Some of the pre-installed apps are useful of course, such as the PlayStation app – having this installed ready and waiting makes sense, especially with the Remote Play feature on the new tablet.

But there are also the likes of Sketch, Xperia Lounge, SocialLife and Lifelog, which I find utterly useless and which take up precious storage space – and the worst part is that none of them can be deleted.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Sony really needs to understand that people don’t want to waste their precious storage space on apps they’re never going to use, and filling its devices full of these will make people look toward stock versions in the future.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

The slate also comes with a few third-party services pre-installed, including some useful ones such as Facebook, Spotify and Skype.

The addition of the Android Lollipop features is welcome, but Sony has some real work to do before I want to shout from the rooftops about its tablet software. It’s a bland, functional interface that harks back to darker days of tablet design – although it should be said that it is thoroughly usable.

Performance and the essentials

Sony’s tablet range has been criticised heavily in the past for all manner of things, but one thing that can’t be said is that its devices don’t lack power. Sony has always opted for the biggest and best chipset, and the Xperia Z4 Tablet is no exception.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 64-bit octa-core processor, clocked at 2GHz, is present here, accompanied by 3GB of RAM.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

It makes processor-intensive tasks on the tablet a breeze, and compared to most Android tablets it’s quite an impressive setup.

To really push the tablet to its limits I played Real Racing 3, an extremely graphics-intensive game, and I didn’t experience any of the lag I’ve seen on other slates. In fact, the frame rate was more impressive than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet from a little over a year ago.

I found that on the first play-through the game crashed on me, but after that I played through five different levels and experienced no problems, suggesting that the issue was down to it just booting up.

Storage

When it comes to storage you only have one, 32GB, option. That’ll be enough for many users, but I’d appreciate a little more space, as I like to stuff my devices full of apps and video.

Sony does allows for 128GB of storage through microSD, which is a nice touch, but software and core apps take up almost 11GB of the default storage, so if you’re not planning to shell out on a microSD card you’re going to be restricted to 21GB.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Throw in a 128GB card, though, and you’ve got 149GB of space to fill – even with my big movie collection I’d struggle to fill all of that.

The essentials

There’s a micro USB slot on the right-hand edge of the tablet. It’s uncovered this time around but it’s still waterproof, which raises the question why other connections can’t benefit from this design.

It’s there for charging and data transfer, and it enables easy use of the tablet whilst it’s charging – you can stick it in the dock or lean it against something, so you won’t have to worry about the battery dying while you’re working.

On the extreme top-left corner of the slate is a 3.5mm headphone jack, which again is open but waterproof.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

It’s right on the very edge this time, which is an interesting design choice, but it does mean that the tablet can be placed in its Bluetooth keyboard dock while you’re listening to music without any issues.

Talking of music, the Xperia Z4’s speakers aren’t the best you’re going to find – there’s no BoomSound-like technology here, but they’re decent enough.

High-res audio and noise-cancelling technology make for an impressive audio setup though – I keep finding myself plugging my headphones into the tablet when it’s Spotify time, even when my phone is closer to hand.

It’s just a more enjoyable experience, and the noise-cancelling technology is a big bonus, although you do need dedicated Sony headphones for it to work.

Connectivity-wise you’ve got Wi-Fi 802.11 for fast internet. I used the slate at home, at work and in a coffee shop and didn’t experience any problems getting online. My home Wi-Fi was a little temperamental for a while, but I suspect that was down to the poor connection, and I didn’t have any issues whilst using the tablet with super-fast connections.

Bluetooth 4.1 is also present, and comes in useful for connecting accessories like the keyboard.

NFC support is also on hand for fast connections with compatible devices – although you’re not likely to need to use it that much, and I only used it with a speaker just to test it out.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I find NFC a little redundant on tablets, as it’s rare that you’ll be using it for payments or the like when you’re out and about, or for connecting accessories.

Sony at least has the courtesy to point out where the NFC connector is, with a small logo on the back of the tablet. Some manufacturers don’t bother to do this, meaning that you can’t tell where you need to tap – I’m looking at you HTC.

The logo isn’t easy to spot initially, but once you know where it is you’ll find that it’s quick and easy to get connected.

Camera

The Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn’t really need a new kick-ass camera, and Sony knows it. No one walks around taking photos with a 10-inch camera (and if you do, you shouldn’t); we all have phones that take much better images.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

As such, the rear camera on the Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn’t seem to be anything special. It has an 8.1MP sensor that can capture images of 3264 x 2448 pixels, but it never seems to really make those specs work. A slight zoom with the camera causes a noticeable drop in clarity in images, which is a shame.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

It also has a strange position on the slate. Where most manufacturers would place it slap bang in the middle, so that when you hold the tablet up you have a rough idea of the image you’re going to get, Sony has placed it on the far right, in the top corner.

When I was composing a shot I found myself instinctively using the middle of the tablet, and I had to keep reorientating it after reminding myself where the camera actually was.

This means that when you’re taking photos of family and friends you’re likely to end up doing the ‘mum and dad photography’ thing, waving the tablet around for while before you actually take the picture.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Colours seem to be reproduced quite well, but on the whole I’ve not been impressed with the rear camera at all.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

There’s more to be said for the front-facing camera, which has a 5.1MP sensor and features a wide-angle lens that enables you to squeeze more into the frame than you might expect.

While the colours may not be as good as those from the rear camera, I found the clarity of images to be much better.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

This means that the video call image is quite clear as well, as long as you’re on a fast enough connection to keep up with the high-res image.

A quick note about the camera UI, which generally hasn’t changed much since last time: it’s a pain in the posterior to take a selfie.

I tried to take this image with my pet squirrel one-handed and it just wasn’t possible – this is when you really miss having a dedicated camera button, so that you don’t have to reach your thumb over the bezel and onto the button on the UI.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Sony has an entire app store to bring new features to its cameras as and when it wishes. This time around you’re kicking off with Superior Auto, Manual, AR Mask, Face in Picture, Sound Photo, AR Fun, Multi Camera, AR Effect, Creative Effect and Sweep Panorama.

Sony has been supplying the AR apps for some time now, and I never cease to be entertained by adding a roaming dinosaur to my photos and videos.

I find that AR apps entertain kids for at least twenty minutes, and love to show them off to my niece and nephew whenever I have a new device hanging around.

This time Sony has added in AR Mask, an app that sounds like it’s going to be lots of fun, with popular masks like Darth Vader or V for Vendetta. But no, the effects are actually terrifying.

Here are some of the results of my experiments with AR Mask…

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Instead of throwing a mask on top of your face it throws someone else’s face on top, and it’s horrible. So, so horrible.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

It’s not just for selfies though – you can also do it to your friends using the rear camera.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

The rest of the apps are either good fun to play around with or offer up some real functionality, and Sony has incorporated some interesting features here.

As for video recording you’re restricted to 1080p at 30fps; there’s no 4K video recording as there has been in the past.

Some may miss this feature, but considering that the Xperia Z4 doesn’t have a 4K screen I don’t see it as a big omission. However, it would have been nice to double up the resolution and get 2K video on such a good screen, and I don’t really understand why Sony didn’t go for it.

All in all though video recording looks great, and I didn’t find any issues with it.

The competition

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2

Apple’s latest tablet is the lightest, thinnest and best-looking iPad we’ve ever seen – we gave it five out of five in our full review. On the front is a 9.7-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1536 x 2048, equaling 265ppi.

TouchID has been brought over to Apple’s tablet range, so you’ve got a secure way to unlock the iPad, and it runs the latest iOS 8 software.

The brushed metal back panel makes for a premium feel, making the iPad Air 2 arguably the best slate on the market. You pay for the privilege though, with prices starting at £399 ($499, AUS$619), and rising if you want more storage.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Sony’s last foray into the tablet market saw it drop down to an 8-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1200 x 1920.

Design-wise it’s pretty similar to the Xperia Z4 Tablet – it’s shrunk down a little but still features IP68 waterproofing and the glass-fronted look. Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz, accompanied by 3GB of RAM. Storage is a little on the miserly side at 16GB, but there’s microSD support up to 128GB.

We quite liked the Z3 Tablet Compact, giving it four out five stars and praising it for its impressive battery life, thin design and PS4 Remote Play features.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Samsung’s latest tablet is designed to be the ‘iPad killer’, and comes in two sizes: a 8.4-inch display and a 10.5-inch display. And those are two stunning high-res displays, offering pixel resolutions of 1600 x 2560 and 359ppi, and 1600 x 2560 and 288ppi respectively.

It’s pretty powerful under the bonnet too, with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, and 3GB of RAM. Storage-wise you’re limited to either 16GB or 32GB options, but microSD can take this up to 128GB.

We gave it four and a half stars out of five, highlighting the strong battery life and great-looking display.

HTC Nexus 9

Google Nexus 9

The Nexus 9 tries to take everything people loved about the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, stick an 8.9-inch display on it and call it the best tablet on the market. And to be fair it does a pretty good job.

HTC has taken the 4:3 aspect ratio from the iPad, installed Android Lollipop and added a cracking pair of speakers.

Design wise it may feel a little low-end compared to the Sony or Apple tablets, and there’s no microSD support, so you’re stuck with either the 16GB or 32GB version you buy.

The price has also been bumped up from previous Nexus tablets, to £319 (about $500, AUS$626) for the 16GB version and £379 (about $600, AUS$725) for the 32GB.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is a great alternative to the iPad. It’s set to breeze into second place in the race for best tablet, and top the league table of best Android tablets.

We liked

It’s got a lovely screen, lightweight design, all the Sony elements you’d look for and the right power combination to keep it at the forefront of slate technology for a few years.

The waterproof design is one of the nicest features, and makes it a much more attractive proposition than less robust slates on the market.

The new optional keyboard is potentially a welcome addition, although it’s hard to judge whether it’ll be worth adding it until we know the price.

The ‘under the hood’ mechanics are impressive too, and you’ll struggle to make them work flat out, while the battery life is better than ever before.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

We disliked

Although the addition of Android Lollipop is welcome, Sony’s UI is still a big problem for many; it restricts what you can do with the platform, and, most importantly, how it looks.

The storage options aren’t overly generous, and it would be nice if Sony offered a 64GB version; microSD storage is handy, but files on there don’t perform as well as on the main memory.

The camera setup won’t be good enough for some, with the rear camera in particular disappointing – it’s not a big issue for me, but lots of people like to use their slates to take snapshots.

The main issue the Xperia Z4 has to overcome – and there’s not a lot Sony can do about this – is that Android still trails iOS for dedicated tablet apps.

The ecosystem for the iPad is such that no matter how much you can do with the Android version, unless there’s something very specific you’re looking for the Apple tablet is generally the better choice.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Verdict

The Xperia Z4 is a great tablet, and it’s the one genuine alternative to the iPad. Android is still not the perfect ecosystem for tablets, but with a 2K display on the front and such a nice-looking design this is the best way of implementing it in a tablet yet.

There are still issues with the camera and the UI setup, but overall it’s a much more enjoyable experience than we’ve seen from a Sony tablet before.

Another big problem for some will be the price. If you’re opting for the 4G version it’s going to cost £579.99 (about $910, AUS$1135), while the Wi-Fi version will cost £499.99 (about $785, AUS$980). Pricing for both the US and Australia has yet to be announced.

It’s expensive, but compared to Apple’s pricing, which is at a very similar level, it’s not all that much of a surprise for a high-end, top-quality tablet experience.

If you want something a little bit different to the iPad, then give the Xperia Z4 Tablet a go. It’s the best slate from the company yet, and in my opinion it’s the best Android option out there, although you’re going to have to part with a bit of cash to experience it.

First reviewed: May 2015

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Review: Updated: Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Review: Updated: Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Introduction, design and display

The tablet market has become a very different place since Sony last launched a 10-inch tablet. Where then the Xperia Z2 Tablet was a credible threat to the iPad in a new and exciting arena, the Xperia Z4 Tablet has landed in a very different world.

Right now there isn’t really any Android device standing up against the almighty iPad Air 2, with the Nexus 9 not proving all that popular and Samsung having stopped flooding of the market with a huge range of slates.

Sony now has a chance to smash and grab with a fantastic Android tablet and it comes at a good point in its launch cycle as well, as due to the Sony Xperia Tablet Z3 Compact coming through in the latter half of last year we’ve not had a full blown 10-inch slate from the company for over a year either.

Design and display

Sony’s design is as polarising as you can get – you really do either love it or hate it.

If you can see what the brand is trying to do, then the first thing you notice when picking up the Xperia Z4 Tablet is the weight. It’s lighter than ever before at 392g, and the difference is noticeable.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The back of the Xperia Z4 Tablet isn’t as cheap-feeling, or looking, as on previous iterations. This time around it’s a high-end polycarbonate material that, while not feeling as nice as the iPad’s brushed metal, looks great and feels easy and comfortable to grip.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Sony has managed to make the slate even thinner this time around, without giving it a flimsy feel. It’s only 6.1mm thick, the same as the iPad Air 2, but you get the feeling it would blow away a little more easily than Apple’s slate would.

At one point I was taking some photos of the sky with the Xperia Z4 Tablet (for reviewing purposes –I’m not into clouds or anything), and I did have to tighten my grip at one stage due to a slight gust – if you weren’t paying attention this tablet could easily be blown from your hands.

Sony’s infamous flaps are once again in play, there to keep the tablet water- and dust-resistant to a high degree of IP65 and IP68, but they don’t protrude as much as on previous models, and are a lot less obtrusive at first glance.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The Z4 tablet is sturdier too, despite being thinner. When reviewing the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet I managed to break off one of the flaps by mistake – it just snapped off in my fingers when I was trying to open it to charge the tablet.

This time around Sony has taken the criticism of the flap system on board, and while not replacing them entirely, it has refined them to make them a little sturdier, and much easier to pop in and out without the risk of them coming off.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

The waterproofing is a big bonus, and makes the tablet a lot more useable around the house – take it into the bath to read a book or watch a video and you won’t have to worry about it slipping from your grasp.

I find the feature particularly welcome when I’m cooking – it doesn’t matter if you manage to slather your slate in flour and grease while using your grimy finger on a recipe app, as you can just wipe it clean.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Although the waterproofing arguably makes the Z4 one of the most robust tablets on the market, the rest of the design does give you the feeling that it would snap on the slightest drop.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The power button is on the left-hand side, with the volume rocker just underneath. Both are difficult to reach, but it’s not clear where they could be better located on a 10-inch slate – you’ll just have to deal with the fact that you’ll be using two hands when changing the volume or turning the screen on and off.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

A big design change is the lack of a dock connector at the bottom, which enables the tablet to be made that little bit thinner.

Display

The display is a 10.1-inch stunning 2K job with a pixel resolution of 2560 x 1600. It looks great, delivering really sharp images, and is a real step up compared to the 1200 x 1920 setup we saw on the Xperia Z2 Tablet.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Watching video is a real treat here – you’re getting 299 pixels per inch sharpness, better than the 264ppi on the iPad Air 2, in addition to the screen itself being significantly bigger than Apple’s alternative.

As with previous models, Sony has surrounded the tablet with pretty hefty bezels. These have been whittled down a little further than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet, but they’re still quite cumbersome.

I like them though – I’ve got some pretty thick thumbs to fit in those bezels and it means I’m not tapping the tablet when I’m focusing on a different area, as I sometimes find myself doing with a caseless iPad.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

They’re not to everyone’s taste, though, and Sony could do with shaving them down a little more and making the slate a little smaller overall.

The display reproduces colours beautifully. Whether you’re using apps,watching video or just browsing the web the image quality is very impressive.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The screen brightness leaves a little to be desired though; while using the tablet outside I sometimes struggled to see the picture clearly, and got a lot of glare off the front.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

I didn’t have any issues while using it in our brightly lit office, but you’re likely to need to set the brightness to maximum when you’re out and about.

Key features and laptop dock

Key features

Sony has a few unique selling points up its sleeve, including one which may even tempt gamers away from Apple’s tablets. PlayStation Remote Play support enables those with a PS4 to connect over the same Wi-Fi network as the tablet and use it as a second screen.

It’s been available on Sony’s other flagship products before, and this isn’t the first time a tablet has been compatible, but the display on the Z4 Tablet is another level compared to previous Sony devices, and it just makes me want to use it to play games on.

Connecting up your PS4 here allows for a second 2K screen – you really can’t fault that. I hooked the Z4 tablet up with my PS4 at home and, believe me, you’re not going to want to clip it onto your controller. The weight isn’t an issue, but it’s just too big to wield.

Instead I found myself just leaning it up against something on a table, connecting up my controller and playing games in beautiful 2K.

The Wi-Fi signal dropped out once when first connecting, but from there I managed to fit in a full 30 minute GTA V session without any issues. I’ve even managed to connect it up and play a couple of games of Rocket League in my kitchen while someone else uses the TV in the living room.

You can play games without a controller and use the display instead, but I really don’t recommend it unless you’re just playing some puzzle games; it’s too unwieldy. You’ve likely already got a PS4 controller if you have the console, so just connect that up and get the full experience.

It’s a big selling point though – and will become more so as Sony begins to expand its Remote Play service so that it can run off different Wi-Fi signals. It’ll be possible for you to play PS4 games running in your living room at home on the train, or in another country when you’re on holiday.

Some might not like the idea of their PlayStation still running at home as you play it on a second screen, but it’s arguably the future of mobile gaming, and it’s a feature many are clamoring for.

Keyboard and docking

Sony has never really been one for accessories in the past, but it has decided to buck the trend with the Xperia Z4 Tablet and offer a Bluetooth keyboard alongside it.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I had one to test alongside the review tablet, and I loved it. I’ve always found Sony’s slates to be a little difficult to prop up, so having a Bluetooth keyboard to dock it into so it doesn’t fall over works a treat.

Sadly the dock only goes to one position. This is certainly not the Surface Pro 3, with countless options for propping it up, but it does give you a good view when you’re typing and for watching movies.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

The keyboard connects via Bluetooth – the tablet automatically recognises the keyboard and notifies you to turn on Bluetooth, which is a nifty feature, giving you a quick kick under the table to warn you why nothing’s happening when you type.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I found that the keyboard connected quickly without any issues. The keys are well placed but they take some getting used to – but then again so does every new keyboard.

The trackpad is a little on the small side, and I found myself ditching it in favour of the touch functionality on the main screen. Some users will prefer the trackpad, but I found it a little slow as well.

Another smart feature is that the Xperia Z4 Tablet automatically opens up a little taskbar along the left-hand corner of the screen with key apps you’re likely be using when the keyboard is connected.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

These kick off with Google apps such as Chrome, YouTube and Gmail, but you can easily swap in other apps by pressing the two dots to the right to open up a menu.

