Everything you need to know about the Surface 3 and more from the Surface team’s Reddit AMA

Everything you need to know about the Surface 3 and more from the Surface team's Reddit AMA

Today, Microsoft’s Panos Panay and the Surface team took to Reddit to answer questions about the recently announced Surface 3. Below are some of the questions and answers that stood out, organized into three categories. It’s a long read, but the Surface team gave some pretty detailed answers regarding what went into the development of the Surface 3 and the reasons behind some of the product decisions they made.

Disclaimer: We consolidated some of the questions/answers and fixed major grammar and spelling mistakes for better coherency, but were careful that the underlying message remained the same.

Hardware Questions

Everything you need to know about the Surface 3 and more from the Surface team's Reddit AMA

Q1 Why did the team decide to ditch the Surface text logo for the Microsoft logo?

We realized that a Surface contains all of what we as Microsoft has to offer. It is the physical extension of a software experience. To reflect that, we thought it was more appropriate to carry the Microsoft mark. And we all liked this idea :)

Q2 Surface has always had a very distinct (and sexy) hardware design. What were your inspirations for the design (if any)? With the Surface 2 launch, your team was very invested in custom covers for different tasks, do you see those covers coming back in the future?

The inspiration of our Surfaces comes from the idea that the hardware should be a stage for software. It should blend into the experience while you use it. Many things we do is removing things to make the experience crisper, easier. What we then leave in the product we fanatically obsess about it and make it as great as we can. And yes we always have more ideas :)

Q3 Have you ever considered having a different design to the Surface line than the current one? Like in your early mockups and prototypes etc.?

Yes, we always consider how the next product should evolve. The design of a Surface is the result of how we want it to be used. It is the result of how it works, in so many ways. The magnesium material influences the final shape, as well as the tech inside. We always push new materials and tech. New technology will allow our products to be used differently, which will influence how these products look. To me, design is how a product works. Everything else is mere styling :)

Q4 Why did it take so long for you to switch to the 3:2 aspect ratio?

In the earlier versions of Surface we wanted to highlight the horizontal interaction mode of new Windows. Hence the 16:9. As Pen become more predominate and we saw huge interest and uptake with the pen, portrait mode became just as important. So like the Pro3 we really focused on the screen in Surface 3, and how its form really would amplify its function. We wanted something even more compact than Pro 3 but yet still be very productive and functional. Something that would enable both landscape mode and portrait in tablet and pen mode. So that is why we moved to the 3:2 aspect ratio in the Surface line, following what we did with the Surface Pro line. If you map out the aspect ratio of all the digital content of the world, books, movies, productivity apps, digital pictures, magazines, and games, then the 3:2 aspect ratio ends up being the perfect balance of maximizing the use of your screen real estate. Maximizing the use of the screen area is critical for creating a compact, mobile, yet functionally effective device. We wanted a form that people were already comfortable with, a book, so the new screen in Surface 3 is exactly 9×6 inches. 9×6 (Octavo paper size) is one of the most common modern book formats (not to mention digital photos). So for student putting pen to screen will feel more natural, and viewing digital content will fit. The new screen while compact shows 20% more content on screen than previous Surface line…awesome right?! Off course the screen is just as beautiful as Pro 3, being in plane switching, really high contrast, 100% SRGB, and individually calibrated on the line. I hope you love the screen and the new form factor. The display team really worked hard on it.

Q5 What is the one thing that you wanted to get into the Surface 3 that did not make it into the final product?

As a product maker one always has to finalize the list of things that will be in the product, otherwise we would never ship. Technology is always progressing and we always wish we could have time for this next feature. The good news is that we will always innovate as relentless as possible and create the fittest devices we can make at this point. And the future is long :) With Surface 3 you will find that we created a collection of powerful and beautiful features that creates a great experience. Designing great products is always a balance. It is as important to remove as it is to add features. So to answer your question, I think Surface 3 has all we wanted it to be.

Q6 Why was the choice made to go with the Atom x7 CPU vs a Core M CPU?

The key to Surface 3 was to give great performance, but to also keep the device thin and light. We benefit from this latest quad-core processor from Intel in a couple ways: First, we get great performance with a new burst mode feature where the chip will run up to 2.4GHz. However, when performance is not needed, it throttles down to 1.6GHz saving power so we can keep the battery as small as possible.

Q7 Does the Surface 3 have a thermal threshold for CPU cutoff like the SP3? I enjoy playing Dota 2 for a couple of hours and this was the one thing I did not want happening, at the already low settings required to play it.

Yes we do thermally throttle the CPU on the Surface 3. DOTA2 not specifically tested. We did test Civilization 5 with 4GB SKU at 25+ FPS. Another reference point is 3D Mark Cloud Gate, which shows Surface 3 at ~70% performance of the i3 Surface Pro 3.

Everything you need to know about the Surface 3 and more from the Surface team's Reddit AMA

Q8 Why did you choose to use the 3 fixed angles for the kickstand of the Surface 3 in comparison to the unfixed kickstand of the Surface Pro 3?

