Last week Microsoft unveiled its Surface Pro 3, a tablet it claims is powerful enough to replace a laptop. But how well does it work as a tablet? I've been using a Nexus 10 daily since its release; let's see how the Surface Pro 3 and Nexus 10's specs compare in our Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10 comparison review. (We've also compared the Surface Pro 3 to its predecessor, the Surface Pro 2, to the iPad Air, and to the Galaxy NotePro.)
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Intended purpose
In this review we'll compare key categories such as UK pricing and availability, hardware and performance, design and build, and software of the Surface Pro 3 and Nexus 10 tablets. However, the most important difference between the two is their intended purpose: one is a tablet that can be used in place of a laptop for getting work done, and on which you can do all the things for which you'd normally use a laptop - playing games, watching video, browsing the web; the other is an entertainment device, primarily used for getting online, watching video, listening to music, sharing photos, playing the odd casual game and using social media and apps. Also see: 25 best tablets 2014.
There is an argument that you could own and use both a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and a Nexus 10, but their combined cost makes this unlikely. We'll talk more about the software later on in this review. For more information on either tablet than we've provided here also see our Nexus 10 and Surface Pro 3 reviews.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: UK price and availability
Given the upcoming Google I/O event (kicking off 25 June), it's interesting to note that Google's Play store is completely out of stock of the Nexus 10 in both the 16- and 32GB varieties. Could it be about to release an updated version of the Nexus 10? We round up the rumours in our article: Nexus 10 2: release date, price and specs.
Nevertheless, you can still buy the original Nexus 10 online from suppliers such as Amazon. Despite its RRP of £319 and £389 for the 16- and 32GB versions respectively, you can now get them for £259 and £320 respectively. For a 10in tablet with a fantastic screen and high-end hardware the Nexus 10 was already amazingly well priced - most probably sold cheaply by Google to encourage content sales from Google Play and uptake of the Android OS - but these are unbeatable prices, so don't expect stocks to last long.
The Surface Pro 3 starts at £639 for a Core i3 model with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and 64GB of flash storage, and goes right up to £1,649 for the top Core i7 model with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of flash storage. You can pre-order the Surface Pro 3 now. If you want the Type Cover that turns this Windows tablet into a proper laptop add another £109.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Design and build
Of the two tablets we review here, the Nexus 10, made by Samsung, is the most easily portable. It measures 263.9x177.6x8.9mm and weighs just 603g, while the Surface Pro 3, despite being the thinnest Core PC ever made, is both heavier and larger at 800g and 292x201.3x9.1mm. That's perhaps not surprising, given that the Surface Pro 3 has a 12in screen and the Nexus 10 has a 10.1in panel - we'll talk more about the screen later on in this review.
Clearly neither can be used in one hand, although the Nexus 10's reduced weight makes it more comfortable to hold up for longer periods. Meanwhile, the Surface Pro has a built-in kickstand that lets you set it down on a desk and fix it at any angle. To do this on the Nexus 10 you'll need to add a case that folds over to create a stand, although we've always preferred to use our Nexus 10 without a case, given their tendency to get in the way of its front-facing camera.
Both are beautiful tablets. The Nexus 10 is a sleek tablet with rounded corners that's designed to be used primarily in landscape orientation. Speakers placed left- and right at the front of the tablet and a smooth but grippy plastic rear make it comfortable to hold. You'll find power and volume buttons at the top left corner, and various ports along either side. There's also a 'magnetic pogo pin' dock at the bottom, which we've never used, nor come across any accessories that take advantage of it.
The Surface Pro 3 comes with a clickable Surface Pen, which requires an AAAA battery. One click lets you activate the pen and start jotting down a note in OneNote, even while the Surface Pro is asleep; a double-click snaps a screenshot and saves it to OneNote.
An optional Type Cover (£109) can be supplied with the Surface Pro. This features a double-fold hinge that lets you lock it to the display's lower bezel for improved 'lapability', according to Microsoft. It also features Palm Rest technology and a 68 percent larger trackpad, and turns the Surface Pro from tablet to proper laptop. If you want to use a keyboard with the Nexus 10 you'll need to purchase a Bluetooth keyboard, which won't work as seamlessly but will cost an awful lot less than £109.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Display
The Nexus 10 has a beautiful 10.1in (2560x1600) display, higher in resolution than even the iPad Air at 300ppi. Meanwhile the Surface Pro 3 has a larger but much lower in resolution 12in (2160x1440, 216ppi) display. This is a ClearType full-HD display, as seen on the Surface Pro 2 but with improved responsiveness, while the Nexus 10 employs IPS technology.
On the Nexus 10 everything looks super-sharp and detailed. We found the screen very responsive and viewing angles are astounding. At 16:10 the aspect ratio is good for watching films, where the front-facing stereo speakers come in handy (meanwhile the Surface Pro 3's speakers are reportedly 45 percent louder than those of the Pro 2, with Dolby-enhanced sound).
The Surface Pro 3's screen is bright and lively, and uses a 3:2 aspect ratio that, according to Microsoft, makes it look and feel similar to a piece of paper. I haven't handed in paper-written notes since I left school, but apparently this is a good thing.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Hardware and performance
Google's Nexus 10 features Samsung's 1.7GHz Exynos 5250, a dual-core processor based on the ARM Cortex-A15 architecture, plus 2GB of RAM and 16- or 32GB of flash storage. In Geekbench 2 it crushed its rivals with a score of 2505 points. We also recorded a respectable 1,329ms in SunSpider, and the Nexus 10's quad-core Mali-T604 graphics managed 27fps in GLBenchmark. It's a very fast tablet, and you really don't need any more power than this.
