ASUS VivoBook S14/S15

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It’s been a dream of mine to have a full-fledged PC without the bulk. Tablets came by and it got pretty close to a portable full-fledged PC – but not there yet. Then comes convertible devices – it’s a tablet with a touchscreen, then is able to somehow convert itself to a laptop – that is a touchscreen tablet with a physical keyboard. This can be done by either rotating the device to show or hide the keyboard like the Lenovo Yoga, or snapping the keyboard like ASUS Transformer devices. Then comes Microsoft’s very own Surface.

And hey – since we have the Surface 3, Type Cover, and the Surface Pen, why not take a look at the whole experience itself?

Here’s a video for you guys too!

Packaging

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There isn’t much to say about the Surface 3 packaging – the typical things that is to be found on a tablets are present here.

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Of course, I’m talking about the tablet itself, a standard wall plug charger, a micro USB cable, and some documentations.

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I did get the separate Type Cover in its box too – which comes along with some documentation and some simple instructions, but the Surface Pen however is not in its own retail box. Probably because it’s just a pen, and can definitely fit in whichever free space in the Surface 3 packaging.

Design

Surface 3 Tablet

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The tablet alone is actually pretty sleek. Keep in mind though this is the Surface 3 – it uses a 1.6GHz quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor with a pixel density of 213 pixels per inch through its 10.8-inch display with 1920×1280 pixels. This beautiful display is powered by Intel’s very own Intel HD Graphics – specifically the Cherry Trail version.

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The display itself is beautiful – the only difference between this display on the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 is probably is the size. However that’s not what we’re covering here.

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The Surface 3 is basically a laptop without a lid – it has a power button and a volume rocker, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro USB charging port, a full sized USB 3.0 port, and surprisingly a mini DisplayPort. This DisplayPort is something that is not found even on really expensive high-end laptops (>RM3k price point) and personally I like DisplayPort more than HDMI.

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At the front is a fully flushed black slab with a small capacitive Windows button to open the Windows Start menu, a 3.5MP front-facing camera, an LED indicator for the webcam, an ambient light sensor, and front-facing speakers on both sides.

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At the back, there’s one big, square and reflective Windows logo – and there’s where the kickstand is. This is a fixed position kickstand with a total of 3 different levels, and behind it is where the microSD card slot hides.

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Personally, I like the design of the Surface 3 tablet itself – having the audio jack placed nearer to where supposedly the table is, and hiding the microSD behind the kickstand and having it to work like an expandable storage for Android devices is just brilliant. Hey – slot in a 64GB card and it’ll be your main storage, even as a “portable hard disk” too.

However I do wish that Microsoft included a full sized SD card reader though – that’ll be much better for photographers and don’t need a separate card reader. It’s also a lot easier to convert SD cards from smaller to bigger sized ones, but not the other way around.

While on the subject of the kickstand, the Surface 3 has 3 fixed level where the kickstand will prop up the tablet, but then again the fixed levels are workable in almost all situations, given that if the Surface 3 + Type Cover is used on a table. I really hoped for a fixed angle where the Surface 3 stands more straightly, but no luck – although the Surface 3 kickstand can open up very widely and prop the Surface 3 at a very low angle.

Type Cover

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Then comes the keyboard for the Surface 3. I have to say, the Type Cover for the Surface is magnificent.

Why? The whole thing snaps to the Surface 3 with very strong magnets, and I just have to move the Surface 3 near to it and it snaps into place automagically. The best thing about the whole keyboard however is truly how the whole typing experience is.

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The Type Cover comes with a pretty decently sized trackpad too. The trackpad is just okay, not to say that it’s amazing – it has a smooth surface and a rocker left and right click instead of separated buttons. However there is no palm rejection feature which is a little disappointing, though the trackpad is small enough to not be accidentally triggered most of the time anyway.

Surface Pen

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Ah, the magical Surface Pen. I’m not sure which technology it uses – might be from Wacom for all we know, but many have been saying that the Surface’s Pen might be a permanent replacement for Wacom instead.

