Microsoft Surface Pro 4 vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Product Comparisons, Shopping
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

 

On Oct. 6, technology giant Microsoft unveiled its much-anticipated Surface Pro 4, a tablet that’s so functional it promises to replace your laptop.

But before you purchase what’s on track to be the season’s new “it” tablet, you’ll want to know whether it’s worth your investment. We set out to see how it compares to its predecessor, the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

More interested in an Apple tablet than a Microsoft tablet? Check out our Battle of the Apple iPads: iPad Pro vs. iPad Air 2.

The tablets: at a glance

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Price Starts at $899 from Microsoft Starts at $699 from Microsoft
Display 12.3-inch PixelSense touch-screen display 12-inch Full HD touch-screen display
Operating system Windows 10 Pro operating system Windows 10 Pro operating system
Weight 1.73 pounds 1.76 pounds
Thickness 8.4mm 9.1mm
Surface Pen Included Included
Surface Pro Type Cover (keyboard) Sold separately Sold separately
Ports Full-size USB 3.0, microSD card reader, headset jack, mini DisplayPort, cover port, surface connect Full-size USB 3.0, microSD card reader, headphone jack, mini DisplayPort, cover port, charging port

The tablets: up-close and personal

Appearance

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

 

On the surface, both of these Surface Pro tablets are easily distinguished by their thin profiles and functional kickstands — designed to transform the devices between laptop and tablet viewing modes. Each is roughly the dimension of a sheet of paper, making both extremely easy to handle and transport.

There are differences, though. The new Surface Pro 4 undoubtedly wins in two areas tablet users care about most: amount of viewing area and ease of portability.

The Surface Pro 4 combines a larger screen area with a lighter design. It includes a striking 12.3-inch PixelSense touch-screen display and weighs a mere 1.73 pounds. Its sister model, the Surface Pro 3, has a 12-inch Full HD touch-screen display and weighs 1.76 pounds.

Features

Appearance is important, but these tablets make more than just a good first impression. Their features are especially impressive beyond the surface level.

With their multiposition kickstand and Intel Core processors that can run multiple programs at once, the Surface Pro devices can function as portable workstations. The devices are compatible with the full suite of Office products and can be loaded with all of your favorite apps.

In addition, these devices are equipped with high-quality cameras, video and audio. The Surface Pro 4 includes a 5-megapixel front-facing HD camera, an 8-megapixel rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p HD video recording, stereo microphones and stereo speakers with Dolby audio. The Surface Pro 3 includes a 5-megapixel and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing camera, built-in front- and rear-facing microphones and stereo speakers with Dolby Audio-enhanced sound.

But Microsoft promises the Surface Pro 4 is better. “Surface Pro 4 is not only 30 percent more powerful than Surface Pro 3 but also quieter, runs cooler, and is even more efficient with up to nine hours of battery life,” the company said in a release.

Both of the Surface Pro models include a multiposition kickstand for switching between laptop and tablet viewing and a Surface Pen for writing and drawing directly on the screen.

But the Surface Pro 4’s Surface Pen is more advanced. It can magnetically attach to the tablet so you’ll never have to worry about losing it. It also has 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity for improved precision and comes with an eraser on the top in case you make mistakes. The device is suited for taking notes, drawing and a host of other tasks.

Software

Living up to their promise to replace laptops, these tablets can run any traditional Windows program, including Office, iTunes and Photoshop. Both of these tablets run the Windows 10 Pro operating system. As a bonus, the Surface Pro 4 also comes with a 30-day trial of Office when you buy it from Microsoft.

Price

Still torn between the two? The real difference may be a matter of dollars and cents. If that’s the case, the Surface Pro 3 will come out on top.

Now through Oct. 31, Microsoft has dropped the price of the 64GB/Intel Core i3 version of the Surface Pro 3 by $100. This makes the starting price $699. The Surface Pro 4 starts at $899. Prices of both versions increase incrementally based on the storage option you choose — 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB, etc..

No matter which version you choose, keep in mind that there’s one big caveat: the Surface Pro Type Cover (the tablet’s keyboard) is sold separately. You’ll need to buy this if you want to utilize the tablet’s laptop functionality. The Surface Pro 3’s cover can be purchased for $129.99 from the Microsoft Store. The cover for the Surface Pro 4, which includes an optional fingerprint reader, is available for preorder for $129.99.

Availability

The Surface Pro 3 is available for purchase now. The Surface Pro 4 is available for preorder and will arrive by Oct. 26, just in time for holiday shopping season.

Both products qualify for free shipping and free returns from the Microsoft Store.

Zoom in

The Surface Pro 4 is undeniably bigger and better than the Surface Pro 3. If you plan on ditching your laptop completely for a multipurpose tablet, we recommend you go for this more advanced model.

But if the larger display size, lighter weight, better camera, longer battery life and upgraded Surface Pen aren’t enough to sell you, stick to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. You’ll still enjoy many of the same features as the Surface Pro 4 without paying the heftier price tag.

Or, if you’re still not sure, try waiting until Black Friday before you buy either. Prices for one (or both) of these tablets are almost sure to drop during the annual post-Thanksgiving retail sale blitz.

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Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.