Back in November 2012 I wrote a review on Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 8, praising the OS for its bold new interface and design features. But I also criticized the OS, saying that it was a sacrifice in some areas and would be better suited for a touch-based device such as a phone or tablet. Of course there has been the Surface RT, but that wasn’t running a full version of Windows 8 like I was using on my laptop at the time of the review, or the version that is on the Surface Pro. Ladies and gentlemen, it has arrived, the Microsoft Surface Pro is the premiere Windows 8 device, and I’m happy to announce that it takes full advantage of the new operating system with only minor setbacks.
On paper, the Surface Pro is able to compete with all other mid-high range tablets. The cheapest model starts at $900, sports a 13.5” screen (compared to RT’s 10” adding an additional 1/2lb of weight) that has a gorgeous 1920×1080 display with 10 points of multitouch. This screen is more beautiful than anything else I have ever used before including any of Apple’s retina display products. Color reproduction is near perfect, corners are sharp, text is expertly contrasted, and there’s honestly nothing bad I can say about the screen, I simply love it. This all goes to say that the touch features are extremely responsive and accurate which is great when working with the new Windows 8 UI that constantly has you flicking apps back and forth.
The Surface Pro is equipped with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317u processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000, 4GB of RAM, two 720p cameras on either side, and either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. While there’s no compromise with most all of the Surface Pro’s internal hardware, the only part that is lacking is the amount of storage you can get. Microsoft recently update their measurements for actual HDD space on the Surface Pro, saying that the usable storage on the 64GB Pro numbers 29GB instead of 23, and that you’ll be able to use 89GB on the 128GB model. Many people will see the Surface Pro as a desktop replacement and not just a tablet, especially for those users who decide to pick up the touch or type cover for the device (which I will touch on later in this review). If you are replacing your desktop with the Surface Pro, you will almost undoubtedly need more than 29GB/89GB of storage. 29GB is almost laughable, while 89GB is manageable but still restricts you from keeping more than basic Microsoft Office files and your Microsoft Store Apps on the device at all times. Of course you can plug in a 1TB external hard drive, but you then limit your portability even more by having to lug the external HDD around with you.
Couple all of this with the fact that there’s no way to get 3G or 4G on the Surface Pro, and the device isn’t truly as portable as it should be. It’s almost impossible to hold for very long in one hand portrait or landscape style because of the weight too, making the user opt to bust out the kickstand at every available moment. And the kickstand still only comes out at one angle making for an awkward viewing angle at times (but because the screen is so amazing, the viewing angles on it are ridiculous as well, making this only a minor problem). Regardless, portability is king right now in the tablet market and the Surface Pro is only halfway there.
An important feature of the Surface Pro is its two main peripherals, which are almost vital to the experience. Surface Pro comes with a pressure-sensitive stylus that is built and functions well and is extremely useful. The same great touch display lets you draw comfortably and accurately with the stylus, but isn’t so great for controlling the OS with. Many times I found myself accidently dragging windows the wrong direction or in a situation where the stylus was simply a nuisance and I switched back to touch controls with my fingers. The pen can sit neatly on the side of the device attaching to the power connector but is still easily knocked off and really isn’t the best holding place. I would have liked to have seen maybe a separate little compartment for the pen to sit safely in or at least somewhere where it wasn’t preventing me from charging my device. The second peripheral is the touch/type-cover which retails for an additional $130. The cover also acts as a screen protector, attaching neatly to the bottom of the device. The cover feels strong yet flexible, and the keys and track pad work beautifully and even better than what is on most current laptop models. The cover is so extremely useful and really makes the Surface Pro feel like a full desktop computer. Putting up the kickstand with the cover attached, there’s almost no difference between Surface Pro and a conventional laptop.
Because of all of this, I can use Windows 8 to its full extent and it is truly a high-performance device. Alt-tabbing through other windows is a breeze, and the Surface doesn’t slow down in any way. It boots up quick, shuts down quick, resumes quick, opens apps quick, and feels extraordinarily zippy. Having the ability to use a full Windows 8 desktop means that you are able to download games and other content to the device and run them in a snap in addition to being able to run legacy Windows apps. While the graphics and processor may not be able to run newer games at high frame rates, gaming is generally acceptable and even enhanced in some games (I was playing Sid Meier’s Civilization V that actually has a special option for running the game on Windows 8 touch-based devices making for easy control an experience truly unlike any other I have had in gaming).
You have to be careful when running those sorts of apps or CPU-intensive operations though, because the Surface Pros battery leaves a little to be desired. In my experience, I was getting around ~3 hours of battery life but that was with me watching videos and switching between apps constantly. Other sites estimate the battery to last ~4 hours which is better but not great when the iPad can last ~9 hours. Not being able to have your device last the duration of a longer flight or car trip could prove to be a deterring point for many customers. The charger is two-faced as well, including a USB port on the power brick allowing you to charge your smartphone at the same time which is awesome, but has a power cord that is remarkably short and could hardly stretch from the wall-outlet to my desk.
Overall, the Surface Pro makes many strides in the right direction. Hardware is great for the most part, peripherals are great, and Windows 8 is so incredibly perfect for this sort of device that you’ll wonder why you would ever want it in on your desktop computer. There are sacrifices to be made though, just as there were in Windows 8. The Microsoft Store is getting better but still leaves something to be desired, and the Pro only gets a one-month free trial of Office 365 which feels like a disconnect when the type-cover works so well and you have a full version of Windows 8 in front of you. But the Surface Pro is a well-executed device that is consistently fast and has more functions than any other tablet on the market. Again, you may have to sacrifice battery life and some portability, but this device isn’t meant to simply browse the internet with. It’s meant as a full desktop replacement and is the perfect device for somebody that may have a desktop computer and nothing else. The Surface really worked for me as somebody who doesn’t own a tablet and wants to phase out his netbook, and I constantly found myself opting to use it over my desktop or netbook even when I was already in front of either machine. If you’re considering a Surface, this is definitely the model to go with, and if you want something that is more than an internet-browsing gimmick, the Surface Pro is the device for you.
image source: anandtech