The Surface Pen is a little heavy and always trying to topple itself and fall down. This is due to the position of the AAAA (yes, quadruple A) battery that is fitted at the top of the pen.

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Speaking of the top of the pen, there is a clip at the top and oh what’s this? A purple button! This button can be pressed to trigger OneNote in either its Metro UI or the Desktop application. And hey – I can’t even change the button to do some other things – like launch Drawboard PDF instead of OneNote? The most mind-boggling issue is even when I don’t have OneNote installed, the button is useless – unless the button is remapped using some other software like AutoHotKey.

But I have to praise Microsoft – OneNote is amazing when coupled with the Surface 3 and the Surface Pen. One button for eraser, and another button for right-clicks. Palm rejection on the touchscreen while using the Surface Pen is amazing – and it’s pressure sensitive too. The sensitivity can also be readjusted accordingly using the Surface app in the Metro UI. Very neat!

User Experience

The complete Surface 3 package is just plain amazing – and the reason is I think mainly because I’m a student myself, and the Surface 3’s complete pack really does bring out the best in the name of portability.

The Surface Pen however is a little bit of a nuisance sometimes just because it doesn’t have a dedicated place to put the pen in. It definitely needs a better place to put the pen. There are multiple videos and posts recommending where to stash the pen away, but the official Microsoft solution is sloppy with the loop at the Touch Cover, and the most elegant solution is to put it in between the folding mechanism of the Touch Cover while it is flat.

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Holy OMG putting the pen at the Touch Cover’s folding mechanism actually looks very good. Then again whenever I want to prop up the keyboard for typing, the Surface Pen is on the way. I will have to remove it from that folding mechanism and put it somewhere whenever I don’t need it – that means either in my pocket, on the table, in my bag, or inside my pencil case.

However the Surface Pen does prove to be useful whenever I needed to use it. The pressure sensitivity is amazing, I can write equations and draw circuit layouts in a jiffy – something that can never be done on other laptops even with a touchscreen. I personally like the Surface Pen way more than any other ultrabooks out there right now because of the Surface Pen alone.

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The typing experience on the Type Cover is amazing. Now, keep in mind that this is the Type Cover – not the Touch Cover. The Type Cover is the one with physical keys with a good travel height when pressing the keys. On 10 Fast Fingers, I can get around 90 words per minute still – the same as my main keyboard, and that’s pretty impressive.

It has a backlit keyboard with 5 brightness levels – with “off” being the first level. There are also a bunch of other useful multimedia keys built into the Type Cover itself – mute and play/pause button, keyboard backlight brightness and screen brightness adjustments.

Even though the keyboard is a little cramped up, Microsoft managed to make sacrifices along the layout of the whole Type Cover and still make it very comfortable to type on, although I would like to see a new Type Cover with proper arrow keys instead of a mutilated one like this, add a CTRL key on the right side, and remove the right ALT button and change it to a right-click key would be perfect.

The trackpad isn’t something to be amazed about – but at least it’s there to make some quick clicking instead of lighting one arm to touch the screen – and that being said, some navigation are much more suitable for mouse instead of touch, especially desktop apps.

Performance

First off, let’s talk about specs. The Surface 3 that I have for review is using a quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700, running at a whopping 1.6GHz and can Turbo Boost up to 2.4GHz, has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage and uses Intel HD graphics. It’s not something groundbreaking but seeing it run 1920×1280 pixels this smoothly is amazing.

I was able to run 4K videos using Windows Media Player and the built-in Windows 8 Video app perfectly. Audio and visual is working fine on 4K, and even seeking is very quick too. However it doesn’t run well on YouTube’s 4K videos – I’m not sure why, but it might be something to do with Chrome browser itself, since I was able to get smooth 4K video streaming on the same video using Internet Explorer (yes, that abomination).

The Surface 3 is able to handle basic usage perfectly well – social media is generally okay, Office suite runs great on it, and browsing is very good too. There are tiny lags on YouTube while maximizing the videos, but those lags can also be seen even on high performance computers.

Even while on battery, the performance did not differ much.
Even while on battery, the performance did not differ much.

