Microsoft Surface Pro review
|Review: May 2013|
In a nutshell: The Microsoft Surface Pro delivers the power of a laptop with the convenience and portability of a tablet, but it's expensive and there are necessary compromises.
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We wrote a review of the Microsoft Surface RT last year and advised our readers to wait until the release of the Surface Pro. Little did we know back then that it would take Microsoft over 6 months to finally release the Surface Pro in the UK. Did anyone mention the fast-moving world of technology? Certainly not Microsoft.
Anyway, it's here at last. Priced about the same as a mid-range laptop, the Surface Pro had better be the kind of device that can realistically replace a laptop. Fortunately it is.
On the outside
The Surface Pro is an interesting hybrid device. Microsoft describes it as a laptop in a tablet form, and that's precisely what it is. Inevitably this means compromises, but it brings many advantages too.
Let's start with something that we can say for sure. This is a quality product. The build is superb, with the device crafted from a magnesium alloy with the futuristic name of VaporMg. Microsoft claims that VaporMg is three times lighter than aluminium, yet it has a highly durable exterior. It certainly feels well built. An anti-fingerprint coating is supposed to stop the surface from getting messy, and seems to do its job well enough. At the back, the Surface is equipped with an integrated kickstand that supports the device at a good angle for desktop use.
The screen is a generous 10.6 inches and it's a full HD 1080p display with 1920x1080 pixels. It's fully touch-sensitive of course, and is a beautiful screen. A pen device is included in the sales package and can be used for input.
But now comes the first problem. As a tablet, this is a very heavy and expensive device. If a tablet is all it is, then something has gone badly wrong. What's gone wrong is that Microsoft haven't included a keyboard in the box. Instead you have to pay an extra £100 to buy one.
The omission of a keyboard was presumably to keep the headline price down, and also to give people a choice. The choice is between a combined cover and pressure-sensitive keyboard (Touch Cover) and a Type Cover - a dual cover and mechanical keyboard, which will give you a typing speed and accuracy close to a real laptop.
Now with a keyboard fitted, prospects are again looking up, for even compared with an Ultrabook, this is an extremely lightweight and portable laptop with stunning looks, and it feels worth the money.
Under the surface
The Surface Pro is much more powerful than the Surface RT. It's powered by an Intel Core i5 processor, giving it real performance. An Intel HD Graphics 4000 processor provides 3D graphics support. Once again though, the Surface walks a tightrope between the tablet and laptop worlds. The RAM is 4GB of dual channel memory- massive for a tablet, modest for a laptop.
The Surface RT comes with either 64GB or 128GB of built-in memory, and a microSDXC card slot lets you add up to 64GB of extra memory. Again this is enormous by tablet standards, but the lack of a big hard drive means that serious laptop users could be limited by the lack of memory. This is made worse since the operating system eats rather a lot of the built-in memory.
We have to remember that this is a hybrid device and that compromise is inevitable. If you're a power user, you'll want a proper laptop, but if you're willing to trade specs in return for ultra-portability, then the Surface Pro gives you what you absolutely need.
One thing worth watching however is the way the Surface heats up when doing intensive processing - Digital Versus measured this effect and found that the Surface can reach a temperature of up to 40°C in extreme conditions. That's hot!
Windows 8 Pro
Whereas the Surface RT runs Windows RT (a reduced version of Windows 8), the Surface Pro runs the real thing. This gives you the full power of the operating system without any limitations or compromises. We have to say also that the Surface feels like the device for which Windows 8 was designed. The touchscreen interface is far more useful here than on a desktop PC or even a laptop. The Surface Pro comes with the following software pre-installed: Windows Mail and Messaging; SkyDrive; Internet Explorer 10; Bing; Xbox Music, Video and Games.
The Surface Pro comes with front- and rear-facing 720p HD cameras. The front-facing HD camera can be used for Skype video calls.
As well as offering Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity, the Surface Pro has a full-sized USB 3.0 port. You can plug in a USB drive or a camera and drag and drop files between the drive and the Surface. Just like with a PC. You can also connect accessories like printers or mice.
A 3.5mm headset jack and a mini display port are also present.
What the Surface doesn't have is any kind of cellular connectivity. There's no 3G; no 4G. There's no GPS either. This means that you'll be relying on Wi-Fi for a network connection, but this is probably how most people will want to work with the Surface.
The battery is non-removable and has a capacity of 42 watt-hours, which is similar to that of the iPad 4. You'll get less mobile use from a Surface One than from most other tablets, so you might need to keep it plugged in whenever you're at a desk. The device can be charged via USB.
The Surface Pro starts at £719 for the 64GB version and £799 for the 128GB version. You'll also have to budget an extra £100 for a keyboard.
Conclusion - an excellent hybrid
We advised you to wait for the Surface Pro instead of the Surface RT, and we feel that was the right advice, even though the wait was so much longer than we could have imagined. It's true that the Surface Pro is a pricey bit of kit - much more expensive than a tablet - but it's so much more than a tablet. This is really a laptop taken to its most portable limit.
We'd advise you to choose the 128GB version, since the operating system takes a very significant bite out of the available storage, and you'll need to budget for a keyboard as well. That means you're looking at spending around £800, which is a lot of money. If you're considering this you'll need to convince yourself that ultra-portability counts more than the power of a full laptop. If the trade-off works for you, then we think you'll be pleased with the Surface Pro.
Microsoft Surface Pro features include:
- Operating system: Windows 8 Pro
- Display: 10.6 inch ClearType 10-point multi-touch screen with 1920 x 1080 pixels
- Two 720p HD cameras, rear- and front-facing for video calling
- Music & media player (Xbox compatible)
- Messaging: Windows Mail and Messaging
- Internet: Internet Explorer 10
- Built-in stereo speakers
- Twin microphones
- Windows Mail and Messaging; SkyDrive; Internet Explorer 10; Bing; Xbox Music, Video and Games
- Processor: 3rd Gen Intel Core i5 processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000
- Sensors: Ambient light sensor, Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass
- Memory: 64GB / 128GB plus 64GB microSDXC card slot and 4GB RAM
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0, USB 3.0, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, Mini DisplayPort, Cover port
- Size: 27.46 x 17.30 x 1.35 cm
- Weight: 910g
- Battery: 42 watt-hours
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