We don't have any benchmarking results for the Surface Pro 3 just yet, but with options including fourth-generation Intel Haswell Core i3, i5 and i7 processors with between 4- and 8GB of DDR3 RAM and 64- and 512GB of flash storage it's as fast as you want it to be - at least as fast as any laptop you can buy right now.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Cameras
It's very unlikely that you'll use either tablet as a camera - you'll look a bit odd holding up a huge tablet to take a photo. If you really want to do so, both Surface Pro 3 and Nexus 10 feature 5Mp rear cameras that will do the job. The Nexus 10 even has an LED flash.
More likely is that you'll use the tablet's front-facing camera for video chat. In this category the Surface Pro 3 is the clear winner with a 5Mp camera versus the Nexus 10's 1.9Mp webcam.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Connectivity
As a 'proper' laptop, the Surface Pro 3 includes a full-size USB 3.0 port, while the Nexus 10 has only a micro-USB charging port. It also adds support for the latest 802.11ac standard to its Wi-Fi connectivity, and features a Mini DisplayPort connection and a microSDXC slot that lets you add up to 64GB of storage. With an optional docking station you can also add gigabit ethernet, display connections and more USB ports.
Both tablets support Bluetooth 4.0, while the Nexus 10 also has a micro HDMI port for hooking it up to a TV, although we prefer to use Chomecast. The Nexus 10 supports NFC, too.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Software
The software each tablet runs will be the key decider in which device you buy. While the Surface Pro 3 runs full Windows 8.1 Pro, the Nexus 10 runs Android 4.4 KitKat. You'll be able to install any future updates on either device, although with the Surface Pro 3 they might not always come as free updates. Find out more about Windows 9 and Android 4.5 here.
While the Windows Store might not feature many apps worth installing, and the Nexus 10 has access to the jam-packed Google Play store (plus you can install apps from third-party sources), the Surface Pro 3 has an ace up its sleeve with the professional version of Windows 8.1.
Running this OS means you can install any program written for Windows, even legacy software written for older operating systems such as Windows XP. This means you can install whichever programs you use in the office, whether that's Microsoft Office or apps as intensive as the full version of Adobe Photoshop, and the Surface Pro 3 is powerful enough to make using them seamless. The huge selection of apps offered by Google Play doesn't seem so attractive by comparison.
If you buy the optional Type cover (£109), the Surface Pro becomes a proper laptop for doing actual work. Meanwhile, although it's possible to use the Nexus 10 for some work tasks, it's not ideal - even with a Bluetooth keyboard. Without the Surface Pro 3's kickstand you'll need to find another way to prop it up on a desk, too. I've found something as simple as copying and pasting a link into an online article a real headache - although copy and paste works great on my Android smartphone, on my Nexus 10 selecting a specific chunk of text is far more tricky than it should be.
In my role at IDG I use word-processing software for writing articles, Microsoft Excel for reporting, a browser for accessing the CMS, website and analytics, Adobe InDesign producing pages for our various print- and digital magazines, and Photoshop and Illustrator for editing images. IDG has recently begun using Google Apps for Business, so I also spend a lot of time in Google Drive, Calendar and Gmail. Only some of these tasks are possible on my Nexus 10, and even then require the downloading of specific apps rather than it having that functionality baked in; on a Surface Pro 3 I could do it all.
Well I could... but I wouldn't. Even at 12in the screen is way too small for the tasks I need to complete. My work machine has a 27in screen and, due to the creative software I run daily, is actually an OS X rather than Windows or Android machine. It's in no way portable and usable for remote working, of course. Not everyone needs to use the range of software I do, however, and for some people the Surface Pro might meet their work requirements.
All this is ignoring the fact, however, that tablets are primarily used as content-consumption devices rather than work tools. Yes, it's nice to have the choice with the Surface Pro 3, but would you really use a 12in hybrid for working when you could use a larger-screen laptop, in which you can find a similar hardware specification for less money?
On either tablet you can enjoy video, music and photos, you can get online and you can chat over VoIP, instant-messaging apps and social media. The Surface Pro has the better front camera for video chat, but the Nexus 10 has a far better (if smaller) screen for viewing photos and video.
At a starting price of £639 for the Surface Pro 3, it's an expensive consumption device. The Nexus 10, meanwhile, costs half the price, thought to be subsidised by Google to encourage both the downloading of content from the Google Play store and uptake of the Android OS. Not that it has to worry too much about the latter these days.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Battery life
Both Microsoft and Google claim a battery life of nine hours for their devices when used for web browsing. We've not been able to properly test the Surface Pro 3's battery life just yet, but with the Nexus 10 we'd suggest Google is actually being pretty modest. It'll easily last this long browsing the web, and then some, and left on standby and used only occassionally it could keep going as long as a week.
Surface Pro 3 vs Nexus 10: Verdict
Whether you plump for the Surface Pro 3 or Nexus 10 really depends on what you intend to do with it. One makes a pretty good makeshift laptop, while the other is still one of the best tablets you can buy but is all but useless for getting work done.
As a hybrid device with a large screen and good performance the Surface Pro 3 could prove its worth as a work laptop for many people, although it couldn't meet my specific needs in this regard. And neither would I want it to. For the things I want from a tablet - the ability to get online, watch video, use social media and so on - the more portable, significantly cheaper Nexus 10 with its higher-resolution screen is the better choice.