REVIEW Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and Dell XPS 13 2015 Edition

Discussion in 'Portable & Small Form Factor' started by samus, May 1, 2015.

  1. samus

    samus Member

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    Hello everyone, welcome to another review/comparo.

    Today we will be comparing two Windows portables: the new, super-sexy Dell XPS 13 and the Microsoft Surface 3 Pro. There is a Sony Vaio in there purely for a size/weight comparison.

    Firstly, some pictures (taken under crappy office lighting with the Canon PowerShot S120). Note that there won’t be any benchmarks in this review, I don’t think that numbers tell the story with these devices. If you really want to know, I’m sure that the information is out there somewhere.


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    The Dell is the i7-5500U model, with 8GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, and that Quad-HD touch display at 3200*1800. With 3 years warranty this was $2130.74 inc. GST, delivered.

    The Surface is the Core i5 model, with 8GB of RAM and 265 GB SSD. Bought as a “laptop replacement” pack, It comes with the unit, type cover and desktop dock, for around $1700 ex GST delivered. It is only available from resellers - in this case, Staples.

    Let’s tackle each one individually.

    First, the XPS 13.
    (Will be known throughout this review just as “13”)

    This is not a demo unit; I bought it with my own funds as a replacement for my wife’s aging HP-Compaq nx6320. Note that this had an SSD and 4GB of RAM, with the 1400*1050 display.


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    Wow.

    I’ve been thinking about this unit for some time, and read many a thread comparing the 13 with other ultrabooks, including the Surface. But really, once you hold it, it’s an amazing experience. It really is all about that screen. It’s been said before, but the screen is jaw-droppingly good.

    Let’s talk about the rest of the unit.

    The keyboard is surprisingly good, even though I’m not a fan of the F key setup, and the fact that there isn’t a visual indicator of the FN status. You can “lock” the FN keys with the escape button; I’m just not a fan. Using the keyboard though is fine, enough travel, and big enough keys. Still not on par with the HP or my ThinkPad, but good enough for an email or even typing up a report. Personally, I wouldn’t like to use it for a long period.

    The trackpad. This is a big letdown in my opinion; very disappointing. From my personal use, it had appalling palm detection, and gesturing was more miss than hit. The clicks are very positive and just pointing around was fine, maybe it’s just me. For reference, I use the nub pointer on my Thinkpad, and keep the touchpad off. Wife ™ has no issues with it. I do love the carbon surround though, it’s very nice to the touch. The keyboard backlight has 3 settings: Off, blinding, and very bright. Needs more graduations, or a user-settable brightness.

    Moving to the base of the unit, we have this very cute flap, that hides all your regulatory information, alongside your service tag and express ID. As is with these laptops, everything is on board; however the torx screws give me hope about replacing the battery if required. There are 2 USB 3.0 ports, SD card reader and mini-DP port. Disappointing lack of Ethernet, however any adaptor should work. There is a cute Apple-esque battery life indicator on the side, which I liked.

    The hinge only goes to about 120deg, but that’s OK for most people.

    Now. Dat screen. It really is the star of this show. The bezel is tiny, and the screen is wonderful to look at. There are some scaling issues, particularly with older apps, for example, my old copy of Photoshop CS5.1, the menu items are teeny, almost unusable. This happens in a few other apps, but that’s not the screens fault. Movies, (upscaled) are wonderful to watch. The touch function is OK, but the biggest problem with having it is that you end up putting fingerprints on that wonderful screen, so I don’t touch the screen, and get mad when Wife does. So this feature it’s a bit useless for me, but if you want the high res, you then, by default, will also get touch.

    Speakers are nothing to write home about, they work, and that’s about it.

    Performance. This machine is fast. Really fast. Boot time is around 13 seconds, and apps launch almost instantly. Everything just zips along. Pillars of Eternity chugs at most settings, but that’s a function of 3200*1800. It’s not a gamer by any stretch.

    Battery. This is very dependent on usage. Playing Talisman Digital Edition, 3 hours, and it’s dead, medium brightness and the keyboard backlight on. Browsing, with no keyboard backlight and lower brightness, it was fine after 5 hours. A small aside here, the fan is quite loud when you are up on it, though it stays relatively cool, even on your lap. I don’t recommend using it on a pillow at any time. Get one of these.

