Microsoft Surface Pro

There’s no doubt that the Surface Pro 4 has its fair share of issues, many of which took a bit too long to rectify or at least patch up. With the new, numberless Surface Pro, it couldn’t be more obvious that Microsoft took that feedback to heart.

For one, the battery life has been improved by as much as 32%, based on our testing, in a design that refines the existing template without tangibly adding any weight or thickness. Secondly, Microsoft vastly improved the Surface Pen, Type Cover and even the Surface Pro hinge to make it a stronger laptop-and-tablet replacement than ever.

So, let’s see why exactly the Surface Pro has once again earned our Recommended award and whether it’s the right 2-in-1 device for you. Chances are it is.

Pricing and availability

Just like before, the new Surface Pro is available now starting at $799 (£799, AU$1,199), which offers an Intel Core m3 (Kaby Lake) processor coupled with 4GB of memory (RAM) and 128GB of solid-state storage (SSD). 

Running the gamut through Intel Core i5 and i7 chips with more and more memory and storage, the Surface Pro maxes out at $2,699 (£2,699, AU$3,999) for an Intel Core i7 CPU paired with a 1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM.

Stacked up against, say, the latest 10.5-inch iPad Pro, Apple starts the conversation at $649 (£619, AU$979) for a tablet with Apple’s A10X processor and 64GB of SSD space. Meanwhile, the most heavily-equipped version goes for $949 (£889, AU$1,429) to offer 512GB worth of flash storage space and the very same CPU.

Then the recently-released Samsung Galaxy Book starts at $629 (£649) for the 10.6-inch version with a 64GB SSD and 4GB of RAM powered by an Intel Core m3 processor and caps out at $729 in the US only for twice as much storage. Only the starting version of the 10.6-inch is available in the UK, and the Galaxy Book has yet to launch altogether in Australia.

The 12-inch version has models that call for $1,129 (£1,099) and $1,329 (£1,269), each with an Intel Core i5 chip and housing 4GB RAM/128GB SSD and 8GB RAM/256GB SSD, respectively.

Considering that the new Surface Pro box no longer includes the Surface Pen and still doesn’t include the keyboard, the Samsung solution suddenly looks like a much better value than both the Surface Pro and always-accessory-challenged iPad Pro. It’s too bad, then, that its performance isn’t mind-blowing and neither is its design.

Still, while Microsoft pulling the Surface Pen out of the box appears to indicate that the new version is more expensive to produce, a Surface Pro purchased with both the Pen and Type Cover would surpass the price of a comparable Galaxy Book by just $100. Nevertheless, it remains a shame that the two aren’t bundled.

Design

At first glance, the new Surface Pro looks just like the last, the Surface Pro 4. It even has the same, admittedly gorgeous, 12.3-inch PixelSense touchscreen with a 2,736 x 1,824-pixel resolution.

But, a keen eye will notice key differences. For one, the magnesium-aluminum alloy frame is rounded at the edges more dramatically than before. 

If you’ve been using a Surface Pro 4 frequently before picking this one up, your fingers will tell the difference before your eyes do.

Another key change comes in the hinge, which has been improved through drawing inspiration from the Surface Studio. The hinge now bends back even further than before to a new “Studio mode” that makes for a narrower, 165-degree angle at which to draw than before.

To that end, the hinge looks markedly different, clearly incorporating new parts to make this more dramatic angle possible, but operates in exactly the same way.

All in all, the new Surface Pro comes in at the exact same 0.33 inches (8.4mm) of thickness with its 1.73 pounds (786g) too remaining unchanged. Considering that Microsoft accomplished this while packing inside a 20% larger battery, it’s an impressive feat.

This is even before considering how Microsoft’s improved thermal design allowed it to make the Intel Core i5 version, as well as the expected Core m3 version, fanless devices.

The new Alcantara Type Cover is a marked improvement in comfort over the previous generation, and largely worth the slight uptick in asking price over the microfiber cloth version. The keys feel like they’re deeper set and come back from a press with more force than ever, and the material looks like it will stand the test of time. Now, if only a black (or purple) version would arrive already.

 Surface Pen gets a big boost 

Why Microsoft opted not to call this the Surface Pro 5 is beyond us, as you can now see the firm changed practically every facet of the product. The Surface Pen got some of the most meticulous and belabored treatment.

For one, Microsoft upped the pressure sensitivity of its pen to 4,096 levels of detectable pressure, meaning creators have more control over the width and intensity of their lines in illustrations or designs than before. Perhaps more importantly, the Pen now sports a much lower latency, meaning that the tip of your Pen has a far lower chance of “leading” the ink on the PixelSense display.

