In the wake of Microsoft’s announcement of the new Surface Pro 3 earlier this week, and the blizzard of articles that have followed in its wake, I’m both amused and bemused to understand that things at the upper end of the laptop and tablet marketplace are becoming increasingly blurred. But it’s also the case that the upper end of this market puts the considerations, concerns, and outright obsessions that drive design and critiques for this narrow niche well outside the mainstream. Nobody says this better at the moment, than Paul Thurrott of the Windows SuperSite (who himself has produced a plethora — 10! — articles in the period between May 20 and May 22 taking the Surface 3 as their primary focus) in his recent story entitled “Surface Pro 3: Let’s Talk About the Price.” The subtitle of his story sums up the results of his cogitations: “It’s expensive, yes, but still a good value.”
The key selling points for SP3 are: lighter, bigger screen, better PPI, and improved pen-based UI/interaction.
Thurrott makes some telling points in his cost analysis piece where he observes that pricing a tablet or ultrabook over $1-1.2K puts it outside of the interest zone for many, if not most, casual users. That places the focus of that market on business users (who are essentially spending OPM to get something they might not ordinarily buy for themselves) and high-end consumers (who are well-heeled enough to cover the costs, and conscious enough of the old adage “you get what you pay for” to understand that spending more can also mean getting more — or less, where reducing weight and thickness are concerned — for the outlay). For this market — the same general audience that buys the 13″ MacBook Air, the various MacBook Pro models, the Lenovo X1 Carbon, the Toshiba Kirabook, and so forth — what the Surface Pro 3 brings to the party is at least interesting and possibly compelling to those used to traveling and buying in such circles. For the record, the jury’s still out on usability issues, including what many writers, including Brad Sams of Neowin.net and Microsoft itself, call “lapability” (Sams has already written a story about using the SP3 on a four hour plane ride on his way home yesterday from the announcement in NYC the day before that tackles this subject). The jury’s still out on SP3 battery life, a particularly important characteristic for many prospective buyers, include your humble correspondent.
What about the legions of other people who don’t want to fork out $1,200 or more to get a work-ready model of the SP3? (Note: Thurrott and others rightly spec such a model out with an i5, plus 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB SSD or better, with Type Cover, at a suggested retail price of $1,428.) There are still plenty of good options around for those who want a usable Windows 8 tablet, with enough accessories (meaning a good keyboard/cover at a minimum, and better yet, a good docking station for at-the-desk use) to make a well-rounded offering for semi-serious use.
In following this marketspace recently, I’m particularly inclined to call out the Dell Venue 8 and 11 Pro models, plus the newly-announced Lenovo Thinkpad 10. Be sure to look for at least a quad-core Atom CPU — which usually means Z3740 or better, or an i3/i5 in the case of the Dell Venue 11 Pro — 4 GB RAM, and 128 GB SSD if you want to use them more seriously. (Note: the new Thinkpad 10 models won’t be available until June, 2014.) All three are worthy of serious consideration and possible purchase. Better still, all three cost under $1,000 (the i5 Dell Venue 11 Pro model costs $850 at the upper end of the price spectrum, sans any accessories, though) and all will handle light to medium duty Windows use in quasi-laptop-mode as well as working nicely as standalone Windows 8 tablets. For the majority of prospective Windows 8 tablet users who must fund such acquisitions on their own, these options are bound to be much more attractive.
In closing, here’s another perhaps more important question to ponder, in an era of increasingly large Android tablets: What do these offerings portend for the future of Windows tablet computing, when a usable 10″ Android device — such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 or Tab 3 — routinely goes for $300-350?