    So what do I think? I like the 13 - it’s surprisingly small, weighs a hair under 1.3KG and performs like an ultrabook should. The screen is amazing, and you can live with the trackpad if you need to. The price is quite steep, but you get an amazing form factor for your money and for my application (keeping Wife happy), it performs admirably. The only real tangible downside is the lack of any LTE options. But this seems to be a theme…

    Surface Pro 3.


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    We all know the Surface, and this is the 3rd gen model. I bought it with work funds for a particular project that needs to be mobile. It is the only one in my mobile fleet currently.

    As above, this is the i5/8GB model.

    First impressions aren’t as in your face as the 13. It’s not boring, but is muted and understated. The back is a mixture of plastic and metal, and its stand out design feature is of course, the kickstand. In this iteration of the Surface the kickstand is infinitely adjustable, with a sort of pressure hinge that is very cleverly designed. It also travels much further (shallower and bigger angles) than previous models. The screen hasn’t really changed much, and still has the big soft home button at the right (or base) of the front. It also has a series of small vents around the top, and a fan that does come on during moderate use, but is very quiet.

    Accessories. In this kit, I really wanted the desktop dock, (for Ethernet), to be really good, and I wasn’t disappointed. It has this clever gearing that allows you to slide the unit onto the dock, then snap the sides over it with, or without the cover on.


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    This then gives you gigabit Ethernet, multiple USB 3 ports, and a mini-DP port. The angle is of course fixed, but it’s usable enough. I don’t know if it’s worth $230 (as essentially it’s a fancy bit of plastic and a port expander), but there you go. The type cover is much nicer than I thought it would be. The keyboard is surprisingly usable (and backlit), even if there is a bit of flex in it, as the cover can be angled to sit up a bit. I like the trackpad as well. Even though it is quite small, it’s very responsive, with good palm rejection and tactile clicking. Gestures work just fine as well.


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    Finally, the stylus. It’s like someone was thinking! It’s a joy to use, and left and right clicking is intuitive. It saves you poking at the screen with your grubby fingers (if you haven’t guessed by now, a pet peeve of mine) and everything else works. I don’t like that you can only launch OneNote with the top button, but that’s only a minor annoyance. There is also a magnet on the dock to hold it, which is cute.

    As with the 13, the speakers work, and that’s about it.

    Performance wise, it runs just fine with all my LOB apps and Office, as well as browsing. I didn’t test performance too much, however it seems perfectly adequate. Full screen YouTube, Word, Excel and Outlook perform as expected.

    Battery. Now this is more impressive. It was fine for light use – it went from fully charged to around 20% over the course of a whole day. Admittedly, there was a significant screen off time, but still, it means that my road warrior can use it all day without coming back into the office.

    I really like the Surface; it’s well engineered, and now the 3rd iteration had ironed out all the bugs. Again, the lack of an LTE option is disappointing and puzzling, especially given the application and target “corporate” market, but again, only minor.

    Conclusion, Comparisons, General Rantings.

    Well the only real thing these units have in common is software, and I’m very slowly coming around to Windows 8.1. On both of these units I’ve installed Classic Shell just because the Metro start screen really grates on me, and seems so slow in comparison. The Surface came bloat-free (naturally), and the Dell came with a relatively small amount of crapware, the most annoying of was McCrappy. Otherwise Windows 8.1 is its usual self, runs great, compatibility is very good, and it’s stable enough for the workplace now. Most of my (legacy) apps that run on Windows 7 run just fine on 8.1, and with Classic Shell or similar users don’t really care about metro.

    In terms of usage/suitability/niche, the answer is, well, what are you using it for? For the people I purchased them for, they work very well. In terms of The Wife, she wanted a pretty, small powerful web consumption device (I do more than watch cat videos on YouTube! I use Lightroom and Photoshop as well -Ed.), and my road warrior needed something to go on site with all day. And they work in those roles just fine. In the time it took me to write this review, I offered my mobile user a different screen and to take away their desktop and dual 4:3 screen setup. After a few days usage they declined, which I found interesting. So they now have both the Surface docked and their normal desktop. I don’t really care, but just found it interesting. Admittedly most of our (legacy) apps don’t scale nicely on a 16:9 or 16:10 screen, (they are SQL Windows based, written in 1994, don’t ask) but I find it interesting that the user would decline the chance to consolidate down to one device.

    Otherwise, they are superb bits of hardware, software is better than it was, and with plenty of performance for their usage. I can’t recommend the surface as a “laptop replacement” as it’s too compromised to get down to the tablet form factor, but as a supplement it’s fantastic. And I can’t recommend the 13 in a “corporate” (well, business) as it doesn’t have the battery life, and it’s too expensive for a rep to be throwing it around in their car all day.