The slate also snaps down onto the keyboard to give it that little bit of extra protection when it’s in your bag. Be warned, though, that while the tablet is waterproof and dustproof, the keyboard isn’t.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Everything just kind of works with the new Bluetooth keyboard, but the main sticking point could be the price. If you could pick it up alongside the Xperia Z4 Tablet for under £100/$120 it would be a great accessory, but my inkling is that Sony may want a little more for it; pricing hasn’t been announced at the time of writing.

Battery life and interface

Battery life

The Xperia Z4 Tablet has a 6,000mAh non-removable battery inside, a hefty unit for any tablet, but it hasn’t changed since the same cell was included in the original Tablet Z many moons ago.

Considering that Sony has upped the display – the biggest battery drainer – it begs the question as to whether the battery should have been improved as well.

The Xperia Z4 Tablet has a similar battery life to the 17-18 hours of video Sony was stating at the Z2 Tablet launch.

Sony should be praised for delivering that kind of battery life considering the sharpness of the Z4’s display – you’ll be able to get through a long-haul flight’s worth of movies and not have to worry about the tablet dying on you.

We ran the Nyan Gareth video – our traditional battery test of a 90-minute straight video at 100% brightness – and managed to get a score of 79%.

Considering that the Xperia Z2 Tablet scored 72% this is quite impressive, and Sony has clearly made some improvements under the hood to obtain this level of performance.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

I then ran the test again at 60% brightness, as personally I’m willing to sacrifice a little screen brightness for an extra film’s worth of battery life, but I only managed to get a score of 81%, so it’s not really worth dropping the brightness when watching video, as you won’t see a big difference in battery life.

General battery life proved impressive as well. I had the Z4 idle in my bag idle over a weekend and I didn’t see more than 20% of the battery drain, even though the tablet was connecting to Wi-Fi and receiving notifications.

It just proves that the big battery drainer here is the display – although it’s worth it for such a beautiful-looking screen.

I did find charging an almighty task though. Tablets usually take quite a while to get up to full charge, but using my normal phone charger made for a particularly slow process. Fast charging technology would be a nice touch here.

Also it’s worth noting that there’s no wireless charging option, which would have been a welcome addition for those who don’t want to be restricted by a cable.

Interface

The Xperia Z4 Tablet comes with Android 5.0 Lollipop, and you get to use all of Google’s freshly implemented features.

However, Sony’s UI is as prevalent as ever, which will disappoint some. It doesn’t really add much to the Android experience, and I can see how it may confuse new users. Sony isn’t likely to drop it though, so it seems that we’re stuck with it.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Sony has taken inspiration from Google’s Material Design, but the new design language isn’t fully implemented; I like the new minimalist design Google is offering with stock Android, but Sony changes all the icons to its standard look, which puts a dampener on the user experience for me.

One of the big new features of Android Lollipop is lock screen notifications, and these come in very useful. Instead of having to swipe down to read your latest goings on you can just hit the power button on the left-hand side and everything is there.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Tap and unlock to view the notifications in more detail, or just swipe them away if you’re not that interested. It’s smart, and it’s one of the nicest Android additions we’ve seen in a few years.

With Samsung dropping a lot of its bloatware apps from the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, Sony is becoming potentially the biggest culprit for filling its devices with largely useless services.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Some of the pre-installed apps are useful of course, such as the PlayStation app – having this installed ready and waiting makes sense, especially with the Remote Play feature on the new tablet.

But there are also the likes of Sketch, Xperia Lounge, SocialLife and Lifelog, which I find utterly useless and which take up precious storage space – and the worst part is that none of them can be deleted.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Sony really needs to understand that people don’t want to waste their precious storage space on apps they’re never going to use, and filling its devices full of these will make people look toward stock versions in the future.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

The slate also comes with a few third-party services pre-installed, including some useful ones such as Facebook, Spotify and Skype.

The addition of the Android Lollipop features is welcome, but Sony has some real work to do before I want to shout from the rooftops about its tablet software. It’s a bland, functional interface that harks back to darker days of tablet design – although it should be said that it is thoroughly usable.

Performance and the essentials

Sony’s tablet range has been criticised heavily in the past for all manner of things, but one thing that can’t be said is that its devices don’t lack power. Sony has always opted for the biggest and best chipset, and the Xperia Z4 Tablet is no exception.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 64-bit octa-core processor, clocked at 2GHz, is present here, accompanied by 3GB of RAM.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

It makes processor-intensive tasks on the tablet a breeze, and compared to most Android tablets it’s quite an impressive setup.

To really push the tablet to its limits I played Real Racing 3, an extremely graphics-intensive game, and I didn’t experience any of the lag I’ve seen on other slates. In fact, the frame rate was more impressive than on the Xperia Z2 Tablet from a little over a year ago.

I found that on the first play-through the game crashed on me, but after that I played through five different levels and experienced no problems, suggesting that the issue was down to it just booting up.

Storage

When it comes to storage you only have one, 32GB, option. That’ll be enough for many users, but I’d appreciate a little more space, as I like to stuff my devices full of apps and video.

Sony does allows for 128GB of storage through microSD, which is a nice touch, but software and core apps take up almost 11GB of the default storage, so if you’re not planning to shell out on a microSD card you’re going to be restricted to 21GB.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Throw in a 128GB card, though, and you’ve got 149GB of space to fill – even with my big movie collection I’d struggle to fill all of that.

The essentials

There’s a micro USB slot on the right-hand edge of the tablet. It’s uncovered this time around but it’s still waterproof, which raises the question why other connections can’t benefit from this design.

It’s there for charging and data transfer, and it enables easy use of the tablet whilst it’s charging – you can stick it in the dock or lean it against something, so you won’t have to worry about the battery dying while you’re working.

On the extreme top-left corner of the slate is a 3.5mm headphone jack, which again is open but waterproof.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

It’s right on the very edge this time, which is an interesting design choice, but it does mean that the tablet can be placed in its Bluetooth keyboard dock while you’re listening to music without any issues.

Talking of music, the Xperia Z4’s speakers aren’t the best you’re going to find – there’s no BoomSound-like technology here, but they’re decent enough.

High-res audio and noise-cancelling technology make for an impressive audio setup though – I keep finding myself plugging my headphones into the tablet when it’s Spotify time, even when my phone is closer to hand.

It’s just a more enjoyable experience, and the noise-cancelling technology is a big bonus, although you do need dedicated Sony headphones for it to work.

Connectivity-wise you’ve got Wi-Fi 802.11 for fast internet. I used the slate at home, at work and in a coffee shop and didn’t experience any problems getting online. My home Wi-Fi was a little temperamental for a while, but I suspect that was down to the poor connection, and I didn’t have any issues whilst using the tablet with super-fast connections.

Bluetooth 4.1 is also present, and comes in useful for connecting accessories like the keyboard.

NFC support is also on hand for fast connections with compatible devices – although you’re not likely to need to use it that much, and I only used it with a speaker just to test it out.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

I find NFC a little redundant on tablets, as it’s rare that you’ll be using it for payments or the like when you’re out and about, or for connecting accessories.

Sony at least has the courtesy to point out where the NFC connector is, with a small logo on the back of the tablet. Some manufacturers don’t bother to do this, meaning that you can’t tell where you need to tap – I’m looking at you HTC.

The logo isn’t easy to spot initially, but once you know where it is you’ll find that it’s quick and easy to get connected.

Camera

The Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn’t really need a new kick-ass camera, and Sony knows it. No one walks around taking photos with a 10-inch camera (and if you do, you shouldn’t); we all have phones that take much better images.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

As such, the rear camera on the Xperia Z4 Tablet doesn’t seem to be anything special. It has an 8.1MP sensor that can capture images of 3264 x 2448 pixels, but it never seems to really make those specs work. A slight zoom with the camera causes a noticeable drop in clarity in images, which is a shame.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

It also has a strange position on the slate. Where most manufacturers would place it slap bang in the middle, so that when you hold the tablet up you have a rough idea of the image you’re going to get, Sony has placed it on the far right, in the top corner.

When I was composing a shot I found myself instinctively using the middle of the tablet, and I had to keep reorientating it after reminding myself where the camera actually was.

This means that when you’re taking photos of family and friends you’re likely to end up doing the ‘mum and dad photography’ thing, waving the tablet around for while before you actually take the picture.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Colours seem to be reproduced quite well, but on the whole I’ve not been impressed with the rear camera at all.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

There’s more to be said for the front-facing camera, which has a 5.1MP sensor and features a wide-angle lens that enables you to squeeze more into the frame than you might expect.

While the colours may not be as good as those from the rear camera, I found the clarity of images to be much better.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

This means that the video call image is quite clear as well, as long as you’re on a fast enough connection to keep up with the high-res image.

A quick note about the camera UI, which generally hasn’t changed much since last time: it’s a pain in the posterior to take a selfie.

I tried to take this image with my pet squirrel one-handed and it just wasn’t possible – this is when you really miss having a dedicated camera button, so that you don’t have to reach your thumb over the bezel and onto the button on the UI.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Sony has an entire app store to bring new features to its cameras as and when it wishes. This time around you’re kicking off with Superior Auto, Manual, AR Mask, Face in Picture, Sound Photo, AR Fun, Multi Camera, AR Effect, Creative Effect and Sweep Panorama.

Sony has been supplying the AR apps for some time now, and I never cease to be entertained by adding a roaming dinosaur to my photos and videos.

I find that AR apps entertain kids for at least twenty minutes, and love to show them off to my niece and nephew whenever I have a new device hanging around.

This time Sony has added in AR Mask, an app that sounds like it’s going to be lots of fun, with popular masks like Darth Vader or V for Vendetta. But no, the effects are actually terrifying.

Here are some of the results of my experiments with AR Mask…

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

Instead of throwing a mask on top of your face it throws someone else’s face on top, and it’s horrible. So, so horrible.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

It’s not just for selfies though – you can also do it to your friends using the rear camera.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

Click here to see the high-res image

The rest of the apps are either good fun to play around with or offer up some real functionality, and Sony has incorporated some interesting features here.

As for video recording you’re restricted to 1080p at 30fps; there’s no 4K video recording as there has been in the past.

Some may miss this feature, but considering that the Xperia Z4 doesn’t have a 4K screen I don’t see it as a big omission. However, it would have been nice to double up the resolution and get 2K video on such a good screen, and I don’t really understand why Sony didn’t go for it.

All in all though video recording looks great, and I didn’t find any issues with it.

The competition

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2

Apple’s latest tablet is the lightest, thinnest and best-looking iPad we’ve ever seen – we gave it five out of five in our full review. On the front is a 9.7-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1536 x 2048, equaling 265ppi.

TouchID has been brought over to Apple’s tablet range, so you’ve got a secure way to unlock the iPad, and it runs the latest iOS 8 software.

The brushed metal back panel makes for a premium feel, making the iPad Air 2 arguably the best slate on the market. You pay for the privilege though, with prices starting at £399 ($499, AUS$619), and rising if you want more storage.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Sony’s last foray into the tablet market saw it drop down to an 8-inch display with a pixel resolution of 1200 x 1920.

Design-wise it’s pretty similar to the Xperia Z4 Tablet – it’s shrunk down a little but still features IP68 waterproofing and the glass-fronted look. Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.5GHz, accompanied by 3GB of RAM. Storage is a little on the miserly side at 16GB, but there’s microSD support up to 128GB.

We quite liked the Z3 Tablet Compact, giving it four out five stars and praising it for its impressive battery life, thin design and PS4 Remote Play features.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Samsung’s latest tablet is designed to be the ‘iPad killer’, and comes in two sizes: a 8.4-inch display and a 10.5-inch display. And those are two stunning high-res displays, offering pixel resolutions of 1600 x 2560 and 359ppi, and 1600 x 2560 and 288ppi respectively.

It’s pretty powerful under the bonnet too, with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, and 3GB of RAM. Storage-wise you’re limited to either 16GB or 32GB options, but microSD can take this up to 128GB.

We gave it four and a half stars out of five, highlighting the strong battery life and great-looking display.

HTC Nexus 9

Google Nexus 9

The Nexus 9 tries to take everything people loved about the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, stick an 8.9-inch display on it and call it the best tablet on the market. And to be fair it does a pretty good job.

HTC has taken the 4:3 aspect ratio from the iPad, installed Android Lollipop and added a cracking pair of speakers.

Design wise it may feel a little low-end compared to the Sony or Apple tablets, and there’s no microSD support, so you’re stuck with either the 16GB or 32GB version you buy.

The price has also been bumped up from previous Nexus tablets, to £319 (about $500, AUS$626) for the 16GB version and £379 (about $600, AUS$725) for the 32GB.

Verdict

The Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is a great alternative to the iPad. It’s set to breeze into second place in the race for best tablet, and top the league table of best Android tablets.

We liked

It’s got a lovely screen, lightweight design, all the Sony elements you’d look for and the right power combination to keep it at the forefront of slate technology for a few years.

The waterproof design is one of the nicest features, and makes it a much more attractive proposition than less robust slates on the market.

The new optional keyboard is potentially a welcome addition, although it’s hard to judge whether it’ll be worth adding it until we know the price.

The ‘under the hood’ mechanics are impressive too, and you’ll struggle to make them work flat out, while the battery life is better than ever before.

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet Review

We disliked

Although the addition of Android Lollipop is welcome, Sony’s UI is still a big problem for many; it restricts what you can do with the platform, and, most importantly, how it looks.

The storage options aren’t overly generous, and it would be nice if Sony offered a 64GB version; microSD storage is handy, but files on there don’t perform as well as on the main memory.

The camera setup won’t be good enough for some, with the rear camera in particular disappointing – it’s not a big issue for me, but lots of people like to use their slates to take snapshots.

The main issue the Xperia Z4 has to overcome – and there’s not a lot Sony can do about this – is that Android still trails iOS for dedicated tablet apps.

The ecosystem for the iPad is such that no matter how much you can do with the Android version, unless there’s something very specific you’re looking for the Apple tablet is generally the better choice.

Sony Xperia Z4 Review

Verdict

The Xperia Z4 is a great tablet, and it’s the one genuine alternative to the iPad. Android is still not the perfect ecosystem for tablets, but with a 2K display on the front and such a nice-looking design this is the best way of implementing it in a tablet yet.

There are still issues with the camera and the UI setup, but overall it’s a much more enjoyable experience than we’ve seen from a Sony tablet before.

Another big problem for some will be the price. If you’re opting for the 4G version it’s going to cost £579.99 (about $910, AUS$1135), while the Wi-Fi version will cost £499.99 (about $785, AUS$980). Pricing for both the US and Australia has yet to be announced.

It’s expensive, but compared to Apple’s pricing, which is at a very similar level, it’s not all that much of a surprise for a high-end, top-quality tablet experience.

If you want something a little bit different to the iPad, then give the Xperia Z4 Tablet a go. It’s the best slate from the company yet, and in my opinion it’s the best Android option out there, although you’re going to have to part with a bit of cash to experience it.

First reviewed: May 2015

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Review: Updated: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Review: Updated: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Introduction and design

Update: There’s life in the old Surface Pro 3 yet, as the saying goes. Microsoft has pushed a firmware update that improves the 2-in-1’s graphical performance on Windows 10. Available to download from Windows Update, HD Graphics Family driver update v10.18.15.4256 can also be downloaded and installed on the Surface Pro 2.

If you’re interested in what may be coming after the Surface Pro 3, check out everything we know about the Surface Pro 4.

Original review follows…

Knock it for the Windows 8 launch. Lay into it for how it debuted the Xbox One. But, when it comes to its latest product, the Surface Pro 3, don’t pull out the torches and pitchforks just yet – Microsoft is onto something here.

Over the past few years, the Redmond, Wash. Windows maker has proved to be one of the bolder technology companies, for better or worse. Microsoft clearly isn’t afraid to fall on its face in the hope of landing on what in the world tech users want next in this turbulent market, and the Surface Pro 3 is – well, it just might be an exception.

The company has been hammering away at what it considers is a problem with tablets for years. Since the launch of the Surface Pro, Microsoft has sought after the ultimate mobile computing device, one that could replace the laptop with a tablet-first approach.

All five versions of the Surface Pro are available now in the US, UK and Australia. They are: 64GB / Intel Core-i3 ($799), 128GB / Core-i5 ($999), 256GB / Core-i5 ($1,299), 256GB / Core-i7 ($1,549) and 512GB / Core-i7 ($1,949).

It’s also available in many more countries, including 25 new markets for the first time. According to Microsoft, the device has proved such a popular debutant in those markets that it’s struggled to meet demand. "For those of you waiting for Surface Pro 3 (or for the specific version that is just right for you): hang tight, we are shipping in new products as fast as we can," Microsoft wrote in a blog post on September 12. "We should be in a much better position in the next week or two."

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu8tvK4hCh4

The Surface Pro 3 is closer than Microsoft has ever been to making good on its mobile computing vision. After over a week with the slate, I’d go so far as to say that the Pro 3 is closer than any laptop-tablet hybrid released yet.

Microsoft was so sure of itself that not only did it directly compare the Pro 3 to Apple’s iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air, it gave members of the press pre-release Surface Pro 3 units during an announcement event in New York. Sure, the units have bugs as of this review, but who cares?

"I forced the giving away of the device, just so you’re aware," Surface team lead Panos Panay told me just after the reveal. "I said, ‘You know what? I want the product in people’s hands.’ ‘But the bugs are still there. They’re not all done until June 20, until it’s on market.’ I don’t care. The purity of the device is still true, and on June 20 there will be more drops."

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

One look at the thing might explain Panay’s eagerness to get the Surface Pro 3. It’s no iPad Air, that’s for sure, but the iPad Air isn’t packing a 12-inch display.

Design

Yes, Microsoft bumped the Surface Pro touchscreen from a tiny 10.6 inches to a far roomier 12 inches. In the process, the pixel count has been upped from 1920 x 1080 to 2160 x 1440 The result is a modest boost in pixels per inch – 207 ppi to 216 ppi – given the increase in screen real estate.

More important is Microsoft’s interesting choice in aspect ratio. Rather than sticking with the Pro 2’s 16:9 or glomming onto the iPad’s 4:3, the firm went with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The company claims that, with this aspect ratio, this 12-inch screen can actually display more content than the MacBook Air’s 13.3-inch panel at 16:10. The move was also made to make the tablet feel more like your average notepad when held in portrait orientation.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Wrapped in a bright, silver-colored magnesium shell that’s cool and smooth to the touch, the Surface Pro 3 feels premium in every regard. The tablet keeps the trapezoidal shape of its predecessors, but manages to come in both thinner and lighter than before. Plus, the tablet’s upper half is beset by vents on its edges to better dissipate heat pushed out by its fan.

Microsoft also moved the Windows home button to the device’s left side of its silky smooth – though, rather thick – glass bezel. This way, it appears on the bottom of the slate while held upright, calling out, ‘Hey, hold it this way now.’ While it’s no doubt the lightest Surface Pro yet, I’m not sure whether I could hold onto it for an entire subway ride home.