Finally, the Pen also supports tilt detection now, though only through the new Surface Pro – the other current Surface devices will get the support for this feature through a firmware update.

This feature will, again – short of some nifty navigation controls in some apps – largely matter most to true creators that would be concerned about representing tilt and direction of the strokes in their work.

To top it all off, the Pen also comes in new, slick colors platinum, black, cobalt blue and burgundy, designed naturally to match to the available colors of new Type Covers. 

There’s no debating that both the new Surface Pen and Type Cover have earned their slight price hikes, but we remain disappointed in the lack of any bundling to save committed customers a bit of money for fully buying in on Microsoft’s products on day one.

Unsurprisingly, the new Surface Pro performs admirably for every task in this editor’s workload, including web browsing with several tabs at a time while word processing, plus download and uploading lots of media files. Not to mention it works just fine for basic photo editing through Lightroom. 

As for gaming, again, anything beyond Hearthstone is going to result in a poor experience. Luckily, touch-friendly games, like Hearthstone, are just delightful to play on the sharp and colorful, 12.3-inch display.

Of course, with media creation being the primary purpose of this device, the 3:2 screen will make for larger black boxes than either you’re used to or are far too familiar with when viewing 16:9 and 21:9 videos and films.

On the benchmarks, the new Surface Pro contends with the latest iPad Pro on Geekbench 4, one of the few tests that can measure both systems. The Surface Pro’s average multi-core processor score of 9,296 is within a hair of the iPad Pro’s 9,290-point ranking.

Mind, that this is the Surface Pro containing a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 processor, the strongest version of the chip that it can be configured with, starting the cost at $1,599 (£1,549, AU$2,449). Meanwhile, the iPad Pro remains just as powerful regardless of which configuration or model you choose. (Oh, and we’ll just say the Galaxy Book reviewed doesn’t compare to this configuration.)

That said, the processor inside the Surface Pro powers a more deliberately open PC experience with an operating system that allows users to install apps from multiple sources and dig into system files deeper than even iOS 11 will.

Battery life

One area in which Microsoft has improved year-over-year where the competing MacBook and iPad Pro refreshes have not is longevity. This year, The firm managed to shrink its motherboard design, allowing for a 20% larger battery inside.

Coupled with power consumption optimizations the 7th generation (Kaby Lake) Intel processor design brings, Microsoft promises up to 13 hours and 30 minutes of local video playback from the new Surface Pro. That’s a lofty claim.

Of course, we’re not surprised to see its claim not come anywhere close to being true in our testing, as has been the case with its previous products much less all of its rivals. 

However, based on our tests of the previous model’s battery, we no doubt see a marked improvement.

PCMark 8 Battery Life and TechRadar Movie Test results came in 24% and 32% longer than the previous model at 4 hours and 3 minutes, and 6 hours and 58 minutes, respectively. The iPad Pro was rated for between 6 and 7 hours of use, while the Galaxy Book lasted a longer 7 hours and 32 minutes playing back local video but nearly an hour shorter in the more intense PCMark 8 test.

While the numbers are far below Microsoft’s promise either way, the point is that we’re seeing a sizable improvement based on our own results, and that’s enough for us to commend Microsoft’s designers and engineers for making it happen.

We liked

Microsoft has improved just about every facet of the Surface Pro 4’s design while addressing complaints of battery life and even issues some might not have even noticed – like a hinge that could have titled even further. Frankly, with this much improvement inside and out, we’re surprised that Microsoft has refrained from calling this the Surface Pro 5.

We disliked

Vastly improved or not, taking away the Surface Pen from the package is a tough sell. Not providing any sort of bundling incentive for any of the Surface Pro accessories is now a bigger issue than just refusing to include the Type Cover, and Microsoft is only making it more difficult for newcomers to jump that fence.

Final verdict

While it should come as no surprise, to just the extent of how deeply improved this Surface Pro is over the previous model and how it maintains its lead over competing 2-in-1 laptops or tablets is worth reiterating. From the accessories designed to make Surface Pro feel like an even more worthy laptop-and-tablet replacement to its improved battery life, every one of our concerns have been addressed.

That said, Microsoft has again stumbled on the Surface Pro’s value proposition by pulling out parts of the deal. Microsoft didn’t manage to make its case any stronger with the Surface Pro, but rather weaker by removing the new Surface Pen from every box. Again, it’s not very consumer-friendly and only makes arriving at the decision to buy more difficult for would-be Surface owners.

In short, if you’re willing to pay a bit more for the latest accessories than even before, the new Surface Pro remains the ultimate 2-in-1 laptop and productivity tablet. So much so that, despite Microsoft’s decision to pull the Surface Pen from the box, it remains worthy of our Recommended award.

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