    But in other roles, they really shine, and are arguably the best in class right now. I know the Surface 4 is not far off, but like anything else in IT the best time to buy is right now.

    Verdict:

    Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – Recommended.

    Dell XPS 13 2015 – Highly Recommended.

    Well I certainly rambled on enough. As usual, questions, comments and corrections are welcome; also if you need anything particular tested as I have access to both devices for the foreseeable future.

    Thanks for reading!

    Mario.

    Special thanks to The Wife for editing.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2015
  2. thecondor

    thecondor Member

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    Great review mate.

    Im looking at these two devices atm.

    I think ill go the surface pro 3. :thumbup:
     
  3. millsy_c

    millsy_c Member

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    Thanks for the review :thumbup:

    I must admit I was internally screaming at the thought of removing metro start from the surface, it's literally where it shines!
     
  4. andyroo54

    andyroo54 Member

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    I recommenced the xps 13 inch to a guy at work. He bought it in yesterday to show me, he didn't want touch screen so the screen is matte rather than reflective (I much prefer this) and can confirm, screen is amazing.. Bezel is tiny, I've never seen a laptop like this before. Just stunning. Kind of similar in size to an 11 inch macbook, until you open the lid and then the macbook looks like it's from the 90's.
     
  5. OP
    OP
    samus

    samus Member

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    That's very subjective. The only place I can stand metro is my phone, and then only because I don't have a choice. (That's just a bit sad, all my devices are MS-centric) I'm not using it, and my user wanted it off, so it's off.

    Pleasure to provide the review. I'll have to wander down and see how the user is getting on.

    If it's the matte screen, then it's only the Full HD (1920x1080) non-touch screen. The QHD glossy screen is what I have here. I don't have anything to really compare, the closest I have here at work is a Lenovo 24" screen. And the pixel density and detail is amazing!
     
  6. Humane

    Humane Member

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    I have the XPS 13 with FHD screen. Huge pixel densities are great, but I feel as though Windows scaling just isn't there yet. Perhaps 10 will bring a change but for now the high density wasn't an option.
    In regards to the palm, you can definitely change palm detection sensitivity, I just don't remember how. My previous Samsung 9 series had overcompensating palm detection that screwed the mouse up. This was remedied by a settings change and kept me quite happy.
     
  7. Maghemi

    Maghemi Member

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    I've been an Apple user for quite a long time. But I've just got the Surface 3 Pro i3 version for work.

    I'm pretty happy with it so far (except for the first little while until I figured out how to use it, it would crash and freeze regularly - kinda sad that you have to not push it too hard so it doesn't freeze)

    I'm not overly enamored with Windows, but I knew I wouldn't be.

    But for me, that Pen. That is where it's at. That is the one area that Apple shits me to tears. A good pen would be awesome.

    Anyway, they way you're able to write on things is great. I can take documents and hand write and draw into them and send them off to colleagues who are having issues. Photos as well. That for me is the best feature of it. (though the camera is shit)

    The keyboard is utter crap however, just complete utter crap. Especially for typing while walking around. My Macbook Air is easier to type into word documents while walking around on the job.

    The onboard screen default keyboard is OK. but the lack of up and down keys is major pain in the arse. And the full keyboard is just stupid, but I need the arrows to navigate through documents.

    It's so close to being a ripper of a device, and I just can't help but think if Apple had made something like this it would be just awesome. But they just insist on doing the no pen mobile crap of the iPad.

    Odly enough, even though I spend most of the time using 'desktop' I quite like the Metro screen.

    One thing I wished it would do (it might but I cant find it) is to be able to hand write into word documents and have it auto convert to typed text. That would eliminate the keyboard issue.
     
  8. kurwa

    kurwa Member

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    Do you have Office installed on it? OneNote has the ability to convert handwritten words into typed text. It does it pretty good actually (my handwriting sucks).
     
  9. grommet80

    grommet80 Member

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    Poor touchpad and Windows terrible display scaling is what ruins this device for me. Battery life isn't as good as my MacBook either.
     
  10. djdude1010

    djdude1010 Member

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    The on screen keyboard does this.. just select the writing tab and write with your pen.


    On another note.. has anyone looked at Surface prices lately... Microsoft have gone insane... the 512 i7 version is now $2699 + $179 almost a year after release. I paid just shy of 2K for this setup on release day. WTF :confused::confused:
     

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