Adorning both sides of the Pro 3 are 5MP cameras capable of 1080p video recording. While stills on either shooter won’t blow you away, the front-facing lens should do just fine for Skype and the weekly video meeting over VPN.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

This Surface isn’t without its sidekick(s)

A tablet wouldn’t be much of a laptop replacement without a keyboard, and the Surface Pro keyboard was in desperate need of a boost. Luckily, Microsoft sent the Type Cover back to the drawing board, and what came back is the best version yet. From keys with deeper travel and stronger feedback to a wider glass trackpad that actually clicks, nothing was off the table.

But the most important improvement is the brand new double hinge. Equipped with a strong magnet that latches onto the Pro 3’s lower bezel, the Type Cover can now rest with just a portion of it touching your lap or desk. This proved to make writing on my lap much more stable than with previous Surface devices. (Plus, the plush cover comes in five colors: red, blue, cyan, black and purple.)

Tucked beside the Type Cover is also the newly improved Surface Pen. Microsoft made a point of calling its stylus that, because the firm wants it to be seen as and feel like the writing instrument we’ve all grown up with. With an aluminum finish and a useful clicker up top, the Surface Pen is weighted to better feel like a pen. Using Bluetooth and powered by N-trig, the stylus tracks closer to its physical position than ever before, thanks to some major improvements to the Surface screen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

The new Surface Pro 3 unarguably has the look and feel of a premium product, so it only deserves to be stacked up against the most luxuriously built tablet and laptop around.

Adobe launched major updates to two of its classic design applications in March. Called Touch Workspace, the apps are available now free of charge to existing Creative Cloud subscribers and Surface Pro 3 owners with the latest versions of Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 installed. The apps feature a streamlined design user interface that makes it more responsive to fingertips, while optimizing a number of new or existing software tools with touch interaction in mind.

Specifications

The Surface Pro 3 improves upon the previous model in just about every which way – Microsoft has checked all of its boxes. The company was even so brash as to compare this hybrid of sorts to both Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air and its tablet atop the mountain, the iPad Air.

At least on the outside, the Surface Pro 3 falls somewhere smack in the middle. Measuring 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H), the 1.76-pound tablet isn’t quite as thin and light as the iPad Air, but beats the MacBook Air in both respects easily.

And that’s pretty much the point: a device that offers enough of both to replace both. The Pro 3 is a light enough tablet – but not the absolute lightest – and arguably one of the thinnest and lightest laptops around. But dimensions aren’t even half of it. Does the Pro 3 offer comparable power to both, not to mention for a competitive price?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Here is the Surface Pro 3 configuration given to TechRadar:

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-4300U (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3
  • Screen: 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 multi-touch (ClearType, 3:2 aspect ratio)
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Ports: One USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, microSDXC card reader (up to 128GB), headphone/mic jack
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: Two 5MP webcams (1080p HD video)
  • Weight: 1.76 pounds
  • Size: 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H)

This is one of the mid-range Surface Pro 3 configurations, and it’ll cost you a steep $1,299 (about £772, AU$1,403). The most affordable way into the latest Surface Pro 3 goes for just $799 (around £475, AU$863). However, you’ll have to work with an Intel Core i3 chip, half as much RAM and just 64GB of storage. On the other hand, you can deck out this slate with a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of memory and a whopping 512GB solid-state drive for $1,949 (about £1,158, AU$2,106).

It’s worth noting that various deals to snag the Surface Pro 3 at a lower price are kicking about. In the US, for example, you can pick up the device with a $150 discount if you’re a student. If you opt for the higher-end Core i7 model, you can get an even better 10% off the retail price, which amounts to $195.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Returning to the device at hand, Microsoft says that it’s essentially two devices in one, and has priced it accordingly, not to mention with Apple squarely in mind. So, starting with the latest iPad, it would cost $799 — the Pro 3’s starting price — to only reach half of this Microsoft tablet’s storage. And this is Apple’s most premium configuration.

That price also gets you a 1.3GHz processor, a 9.7-inch display at 2048 x 1536 resolution, 802.11a/b/g/n dual-channel Wi-Fi with MIMO and Bluetooth 4.0. While it’s tough to compare these displays given their difference in size, the iPad Air has a tough time competing with the Surface Pro 3 on paper.

The MacBook Air comparison is, surprisingly, an easier one to make, spec for spec. For $1,299, Apple’s 13-inch thin-and-light laptop meets the Pro 3 head on in terms of storage and memory. However, that 1440 x 900 screen looks just dull in comparison. And while this notebook sports Intel’s far superior HD Graphics 5000, the Core i5 chip behind them is much slower at 1.4GHz.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

At first glance, it looks like the Surface Pro 3 can dance around both of Apple’s machines at the same time. However, that’s assuming you purchased the optional Type Cover. That’s right: the one tool that enables this tablet to truly replace the laptop does not come with the device. In fact, it costs a cool $130 (around £77, AU$140). Even so, this Surface Pro 3 configuration, with Type Cover included, still costs less than Apple’s entry level tablet and laptop combined. Microsoft may have made good on its goal of replacing the laptop in terms of price, but what about performance?

Performance

With a product designed to be two things at once, it’s tough to quantify its performance with synthetic tests designed to typically test just one type of device. Regardless, the Surface Pro 3 performed just slightly better than the average Core i5-4200U-packing Ultrabook, which isn’t terribly shocking.

Benchmarks

  • 3DMark: Ice Storm: 30,264; Cloud Gate: 2,617; Fire Strike: 347
  • Cinebench CPU: 208 points; Graphics: 25.14 fps
  • PCMark 8 Home: 2,190 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours, 38 minutes

Save for PCMark’s battery life test, these results are generally in line with what I would expect from a slightly beefed up Core i5 machine. This processor and RAM combo will handle video chat, streaming and perhaps the average spreadsheet VLOOKUP with ease. Plus, your lunchtime gaming breaks should go over smoothly within reason.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

For instance, I played a round of Hearthstone with just a bit a sluggishness before I turned down the graphics detail. However, the upper right portion of the tablet’s magnesium frame reached scorching levels of heat during that single session.

The same happened every time I went to watch an HD video over YouTube. Neither bode well for couch cruisers, though that redesigned hinge will come in mighty handy for this. Nothing will save this tablet from the sound its fan produces, however, which is noticeable but not disruptive or distracting.

Beaten by the battery

Back to that battery result, it frankly isn’t even close to the best I’ve seen from a tablet. In my own use of the Pro 3 – over 10 Google Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming high bitrate audio, TweetDeck running and HipChat active with the keyboard backlit – the slate lasted 3 hours and 55 minutes. Both tests were run at max brightness on the "Balanced" power setting.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 can hold out for up to 9 hours of web browsing before kicking the can. Considering that both PCMark 8 and my own test are plenty more strenuous than that simple task, perhaps the device could last longer under lighter loads.

Lowering the brightness will undoubtedly boost endurance, and I noticed that the tablet can last for days on standby. Regardless, this is a device meant to handle relatively heavy work loads. If it can’t match the market-leading laptop in terms of longevity, then can it truly replace it?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

It’s true: both the 13-inch MacBook Air and iPad Air outlast the Surface Pro 3 in our tests. Under more intense loads, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either maintain their lead over Microsoft’s tablet. Perhaps it’s Windows 8.1, or more likely that QHD screen – regardless, there’s room for improvement here.

The Surface Pen points ahead

When Surface team lead Panos Panay showed off the new Surface Pen’s Bluetooth feature that "magically" summoned OneNote with a click of its top button, it looked like a neat gimmick. As it turns out, that’s exactly the case, but this kind of use of Bluetooth shows vast potential for the future.

At any rate, what’s important here is the actual writing experience. While I personally wouldn’t use the Surface Pen for much in my day-to-day work, tracking proved to be super smooth. Not to mention that the digital lines of ink were as thin as the tip of the stylus as I jotted down notes in near-perfect cursive. (Well, near-perfect in replicating my chicken scratch.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Part of this is thanks in part to that complete redesign of the N-trig powered pen, this time to better emulate the feeling of a traditional writing instrument. And while its two face buttons could be positioned lower toward the tip, they click with ease.

The other half working toward an improved pen experience is what Microsoft claims is the thinnest optical stack in the industry. (The actual optics of the screen are closer to the glass face than ever.) This helps reduce the drag between your physical position with the stylus and its digital representation. Finally, some solid solid palm rejection only enhances that notepad-like feel.

Following the Surface Pro 3’s release, in July N-Trig released a list of compatible applications that have been tested with its latest drivers. They are:

  • Anime Studio Debut 9.5 Version 9.5 build 9768
  • Crayola PhotoFx studio 1 Version 1.5.0.42, 1.5.0.46
  • Flash Professional CC Version 13.1.0.226
  • Adobe Flash Professional CS6 Version CS6
  • Corel Painter Version 12.2.0.703
  • Sculptris
  • MyPaint Version 1.0.0
  • Mischief Version 1.12
  • Zbrush Version 4R6
  • Adobe DreamWeaverCS6 Version CS6
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 Version 12.0.20130925
  • Krita Version 2.8.3
  • Substance Painter Version 0.5.0

According to reports, Microsoft is in talks to acquire N-Trig, signalling a bright future for those who enjoy doodling and note-taking on its Surface devices.

Surface Hub only scratches the – you know…

In early October, Microsoft released a new app exclusively for its latest tablet, dubbed the Surface Hub, on the Windows Store. Frankly, however, it’s not much a hub just yet. As of this writing, the Surface Hub only serves to adjust the sensitivity of the Surface Pen and change the function of the Bluetooth-enabled purple button up top.

Your options: either launch the touch-centric version of OneNote like before or the standard desktop variety, which is available for free to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. The sensitivity adjustment tool works well enough, and allows you to test your adjustments in a tiny window before committing to the change.

Finally, the app provides details about your Surface that will be needed for troubleshooting, as well as providing a quick feedback form. And … that’s basically it. Not really a "hub", if you ask me, but nevertheless a useful, nicely designed tool. Here’s to hoping for more comprehensive updates to the app in the future.

Type Cover rises up; kickstand leans back

Microsoft has upped its game in almost every way with the Surface Pro 3, but most crucial is the new and improved Type Cover. The upgrades to this accessory were essential to what Microsoft’s mission to eliminate the laptop. (The improvements were so vital that keeping it an accessory was a clear misstep.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

For one, the typing on this cover has been massively improved, with deeper travel and speedier, more powerful pushback than ever from the keys. The larger clickpad – yes, "clickpad" – now clicks with the force you’d expect from a laptop. Though, I did have to be rather deliberate in scrolling through web pages.

That the new Type Cover now snaps to the Pro 3’s lower bezel might sound like a silly addition. But it makes for a far more sturdy and comfortable typing experience on your lap.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Lastly, the Redmond, Wash. company finally went and bent that kickstand nearly all the way back, allowing users to fully adjust its angle. This proved to be a boon while balancing the device on my lap for typing, as well as for just browsing my favorite websites while watching TV at the widest angle.

The hinges are incredibly stiff, requiring considerable force before they begin to give way. You should want that kind of rigidity from a device you’re to use essentially for any and every computing task.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft also has a docking station for the Surface Pro 3 in the works that replaces the current Surface Pro dock. It measures 12.9 x 3.8 x 4.4 inches and provides access to a multitude of peripherals – from your speakers and printer to a keyboard and mouse. It can also drive an external monitor too (4K, if you like your visuals crisp) from MiniDisplayPort, providing a dual display setup for apps such as Photoshop or Illustrator.

With a larger shape to accommodate the device’s dimensions, it manages to house three USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports, bringing the total to six if you include the ones on the Surface Pro 3. That’s in addition to a a Gigabit Ethernet port and a 3.5mm audio connection jack, and there’s also a Kensington security lock for warding off thieves.

Weighing 650g, it’s plenty portable too. So, when can you get your hands on it? It’s already available to you if you live in the US, where it retails for $199, and it’s out now in the UK too, where it retails for £164.99. Writing in a post on its Surface blog, Microsoft announced plans to ship the docking station to 26 more markets around the world starting on Friday September 12, around one month after it first went on sale in the US and Canada.

Bundled software

In addition to the standard Microsoft apps and free trials, the firm includes OneNote with every Surface Pro 3 in addition to Flipboard and Fresh Paint among a few light casual games. In short, Microsoft keeps it incredibly light on the bloatware, as it should being a first-party vendor.

OneNote’s inclusion makes for a particularly attractive package since Microsoft opted to make the note-taking app’s previously paid-for features free for all. It means that you can now password protect sections of notebooks, track changes to notes using page history and better manage files by searching for words in video or audio recordings.

The Windows Store has come a long way since its launch, but still trails behind Apple and Google’s app marketplaces in terms of volume and quality. Windows 8 devices are still generally the last to receive major apps and app updates. This would be a more serious issue if the Pro 3 weren’t packing Windows 8.1 Pro, but it’s nevertheless a problem.

Surface Pro 3 game controller

OK, we’ll come clean, we haven’t tested Microsoft’s game controller in our Surface Pro 3 review – because it doesn’t exist. But it’s interesting to note a Microsoft patent that shows that the company may have been thinking about releasing a funky handheld gaming accessory in the style of Nvidia’s Edge for the Surface Pro 3 at one point, which would’ve taken the device in a very different direction.

Appearing to be cut down the middle, the controller would allow you to place each half to the left and right to use the tablet like an Xbox-style controller. Could something similar make an appearance in the future? Stranger things have happened – and we’ve seen a few of them.

Surface Pro 3 updates

Microsoft has released a steady flow of updates to the Surface Pro 3 since its release to improve stability and performance. The most recent was released in late January, bringing a slew of bug fixes and stability tweaks, in addition to a new graphics driver that promised to boost 4K video playback and playing videos using Google Chrome.

Numbered Version 15.36.14.4080, it was the first driver to support Intel’s fifth-generation Broadwell processors – including the Intel HD Graphics 5500, HD Graphics 6000 and Iris Graphics 6100 cores. According to Intel, it also brought hardware acceleration of the VP9 video format that’s used in Chrome video playback and Google Hangouts.

Inconsistent Wi-Fi, the most niggling issue reported by Surface Pro 3 owners for some time, was fixed in an patch in November called the Wireless Network Controller and Bluetooth driver update. It focused on improving performance when waking from sleep and connecting to a 802.11ac Wi-Fi network. That update also brought improvements around behaviour of the device when waking up from sleep mode using the Home Button or the Surface Pen.

Verdict

The Surface Pro 3 is, without question, the most attractive and capable device that Microsoft has ever produced. As a result, it’s not only the closest to realizing the company’s vision for replacing the laptop, but closer than any hybrid device to date. This thing can honestly serve as both your tablet and laptop in nearly equal measure.

Of course, the tablet isn’t without compromise. Limited app creator support, subpar battery life and a dearth of hard connections are clear hurdles for the Pro 3. Plus, leaving the much-improved Type Cover as an accessory means that this is no laptop replacement out of the box.

We liked

Everything about the Surface Pro 3 design screams style and thoughtfulness. Microsoft took the entire Surface Pro 2 back to the drawing board with this revision. Between its bigger, sharper screen and thinner, lighter magnesium frame, nearly every box has been checked in crafting a superior product.

The same goes for the Type Cover, kickstand and Surface Pen, all of which received marquee improvements and rethinks. The redesigned Type Cover has resulted in the best typing experience I’ve had on a tablet keyboard, while the new, wider-angle kickstand in tandem with the new stylus makes for more use cases that simply make sense.

What resulted was a device that I was reliably able to use as both a laptop and a tablet. I jumped from writing this very review to flicking cards in Hearthstone on the couch and back to writing with just a flick of the kickstand and a snap of the keyboard cover. If that’s not a measure of a all-in-one device, I don’t know what is.

We disliked

But make no mistake, there is still room for improvement with the Surface Pro 3. For one, selling the Type Cover as an optional accessory not only inflates the price of this product, but only serves to diminish Microsoft’s mission statement to replace the laptop.

Another knock against the tablet is that it’s quite quick to burn up. Whether it was an HD video over Netflix or YouTube, a casual game or even system updates, the upper right portion of the metallic shell would grow almost uncomfortable to hold. Thankfully for the kickstand, there are many situations in which you need to hold the slate while sitting.

Finally, just under 4 hours of battery life might be suitable for the average Ultrabook, but not for your everyday tablet. And for Microsoft to position the Surface Pro 3 against the iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air, which both set the endurance standards in their categories, only makes this point look worse.

Final verdict

It’s worth reiterating the point that the Surface Pro 3 is not only Microsoft’s most striking and versatile device to date, but the most convincing poster child for the hybrid category yet. And this ringing endorsement comes from a long-time skeptic of such devices.

That said, the Pro 3 is hamstrung by flaws that cannot be ignored. Namely, the battery life might be in line with most Ultrabooks, but it doesn’t come close to what Apple’s leading laptop and top tablet have shown. And the Type Cover being billed as an accessory doesn’t help Microsoft’s cause in the slightest – it’s quite pricey to boot.

At any rate, this version of the tablet comes in cheaper than the most affordable iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air combined, even with the Type Cover, and that’s the point. On paper, this slate is more powerful than either Apple device, not to mention most other comparably priced laptops and tablets. The Surface Pro 3 might not be perfect, but it’s far and wide the brightest shining example of a potential tablet takeover.

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Review: Updated: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Review: Updated: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Introduction and design

Update: There’s life in the old Surface Pro 3 yet, as the saying goes. Microsoft has pushed a firmware update that improves the 2-in-1’s graphical performance on Windows 10. Available to download from Windows Update, HD Graphics Family driver update v10.18.15.4256 can also be downloaded and installed on the Surface Pro 2.

If you’re interested in what may be coming after the Surface Pro 3, check out everything we know about the Surface Pro 4.

Original review follows…

Knock it for the Windows 8 launch. Lay into it for how it debuted the Xbox One. But, when it comes to its latest product, the Surface Pro 3, don’t pull out the torches and pitchforks just yet – Microsoft is onto something here.

Over the past few years, the Redmond, Wash. Windows maker has proved to be one of the bolder technology companies, for better or worse. Microsoft clearly isn’t afraid to fall on its face in the hope of landing on what in the world tech users want next in this turbulent market, and the Surface Pro 3 is – well, it just might be an exception.

The company has been hammering away at what it considers is a problem with tablets for years. Since the launch of the Surface Pro, Microsoft has sought after the ultimate mobile computing device, one that could replace the laptop with a tablet-first approach.

All five versions of the Surface Pro are available now in the US, UK and Australia. They are: 64GB / Intel Core-i3 ($799), 128GB / Core-i5 ($999), 256GB / Core-i5 ($1,299), 256GB / Core-i7 ($1,549) and 512GB / Core-i7 ($1,949).

It’s also available in many more countries, including 25 new markets for the first time. According to Microsoft, the device has proved such a popular debutant in those markets that it’s struggled to meet demand. "For those of you waiting for Surface Pro 3 (or for the specific version that is just right for you): hang tight, we are shipping in new products as fast as we can," Microsoft wrote in a blog post on September 12. "We should be in a much better position in the next week or two."

