Microsoft outflanks Apple with $500 fully Windows capable Surface 3 tablet PC

This is a surmise, not a prediction, but I’m finding it hard to imagine Microsoft’s new Surface 3 tablet PC will not be a game-changer. In a blog, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for the Microsoft Surface, Panos Panay, said, “When we developed Surface Pro 3, we set out to design the tablet that can truly replace your laptop—even your high-end laptop. Today, we feel both fortunate and proud that the vision of Surface has become a reality.” The Surface 3 will start at 500 bucks for the basic lenovo horizon 2 that can run the full 64-bit desktop version of Windows 8.1, and thus supports standard Windows apps.

It may not run them fast given the not-noted-for-speediness Intel Atom processor (especially large power-demanding apps), but one can make a similar observation about Apple’s new 12-inch MacBook, whose 1.1 GHz Intel Core M CPU reportedly delivers performance not quite as lively as that of a 2011 MacBook Air.

However, the Surface 3, which is to be available to consumers May 5, will sell for less than half as much as the MacBook, even after you add a $129 Touch Cover 2 keyboard that turns the Surface 3 into a mini-laptop.

Surface 3 is powered by Intel’s newest and highest-performing Atom processor—the quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z870 Cherry Trail—teamed with Intel’s Gen8 HD Graphics GPU, which helps keep the Surface 3’s price down and offers a combination of burst mode and advanced power management. This means it delivers better performance when a given task requires it, but scales back to conserve power whenever possible. It also—like the Intel Core M powered 12-inch MacBook and unlike the Surface Pro 3—doesn’t require a fan for cooling, which allows the device to be thinner and quieter.

Microsoft is betting that a large proportion of potential Surface 3 buyers don’t really need a lot of raw power, as Apple is with the MacBook. Mr. Panay notes that if you do very demanding work like editing and rendering video or complex 3D modeling, the power and performance of its Core i powered Surface Pro 3—which starts at $799 and can be optioned up into the MacBook’s price point ballpark and beyond—is your better choice in a tablet PC. However, he suggests that if the majority of your work is light to medium duty—working in Office, writing, using the Internet, casual games and entertainment, and such—a Surface 3 should deliver everything you need for hundreds less.

The Surface 3 spec is impressive at the $500 price point, with a 10.8-inch 1,920 x 1,280 (less than the Air 2’s 2,048 x 1,536, but still quite respectable) 3:2 aspect ratio display and front (3.5MP) and rear-facing (8MP) cameras that both capture 1080p video, with the rear-facing camera also featuring autofocus, which is particularly useful for capturing images of documents. It has a 13W Micro USB charger, conveniently standardizing on the same connector as most mobile phones. Surface 3 also includes a full-size USB 3.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort and a microSD card reader. You can also use the $200 Surface 3 Docking Station to plug into a full desktop workstation, and, of course, the Surface 3 has Microsoft’s trademark built-in kickstand.

A free one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal (including full versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote—a $69.95 value) as well as 1 TB of OneDrive storage are thrown in, along with a free upgrade to Windows 10 when it’s ready. An upgraded model with 4 GB of system RAM costs $100 extra.

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