The Surface 3 obviously isn’t a performance powerhouse, but I was able to play some CS:GO with it in the lowest settings and in low resolutions too. There are some occasional stutters but I was able to shoot some enemies and have a good time – most of it at least.

The Surface 3 uses Intel’s latest Cherry Trail processor – and just like the all new 12-inch Retina MacBook, it’s fanless. There are absolutely no openings for cooling. Just how well does it work though? I got a little experiment to try.

What we need are two software – something to stress the computer’s hardware performance, and CPU-Z to monitor the CPU clock. I personally used AIDA64 for the stress test.

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With the stress test running and CPU-Z monitoring the CPU clock speeds, I was able to observe that the performance of it running at 2.4GHz with Turbo Boost at the beginning. Then the temperature reaches about 85 degrees Celsius and AIDA64 reported that thermal throttling occured – but CPU-Z still reported about 2.4GHz in CPU clock speeds. That surprised – thermal throttling was a big issue on the all new 12-inch Retina MacBook, but all of them are not found on this beautiful device.

Well okay, since it did stabilize itself at about 85 degrees Celsius – so is it really that warm? Truth is – no. It felt a little warm at the area right below the rear camera, but there are absolutely no other hot places on the tablet itself.

That is just amazing – it can Turbo Boost with no thermal throttling, and doesn’t feel hot at all.

Battery life

The battery life of the Surface 3 is actually pretty decent. I was able to use it for the whole afternoon – that is from about 12.30pm till 6pm with about 20% of battery left. I played Pinball FX2, did a lot of surfing and YouTubing, and the battery lasted the whole time.

The Surface 3 comes with a basic 13W power supply and a standard micro USB cable. Another key differentiation point on the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 is the charging port – the Surface 3 uses a standard micro USB cable to charge, whereas the Surface Pro 3 uses a proprietary magnetic charger instead.

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Since it does use a standard micro USB cable to charge, I was able to charge the Surface 3 using any 5V, 2A charger I had laying around. And no – it doesn’t charge while connected to another computer, even on USB 3.0 port. But oh wait – aren’t there other 5V 2A chargers like the Xiaomi 10,400mAh power bank?

Yes, the Xiaomi 10,400mAh power bank does give an output of 5V, 2A and it does charge the Surface 3.

Although there are some issues in terms of the Surface 3’s charging time. It takes a freaking long time to charge from a near-empty battery to 100%. What I usually do is shut down the Surface 3, plug it in and go to sleep. It still takes about 4 hours to get a complete charge – and I really wished that Microsoft had some quick charging feature here.

One small bonus : the charging port can double as a USB port- just have to use an OTG cable for that.

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Wrap up

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Let’s end this with a question – who is the Surface 3 really made for? It’s a little tough to answer – but all I can say is that if you’re buying the Surface 3, get the Type Cover together. Then, it’ll be perfect for nearly all use cases – students, businesses, even photographers and for me personally – since I have a powerful yet immobile computer at home, and need something really portable for me to use on the go and while in class. Heck, this thing is perfect to do some work while my family is out shopping! I even typed this entire article using the Surface 3 itself!

Battery life can last you for a day for sure – if not, get a Xiaomi 16,000mAh powerbank to charge both your smartphone and the Surface 3 together.

I still think the Surface 3 is a little bit too expensive – at RM1,989 for the 2GB RAM and 64GB storage and RM2,389 for the 4GB RAM and 128GB storage version, RM479 for the Type Cover alone and another RM189 for the Surface Pen alone, the price is very heavy – and these excludes other accessories like a whopping RM179 screen protector and another whopping RM769 for a docking station. Let’s not forget another RM149 for the official 13W power supply for the Surface 3, which I bet you can find a 5V, 2A charger elsewhere for a fraction of the price, although there are many other alternatives for the accessories out there. For the price, it’s not really a powerhouse but the form factor is just too amazing.

The Surface 3 is however the best available now – and even better than the latest 12-inch Retina MacBook too. Just remember to get the Surface 3 alongside the Type Cover.


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