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu8tvK4hCh4

The Surface Pro 3 is closer than Microsoft has ever been to making good on its mobile computing vision. After over a week with the slate, I’d go so far as to say that the Pro 3 is closer than any laptop-tablet hybrid released yet.

Microsoft was so sure of itself that not only did it directly compare the Pro 3 to Apple’s iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air, it gave members of the press pre-release Surface Pro 3 units during an announcement event in New York. Sure, the units have bugs as of this review, but who cares?

"I forced the giving away of the device, just so you’re aware," Surface team lead Panos Panay told me just after the reveal. "I said, ‘You know what? I want the product in people’s hands.’ ‘But the bugs are still there. They’re not all done until June 20, until it’s on market.’ I don’t care. The purity of the device is still true, and on June 20 there will be more drops."

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

One look at the thing might explain Panay’s eagerness to get the Surface Pro 3. It’s no iPad Air, that’s for sure, but the iPad Air isn’t packing a 12-inch display.

Design

Yes, Microsoft bumped the Surface Pro touchscreen from a tiny 10.6 inches to a far roomier 12 inches. In the process, the pixel count has been upped from 1920 x 1080 to 2160 x 1440 The result is a modest boost in pixels per inch – 207 ppi to 216 ppi – given the increase in screen real estate.

More important is Microsoft’s interesting choice in aspect ratio. Rather than sticking with the Pro 2’s 16:9 or glomming onto the iPad’s 4:3, the firm went with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The company claims that, with this aspect ratio, this 12-inch screen can actually display more content than the MacBook Air’s 13.3-inch panel at 16:10. The move was also made to make the tablet feel more like your average notepad when held in portrait orientation.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Wrapped in a bright, silver-colored magnesium shell that’s cool and smooth to the touch, the Surface Pro 3 feels premium in every regard. The tablet keeps the trapezoidal shape of its predecessors, but manages to come in both thinner and lighter than before. Plus, the tablet’s upper half is beset by vents on its edges to better dissipate heat pushed out by its fan.

Microsoft also moved the Windows home button to the device’s left side of its silky smooth – though, rather thick – glass bezel. This way, it appears on the bottom of the slate while held upright, calling out, ‘Hey, hold it this way now.’ While it’s no doubt the lightest Surface Pro yet, I’m not sure whether I could hold onto it for an entire subway ride home.

Adorning both sides of the Pro 3 are 5MP cameras capable of 1080p video recording. While stills on either shooter won’t blow you away, the front-facing lens should do just fine for Skype and the weekly video meeting over VPN.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

This Surface isn’t without its sidekick(s)

A tablet wouldn’t be much of a laptop replacement without a keyboard, and the Surface Pro keyboard was in desperate need of a boost. Luckily, Microsoft sent the Type Cover back to the drawing board, and what came back is the best version yet. From keys with deeper travel and stronger feedback to a wider glass trackpad that actually clicks, nothing was off the table.

But the most important improvement is the brand new double hinge. Equipped with a strong magnet that latches onto the Pro 3’s lower bezel, the Type Cover can now rest with just a portion of it touching your lap or desk. This proved to make writing on my lap much more stable than with previous Surface devices. (Plus, the plush cover comes in five colors: red, blue, cyan, black and purple.)

Tucked beside the Type Cover is also the newly improved Surface Pen. Microsoft made a point of calling its stylus that, because the firm wants it to be seen as and feel like the writing instrument we’ve all grown up with. With an aluminum finish and a useful clicker up top, the Surface Pen is weighted to better feel like a pen. Using Bluetooth and powered by N-trig, the stylus tracks closer to its physical position than ever before, thanks to some major improvements to the Surface screen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

The new Surface Pro 3 unarguably has the look and feel of a premium product, so it only deserves to be stacked up against the most luxuriously built tablet and laptop around.

Adobe launched major updates to two of its classic design applications in March. Called Touch Workspace, the apps are available now free of charge to existing Creative Cloud subscribers and Surface Pro 3 owners with the latest versions of Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 installed. The apps feature a streamlined design user interface that makes it more responsive to fingertips, while optimizing a number of new or existing software tools with touch interaction in mind.

Specifications

The Surface Pro 3 improves upon the previous model in just about every which way – Microsoft has checked all of its boxes. The company was even so brash as to compare this hybrid of sorts to both Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air and its tablet atop the mountain, the iPad Air.

At least on the outside, the Surface Pro 3 falls somewhere smack in the middle. Measuring 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H), the 1.76-pound tablet isn’t quite as thin and light as the iPad Air, but beats the MacBook Air in both respects easily.

And that’s pretty much the point: a device that offers enough of both to replace both. The Pro 3 is a light enough tablet – but not the absolute lightest – and arguably one of the thinnest and lightest laptops around. But dimensions aren’t even half of it. Does the Pro 3 offer comparable power to both, not to mention for a competitive price?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Here is the Surface Pro 3 configuration given to TechRadar:

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-4300U (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3
  • Screen: 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 multi-touch (ClearType, 3:2 aspect ratio)
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Ports: One USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, microSDXC card reader (up to 128GB), headphone/mic jack
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: Two 5MP webcams (1080p HD video)
  • Weight: 1.76 pounds
  • Size: 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H)

This is one of the mid-range Surface Pro 3 configurations, and it’ll cost you a steep $1,299 (about £772, AU$1,403). The most affordable way into the latest Surface Pro 3 goes for just $799 (around £475, AU$863). However, you’ll have to work with an Intel Core i3 chip, half as much RAM and just 64GB of storage. On the other hand, you can deck out this slate with a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of memory and a whopping 512GB solid-state drive for $1,949 (about £1,158, AU$2,106).

It’s worth noting that various deals to snag the Surface Pro 3 at a lower price are kicking about. In the US, for example, you can pick up the device with a $150 discount if you’re a student. If you opt for the higher-end Core i7 model, you can get an even better 10% off the retail price, which amounts to $195.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Returning to the device at hand, Microsoft says that it’s essentially two devices in one, and has priced it accordingly, not to mention with Apple squarely in mind. So, starting with the latest iPad, it would cost $799 — the Pro 3’s starting price — to only reach half of this Microsoft tablet’s storage. And this is Apple’s most premium configuration.

That price also gets you a 1.3GHz processor, a 9.7-inch display at 2048 x 1536 resolution, 802.11a/b/g/n dual-channel Wi-Fi with MIMO and Bluetooth 4.0. While it’s tough to compare these displays given their difference in size, the iPad Air has a tough time competing with the Surface Pro 3 on paper.

The MacBook Air comparison is, surprisingly, an easier one to make, spec for spec. For $1,299, Apple’s 13-inch thin-and-light laptop meets the Pro 3 head on in terms of storage and memory. However, that 1440 x 900 screen looks just dull in comparison. And while this notebook sports Intel’s far superior HD Graphics 5000, the Core i5 chip behind them is much slower at 1.4GHz.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

At first glance, it looks like the Surface Pro 3 can dance around both of Apple’s machines at the same time. However, that’s assuming you purchased the optional Type Cover. That’s right: the one tool that enables this tablet to truly replace the laptop does not come with the device. In fact, it costs a cool $130 (around £77, AU$140). Even so, this Surface Pro 3 configuration, with Type Cover included, still costs less than Apple’s entry level tablet and laptop combined. Microsoft may have made good on its goal of replacing the laptop in terms of price, but what about performance?

Performance

With a product designed to be two things at once, it’s tough to quantify its performance with synthetic tests designed to typically test just one type of device. Regardless, the Surface Pro 3 performed just slightly better than the average Core i5-4200U-packing Ultrabook, which isn’t terribly shocking.

Benchmarks

  • 3DMark: Ice Storm: 30,264; Cloud Gate: 2,617; Fire Strike: 347
  • Cinebench CPU: 208 points; Graphics: 25.14 fps
  • PCMark 8 Home: 2,190 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours, 38 minutes

Save for PCMark’s battery life test, these results are generally in line with what I would expect from a slightly beefed up Core i5 machine. This processor and RAM combo will handle video chat, streaming and perhaps the average spreadsheet VLOOKUP with ease. Plus, your lunchtime gaming breaks should go over smoothly within reason.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

For instance, I played a round of Hearthstone with just a bit a sluggishness before I turned down the graphics detail. However, the upper right portion of the tablet’s magnesium frame reached scorching levels of heat during that single session.

The same happened every time I went to watch an HD video over YouTube. Neither bode well for couch cruisers, though that redesigned hinge will come in mighty handy for this. Nothing will save this tablet from the sound its fan produces, however, which is noticeable but not disruptive or distracting.

Beaten by the battery

Back to that battery result, it frankly isn’t even close to the best I’ve seen from a tablet. In my own use of the Pro 3 – over 10 Google Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming high bitrate audio, TweetDeck running and HipChat active with the keyboard backlit – the slate lasted 3 hours and 55 minutes. Both tests were run at max brightness on the "Balanced" power setting.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 can hold out for up to 9 hours of web browsing before kicking the can. Considering that both PCMark 8 and my own test are plenty more strenuous than that simple task, perhaps the device could last longer under lighter loads.

Lowering the brightness will undoubtedly boost endurance, and I noticed that the tablet can last for days on standby. Regardless, this is a device meant to handle relatively heavy work loads. If it can’t match the market-leading laptop in terms of longevity, then can it truly replace it?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

It’s true: both the 13-inch MacBook Air and iPad Air outlast the Surface Pro 3 in our tests. Under more intense loads, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either maintain their lead over Microsoft’s tablet. Perhaps it’s Windows 8.1, or more likely that QHD screen – regardless, there’s room for improvement here.

The Surface Pen points ahead

When Surface team lead Panos Panay showed off the new Surface Pen’s Bluetooth feature that "magically" summoned OneNote with a click of its top button, it looked like a neat gimmick. As it turns out, that’s exactly the case, but this kind of use of Bluetooth shows vast potential for the future.

At any rate, what’s important here is the actual writing experience. While I personally wouldn’t use the Surface Pen for much in my day-to-day work, tracking proved to be super smooth. Not to mention that the digital lines of ink were as thin as the tip of the stylus as I jotted down notes in near-perfect cursive. (Well, near-perfect in replicating my chicken scratch.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Part of this is thanks in part to that complete redesign of the N-trig powered pen, this time to better emulate the feeling of a traditional writing instrument. And while its two face buttons could be positioned lower toward the tip, they click with ease.

The other half working toward an improved pen experience is what Microsoft claims is the thinnest optical stack in the industry. (The actual optics of the screen are closer to the glass face than ever.) This helps reduce the drag between your physical position with the stylus and its digital representation. Finally, some solid solid palm rejection only enhances that notepad-like feel.

Following the Surface Pro 3’s release, in July N-Trig released a list of compatible applications that have been tested with its latest drivers. They are:

  • Anime Studio Debut 9.5 Version 9.5 build 9768
  • Crayola PhotoFx studio 1 Version 1.5.0.42, 1.5.0.46
  • Flash Professional CC Version 13.1.0.226
  • Adobe Flash Professional CS6 Version CS6
  • Corel Painter Version 12.2.0.703
  • Sculptris
  • MyPaint Version 1.0.0
  • Mischief Version 1.12
  • Zbrush Version 4R6
  • Adobe DreamWeaverCS6 Version CS6
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 Version 12.0.20130925
  • Krita Version 2.8.3
  • Substance Painter Version 0.5.0

According to reports, Microsoft is in talks to acquire N-Trig, signalling a bright future for those who enjoy doodling and note-taking on its Surface devices.

Surface Hub only scratches the – you know…

In early October, Microsoft released a new app exclusively for its latest tablet, dubbed the Surface Hub, on the Windows Store. Frankly, however, it’s not much a hub just yet. As of this writing, the Surface Hub only serves to adjust the sensitivity of the Surface Pen and change the function of the Bluetooth-enabled purple button up top.

Your options: either launch the touch-centric version of OneNote like before or the standard desktop variety, which is available for free to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. The sensitivity adjustment tool works well enough, and allows you to test your adjustments in a tiny window before committing to the change.

Finally, the app provides details about your Surface that will be needed for troubleshooting, as well as providing a quick feedback form. And … that’s basically it. Not really a "hub", if you ask me, but nevertheless a useful, nicely designed tool. Here’s to hoping for more comprehensive updates to the app in the future.

Type Cover rises up; kickstand leans back

Microsoft has upped its game in almost every way with the Surface Pro 3, but most crucial is the new and improved Type Cover. The upgrades to this accessory were essential to what Microsoft’s mission to eliminate the laptop. (The improvements were so vital that keeping it an accessory was a clear misstep.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

For one, the typing on this cover has been massively improved, with deeper travel and speedier, more powerful pushback than ever from the keys. The larger clickpad – yes, "clickpad" – now clicks with the force you’d expect from a laptop. Though, I did have to be rather deliberate in scrolling through web pages.

That the new Type Cover now snaps to the Pro 3’s lower bezel might sound like a silly addition. But it makes for a far more sturdy and comfortable typing experience on your lap.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Lastly, the Redmond, Wash. company finally went and bent that kickstand nearly all the way back, allowing users to fully adjust its angle. This proved to be a boon while balancing the device on my lap for typing, as well as for just browsing my favorite websites while watching TV at the widest angle.

The hinges are incredibly stiff, requiring considerable force before they begin to give way. You should want that kind of rigidity from a device you’re to use essentially for any and every computing task.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft also has a docking station for the Surface Pro 3 in the works that replaces the current Surface Pro dock. It measures 12.9 x 3.8 x 4.4 inches and provides access to a multitude of peripherals – from your speakers and printer to a keyboard and mouse. It can also drive an external monitor too (4K, if you like your visuals crisp) from MiniDisplayPort, providing a dual display setup for apps such as Photoshop or Illustrator.

With a larger shape to accommodate the device’s dimensions, it manages to house three USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports, bringing the total to six if you include the ones on the Surface Pro 3. That’s in addition to a a Gigabit Ethernet port and a 3.5mm audio connection jack, and there’s also a Kensington security lock for warding off thieves.

Weighing 650g, it’s plenty portable too. So, when can you get your hands on it? It’s already available to you if you live in the US, where it retails for $199, and it’s out now in the UK too, where it retails for £164.99. Writing in a post on its Surface blog, Microsoft announced plans to ship the docking station to 26 more markets around the world starting on Friday September 12, around one month after it first went on sale in the US and Canada.

Bundled software

In addition to the standard Microsoft apps and free trials, the firm includes OneNote with every Surface Pro 3 in addition to Flipboard and Fresh Paint among a few light casual games. In short, Microsoft keeps it incredibly light on the bloatware, as it should being a first-party vendor.

OneNote’s inclusion makes for a particularly attractive package since Microsoft opted to make the note-taking app’s previously paid-for features free for all. It means that you can now password protect sections of notebooks, track changes to notes using page history and better manage files by searching for words in video or audio recordings.

The Windows Store has come a long way since its launch, but still trails behind Apple and Google’s app marketplaces in terms of volume and quality. Windows 8 devices are still generally the last to receive major apps and app updates. This would be a more serious issue if the Pro 3 weren’t packing Windows 8.1 Pro, but it’s nevertheless a problem.

Surface Pro 3 game controller

OK, we’ll come clean, we haven’t tested Microsoft’s game controller in our Surface Pro 3 review – because it doesn’t exist. But it’s interesting to note a Microsoft patent that shows that the company may have been thinking about releasing a funky handheld gaming accessory in the style of Nvidia’s Edge for the Surface Pro 3 at one point, which would’ve taken the device in a very different direction.

Appearing to be cut down the middle, the controller would allow you to place each half to the left and right to use the tablet like an Xbox-style controller. Could something similar make an appearance in the future? Stranger things have happened – and we’ve seen a few of them.

Surface Pro 3 updates

Microsoft has released a steady flow of updates to the Surface Pro 3 since its release to improve stability and performance. The most recent was released in late January, bringing a slew of bug fixes and stability tweaks, in addition to a new graphics driver that promised to boost 4K video playback and playing videos using Google Chrome.

Numbered Version 15.36.14.4080, it was the first driver to support Intel’s fifth-generation Broadwell processors – including the Intel HD Graphics 5500, HD Graphics 6000 and Iris Graphics 6100 cores. According to Intel, it also brought hardware acceleration of the VP9 video format that’s used in Chrome video playback and Google Hangouts.

Inconsistent Wi-Fi, the most niggling issue reported by Surface Pro 3 owners for some time, was fixed in an patch in November called the Wireless Network Controller and Bluetooth driver update. It focused on improving performance when waking from sleep and connecting to a 802.11ac Wi-Fi network. That update also brought improvements around behaviour of the device when waking up from sleep mode using the Home Button or the Surface Pen.

Verdict

The Surface Pro 3 is, without question, the most attractive and capable device that Microsoft has ever produced. As a result, it’s not only the closest to realizing the company’s vision for replacing the laptop, but closer than any hybrid device to date. This thing can honestly serve as both your tablet and laptop in nearly equal measure.

Of course, the tablet isn’t without compromise. Limited app creator support, subpar battery life and a dearth of hard connections are clear hurdles for the Pro 3. Plus, leaving the much-improved Type Cover as an accessory means that this is no laptop replacement out of the box.

We liked

Everything about the Surface Pro 3 design screams style and thoughtfulness. Microsoft took the entire Surface Pro 2 back to the drawing board with this revision. Between its bigger, sharper screen and thinner, lighter magnesium frame, nearly every box has been checked in crafting a superior product.

The same goes for the Type Cover, kickstand and Surface Pen, all of which received marquee improvements and rethinks. The redesigned Type Cover has resulted in the best typing experience I’ve had on a tablet keyboard, while the new, wider-angle kickstand in tandem with the new stylus makes for more use cases that simply make sense.

What resulted was a device that I was reliably able to use as both a laptop and a tablet. I jumped from writing this very review to flicking cards in Hearthstone on the couch and back to writing with just a flick of the kickstand and a snap of the keyboard cover. If that’s not a measure of a all-in-one device, I don’t know what is.

We disliked

But make no mistake, there is still room for improvement with the Surface Pro 3. For one, selling the Type Cover as an optional accessory not only inflates the price of this product, but only serves to diminish Microsoft’s mission statement to replace the laptop.

Another knock against the tablet is that it’s quite quick to burn up. Whether it was an HD video over Netflix or YouTube, a casual game or even system updates, the upper right portion of the metallic shell would grow almost uncomfortable to hold. Thankfully for the kickstand, there are many situations in which you need to hold the slate while sitting.

Finally, just under 4 hours of battery life might be suitable for the average Ultrabook, but not for your everyday tablet. And for Microsoft to position the Surface Pro 3 against the iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air, which both set the endurance standards in their categories, only makes this point look worse.

