Microsoft Surface Pro in-depth review -

Look and feel

This big, powerful black box looks and feels like a professional, premium product.Just don't try lifting it one-handed without warming up first - the 910g weight is not to be sniffed at.

 

Ease of Use

The ability to simply flip between a traditional Windows desktop and the new Windows Start menu demonstrates just how easily the Surface Pro can be used for work and play. The more tablet-esque aspects are very slick, user-friendly and well-integrated into the device.

 

Features

No other tablet out there is better for getting down to some real work. This is largely down to the fantastic Touch Cover keyboard which offers protection and is a surprisingly efficient substitute to a full keyboard. 

 

Performance

Size and weight mean nothing to the Surface, which is faster than a racing snake thanks to its Intel Core i5 processor. We only started to see slight signs of slowdown when trying out the most graphically intensive games we could lay our hands on. For everyday use, it'll perform like a dream.

 

Battery life

Unsurprisingly, the Surface Pro is hungry, but a full day's use is still possible with intelligent use of screen brightness. There's less than four hours of juice inside when it comes to media streaming, but we get the feeling this bulky beast is designed to never be too far from the mains.

 Microsoft Surface Pro Review -
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/4/2013 2:44:54 PM

10

out of 10

Performance

7

out of 5

Look and feel

9

out of 5

Ease of use

8

out of 5

Features

5

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Incredible power; second-to-none for working on-the-go; Touch Cover keyboard is still excellent

Cons:

Seriously heavy; battery life is below-par; limited apps

Like the original Surface, the Surface Pro still has something of an identity crisis.

 

A tablet with a detachable keyboard, it doubles up as a netbook, while its weight is more like a traditional laptop.

 

The first impression upon picking up the Surface Pro is just how heavy it is. Don't make the mistake we did, and judge the weight by looking at its size because your wrist will be very surprised. The Surface Pro weighs in at a massive 908g. To give you a sense of proportion, it weighs 300g more than the original iPad.

 

 

Nonetheless, with this weight comes a degree of power unmatched (or, at least, untapped) by rivals - the Surface Pro is that fabled tablet that can be used as a desktop.

 

The thin, touch-sensitive keyboard remains a marvel of modern engineering. Just a few millimetres thick, it is (once you get used to it), absolutely usable. This whole review was written using the Surface Pro and its bright blue Touch Cover keypad. Sure, it was a little slower-going than usual with a few adjustments along the way, but it was possible to bash out long reams of text without burden. A few paragraphs in, once we had trained our brains to deal with the reduced size and to simply touch the keys rather than hammer them, typing speed was acceptable. The on-screen keyboard is no slouch either, and is among the most accurate we have ever tested.

 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the keypad is the trackpad, which is more responsive than you could imagine. It picks up the minutest of movements and is multitouch compatible, so if your fingers are too lazy to reach a further two inches to the screen to swipe, you can do so using the trackpad. However, jumping between the two is a remarkably streamlined process and feels super futuristic, especially when you throw the stylus into the mix.

 

 

The Surface Pro comes with a pen attachment which can be used to operate the machine, including an impressive and intuitive handwriting-recognition facility. Wanting to take things easy, we started with our very best neat handwriting; as if the Surface Pro's screen were a birthday card for a short-sighted elderly relative, but as we got sloppier, it was still extremely good at deciphering our scrawl.

 

It’s probably not the best choice for writing anything longer than an email, but the important point is, it CAN be used for that if you really wanted.

 

The biggest problem with the pen is its appearance. If your significant other picks it up and pops it into a pot full of other pens, it'll take a couple of minutes to identify - the only thing that distinguishes it from a cheap clicky-clicky pen is a blue tip. That's it. It's a great shame that an accessory Microsoft hopes gets a lot of use has such poor physical design – it looks, and feels, like a throwaway plastic thing ‘borrowed’ from a high street bank.

 

It's really not very well integrated into the device itself, either. Rather than stowing away by slotting into the body of the device (as seen in Samsung's S-Pen tablets), the Surface's stylus latches onto the right edge using a strong magnet. Unfortunately, that magnet is also where the charger plugs in, so if you want to charge and use the pen at the same time (and you will), you're out of luck. Furthermore, as strong as that magnet is, the pen will detach 100 per cent of the time you put the Surface Pro in your bag.

