The Windows Surface series of tablets are some of the best devices in their category. They’re a tablet combined with the familiar interface of Windows. What’s not to love? But when I wanted a Microsoft Surface, I was a little bit overwhelmed at the amount of Surfaces there are now. The Pro 3, the Pro 2, the Surface 2, the Pro, the original Windows Surface, the Surface 4 Pro, the Surface Book. All those names do little to differentiate the devices. So what is the difference between all of them? Read on to find out.
Microsoft Windows Surface Series Comparison
Surface Series Specs
Newer is always better, and the Surface Pro 4 is no exception. The Pro 4 is definitely the most powerful pure tablet. (discounting the Surface Book, which is more of a laptop with a touch screen) The Pro 4, in its basic package, includes a 128GB SSD drive, 4GB of RAM, and an Intel M3 processor; you can go all the way up to a 256gb SSD, an Intel i7 and 16GB of ram but for nearly double the price. The Pro 4 is equipped with Windows 10 professional Edition and its shell is made of a magnesium alloy, weighing either 1.69 pounds for the m3 model or 1.73 pounds for the i7 model; not really much of a difference there. The screen is a 12.3” PixelSense display and shows at a 2736 x 1824 resolution, at 267 pixels per inch (PPI). Additional features include a 5.0 megapixel front-facing HD camera, an 8.0 megapixel rear-facing camera, and all the “smart tech” goodies you’ve come to know and appreciate; an accelerometer, a gyroscope, an ambient light sensor, and a magnetometer.
I previously mentioned the Surface Book, which is actually more of an ultrabook/Windows Surface hybrid. What sets it apart from your typical Windows laptop is its support for the Surface Pen. The Book can go up to a 1TB SSD drive, an Intel i7 core, and 16GB of RAM with a dedicated GPU. In its basic package, the Book has a 128GB SSD and an Intel i5 with 8GB of RAM. The keyboard folds backwards to make a neat little package and function as a tablet. This is the Surface for enthusiasts. The Book comes with Windows 10 Pro.
The Surface 3 is the Surface 4’s older brother, released back in 2014. The 3 is a little smaller and a little slower, including a 64GB SSD and 2GB of RAM. The 3 was made back before Wi-Fi chips and LTE chips were able to integrate, so there are optional models of choosing either the Wi-Fi model or the Wi-Fi + 4G LTE model, which would then allow you to purchase a data plan for the 3. The 3 cannot get a whole lot beefier, only up to a 128GB SS and 4GB of RAM. The 3 measures 10.52 x 7.36 x 0.34 inches, and weighs 1.37 pounds. The display shows at 1920×1080, and includes a 10.8” ClearType Full HD Plus Display and allows for a 10-point multisurface; you can create your own gestures by say, touching 7 or 8 fingers to the screen to launch a program. Of course, this includes the typical smart tech package with an ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer; the proximity sensor stands out, as the Surface 3 has an option to wake itself whenever it detects someone approaching, or shut itself off when you leave.
The Surface 2 is the second generation Surface tablet, and is the one I fell in love with. The 2 is powered by Windows 8.1, and is actually one of the few surfaces to natively include Microsoft Office with it. This version of Microsoft Office comes pre-activated on your machine, unlike the other Surfaces. The 2 measures in at 10.81 x 6.79 x .35, and weighs 1.49 lbs – a little chunkier than the rest in its family. The display is a 10.6” ClearType Full HD screen with another 1920×1080 screen, but only allows for a 5-point multi touch support. The Surface 2 comes with either a 32 or 64GB SSD for storage, and only 2GB of RAM. The processor is an NVIDIA Tegra 4, which can actually be used to play some games at decent FPS (frames per second). However, The Surface 2 is a little outdated and new games are a lot more demanding on the processor. The 2 also has support for networks from 2G to 4G, and also include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth of course. The 2 also is one of the only surfaces to include GPS features natively built into the machine; you don’t have to download any apps or set anything up, if you choose a wireless data plan then you can instantly use it to navigate when the location is enabled. The 2 has a 5.0 megapixel rear-facing camera, and a 3.5 megapixel front facing camera and includes both a vertical and horizontal kickstand feature. This also includes the accelerometer and ambient light sensor package, and even includes the proximity sensor. This was the first Surface to feature USB 3.0 ports.
The Surface RT is the original Surface, and the first venture into the magical world of Windows Tablets. The RT actually does not use any Windows OS, but rather uses the Windows RT OS which is made to resemble an early edition of Windows 8. The RT measures in at 10.81” x 6.79” x .35”, and weighs in at 1.5 lbs. Like all Surfaces, it also has a magnesium build. The RT can come with 32GB or 64GB of storage on an SSD, and includes 2GB of RAM. The screen is a 10.6” ClearType HD display with a 1366×768 resolution, and includes up to 5 points of multi-touch. The processor is an Nvidia Tegra 3, and the RT only has both front- and rear-facing HD cameras.
So Which Surface Is Right For You?
The fundamental question you should be asking yourself is this; “How much power do I really need?” If you are looking for the cutting edge of portable computing then you want the Pro 4. The limiting factor is the price. While the tech contained within the Pro 4 is impressive, the base price of $799 might be a little steep, not to mention top of the line versions of the device going for as much as $2,000. The more budget conscious among us might be better served by going back a generation, as I tend to do with my phone. The Pro 3 is still an impressive piece of kit, with very similar specs to the Pro 4. If you’re primary goal with the tablet is painting, then you might have to go for the Pro 4 though. The pressure sensitivity on the surface pen is four time that of the Pro 3. But if you’re looking to work on the go, whether writing, editing or some basic graphic design, then the Pro 3 will suit you fine. I’ve found the 128GB version for as little as $600, less if you’re willing to go second hand.
UPDATE: You can currently get all the Surface Series Tablets at substantial discounts on Amazon by clicking the links below to automatically apply the discounts. After clicking the links you will see the discounted rates.
Surface Pro 4 Discount: You can click here to see the discounted price & automatically apply the discounted rate.
One thing you have to keep an eye out for is the word Pro in your devices name. If it doesn’t say pro then you’re buying a Windows RT device, and you lose access to native windows applications. The Pro 2 is available for a manageable $340. The device isn’t as quick as its big brothers, nor does it have the storage, but storage shouldn’t be too big a factor when considering your model. External hard drives are quite cheap, combined with Microsoft’s OneDrive application, and space really should not be an issue. For the entry level user I have to recommend the Pro2. It’s powerful enough to handle the vast majority of your needs, whether it’s some light gaming on the go or painting a work of art. If you have the cash though, the higher the number the better the device.