Final verdict

It’s worth reiterating the point that the Surface Pro 3 is not only Microsoft’s most striking and versatile device to date, but the most convincing poster child for the hybrid category yet. And this ringing endorsement comes from a long-time skeptic of such devices.

That said, the Pro 3 is hamstrung by flaws that cannot be ignored. Namely, the battery life might be in line with most Ultrabooks, but it doesn’t come close to what Apple’s leading laptop and top tablet have shown. And the Type Cover being billed as an accessory doesn’t help Microsoft’s cause in the slightest – it’s quite pricey to boot.

At any rate, this version of the tablet comes in cheaper than the most affordable iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air combined, even with the Type Cover, and that’s the point. On paper, this slate is more powerful than either Apple device, not to mention most other comparably priced laptops and tablets. The Surface Pro 3 might not be perfect, but it’s far and wide the brightest shining example of a potential tablet takeover.

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Review: Updated: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Review: Updated: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Introduction and design

Update: There’s life in the old Surface Pro 3 yet, as the saying goes. Microsoft has pushed a firmware update that improves the 2-in-1’s graphical performance on Windows 10. Available to download from Windows Update, HD Graphics Family driver update v10.18.15.4256 can also be downloaded and installed on the Surface Pro 2.

If you’re interested in what may be coming after the Surface Pro 3, check out everything we know about the Surface Pro 4.

Original review follows…

Knock it for the Windows 8 launch. Lay into it for how it debuted the Xbox One. But, when it comes to its latest product, the Surface Pro 3, don’t pull out the torches and pitchforks just yet – Microsoft is onto something here.

Over the past few years, the Redmond, Wash. Windows maker has proved to be one of the bolder technology companies, for better or worse. Microsoft clearly isn’t afraid to fall on its face in the hope of landing on what in the world tech users want next in this turbulent market, and the Surface Pro 3 is – well, it just might be an exception.

The company has been hammering away at what it considers is a problem with tablets for years. Since the launch of the Surface Pro, Microsoft has sought after the ultimate mobile computing device, one that could replace the laptop with a tablet-first approach.

All five versions of the Surface Pro are available now in the US, UK and Australia. They are: 64GB / Intel Core-i3 ($799), 128GB / Core-i5 ($999), 256GB / Core-i5 ($1,299), 256GB / Core-i7 ($1,549) and 512GB / Core-i7 ($1,949).

It’s also available in many more countries, including 25 new markets for the first time. According to Microsoft, the device has proved such a popular debutant in those markets that it’s struggled to meet demand. "For those of you waiting for Surface Pro 3 (or for the specific version that is just right for you): hang tight, we are shipping in new products as fast as we can," Microsoft wrote in a blog post on September 12. "We should be in a much better position in the next week or two."

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu8tvK4hCh4

The Surface Pro 3 is closer than Microsoft has ever been to making good on its mobile computing vision. After over a week with the slate, I’d go so far as to say that the Pro 3 is closer than any laptop-tablet hybrid released yet.

Microsoft was so sure of itself that not only did it directly compare the Pro 3 to Apple’s iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air, it gave members of the press pre-release Surface Pro 3 units during an announcement event in New York. Sure, the units have bugs as of this review, but who cares?

"I forced the giving away of the device, just so you’re aware," Surface team lead Panos Panay told me just after the reveal. "I said, ‘You know what? I want the product in people’s hands.’ ‘But the bugs are still there. They’re not all done until June 20, until it’s on market.’ I don’t care. The purity of the device is still true, and on June 20 there will be more drops."

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

One look at the thing might explain Panay’s eagerness to get the Surface Pro 3. It’s no iPad Air, that’s for sure, but the iPad Air isn’t packing a 12-inch display.

Design

Yes, Microsoft bumped the Surface Pro touchscreen from a tiny 10.6 inches to a far roomier 12 inches. In the process, the pixel count has been upped from 1920 x 1080 to 2160 x 1440 The result is a modest boost in pixels per inch – 207 ppi to 216 ppi – given the increase in screen real estate.

More important is Microsoft’s interesting choice in aspect ratio. Rather than sticking with the Pro 2’s 16:9 or glomming onto the iPad’s 4:3, the firm went with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The company claims that, with this aspect ratio, this 12-inch screen can actually display more content than the MacBook Air’s 13.3-inch panel at 16:10. The move was also made to make the tablet feel more like your average notepad when held in portrait orientation.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Wrapped in a bright, silver-colored magnesium shell that’s cool and smooth to the touch, the Surface Pro 3 feels premium in every regard. The tablet keeps the trapezoidal shape of its predecessors, but manages to come in both thinner and lighter than before. Plus, the tablet’s upper half is beset by vents on its edges to better dissipate heat pushed out by its fan.

Microsoft also moved the Windows home button to the device’s left side of its silky smooth – though, rather thick – glass bezel. This way, it appears on the bottom of the slate while held upright, calling out, ‘Hey, hold it this way now.’ While it’s no doubt the lightest Surface Pro yet, I’m not sure whether I could hold onto it for an entire subway ride home.

Adorning both sides of the Pro 3 are 5MP cameras capable of 1080p video recording. While stills on either shooter won’t blow you away, the front-facing lens should do just fine for Skype and the weekly video meeting over VPN.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

This Surface isn’t without its sidekick(s)

A tablet wouldn’t be much of a laptop replacement without a keyboard, and the Surface Pro keyboard was in desperate need of a boost. Luckily, Microsoft sent the Type Cover back to the drawing board, and what came back is the best version yet. From keys with deeper travel and stronger feedback to a wider glass trackpad that actually clicks, nothing was off the table.

But the most important improvement is the brand new double hinge. Equipped with a strong magnet that latches onto the Pro 3’s lower bezel, the Type Cover can now rest with just a portion of it touching your lap or desk. This proved to make writing on my lap much more stable than with previous Surface devices. (Plus, the plush cover comes in five colors: red, blue, cyan, black and purple.)

Tucked beside the Type Cover is also the newly improved Surface Pen. Microsoft made a point of calling its stylus that, because the firm wants it to be seen as and feel like the writing instrument we’ve all grown up with. With an aluminum finish and a useful clicker up top, the Surface Pen is weighted to better feel like a pen. Using Bluetooth and powered by N-trig, the stylus tracks closer to its physical position than ever before, thanks to some major improvements to the Surface screen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

The new Surface Pro 3 unarguably has the look and feel of a premium product, so it only deserves to be stacked up against the most luxuriously built tablet and laptop around.

Adobe launched major updates to two of its classic design applications in March. Called Touch Workspace, the apps are available now free of charge to existing Creative Cloud subscribers and Surface Pro 3 owners with the latest versions of Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 installed. The apps feature a streamlined design user interface that makes it more responsive to fingertips, while optimizing a number of new or existing software tools with touch interaction in mind.

Specifications

The Surface Pro 3 improves upon the previous model in just about every which way – Microsoft has checked all of its boxes. The company was even so brash as to compare this hybrid of sorts to both Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air and its tablet atop the mountain, the iPad Air.

At least on the outside, the Surface Pro 3 falls somewhere smack in the middle. Measuring 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H), the 1.76-pound tablet isn’t quite as thin and light as the iPad Air, but beats the MacBook Air in both respects easily.

And that’s pretty much the point: a device that offers enough of both to replace both. The Pro 3 is a light enough tablet – but not the absolute lightest – and arguably one of the thinnest and lightest laptops around. But dimensions aren’t even half of it. Does the Pro 3 offer comparable power to both, not to mention for a competitive price?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Here is the Surface Pro 3 configuration given to TechRadar:

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-4300U (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3
  • Screen: 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 multi-touch (ClearType, 3:2 aspect ratio)
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Ports: One USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, microSDXC card reader (up to 128GB), headphone/mic jack
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: Two 5MP webcams (1080p HD video)
  • Weight: 1.76 pounds
  • Size: 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H)

This is one of the mid-range Surface Pro 3 configurations, and it’ll cost you a steep $1,299 (about £772, AU$1,403). The most affordable way into the latest Surface Pro 3 goes for just $799 (around £475, AU$863). However, you’ll have to work with an Intel Core i3 chip, half as much RAM and just 64GB of storage. On the other hand, you can deck out this slate with a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of memory and a whopping 512GB solid-state drive for $1,949 (about £1,158, AU$2,106).

It’s worth noting that various deals to snag the Surface Pro 3 at a lower price are kicking about. In the US, for example, you can pick up the device with a $150 discount if you’re a student. If you opt for the higher-end Core i7 model, you can get an even better 10% off the retail price, which amounts to $195.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Returning to the device at hand, Microsoft says that it’s essentially two devices in one, and has priced it accordingly, not to mention with Apple squarely in mind. So, starting with the latest iPad, it would cost $799 — the Pro 3’s starting price — to only reach half of this Microsoft tablet’s storage. And this is Apple’s most premium configuration.

That price also gets you a 1.3GHz processor, a 9.7-inch display at 2048 x 1536 resolution, 802.11a/b/g/n dual-channel Wi-Fi with MIMO and Bluetooth 4.0. While it’s tough to compare these displays given their difference in size, the iPad Air has a tough time competing with the Surface Pro 3 on paper.

The MacBook Air comparison is, surprisingly, an easier one to make, spec for spec. For $1,299, Apple’s 13-inch thin-and-light laptop meets the Pro 3 head on in terms of storage and memory. However, that 1440 x 900 screen looks just dull in comparison. And while this notebook sports Intel’s far superior HD Graphics 5000, the Core i5 chip behind them is much slower at 1.4GHz.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

At first glance, it looks like the Surface Pro 3 can dance around both of Apple’s machines at the same time. However, that’s assuming you purchased the optional Type Cover. That’s right: the one tool that enables this tablet to truly replace the laptop does not come with the device. In fact, it costs a cool $130 (around £77, AU$140). Even so, this Surface Pro 3 configuration, with Type Cover included, still costs less than Apple’s entry level tablet and laptop combined. Microsoft may have made good on its goal of replacing the laptop in terms of price, but what about performance?

Performance

With a product designed to be two things at once, it’s tough to quantify its performance with synthetic tests designed to typically test just one type of device. Regardless, the Surface Pro 3 performed just slightly better than the average Core i5-4200U-packing Ultrabook, which isn’t terribly shocking.

Benchmarks

  • 3DMark: Ice Storm: 30,264; Cloud Gate: 2,617; Fire Strike: 347
  • Cinebench CPU: 208 points; Graphics: 25.14 fps
  • PCMark 8 Home: 2,190 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours, 38 minutes

Save for PCMark’s battery life test, these results are generally in line with what I would expect from a slightly beefed up Core i5 machine. This processor and RAM combo will handle video chat, streaming and perhaps the average spreadsheet VLOOKUP with ease. Plus, your lunchtime gaming breaks should go over smoothly within reason.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

For instance, I played a round of Hearthstone with just a bit a sluggishness before I turned down the graphics detail. However, the upper right portion of the tablet’s magnesium frame reached scorching levels of heat during that single session.

The same happened every time I went to watch an HD video over YouTube. Neither bode well for couch cruisers, though that redesigned hinge will come in mighty handy for this. Nothing will save this tablet from the sound its fan produces, however, which is noticeable but not disruptive or distracting.

Beaten by the battery

Back to that battery result, it frankly isn’t even close to the best I’ve seen from a tablet. In my own use of the Pro 3 – over 10 Google Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming high bitrate audio, TweetDeck running and HipChat active with the keyboard backlit – the slate lasted 3 hours and 55 minutes. Both tests were run at max brightness on the "Balanced" power setting.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 can hold out for up to 9 hours of web browsing before kicking the can. Considering that both PCMark 8 and my own test are plenty more strenuous than that simple task, perhaps the device could last longer under lighter loads.

Lowering the brightness will undoubtedly boost endurance, and I noticed that the tablet can last for days on standby. Regardless, this is a device meant to handle relatively heavy work loads. If it can’t match the market-leading laptop in terms of longevity, then can it truly replace it?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

It’s true: both the 13-inch MacBook Air and iPad Air outlast the Surface Pro 3 in our tests. Under more intense loads, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either maintain their lead over Microsoft’s tablet. Perhaps it’s Windows 8.1, or more likely that QHD screen – regardless, there’s room for improvement here.

The Surface Pen points ahead

When Surface team lead Panos Panay showed off the new Surface Pen’s Bluetooth feature that "magically" summoned OneNote with a click of its top button, it looked like a neat gimmick. As it turns out, that’s exactly the case, but this kind of use of Bluetooth shows vast potential for the future.

At any rate, what’s important here is the actual writing experience. While I personally wouldn’t use the Surface Pen for much in my day-to-day work, tracking proved to be super smooth. Not to mention that the digital lines of ink were as thin as the tip of the stylus as I jotted down notes in near-perfect cursive. (Well, near-perfect in replicating my chicken scratch.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Part of this is thanks in part to that complete redesign of the N-trig powered pen, this time to better emulate the feeling of a traditional writing instrument. And while its two face buttons could be positioned lower toward the tip, they click with ease.

The other half working toward an improved pen experience is what Microsoft claims is the thinnest optical stack in the industry. (The actual optics of the screen are closer to the glass face than ever.) This helps reduce the drag between your physical position with the stylus and its digital representation. Finally, some solid solid palm rejection only enhances that notepad-like feel.

Following the Surface Pro 3’s release, in July N-Trig released a list of compatible applications that have been tested with its latest drivers. They are:

  • Anime Studio Debut 9.5 Version 9.5 build 9768
  • Crayola PhotoFx studio 1 Version 1.5.0.42, 1.5.0.46
  • Flash Professional CC Version 13.1.0.226
  • Adobe Flash Professional CS6 Version CS6
  • Corel Painter Version 12.2.0.703
  • Sculptris
  • MyPaint Version 1.0.0
  • Mischief Version 1.12
  • Zbrush Version 4R6
  • Adobe DreamWeaverCS6 Version CS6
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 Version 12.0.20130925
  • Krita Version 2.8.3
  • Substance Painter Version 0.5.0

According to reports, Microsoft is in talks to acquire N-Trig, signalling a bright future for those who enjoy doodling and note-taking on its Surface devices.

Surface Hub only scratches the – you know…

In early October, Microsoft released a new app exclusively for its latest tablet, dubbed the Surface Hub, on the Windows Store. Frankly, however, it’s not much a hub just yet. As of this writing, the Surface Hub only serves to adjust the sensitivity of the Surface Pen and change the function of the Bluetooth-enabled purple button up top.

Your options: either launch the touch-centric version of OneNote like before or the standard desktop variety, which is available for free to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. The sensitivity adjustment tool works well enough, and allows you to test your adjustments in a tiny window before committing to the change.

Finally, the app provides details about your Surface that will be needed for troubleshooting, as well as providing a quick feedback form. And … that’s basically it. Not really a "hub", if you ask me, but nevertheless a useful, nicely designed tool. Here’s to hoping for more comprehensive updates to the app in the future.

Type Cover rises up; kickstand leans back

Microsoft has upped its game in almost every way with the Surface Pro 3, but most crucial is the new and improved Type Cover. The upgrades to this accessory were essential to what Microsoft’s mission to eliminate the laptop. (The improvements were so vital that keeping it an accessory was a clear misstep.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

For one, the typing on this cover has been massively improved, with deeper travel and speedier, more powerful pushback than ever from the keys. The larger clickpad – yes, "clickpad" – now clicks with the force you’d expect from a laptop. Though, I did have to be rather deliberate in scrolling through web pages.

That the new Type Cover now snaps to the Pro 3’s lower bezel might sound like a silly addition. But it makes for a far more sturdy and comfortable typing experience on your lap.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Lastly, the Redmond, Wash. company finally went and bent that kickstand nearly all the way back, allowing users to fully adjust its angle. This proved to be a boon while balancing the device on my lap for typing, as well as for just browsing my favorite websites while watching TV at the widest angle.

The hinges are incredibly stiff, requiring considerable force before they begin to give way. You should want that kind of rigidity from a device you’re to use essentially for any and every computing task.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft also has a docking station for the Surface Pro 3 in the works that replaces the current Surface Pro dock. It measures 12.9 x 3.8 x 4.4 inches and provides access to a multitude of peripherals – from your speakers and printer to a keyboard and mouse. It can also drive an external monitor too (4K, if you like your visuals crisp) from MiniDisplayPort, providing a dual display setup for apps such as Photoshop or Illustrator.

With a larger shape to accommodate the device’s dimensions, it manages to house three USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports, bringing the total to six if you include the ones on the Surface Pro 3. That’s in addition to a a Gigabit Ethernet port and a 3.5mm audio connection jack, and there’s also a Kensington security lock for warding off thieves.

Weighing 650g, it’s plenty portable too. So, when can you get your hands on it? It’s already available to you if you live in the US, where it retails for $199, and it’s out now in the UK too, where it retails for £164.99. Writing in a post on its Surface blog, Microsoft announced plans to ship the docking station to 26 more markets around the world starting on Friday September 12, around one month after it first went on sale in the US and Canada.

Bundled software

In addition to the standard Microsoft apps and free trials, the firm includes OneNote with every Surface Pro 3 in addition to Flipboard and Fresh Paint among a few light casual games. In short, Microsoft keeps it incredibly light on the bloatware, as it should being a first-party vendor.

OneNote’s inclusion makes for a particularly attractive package since Microsoft opted to make the note-taking app’s previously paid-for features free for all. It means that you can now password protect sections of notebooks, track changes to notes using page history and better manage files by searching for words in video or audio recordings.

The Windows Store has come a long way since its launch, but still trails behind Apple and Google’s app marketplaces in terms of volume and quality. Windows 8 devices are still generally the last to receive major apps and app updates. This would be a more serious issue if the Pro 3 weren’t packing Windows 8.1 Pro, but it’s nevertheless a problem.

Surface Pro 3 game controller

OK, we’ll come clean, we haven’t tested Microsoft’s game controller in our Surface Pro 3 review – because it doesn’t exist. But it’s interesting to note a Microsoft patent that shows that the company may have been thinking about releasing a funky handheld gaming accessory in the style of Nvidia’s Edge for the Surface Pro 3 at one point, which would’ve taken the device in a very different direction.

Appearing to be cut down the middle, the controller would allow you to place each half to the left and right to use the tablet like an Xbox-style controller. Could something similar make an appearance in the future? Stranger things have happened – and we’ve seen a few of them.

Surface Pro 3 updates

Microsoft has released a steady flow of updates to the Surface Pro 3 since its release to improve stability and performance. The most recent was released in late January, bringing a slew of bug fixes and stability tweaks, in addition to a new graphics driver that promised to boost 4K video playback and playing videos using Google Chrome.

Numbered Version 15.36.14.4080, it was the first driver to support Intel’s fifth-generation Broadwell processors – including the Intel HD Graphics 5500, HD Graphics 6000 and Iris Graphics 6100 cores. According to Intel, it also brought hardware acceleration of the VP9 video format that’s used in Chrome video playback and Google Hangouts.