We chose to put the 3-position hinges in Surface 3 in order to optimize size and cost of the device. In addition, the 3-position hinges allow the user to flick open the kickstand more easily to the pre-set angles enabling quick operation for on-the go use.

This was a key decision for Surface 3 to keep the product affordable (and thin and light). We know from research the most important angles from Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, and then we added the 3rd most shallow angle based on feedback from Surface Pro 3. Overall, keeping price as a priority while giving large range of angles was the goal.

Q9 As the owner of a Surface RT, does the Surface 3 have the same satisfying click sound when opening/closing the kickstand? It’s definitely not a deal-breaker if it doesn’t, but man, that sound is just so satisfying for some reason.

Absolutely! On Surface 3 we defined the sound before we engineered the parts. The sound is created by the materials of the foot snapping onto the magnesium. The hinge snaps the kickstand to the Surface body and imbedded magnets hold it perfectly flat, which gives it the perfect sound.

Q10 Does the Surface 3 support 4K displays at 60Hz?

4K at 30Hz with the Intel X7 Gen8 engine.

Q11 Will the Surface 3 support two 1440p displays via daisy-chained DisplayPort connections?

The Surface 3 does not support daisy chaining monitors over DisplayPort. The Pro line is great for folks who need this.

Q12 How is the eMMC performance in comparison to the SP3 SSD? Is it a significant difference?

Surface 3 eMMC is about 50% of SP3 SSD. If your workload involves heavy file transfers (like video editing), our recommendation is the SP3.

Q13 Regarding the pen, one of the main things that I consider important in any writing instrument, is the friction while writing, it needs to have just the right amount. Considering that the Surface Pen glides on glass, I’m guessing handwriting is going to pretty terrible. Do you guys take this into account during product development?

We work really hard to create the most natural writing experience. That includes pen tip materials and the feel on the glass. When you try the Surface Pen on Surface 3 or Pro 3 you’ll feel how great it is!

Q14 How does the battery life compare to the Surface 2 and given the Surface 3 has a micro-USB port will it support remote chargers?

Both devices get a full 10hrs of video playback. Surface 3’s micro-USB give more access to chargers and will at least maintain power from remote battery packs.

Q15 Can we convert the charging micro-USB port to a full-size USB port with an adapter, and then plug in any USB device to it?

Yes! The micro-USB port charging port also handles USB data.

Q16 I was wondering whether the Surface 3 would be compatible with previous Type Covers?

Yes, previous covers work with Surface 3. The size is a little different though with the new 3:2 aspect ratio, so if you use your Type Cover 2 it just won’t cover the whole screen.

Q17 Is the Surface 3 Always On, Always Connected (Connected Standby)?

Behavior is just like Surface Pro 3. 4 hours of Connected Standby, then into hibernate.

Q18 Is there a reason why Microsoft only releases locked LTE models?

We are doing an unlocked LTE version. Can’t say where it will be available yet, but we hear you and in many markets we will have it available. Stay tuned for more!

Software Questions

Everything you need to know about the Surface 3 and more from the Surface team's Reddit AMA

Q1 Any chance we can get an updated video driver for the SP3? Windows 10 has destroyed the stability of the DisplayPort out, making the device kinda useless in my case.

We are aware of this. Drivers are under test. When we have one working to our satisfaction, we will make it available. We dogfood the same stuff, and we are feeling the same pain.

Q2 How well does the Surface 3 handle a bunch of Bluetooth connected devices? Say I have a BT KB/mouse plus a headset for listening to Xbox Music while also syncing my FitBit. Any issues? How about the Wi-Fi? Any issues like the SP3 had?

For sure you can connect all the Bluetooth devices you mention above at the same time. As for Wi-Fi, no issues. People will get the same Wi-Fi experience that Surface Pro 3 users are getting today.

Q3 Are Surface RT owners at least going to get a half update (Windows 8.10?). The same thing happened with Windows Phone 7.8, and it was better than nothing.

Microsoft has announced that there will be an update for Windows 8.1, but want to set expectations that it is definitely not Windows 10. There won’t be an upgrade path.

Q4 Windows 10 guts out the majority of the powerful edge gestures and “power user” interface elements like Semantic Zoom. These had a higher learning curve, but lead to a better experience once mastered. Do you feel that removing these lessons the usability of a device like the Surface?

I think you will find awesome benefits as you learn to use Windows 10. I am using it day in and day out, and I have found the product increases my effectiveness, and I am now much more fluid with it. Granted, I use a different test device on a daily basis as we need to continuously test every aspect of the product, but I will tell you it has felt great to use Windows 10 on Surface.

Q5 Now that Microsoft is removing the touch UX from Windows 10 more or less. How do you motivate customers to still invest into the Surface products?

The more you use Windows 10, the more you will feel how integrated the experience is with Surface. You will see it continuously coming to life in our products. I am pretty pumped about it actually, I think as you use it, you will be too.

Q6 In terms of performance, what limits with an IDE could I stretch the top end Surface 3 to, and should I instead be looking at getting the Surface Pro 3 or the next gen Surface?