 

It's a shame the execution of the pen is so poor, because technologically, it's an excellent tool. We especially like the way the end of the pen can be used as a digital rubber.

 

Standing up for itself

 

Like the earlier Surface, the back boasts a flip-out stand, which makes the Pro feel like it was made for serious work and lends the unit a more professional air.

 

The Surface Pro has a lot to stand up against in a crowded market. Though it has much to boast about, its price won't be one of them while cheaper alternatives exist. The 64GB model will cost £719, while you can double the capacity to 128GB for £799 - just £80 more. Given the amount you can store on the Surface Pro, we reckon the larger model is worthwhile the little extra.

 



What makes the Surface Pro so good is its clear understanding that touch isn't always best. The Surface Pen is included with the device while a Touch Cover and a Type Cover are also available. The pen certainly made life easier in desktop mode as elements are much smaller and less 'in your face' than the Metro touch tabs. The tablet detects the location of the pen, offering a small indicative dot when about 1cm away from the screen. 

While we liked the pen, we found simultaneous use with the other hand difficult, as the device appears to block other touches when it senses the pen close by. This is handy for accidentally leaning from arms but your second hand becomes redundant when it could help speed tasks up a little.

The operating system is a winner for the Surface Pro, offering the interactivity of a tablet in Metro while keeping the traditional elements in the desktop mode. If you're not familiar with Windows 8, it may take a while to navigate between menus and find what you want, but it will quickly become second nature.

 

Battery life is average. A full day of use is possible if all you’re doing is writing and browsing the web a little bit (so, working), but treat it more like a tablet and throw games and media at it, and the Surface Pro will run out of gas before sunset. We got just three hours and 45 minutes out of the machine when streaming video at full brightness – not quite enough for a long flight or train journey, but probably enough for most users.

 

You big tease

 

Jump into the menu and you’ll see the Office Suite sitting there, but Microsoft is just teasing you; click on one of these icons and you’ll be asked to buy the software. For a device that costs £719 for the basic model, it’s a bit cheap to not include the feature most customers will want it for.

 

That basic model, by the way, has 64GB of storage, while a 128GB version is available for just £80 more. For the increased storage, we think the extra spend is worth it especially as a decent chunk of that storage is already spoken for out of the box (about 40GB on our 128GB model). It’s a depressingly common scenario, but at least the Surface Pro can support external hard drives up to 2TB.

 

For such a big, powerful machine, start-up time is mighty impressive. It takes just five seconds to boot up, far quicker than the vast majority of smaller (and arguably more nimble) mobile devices.

 

The speed in which The Pro is able to find and connect to Wi-Fi networks is also worth commenting on. Of course, this should be a simple process on every device, but it’s not, so well done Microsoft.

 

Looking good

 

As the price would suggest, the screen is excellent whether using the Surface for work or play. In fact, the 10.6in, 16:9 widescreen is one of the best things about the Pro. Its super sharp, blacks are deep and crisp, and the Full HD resolution means media looks excellent, whether that’s movies or games. Remember too, that this runs on Windows 8, so the full gamut of PC games are available (although some of the more intensive titles may lag a touch). We tried Portal 2, however, it was speedy and stable – gaming will kill your battery though, so stay close to a wall socket.

 

 

Unlike other Windows products, you won’t want to install an alternative browser, as the fast and flexible IE10 is the perfect choice for the Pro.

‘Flexibility’ comes to mind quite regularly while using this machine. For instance, unlike most tablets, you can run two apps together on the same screen, so it’s possible to chip away at your email inbox while catching up on The Apprentice in a second window.

 

Conclusion

If you need a tablet that can act as a serious work machine, and you have the budget, then the Surface Pro is an excellent choice. However, if your needs are a little more frivolous and based more around something that can be slung into a bag and used for reading, browsing, gaming and viewing on-the-go, then there are other machines

There is, however, a niche for a device that sits in between tablets and laptops, and right now, the Surface Pro has got it sewn up.