Inconsistent Wi-Fi, the most niggling issue reported by Surface Pro 3 owners for some time, was fixed in an patch in November called the Wireless Network Controller and Bluetooth driver update. It focused on improving performance when waking from sleep and connecting to a 802.11ac Wi-Fi network. That update also brought improvements around behaviour of the device when waking up from sleep mode using the Home Button or the Surface Pen.

Verdict

The Surface Pro 3 is, without question, the most attractive and capable device that Microsoft has ever produced. As a result, it’s not only the closest to realizing the company’s vision for replacing the laptop, but closer than any hybrid device to date. This thing can honestly serve as both your tablet and laptop in nearly equal measure.

Of course, the tablet isn’t without compromise. Limited app creator support, subpar battery life and a dearth of hard connections are clear hurdles for the Pro 3. Plus, leaving the much-improved Type Cover as an accessory means that this is no laptop replacement out of the box.

We liked

Everything about the Surface Pro 3 design screams style and thoughtfulness. Microsoft took the entire Surface Pro 2 back to the drawing board with this revision. Between its bigger, sharper screen and thinner, lighter magnesium frame, nearly every box has been checked in crafting a superior product.

The same goes for the Type Cover, kickstand and Surface Pen, all of which received marquee improvements and rethinks. The redesigned Type Cover has resulted in the best typing experience I’ve had on a tablet keyboard, while the new, wider-angle kickstand in tandem with the new stylus makes for more use cases that simply make sense.

What resulted was a device that I was reliably able to use as both a laptop and a tablet. I jumped from writing this very review to flicking cards in Hearthstone on the couch and back to writing with just a flick of the kickstand and a snap of the keyboard cover. If that’s not a measure of a all-in-one device, I don’t know what is.

We disliked

But make no mistake, there is still room for improvement with the Surface Pro 3. For one, selling the Type Cover as an optional accessory not only inflates the price of this product, but only serves to diminish Microsoft’s mission statement to replace the laptop.

Another knock against the tablet is that it’s quite quick to burn up. Whether it was an HD video over Netflix or YouTube, a casual game or even system updates, the upper right portion of the metallic shell would grow almost uncomfortable to hold. Thankfully for the kickstand, there are many situations in which you need to hold the slate while sitting.

Finally, just under 4 hours of battery life might be suitable for the average Ultrabook, but not for your everyday tablet. And for Microsoft to position the Surface Pro 3 against the iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air, which both set the endurance standards in their categories, only makes this point look worse.

Final verdict

It’s worth reiterating the point that the Surface Pro 3 is not only Microsoft’s most striking and versatile device to date, but the most convincing poster child for the hybrid category yet. And this ringing endorsement comes from a long-time skeptic of such devices.

That said, the Pro 3 is hamstrung by flaws that cannot be ignored. Namely, the battery life might be in line with most Ultrabooks, but it doesn’t come close to what Apple’s leading laptop and top tablet have shown. And the Type Cover being billed as an accessory doesn’t help Microsoft’s cause in the slightest – it’s quite pricey to boot.

At any rate, this version of the tablet comes in cheaper than the most affordable iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air combined, even with the Type Cover, and that’s the point. On paper, this slate is more powerful than either Apple device, not to mention most other comparably priced laptops and tablets. The Surface Pro 3 might not be perfect, but it’s far and wide the brightest shining example of a potential tablet takeover.

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Hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S was announced back in July 2014 and proved one of the most exciting Android tablets on the market dropping a lot of the guff we’ve seen on previous models.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 comes in its wake being announced a year late – but has much changed?

The new slate has had some minor improvements when you look through the spec list, but it seems there may be more here than meets the eye. Chiefly it’s available in two sizes, 9.7-inch and 8-inch, placing it head to head with the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 hasn’t changed much in design from its predecessor – it’s still boasting the plastic back but feels quite nice in the hand with a good grip. The dimensions are 212 x 126 x 6.6mm making it one of the thinnest Android tablets around.

Galaxy Tab S2 side on

It feels really light in the hand when you first pick it up, but it’s still weighty enough that it won’t end up blowing away in a slight gust. It’s got nothing on Apple’s latest duo of slates though, with their premium metal bodies feeling supremely better than the Galaxy Tab S2’s cheaper plastic finish.

Galaxy Tab S2

That could be a real issue for both sizes of the Tab S2, as Samsung is likely to match Apple’s pricing which may make it difficult for the slates to stand out.

At the top right hand edge is the power button and volume rocker alongside the SIM tray and microSD slots. The left hand edge is plain plastic material and feels good to hold from that angle and use your right hand to do all the pressing.

Galaxy Tab S2

There are slim bezels on the front with a power button on the bottom – a nice alternative to the Galaxy phone range that goes buttonless on the front.

Display

On the front both the 8-inch and 9.7-inch slates boast Super AMOLED displays with resolutions of 1536 x 2048 pixels. That equals 320ppi on the 8-inch model and it looks great – it isn’t the best pixel density we’ve seen on a tablet though.

Galaxy Tab S2 screen

The pixels per inch aren’t quite as impressive on the larger Galaxy Tab S2, but it still comes in at a respectable 264ppi.

Galaxy Tab S2

I’d rather this was a 2K option like the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet but it’s quite nice and won’t be a big drain on the battery. Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen technology is once again better than everything else though, but it’s not anything on the Galaxy S range of smartphones screen quality.

Power

Under the hood is an octa-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz and 1.3GHz. Samsung hasn’t revealed exactly what processor that is but it’s also accompanied by 3GB of RAM.

From the small amount of time playing around we managed to get the screens and apps opening and closing pretty fast and didn’t indetify any issues. We’ll have to have a full play around before our proper verdict on the processor though.

Battery & storage

Galaxy Tab S2

There’s a 4000mAh battery inside the Tab S2 8.0, which doesn’t sound that great. We’ve yet to test out the battery properly but it doesn’t sound like the most promising cell we’d hoped for.

Storage wise your choices are either 32GB or 64GB with the microSD option of up to 128GB. We’d recommend grabbing a microSD right away if you’re going to fill it with lots of films and pictures, whilst it would have been nicer for Samsung to offer a straight up 128GB internal option.

Camera

Galaxy Tab S2

There’s an 8MP camera on the back of both slates, but all we really know is that it’ll come with autofocus and it records 1440p video at 30fps. On the front is a 2.1MP camera – we didn’t get much time to use it but it sounds quite disappointing on paper.

The few shots we did take with the tablet came out well though but it’s difficult to really tell in such a badly lit environment.

Other features

Galaxy Tab S2

The Galaxy Tab S2 also comes with a fingerprint sensor on the front button. We didn’t get a chance to use it properly but it’s bound to make your tablet more secure than ever.

It’s still difficult to justify a fingerprint sensor on a tablet though – but it may come in useful when Samsung launches its new Samsung Pay feature.

Release date and price

Samsung has now confirmed the Galaxy Tab S2 release date as September 4, the same date as the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5 are due on sale – meaning there will be a glut of new Samsung devices hitting stores.

As for pricing we’re not sure on that front. The original Samsung Galaxy S Tab was released with a similar price to the iPad so it doesn’t come cheap.

Early verdict

If you’re looking for a good Android tablet the Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 or 9.7-inch looks to be one of the best options on the market. There’s some stiff competition right now in the tablet game with the iPad Air 2 and the Sony Xperia Z4 tablet but this seems to hold up.

The design is refined to a slim, lightweight and beautiful product. The screen could do with an upgrade but it’s good for watching films or looking through web pages.

The processor and under the hood setup seems to be suitably impressive as well with a boatload of memory thrown. It all comes down to price though and whether you’re willing to wait.

Samsung needs to get this tablet out as soon as possible to keep people interested and on top of that we’d love to see a cheaper price than its competitors. Now just to sit and wait to find out.

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Hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S was announced back in July 2014 and proved one of the most exciting Android tablets on the market dropping a lot of the guff we’ve seen on previous models.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 comes in its wake being announced a year late – but has much changed?

The new slate has had some minor improvements when you look through the spec list, but it seems there may be more here than meets the eye. Chiefly it’s available in two sizes, 9.7-inch and 8-inch, placing it head to head with the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 hasn’t changed much in design from its predecessor – it’s still boasting the plastic back but feels quite nice in the hand with a good grip. The dimensions are 212 x 126 x 6.6mm making it one of the thinnest Android tablets around.

Galaxy Tab S2 side on

It feels really light in the hand when you first pick it up, but it’s still weighty enough that it won’t end up blowing away in a slight gust. It’s got nothing on Apple’s latest duo of slates though, with their premium metal bodies feeling supremely better than the Galaxy Tab S2’s cheaper plastic finish.

Galaxy Tab S2

That could be a real issue for both sizes of the Tab S2, as Samsung is likely to match Apple’s pricing which may make it difficult for the slates to stand out.

At the top right hand edge is the power button and volume rocker alongside the SIM tray and microSD slots. The left hand edge is plain plastic material and feels good to hold from that angle and use your right hand to do all the pressing.

Galaxy Tab S2

There are slim bezels on the front with a power button on the bottom – a nice alternative to the Galaxy phone range that goes buttonless on the front.

Display

On the front both the 8-inch and 9.7-inch slates boast Super AMOLED displays with resolutions of 1536 x 2048 pixels. That equals 320ppi on the 8-inch model and it looks great – it isn’t the best pixel density we’ve seen on a tablet though.

Galaxy Tab S2 screen

The pixels per inch aren’t quite as impressive on the larger Galaxy Tab S2, but it still comes in at a respectable 264ppi.

Galaxy Tab S2

I’d rather this was a 2K option like the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet but it’s quite nice and won’t be a big drain on the battery. Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen technology is once again better than everything else though, but it’s not anything on the Galaxy S range of smartphones screen quality.

Power

Under the hood is an octa-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz and 1.3GHz. Samsung hasn’t revealed exactly what processor that is but it’s also accompanied by 3GB of RAM.

From the small amount of time playing around we managed to get the screens and apps opening and closing pretty fast and didn’t indetify any issues. We’ll have to have a full play around before our proper verdict on the processor though.

Battery & storage

Galaxy Tab S2

There’s a 4000mAh battery inside the Tab S2 8.0, which doesn’t sound that great. We’ve yet to test out the battery properly but it doesn’t sound like the most promising cell we’d hoped for.

Storage wise your choices are either 32GB or 64GB with the microSD option of up to 128GB. We’d recommend grabbing a microSD right away if you’re going to fill it with lots of films and pictures, whilst it would have been nicer for Samsung to offer a straight up 128GB internal option.

Camera

Galaxy Tab S2

There’s an 8MP camera on the back of both slates, but all we really know is that it’ll come with autofocus and it records 1440p video at 30fps. On the front is a 2.1MP camera – we didn’t get much time to use it but it sounds quite disappointing on paper.

The few shots we did take with the tablet came out well though but it’s difficult to really tell in such a badly lit environment.

Other features

Galaxy Tab S2

The Galaxy Tab S2 also comes with a fingerprint sensor on the front button. We didn’t get a chance to use it properly but it’s bound to make your tablet more secure than ever.

It’s still difficult to justify a fingerprint sensor on a tablet though – but it may come in useful when Samsung launches its new Samsung Pay feature.

Release date and price

Samsung has now confirmed the Galaxy Tab S2 release date as September 4, the same date as the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5 are due on sale – meaning there will be a glut of new Samsung devices hitting stores.

As for pricing we’re not sure on that front. The original Samsung Galaxy S Tab was released with a similar price to the iPad so it doesn’t come cheap.

Early verdict

If you’re looking for a good Android tablet the Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 or 9.7-inch looks to be one of the best options on the market. There’s some stiff competition right now in the tablet game with the iPad Air 2 and the Sony Xperia Z4 tablet but this seems to hold up.

The design is refined to a slim, lightweight and beautiful product. The screen could do with an upgrade but it’s good for watching films or looking through web pages.

The processor and under the hood setup seems to be suitably impressive as well with a boatload of memory thrown. It all comes down to price though and whether you’re willing to wait.

Samsung needs to get this tablet out as soon as possible to keep people interested and on top of that we’d love to see a cheaper price than its competitors. Now just to sit and wait to find out.

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Hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S was announced back in July 2014 and proved one of the most exciting Android tablets on the market dropping a lot of the guff we’ve seen on previous models.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 comes in its wake being announced a year late – but has much changed?

The new slate has had some minor improvements when you look through the spec list, but it seems there may be more here than meets the eye. Chiefly it’s available in two sizes, 9.7-inch and 8-inch, placing it head to head with the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 hasn’t changed much in design from its predecessor – it’s still boasting the plastic back but feels quite nice in the hand with a good grip. The dimensions are 212 x 126 x 6.6mm making it one of the thinnest Android tablets around.

Galaxy Tab S2 side on

It feels really light in the hand when you first pick it up, but it’s still weighty enough that it won’t end up blowing away in a slight gust. It’s got nothing on Apple’s latest duo of slates though, with their premium metal bodies feeling supremely better than the Galaxy Tab S2’s cheaper plastic finish.

Galaxy Tab S2

That could be a real issue for both sizes of the Tab S2, as Samsung is likely to match Apple’s pricing which may make it difficult for the slates to stand out.

At the top right hand edge is the power button and volume rocker alongside the SIM tray and microSD slots. The left hand edge is plain plastic material and feels good to hold from that angle and use your right hand to do all the pressing.

Galaxy Tab S2

There are slim bezels on the front with a power button on the bottom – a nice alternative to the Galaxy phone range that goes buttonless on the front.

Display

On the front both the 8-inch and 9.7-inch slates boast Super AMOLED displays with resolutions of 1536 x 2048 pixels. That equals 320ppi on the 8-inch model and it looks great – it isn’t the best pixel density we’ve seen on a tablet though.

Galaxy Tab S2 screen

The pixels per inch aren’t quite as impressive on the larger Galaxy Tab S2, but it still comes in at a respectable 264ppi.

Galaxy Tab S2

I’d rather this was a 2K option like the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet but it’s quite nice and won’t be a big drain on the battery. Samsung’s Super AMOLED screen technology is once again better than everything else though, but it’s not anything on the Galaxy S range of smartphones screen quality.

Power

Under the hood is an octa-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz and 1.3GHz. Samsung hasn’t revealed exactly what processor that is but it’s also accompanied by 3GB of RAM.

From the small amount of time playing around we managed to get the screens and apps opening and closing pretty fast and didn’t indetify any issues. We’ll have to have a full play around before our proper verdict on the processor though.

Battery & storage

Galaxy Tab S2

There’s a 4000mAh battery inside the Tab S2 8.0, which doesn’t sound that great. We’ve yet to test out the battery properly but it doesn’t sound like the most promising cell we’d hoped for.

Storage wise your choices are either 32GB or 64GB with the microSD option of up to 128GB. We’d recommend grabbing a microSD right away if you’re going to fill it with lots of films and pictures, whilst it would have been nicer for Samsung to offer a straight up 128GB internal option.

Camera

Galaxy Tab S2

There’s an 8MP camera on the back of both slates, but all we really know is that it’ll come with autofocus and it records 1440p video at 30fps. On the front is a 2.1MP camera – we didn’t get much time to use it but it sounds quite disappointing on paper.

The few shots we did take with the tablet came out well though but it’s difficult to really tell in such a badly lit environment.

Other features

Galaxy Tab S2

The Galaxy Tab S2 also comes with a fingerprint sensor on the front button. We didn’t get a chance to use it properly but it’s bound to make your tablet more secure than ever.

It’s still difficult to justify a fingerprint sensor on a tablet though – but it may come in useful when Samsung launches its new Samsung Pay feature.

Release date and price

Samsung has now confirmed the Galaxy Tab S2 release date as September 4, the same date as the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5 are due on sale – meaning there will be a glut of new Samsung devices hitting stores.

As for pricing we’re not sure on that front. The original Samsung Galaxy S Tab was released with a similar price to the iPad so it doesn’t come cheap.

Early verdict

If you’re looking for a good Android tablet the Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 or 9.7-inch looks to be one of the best options on the market. There’s some stiff competition right now in the tablet game with the iPad Air 2 and the Sony Xperia Z4 tablet but this seems to hold up.

The design is refined to a slim, lightweight and beautiful product. The screen could do with an upgrade but it’s good for watching films or looking through web pages.

The processor and under the hood setup seems to be suitably impressive as well with a boatload of memory thrown. It all comes down to price though and whether you’re willing to wait.

Samsung needs to get this tablet out as soon as possible to keep people interested and on top of that we’d love to see a cheaper price than its competitors. Now just to sit and wait to find out.

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Review: Updated: iPad mini 3

Review: Updated: iPad mini 3

Introduction and key features

The iPad mini 3 is a curious beast.

Curious insofar in that I don’t really know where it’s supposed to fit into the tablet market, an arena arguably created by Apple itself.

It’s not the top-end tablet that technology fans will lust after, given it’s based almost entirely on last year’s technology.

Nor is it the budget option, occupying the higher price point its predecessor held previously, starting at $399, £319, AU$499 for the basic 16GB Wi-Fi only option.

While I’m used to Apple bringing out incremental updates, this one is the oddest of them all: it’s the iPad mini 2, but with added Touch ID.

Oh, and it comes in gold too, if that gets you excited (and to be fair, it does for a lot of people).

iPad Mini 3 review

But otherwise, there’s nothing that marks this new tablet out from the one that launched to such fanfare last year. OK, you might argue that the mini 2 (or mini with Retina as it was known) was such a good device that it didn’t need updating. Not the greatest thing for Apple to do, but I can run with that.

Like I said, it’s not like the company doesn’t have a previous history of doing such a thing (the iPad 3 to 4 was pretty much that, an incremental update that was mostly designed to bring the Lightning connector to the tablet world, with added CPU grunt).

Except – EXCEPT – Apple is leaving the iPad Mini 2 on the market, with a price cut of US$100 (£80, AU$130).

Is a gold iPad with a fingerprint scanner really worth the extra money? That’s a whole Christmas present or three for many people, so what’s Apple up to here?

Key features

Let’s step away from that argument for a while and check out the iPad mini 3 on its own merits, without worrying how it compares to competitors. What makes this a tablet worth your time?

Touch ID and Apple Pay

The Touch ID sensor is the biggest improvement on the new mini slate, and it’s technology Apple is (rightly) proud of.

None of this swiping up and down business: this is the most perfect biometric sensor on the mobile market (although the Samsung Galaxy S6 has brought out a nifty option too) and has secured hundreds of thousands of iPhones that would have otherwise been left open to thieves.

iPad mini 3 review

The premise is so simple: set it up in a few seconds, and pressing the home button to turn on your tablet will unlock it securely. If for some reason the fingerprint doesn’t work (it hates wet hands, for instance) you can simply tap in a passcode as before.

It works really well, and as you can set up multiple fingerprints, it doesn’t matter which way up you hold the tablet – it can be opened simply however it’s oriented.