You’ll be in great shape developing on Surface 3. IDE will work great. If you’re doing big compiles or anything like that or have lots of plug-ins etc. then you should go with Surface Pro 3.

Everything you need to know about the Surface 3 and more from the Surface team's Reddit AMA

Q7 Windows 10 guts out a majority of the powerful edge gestures and “power user” interface elements like semantic zoom. These had a higher learning curve, but lead to a better experience once mastered. Do you feel that removing these lessons the usability of a device like the Surface?

I think you will find awesome benefits as you learn to use Windows 10. I am using it day in and day out, and I have found the product increases my effectiveness, and I am now much more fluid with it. Granted, I use a different test device on a daily basis as we need to continuously test every aspect of the product, but I will tell you it has felt great to use Windows 10 on Surface.

Q8 Could I use the Surface 3 for video editing? I don’t need to edit videos all the time, but if I do, I’d like to know if the Surface 3 is a good, affordable option to do it without having problems. Thanks

Yes. x86 machine, so apps will run. Best reference point is PC Mark 8 Creative Benchmark which includes video editing performance that is 85% of SP3 i3.

Q9 With the Surface 3, will we have to wait 7 months for a decent Wi-Fi driver?

We have taken the learnings from the Pro3 and applied them to the Surface 3. It has the same Wi-Fi/BT chip and the same driver, so all the work we did on the Pro3 directly applies to the Surface 3, on day 1.

Q10 I saw some great blogs for making music on Surface. Will there be some sound improvements for running something big like FL studio without lag? Or will there be a official tool for sound?

Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 are both amazing for making music. As we announced on Tuesday, an incredibly app called StaffPad that was written for use with the Surface pen. It launched in the Windows Store on Tuesday. You can check it out here. http://blog.staffpad.net/ or here

Q11 How do you see the Surface line evolving as more and more CPU intensive applications such as Photoshop, Visual Studio, and Office are offloaded to the cloud?

I think Surface Pro 3 does a pretty good job balancing CPU intensive applications and cloud-based opportunities. I think this is a great trend and we will keep on top of it.

Q12 Will the Surface 3 support virtualization so I can run the device emulators in Visual Studio Express?

For virtualization, our recommendation is the SP3. This is based on available memory & the 8GB SKU.

Q13 How would you say the Surface 3 holds up to Photoshop and do you still run the Wacom tech inside for those of us who want to do some drawing? I’m on the fence.

Photoshop – Given variety of content and scenarios, best answer is relative to SP3 i3. For PC Mark 8 Creative Tests S3 performance is 80% of SP3 i3. As for the pen – S3 and SP3 both use n-trig technology.

Other Questions

Everything you need to know about the Surface 3 and more from the Surface team's Reddit AMA

Q1 Will there be any unique deals for Surface 3 or its accessories for students?

Yes! Surface 3 is a great product for students and Microsoft Stores offers a 10% discount on the device and accessories.

Q2 Will there be a trade-in program for those loyal fans with orphan devices (RT/Surface 2)?

We’ll definitely think about trade-ins. We don’t have plans right now. Will also see what retailers are thinking as those are often done by the retailers themselves.

Q3 Are you planning to release Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 in other regions?

We don’t have plans for more regions right now. Sorry.

Q4 The Surface 3 4GB RAM/128GB storage model (£500) is £50 cheaper than the SP3 4GB/64GB (£550) in the UK, at this price point it makes no sense to buy the S3. How did you come to this price point?

They are both great options – and we definitely see that there are trade-offs and actually, a lot of people are picking what’s best for them versus us trying to essentially dictate through price. Surface Pro 3 i3/64 has the bigger screen and is a little faster than the Surface 3. Surface 3 is thinner and lighter, and some people really do prefer the size because it’s more mobile/fits in bag easier. But feel good that either is a great choice.

Q5 If you are working on a desk, are there any scenarios where you prefer touching the screen rather than using a mouse? Which are they? What little examples/funny details do you have where you prefer touching with the finger?

I like using touch when reading PDFs, browsing a long document, and reading Reddit. I find it direct and convenient depending on my posture. Also I find it convenient to use touch when I want to hit a dialog box button. The beauty about what we are doing in Surface is building a computer that is able to give the user the right tool for the right job. It allows the user to seamlessly switch between touch, keyboard, mouse, and pen.

Everything you need to know about the Surface 3 and more from the Surface team's Reddit AMA

Q6 Why does the $499 price require like $170 in extra accessories for real usability? I get it, entry level price attention, but it’s disingenuous. How about bundle the keyboard and pen for $79 or something?

Most people definitely get a cover for it, but they want to pick their color. Not everyone wants a pen. We definitely think that choice is a good thing.

Q7 Wouldn’t it be fairer to compare the Surface 3 to the new MacBook as opposed to the iPad, from a price perspective?

We think lots of people are going to pick a Surface 3 versus an iPad. The opening price points (for the regular iPad, not the Mini) are very similar, but with a Surface you get 64GB of storage and can use it as a tablet and a laptop.

Q8 What can you tell us about the Surface Pro 4 other than that it will not be released until Windows 10 drops?

Nothing.

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