And with iOS 8 the Touch ID APK has been opened up too, so developers can now add in the security to their apps. So if you’re an Evernote user and want to keep that app from prying eyes, a fingerprint block can be put in place.

But the big reason Touch ID is here is Apple Pay, sadly still limited to the US at the moment. While you can use the system on a phone to pay contactlessly for items on the go, the Touch ID sensor on the iPad mini 3 limits you to online shopping.

It works really well though: in the test I had earlier this year, a simple tap of "Apple Pay" at the online checkout prompts a fingerprint scan and all your details are securely shown. Neither party sees your fingerprint, instead using a secure token generated by the iPad itself.

So in a tap you’ve paid and chosen your delivery address. It’s all very smooth.

But the contactless tech isn’t integrated into the iPad mini 3, so this capability is only relevant online. In theory it’s great and simple, but until the number of retailers offering Apple Pay on their sites proliferates, it’s mostly just a secure way of accessing your iPad – and that’s not a big enough change to justify the price hike over the iPad mini 2.

Gold option

There’s not a lot to say here other than that the iPad mini 3 now comes in a golden sheen, but to many that will be a big reason to buy.

It’s something it has over the mini 2, and does look sleek and sophisticated; more so than the champagne colour that was so clamored for with the iPhone 5S.

128GB storage

The iPad mini 2 did have a 128GB option, but that’s now been retired, meaning the only way to get your gigabytes at the top end is to buy the most expensive version of the mini 3 – currently standing at US$729 (£579, AU$899).

iPad mini 3 review

I’d argue that 128GB is probably a bit more than most people will want, but I’d always recommend buying as much storage as you can afford.

The reason for this is to futureproof yourself: you don’t want to buy a 16GB version and find that 12 months down the line you’re forced to delete photos or home videos just to update your version of iOS.

Retina screen

Remember, I’m talking about the mini 3 in isolation here. Yes, this screen was seen on the iPad mini 2, but it was so much sharper than I was expecting last year that I don’t begrudge it turning up again on the mini 3.

It’s a 1,536 x 2,048 resolution, and at 7.9 inches it offers very crisp text and images. It’s actually the same res as the iPad Air 2, but crunched down it’s more crisp thanks to the pixels being closer together.

iPad mini 3 review

Old technology is a poor argument for buying a new tablet, but at the same time I was so impressed by the screen last year that I don’t mind seeing it again.

That said, I wish it had the same zero gap construction as the iPad Air 2, with its lower reflectivity and improved colour reproduction. It’s a great screen, but one that could have been slightly better with the advancements Apple has made in other iPad models.

iPad mini 3

According to comparisons carried out by DisplayMate, the iPad Mini 3 doesn’t match its bigger brothers when it comes to colour accuracy. Apple has also denied the iPad Mini 3 the enhanced anti-reflection coating and bonded cover glass that it used for the iPad Air 2.

As you would expect, all other aspects of the screen’s performance are identical to the iPad Mini 2 as well: viewing angles, contrast and brightness to list a few.

Obviously, the Mini 3 is a different proposition than the iPad Air 2 so a difference in screen quality is understandable. My point is that it’s a shame Apple didn’t spend at least a little effort upgrading the Mini’s screen from its predecessor.

Design

The iPad mini 3 is exactly the same dimensions as the iPad Mini 2, at 200 x 134.7 x 7.5 mm and 331g.

The design isn’t terrible by any means – the chassis is very similar to that seen on the first iPad mini two years ago, but that was such a pleasurable thing to hold that I don’t mind seeing it again and again.

iPad mini 3 review

Unfortunately the gold version, which will be most buyers’ color of choice, isn’t the most attractive if you’re going for the 4G version. The top features a cut-out section needed to let the radio signal through, but it’s white. This jarring decision is out of keeping with the attention to detail expected from Apple.

Holding the iPad mini 3 isn’t a bad sensation at all – it’s a pleasing, well-packaged device indeed.

iPad mini 3 review

It lacks the balance of the iPad Air 2, despite being over 100g lighter, and feels a little chunkier in the hand thanks to the greater thickness.

But it fits nicely in a jacket pocket and at 331g, doesn’t weigh it down too much either.

The power button, volume keys and silencer switch (the latter remaining although it’s disappeared on the iPad Air 2) are all exactly where they were on the mini 2 – are you getting the feeling that there’s a theme here?

iPad mini 3 review

There’s a sense of a massively missed opportunity here from Apple. The iPad mini 2 was a triumph as it was simply a shrunken version of the iPad Air, with the same design language and power.

The mini 3 is just a rebadged mini 2. It could have been amazing. If this was slimmed down to the same extent as the Air 2, it would have been perfect for the pocket. The screen could have been sublime, the edges improved and overall look and feel a step up.

iPad mini 3 review

Given it costs the same as last year’s model, I would have expected it to have the same upgrades and attention – as it stands I can’t work out where Apple has spent the money to bring the new technology. Touch ID isn’t enough to explain it.

Interface and performance

There’s nothing wrong with the way the iPad mini 3 performs under the finger. It’s mostly stable enough, with very little in the way of crashing. However, it’s always worth checking back on these reviews as such gremlins can show their face after a few weeks’ use.

However, the general interface is as simple as you’d expect. iOS 8.3 works as well here as it does on the iPhone range, but with added features to make it a little more stable and usable.

iPad mini 3 review

The main interface is a simple layout: grids of app icons as before. But swipe around and you’ll see some features that really help it feel like a next generation product. For instance, on the lock screen you can swipe an email and archive or mark as read without even unlocking your tablet.

If you’re playing a game and a message comes in, swipe down on the top notification and you’ll be able to send a reply without having to exit the app and possibly lose vital points or places in a race.

iPad mini 3 review

Then there’s the Control Center, which isn’t perhaps new but does give an always-available place to set the volume, brightness, connect or disconnect to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, turn on the torch and set up the calculator.

It might not sound like much (and man alive, it can be hard to drag it up from the bottom of the screen sometimes) but it’s good that it’s so pervasive throughout the tablet.

The notifications bar has been given an overhaul too, with widgets in the Today section providing a really useful feature.

Whether it’s offering your flight info from BA (if you’ve got the app installed), or enabling you to bid on ending items from eBay without leaving your app, it’s a really novel way of doing things.

However, there aren’t that many apps that can take advantage of this right now, which is a bit of a shame. Hopefully that will increase in the future.

The general interface is easy to use. It annoyingly doesn’t have the home button double tap feature from the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (where hitting that button twice without pressing it will cause half the screen to drop down within easy reach of your digits). I say annoyingly because this would have been a really nice way to use the mini 3 one-handed.

I don’t know why Apple doesn’t just put the back button at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. It would solve all the problems.

iPad mini 3 review

The performance of the iPad mini 3 is fine, although not as responsive when it comes to the touchscreen as the iPad Air 2 as it doesn’t pack the same new technology for improved finger accuracy.

It also scores ever so slightly lower in the benchmarking tests compared to the iPad mini 2. I’m talking single digit percentages (2,478 compared to 2,481 on the GeekBench 3 test) showing that, again, you’re getting nothing here that you wouldn’t on last year’s model, save for being able to use the fingerprint scanner for security and payments.

Battery and camera

Battery life on the iPad Mini 3 is quoted at 10 hours for multimedia, which mostly refers to video watching or browsing the web.

It certainly doesn’t refer to gaming, which hammers the battery life of the mini 3, although not as much as some other tablets. This is such a popular refrain for a mobile gaming experience that I’ve learned not to expect too much juice left after a particularly powerful game is pushed through the smaller screen.

That said, it’s worth it. Despite the more muted colors (which you’ll only notice if you’ve played with an iPad Air 2) the general gaming prowess of the mini 3 means I don’t mind knowing it will leave me with minimal battery.

iPad mini 3 review

The general battery test, a looped Full HD video run for 90 minutes, showed a drain of 18%, which is, again, almost identical to that seen on the iPad mini 2. Have I mentioned these two models are pretty similar?

However, the general use drain for the mini 3 is excellent. Throw it in a bag for a few days and you can definitely still expect to have a lot of power left over by the end of the week. It’s probably not what you’re going to do with such a tablet, but if you do feel the need to leave it for a day or two the power won’t get sucked down with background apps.

iPad mini 3 review

The quoted time of 10 hours seems a little over the top when it comes to web browsing, but with lower screen brightness could probably be achieved. I could have tested it by sitting under the covers playing with the mini 3 throughout a whole night with no cease, but I didn’t.

I feel like I’ve let you down in some way. Sorry.

The upshot is this: the battery life of the iPad mini 3 is precisely as expected. Stream video at higher brightness (and the screen does get pretty bright) and you’ll suck down 20% in around 90 minutes. Play a high power game like Real Racing 3 and it’s not so bad – compared to the iPad Air 2, the mini 3 can hold its power during gaming a lot better, only losing a few percent every 10 minutes.

I really wish the more powerful A8X chip was running under the hood here, as the battery life would be stellar on a device like this.

Camera

iPad mini 3 review

The camera on the mini 3 is nothing to write home about, in the same way as it wasn’t last year. The reason is the range of options isn’t the same as it is on the iPhone range – no filters to apply here, no ability to take slow-motion video.

This is all the more galling as these are two features I’d actually want on a camera like this. The larger view finder is good for setting up a slow motion video, and the filters look nicer on a device like this.

But the output isn’t terrible. The focus might not be too snappy, but colors are well-reproduced and the lower-light snaps come out better than expected.

iPad mini 3 review

You can set the exposure now with a slide of the finger up and down, so if you don’t fancy locking the focus or exposure with a long press on one part of the screen there are plenty more options to improve the shot.

HDR mode is present and correct too, meaning you can improve the snaps further this way – but let’s not forget that taking an iPad to a wedding is never acceptable.

Never. And if it ever becomes acceptable, I’m quitting this job to go and live on a tablet-less desert island.

iPad mini 3 review

Click here for the full res picture

iPad mini 3 review

Click here for the full res picture

iPad mini 3 review

Click here for the full res picture

iPad mini 3 review

Click here for the full res picture

The essentials

What’s the iPad mini 3 good at? The basics. And that now includes calling.

"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? ARE YOU MAD?" I can hear you thinking. But it’s true. If you own an iPhone running iOS 8, and an iPad mini 3 linked to the same iCloud account, you can easily make and receive calls from the tablet thanks to the new Handoff feature baked into Apple’s new operating systems.

iPad mini 3 review

It’s a really nice system actually – in that it’s so simple. iPhone in bag and tablet on the desk with you? Get a call and it will show on all your iCloud connected devices, and you can answer using the iPad mini 3’s inbuilt speaker and microphones.

You can even dial out through the contacts app – this is a really nice touch, although the contacts app is still woefully underpowered. Linking a contact to a social network is a nightmare – even the automatic linking seems to be confused.

Sometimes a tap will take you to the right Twitter account. Sometimes a linked Facebook account will appear, only to just open the app and nothing else.

Either way, there’s no dialler, so you’d better hope that you’ve got the name in your contacts book. Or just stop being lazy and get your iPhone out.

Messaging and emails

The best thing about iMessage is that it’s pervasive across your Apple devices. Receive an Apple-powered message from your phone, see it on your tablet. The same, sadly, isn’t true for the humble text message, so it’s a bit of a disjointed system, but good when you get up and running.

As iOS 8 now allows you to use other keyboards as well, it’s the quality of the inbuilt one is less of an issue, but it’s actually now got to the point where I’d use the default option over a third party choice. Apart from GIF keyboard, but mostly because that’s funny.

The range of emojis with iOS 8.3 on board is also increased, with more variation and choice to play with.

iPad mini 3 review

The keys are accurate and expansive, and in landscape mode work really well. It’s especially good for Mail, as you can rattle through a few emails on your lap without worry, and the unified inboxes are useful for power-mailing.

The only downside is that searching through archived messages on Gmail is a nightmare, but then again the official Gmail app isn’t bad and easily available.

The last thing to talk about is Facetime, with the new and improved… wait, no, exactly the same camera as last year. This means a 1.2MP camera, but it’s HD and does more than well enough when showing other people what you look like in a hotel room in another part of the world.

The quality is high and works well – even Facetime Audio is loud and clear and a good way to get past tricky roaming charges.

The competition

While there are numerous good big screen tablets the selection of compact slates is rather more lacking, especially since the most recent Nexus 7 has been discontinued.

The iPad mini 3 doesn’t have a huge amount of competition then, but there are still a handful of tablets that give it a serious run for its money, including others by Apple.

iPad mini 2

iPad mini 2

Oddly the iPad mini 3’s main competitor is arguably the iPad mini 2. Apple’s older slate is still on sale, now at a lower price, making it more affordable than the iPad mini 3.

Yet the iPad mini 3 doesn’t deliver the big jump in specs you might expect. In fact all that’s really changed is that Touch ID has been added.

There’s no denying that Touch ID is a useful feature, but useful enough to justify the extra outlay for the iPad mini 3? We’re not so sure.

If you absolutely have to own the latest and greatest slate available then of course you should pick the mini 3 over the mini 2, but the iPad mini 2 is just as powerful, just as well built and significantly cheaper.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is one of the iPad mini 3’s closest Android competitors. The Z3 Tablet Compact’s 8.0-inch screen is almost exactly the same size as the iPad mini 3’s, though it’s not quite as sharp.

Its mostly plastic construction isn’t as premium either, but it is slimmer than the mini 3 at just 6.4mm thick and lighter at 270g. It’s also water and dust resistant, which means there’s slightly less need for a case.

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact also benefits from a microSD card slot so you can bulk up the storage and it’s a little bit cheaper than Apple’s slate.

With plenty of power and a long-lasting battery it’s pretty close to being a perfect compact tablet, but for screen clarity and build quality the iPad mini 3 has it beat.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Galaxy Tab S 8.4

While Samsung’s smartphones are major iPhone competitors the company has struggled to make a real iPad rival, but with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S it’s come closer than ever.

The 8.4-inch model is an obvious alternative to the iPad mini 3. The display is a little bigger, a little sharper and a little more vibrant. In fact it’s got one of the best tablet screens around.

It’s also slimmer and lighter than the iPad mini 3, more powerful and has a similarly long battery life. Really the only significant way the iPad mini 3 has it beat is in its design, as the Tab S might be slimmer and lighter but it’s also clad in plastic, so it doesn’t look anywhere near as premium.

But with a slightly lower price the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is undoubtedly the better buy, unless you’re really wedded to iOS.

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2

The iPad Air 2 is less of a direct competitor than the other slates in this list, but if you’re considering an iPad mini 3 then you’ve likely at least glanced at its larger sibling.

We wouldn’t blame you either, as while the mini 3 is an exceedingly minor upgrade on the iPad mini 2, the iPad Air 2 is a true flagship slate, standing tall above both the original iPad Air and the iPad mini 3, thanks primarily to its more powerful processor.

Of course that extra power and the larger size does make it more expensive and if you’re after a compact slate specifically then the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 probably won’t work for you.

But if money and size are no object it’s not only the best iPad but the best tablet and the closest thing to a perfect slate we’ve ever seen.

Verdict

I’m going to get this out of the way now: the big issue here isn’t that Apple is using old technology. It’s that it’s offering a very slightly upgraded tablet while keeping last year’s model on sale right next to it on the shelves.

iPad mini 3 review

Apple is going to cannibalize its own sales – but then again, if the money is coming in somehow, what does it matter which version you go for? It just means it’s impossible to recommend this iPad while the predecessor lives, but an improved range is a great thing.

We liked

Let’s get a positive hat on now though – there are some good parts. The gold coloring is going to entice a lot of people into the iPad fold, as it’s a sought-after color.

That said, I prefer space gray, but at least Apple is offering it.

The 128GB storage size is ample for iPads, if not a little expensive, but having it there is good for those who can afford it.

Touch ID is a good feature with a lot of promise. If Apple Pay goes big, this is a simple way to use it. If you’re into security, then it’s the best way to secure an iPad without needing to faff around with codes.

And if app developers really come up with clever ways to integrate the fingerprint reader, then the iPad mini 3 becomes a lot more attractive.

We disliked

Look above and you’ll see a lot of "ifs." The whole selling point of the iPad mini 3 is Touch ID, and I don’t feel it really adds a lot right now. It’s future-proofing at best.

If Apple Pay doesn’t proliferate and you don’t see any apps that use the fingerprint scanner, then you’ve just wasted a lot of money on a feature that merely saves you pecking out a code to open your tablet.

Everything good about this tablet – and that’s diminishing, given it’s last year’s tech – is on the iPad mini 2, which is much cheaper and will likely do 99.3% of anything you want from the mini 3.

Unless you like gold, of course. If that’s you, you’ve got no other choice.

Verdict

The iPad mini 3 isn’t a bad tablet. It’s got a great OS, new features and is still attractively designed. It’s just that all these features are available on the mini 2 for a lot less money.

Touch ID is a nice feature, but it’s not enough to recommend this tablet. I can’t see Apple Pay taking off in the next year to the point where you HAVE to have Touch ID in your life, and apps that really take advantage aren’t here yet.

I just can’t work out how Apple can justify launching this tablet at the price point. Last year, it was all the power of the Air in a smaller frame.

This year, it hasn’t matched the Air 2 in tech spec, yet the price hasn’t dropped. And you can get nearly all the good features cheaper on the iPad mini 2.

So while it might seem that the score here is harsh for what is a half-decent tablet with a good screen and access to a brilliant app store (albeit a tablet still based on last year’s technology), it’s the score it deserves because there’s a better option to its left.

Buy the iPad mini 2, or wait a few months and see if Apple Pay and Touch ID-enabled apps start to roar in popularity. If not, there’s no point in the iPad mini 3.

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Review: Updated: iPad mini 3

Review: Updated: iPad mini 3

Introduction and key features

The iPad mini 3 is a curious beast.

Curious insofar in that I don’t really know where it’s supposed to fit into the tablet market, an arena arguably created by Apple itself.

It’s not the top-end tablet that technology fans will lust after, given it’s based almost entirely on last year’s technology.

Nor is it the budget option, occupying the higher price point its predecessor held previously, starting at $399, £319, AU$499 for the basic 16GB Wi-Fi only option.

While I’m used to Apple bringing out incremental updates, this one is the oddest of them all: it’s the iPad mini 2, but with added Touch ID.

Oh, and it comes in gold too, if that gets you excited (and to be fair, it does for a lot of people).

iPad Mini 3 review

But otherwise, there’s nothing that marks this new tablet out from the one that launched to such fanfare last year. OK, you might argue that the mini 2 (or mini with Retina as it was known) was such a good device that it didn’t need updating. Not the greatest thing for Apple to do, but I can run with that.

Like I said, it’s not like the company doesn’t have a previous history of doing such a thing (the iPad 3 to 4 was pretty much that, an incremental update that was mostly designed to bring the Lightning connector to the tablet world, with added CPU grunt).

Except – EXCEPT – Apple is leaving the iPad Mini 2 on the market, with a price cut of US$100 (£80, AU$130).

Is a gold iPad with a fingerprint scanner really worth the extra money? That’s a whole Christmas present or three for many people, so what’s Apple up to here?

Key features

Let’s step away from that argument for a while and check out the iPad mini 3 on its own merits, without worrying how it compares to competitors. What makes this a tablet worth your time?

Touch ID and Apple Pay

The Touch ID sensor is the biggest improvement on the new mini slate, and it’s technology Apple is (rightly) proud of.

None of this swiping up and down business: this is the most perfect biometric sensor on the mobile market (although the Samsung Galaxy S6 has brought out a nifty option too) and has secured hundreds of thousands of iPhones that would have otherwise been left open to thieves.

iPad mini 3 review

The premise is so simple: set it up in a few seconds, and pressing the home button to turn on your tablet will unlock it securely. If for some reason the fingerprint doesn’t work (it hates wet hands, for instance) you can simply tap in a passcode as before.

It works really well, and as you can set up multiple fingerprints, it doesn’t matter which way up you hold the tablet – it can be opened simply however it’s oriented.

And with iOS 8 the Touch ID APK has been opened up too, so developers can now add in the security to their apps. So if you’re an Evernote user and want to keep that app from prying eyes, a fingerprint block can be put in place.

But the big reason Touch ID is here is Apple Pay, sadly still limited to the US at the moment. While you can use the system on a phone to pay contactlessly for items on the go, the Touch ID sensor on the iPad mini 3 limits you to online shopping.

It works really well though: in the test I had earlier this year, a simple tap of "Apple Pay" at the online checkout prompts a fingerprint scan and all your details are securely shown. Neither party sees your fingerprint, instead using a secure token generated by the iPad itself.

So in a tap you’ve paid and chosen your delivery address. It’s all very smooth.

But the contactless tech isn’t integrated into the iPad mini 3, so this capability is only relevant online. In theory it’s great and simple, but until the number of retailers offering Apple Pay on their sites proliferates, it’s mostly just a secure way of accessing your iPad – and that’s not a big enough change to justify the price hike over the iPad mini 2.

Gold option

There’s not a lot to say here other than that the iPad mini 3 now comes in a golden sheen, but to many that will be a big reason to buy.

It’s something it has over the mini 2, and does look sleek and sophisticated; more so than the champagne colour that was so clamored for with the iPhone 5S.

128GB storage

The iPad mini 2 did have a 128GB option, but that’s now been retired, meaning the only way to get your gigabytes at the top end is to buy the most expensive version of the mini 3 – currently standing at US$729 (£579, AU$899).

iPad mini 3 review

I’d argue that 128GB is probably a bit more than most people will want, but I’d always recommend buying as much storage as you can afford.

The reason for this is to futureproof yourself: you don’t want to buy a 16GB version and find that 12 months down the line you’re forced to delete photos or home videos just to update your version of iOS.

Retina screen

Remember, I’m talking about the mini 3 in isolation here. Yes, this screen was seen on the iPad mini 2, but it was so much sharper than I was expecting last year that I don’t begrudge it turning up again on the mini 3.

It’s a 1,536 x 2,048 resolution, and at 7.9 inches it offers very crisp text and images. It’s actually the same res as the iPad Air 2, but crunched down it’s more crisp thanks to the pixels being closer together.

iPad mini 3 review

Old technology is a poor argument for buying a new tablet, but at the same time I was so impressed by the screen last year that I don’t mind seeing it again.

That said, I wish it had the same zero gap construction as the iPad Air 2, with its lower reflectivity and improved colour reproduction. It’s a great screen, but one that could have been slightly better with the advancements Apple has made in other iPad models.

iPad mini 3

According to comparisons carried out by DisplayMate, the iPad Mini 3 doesn’t match its bigger brothers when it comes to colour accuracy. Apple has also denied the iPad Mini 3 the enhanced anti-reflection coating and bonded cover glass that it used for the iPad Air 2.

As you would expect, all other aspects of the screen’s performance are identical to the iPad Mini 2 as well: viewing angles, contrast and brightness to list a few.

Obviously, the Mini 3 is a different proposition than the iPad Air 2 so a difference in screen quality is understandable. My point is that it’s a shame Apple didn’t spend at least a little effort upgrading the Mini’s screen from its predecessor.

Design

The iPad mini 3 is exactly the same dimensions as the iPad Mini 2, at 200 x 134.7 x 7.5 mm and 331g.

The design isn’t terrible by any means – the chassis is very similar to that seen on the first iPad mini two years ago, but that was such a pleasurable thing to hold that I don’t mind seeing it again and again.

iPad mini 3 review

Unfortunately the gold version, which will be most buyers’ color of choice, isn’t the most attractive if you’re going for the 4G version. The top features a cut-out section needed to let the radio signal through, but it’s white. This jarring decision is out of keeping with the attention to detail expected from Apple.

Holding the iPad mini 3 isn’t a bad sensation at all – it’s a pleasing, well-packaged device indeed.

iPad mini 3 review

It lacks the balance of the iPad Air 2, despite being over 100g lighter, and feels a little chunkier in the hand thanks to the greater thickness.

But it fits nicely in a jacket pocket and at 331g, doesn’t weigh it down too much either.

The power button, volume keys and silencer switch (the latter remaining although it’s disappeared on the iPad Air 2) are all exactly where they were on the mini 2 – are you getting the feeling that there’s a theme here?

iPad mini 3 review

There’s a sense of a massively missed opportunity here from Apple. The iPad mini 2 was a triumph as it was simply a shrunken version of the iPad Air, with the same design language and power.

The mini 3 is just a rebadged mini 2. It could have been amazing. If this was slimmed down to the same extent as the Air 2, it would have been perfect for the pocket. The screen could have been sublime, the edges improved and overall look and feel a step up.

iPad mini 3 review

Given it costs the same as last year’s model, I would have expected it to have the same upgrades and attention – as it stands I can’t work out where Apple has spent the money to bring the new technology. Touch ID isn’t enough to explain it.

Interface and performance

There’s nothing wrong with the way the iPad mini 3 performs under the finger. It’s mostly stable enough, with very little in the way of crashing. However, it’s always worth checking back on these reviews as such gremlins can show their face after a few weeks’ use.

However, the general interface is as simple as you’d expect. iOS 8.3 works as well here as it does on the iPhone range, but with added features to make it a little more stable and usable.

iPad mini 3 review

The main interface is a simple layout: grids of app icons as before. But swipe around and you’ll see some features that really help it feel like a next generation product. For instance, on the lock screen you can swipe an email and archive or mark as read without even unlocking your tablet.

If you’re playing a game and a message comes in, swipe down on the top notification and you’ll be able to send a reply without having to exit the app and possibly lose vital points or places in a race.

iPad mini 3 review

Then there’s the Control Center, which isn’t perhaps new but does give an always-available place to set the volume, brightness, connect or disconnect to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, turn on the torch and set up the calculator.

It might not sound like much (and man alive, it can be hard to drag it up from the bottom of the screen sometimes) but it’s good that it’s so pervasive throughout the tablet.

The notifications bar has been given an overhaul too, with widgets in the Today section providing a really useful feature.

Whether it’s offering your flight info from BA (if you’ve got the app installed), or enabling you to bid on ending items from eBay without leaving your app, it’s a really novel way of doing things.

However, there aren’t that many apps that can take advantage of this right now, which is a bit of a shame. Hopefully that will increase in the future.

The general interface is easy to use. It annoyingly doesn’t have the home button double tap feature from the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (where hitting that button twice without pressing it will cause half the screen to drop down within easy reach of your digits). I say annoyingly because this would have been a really nice way to use the mini 3 one-handed.

I don’t know why Apple doesn’t just put the back button at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. It would solve all the problems.

iPad mini 3 review

The performance of the iPad mini 3 is fine, although not as responsive when it comes to the touchscreen as the iPad Air 2 as it doesn’t pack the same new technology for improved finger accuracy.

It also scores ever so slightly lower in the benchmarking tests compared to the iPad mini 2. I’m talking single digit percentages (2,478 compared to 2,481 on the GeekBench 3 test) showing that, again, you’re getting nothing here that you wouldn’t on last year’s model, save for being able to use the fingerprint scanner for security and payments.

Battery and camera

Battery life on the iPad Mini 3 is quoted at 10 hours for multimedia, which mostly refers to video watching or browsing the web.

It certainly doesn’t refer to gaming, which hammers the battery life of the mini 3, although not as much as some other tablets. This is such a popular refrain for a mobile gaming experience that I’ve learned not to expect too much juice left after a particularly powerful game is pushed through the smaller screen.

That said, it’s worth it. Despite the more muted colors (which you’ll only notice if you’ve played with an iPad Air 2) the general gaming prowess of the mini 3 means I don’t mind knowing it will leave me with minimal battery.

iPad mini 3 review

The general battery test, a looped Full HD video run for 90 minutes, showed a drain of 18%, which is, again, almost identical to that seen on the iPad mini 2. Have I mentioned these two models are pretty similar?

However, the general use drain for the mini 3 is excellent. Throw it in a bag for a few days and you can definitely still expect to have a lot of power left over by the end of the week. It’s probably not what you’re going to do with such a tablet, but if you do feel the need to leave it for a day or two the power won’t get sucked down with background apps.

iPad mini 3 review

The quoted time of 10 hours seems a little over the top when it comes to web browsing, but with lower screen brightness could probably be achieved. I could have tested it by sitting under the covers playing with the mini 3 throughout a whole night with no cease, but I didn’t.

I feel like I’ve let you down in some way. Sorry.

The upshot is this: the battery life of the iPad mini 3 is precisely as expected. Stream video at higher brightness (and the screen does get pretty bright) and you’ll suck down 20% in around 90 minutes. Play a high power game like Real Racing 3 and it’s not so bad – compared to the iPad Air 2, the mini 3 can hold its power during gaming a lot better, only losing a few percent every 10 minutes.

I really wish the more powerful A8X chip was running under the hood here, as the battery life would be stellar on a device like this.

Camera

iPad mini 3 review

The camera on the mini 3 is nothing to write home about, in the same way as it wasn’t last year. The reason is the range of options isn’t the same as it is on the iPhone range – no filters to apply here, no ability to take slow-motion video.

This is all the more galling as these are two features I’d actually want on a camera like this. The larger view finder is good for setting up a slow motion video, and the filters look nicer on a device like this.

But the output isn’t terrible. The focus might not be too snappy, but colors are well-reproduced and the lower-light snaps come out better than expected.

iPad mini 3 review

You can set the exposure now with a slide of the finger up and down, so if you don’t fancy locking the focus or exposure with a long press on one part of the screen there are plenty more options to improve the shot.

HDR mode is present and correct too, meaning you can improve the snaps further this way – but let’s not forget that taking an iPad to a wedding is never acceptable.

Never. And if it ever becomes acceptable, I’m quitting this job to go and live on a tablet-less desert island.

iPad mini 3 review

Click here for the full res picture

iPad mini 3 review

Click here for the full res picture

iPad mini 3 review

Click here for the full res picture

iPad mini 3 review

Click here for the full res picture

The essentials

What’s the iPad mini 3 good at? The basics. And that now includes calling.

"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? ARE YOU MAD?" I can hear you thinking. But it’s true. If you own an iPhone running iOS 8, and an iPad mini 3 linked to the same iCloud account, you can easily make and receive calls from the tablet thanks to the new Handoff feature baked into Apple’s new operating systems.

iPad mini 3 review

It’s a really nice system actually – in that it’s so simple. iPhone in bag and tablet on the desk with you? Get a call and it will show on all your iCloud connected devices, and you can answer using the iPad mini 3’s inbuilt speaker and microphones.

You can even dial out through the contacts app – this is a really nice touch, although the contacts app is still woefully underpowered. Linking a contact to a social network is a nightmare – even the automatic linking seems to be confused.

Sometimes a tap will take you to the right Twitter account. Sometimes a linked Facebook account will appear, only to just open the app and nothing else.

Either way, there’s no dialler, so you’d better hope that you’ve got the name in your contacts book. Or just stop being lazy and get your iPhone out.

Messaging and emails

The best thing about iMessage is that it’s pervasive across your Apple devices. Receive an Apple-powered message from your phone, see it on your tablet. The same, sadly, isn’t true for the humble text message, so it’s a bit of a disjointed system, but good when you get up and running.

As iOS 8 now allows you to use other keyboards as well, it’s the quality of the inbuilt one is less of an issue, but it’s actually now got to the point where I’d use the default option over a third party choice. Apart from GIF keyboard, but mostly because that’s funny.

The range of emojis with iOS 8.3 on board is also increased, with more variation and choice to play with.

iPad mini 3 review

The keys are accurate and expansive, and in landscape mode work really well. It’s especially good for Mail, as you can rattle through a few emails on your lap without worry, and the unified inboxes are useful for power-mailing.

The only downside is that searching through archived messages on Gmail is a nightmare, but then again the official Gmail app isn’t bad and easily available.

The last thing to talk about is Facetime, with the new and improved… wait, no, exactly the same camera as last year. This means a 1.2MP camera, but it’s HD and does more than well enough when showing other people what you look like in a hotel room in another part of the world.

The quality is high and works well – even Facetime Audio is loud and clear and a good way to get past tricky roaming charges.

The competition

While there are numerous good big screen tablets the selection of compact slates is rather more lacking, especially since the most recent Nexus 7 has been discontinued.

The iPad mini 3 doesn’t have a huge amount of competition then, but there are still a handful of tablets that give it a serious run for its money, including others by Apple.

iPad mini 2

iPad mini 2

Oddly the iPad mini 3’s main competitor is arguably the iPad mini 2. Apple’s older slate is still on sale, now at a lower price, making it more affordable than the iPad mini 3.

Yet the iPad mini 3 doesn’t deliver the big jump in specs you might expect. In fact all that’s really changed is that Touch ID has been added.

There’s no denying that Touch ID is a useful feature, but useful enough to justify the extra outlay for the iPad mini 3? We’re not so sure.

If you absolutely have to own the latest and greatest slate available then of course you should pick the mini 3 over the mini 2, but the iPad mini 2 is just as powerful, just as well built and significantly cheaper.

Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact

The Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact is one of the iPad mini 3’s closest Android competitors. The Z3 Tablet Compact’s 8.0-inch screen is almost exactly the same size as the iPad mini 3’s, though it’s not quite as sharp.

Its mostly plastic construction isn’t as premium either, but it is slimmer than the mini 3 at just 6.4mm thick and lighter at 270g. It’s also water and dust resistant, which means there’s slightly less need for a case.

The Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact also benefits from a microSD card slot so you can bulk up the storage and it’s a little bit cheaper than Apple’s slate.

With plenty of power and a long-lasting battery it’s pretty close to being a perfect compact tablet, but for screen clarity and build quality the iPad mini 3 has it beat.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Galaxy Tab S 8.4

While Samsung’s smartphones are major iPhone competitors the company has struggled to make a real iPad rival, but with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S it’s come closer than ever.

The 8.4-inch model is an obvious alternative to the iPad mini 3. The display is a little bigger, a little sharper and a little more vibrant. In fact it’s got one of the best tablet screens around.

It’s also slimmer and lighter than the iPad mini 3, more powerful and has a similarly long battery life. Really the only significant way the iPad mini 3 has it beat is in its design, as the Tab S might be slimmer and lighter but it’s also clad in plastic, so it doesn’t look anywhere near as premium.

But with a slightly lower price the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is undoubtedly the better buy, unless you’re really wedded to iOS.

iPad Air 2

iPad Air 2

The iPad Air 2 is less of a direct competitor than the other slates in this list, but if you’re considering an iPad mini 3 then you’ve likely at least glanced at its larger sibling.

We wouldn’t blame you either, as while the mini 3 is an exceedingly minor upgrade on the iPad mini 2, the iPad Air 2 is a true flagship slate, standing tall above both the original iPad Air and the iPad mini 3, thanks primarily to its more powerful processor.

Of course that extra power and the larger size does make it more expensive and if you’re after a compact slate specifically then the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 probably won’t work for you.

But if money and size are no object it’s not only the best iPad but the best tablet and the closest thing to a perfect slate we’ve ever seen.

Verdict

I’m going to get this out of the way now: the big issue here isn’t that Apple is using old technology. It’s that it’s offering a very slightly upgraded tablet while keeping last year’s model on sale right next to it on the shelves.

iPad mini 3 review

Apple is going to cannibalize its own sales – but then again, if the money is coming in somehow, what does it matter which version you go for? It just means it’s impossible to recommend this iPad while the predecessor lives, but an improved range is a great thing.

We liked

Let’s get a positive hat on now though – there are some good parts. The gold coloring is going to entice a lot of people into the iPad fold, as it’s a sought-after color.

That said, I prefer space gray, but at least Apple is offering it.

The 128GB storage size is ample for iPads, if not a little expensive, but having it there is good for those who can afford it.

Touch ID is a good feature with a lot of promise. If Apple Pay goes big, this is a simple way to use it. If you’re into security, then it’s the best way to secure an iPad without needing to faff around with codes.

And if app developers really come up with clever ways to integrate the fingerprint reader, then the iPad mini 3 becomes a lot more attractive.

We disliked

Look above and you’ll see a lot of "ifs." The whole selling point of the iPad mini 3 is Touch ID, and I don’t feel it really adds a lot right now. It’s future-proofing at best.

If Apple Pay doesn’t proliferate and you don’t see any apps that use the fingerprint scanner, then you’ve just wasted a lot of money on a feature that merely saves you pecking out a code to open your tablet.

Everything good about this tablet – and that’s diminishing, given it’s last year’s tech – is on the iPad mini 2, which is much cheaper and will likely do 99.3% of anything you want from the mini 3.

Unless you like gold, of course. If that’s you, you’ve got no other choice.

Verdict

The iPad mini 3 isn’t a bad tablet. It’s got a great OS, new features and is still attractively designed. It’s just that all these features are available on the mini 2 for a lot less money.

Touch ID is a nice feature, but it’s not enough to recommend this tablet. I can’t see Apple Pay taking off in the next year to the point where you HAVE to have Touch ID in your life, and apps that really take advantage aren’t here yet.

I just can’t work out how Apple can justify launching this tablet at the price point. Last year, it was all the power of the Air in a smaller frame.

This year, it hasn’t matched the Air 2 in tech spec, yet the price hasn’t dropped. And you can get nearly all the good features cheaper on the iPad mini 2.

So while it might seem that the score here is harsh for what is a half-decent tablet with a good screen and access to a brilliant app store (albeit a tablet still based on last year’s technology), it’s the score it deserves because there’s a better option to its left.

Buy the iPad mini 2, or wait a few months and see if Apple Pay and Touch ID-enabled apps start to roar in popularity. If not, there’s no point in the iPad mini 3.

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