Microsoft Surface Pro review

The most massively improved Surface yet

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Our Verdict

We’re surprised Microsoft has refrained from calling this the Surface Pro 5, as it’s the biggest improvement on a Surface we’ve ever seen. Despite losing the included Surface Pen, the Surface Pro’s huge improvements help it retain our Recommended award.

For

  • Hugely improved battery life
  • Much better Surface Pen
  • Comfier, punchier Type Cover

Against

  • Surface Pen pulled from package
  • Only Core i7 can challenge A10X

If you're looking for a robust tablet for work and play, the Microsoft Surface Pro should be at the top of your wish list. And, we’re not talking about the original Surface Pro either; this is the revamped sequel to the Surface Pro 4 that came out in 2015.

Given the widespread issues faced by the Surface Pro 4, especially closer to its debut, we had hesitation about the launch of a follow-up. 

Of course, it’s been over five months since the Surface Pro hit store shelves on that lovely June 15, 2017 release date, and our hearts are still set on it being the top Windows slate, and more importantly one of the best laptops, you can buy this year. So, if you see it on sale, know that it comes recommended by yours truly.

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.

Spec Sheet

Here is the Surface Pro configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-7660U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 4GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
RAM: 16GB LPDDR3
Screen: 12.3-inch, 2,736 x 1,824 PixelSense display (Contrast ratio: 1,300:1, 100% sRGB color, 10-point multi-touch, 3:2 aspect ratio)
Storage: 512GB SSD (PCIe 3.0)
Ports: 1x USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, microSDXC card reader (UHS-I), headphone/mic jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2 x 2 MIMO), Bluetooth 4.1 (Low Energy)
Cameras: 8MP rear-facing, auto-focus camera (1080p HD); 5MP front-facing, 1080p HD camera
Weight: 1.73 pounds
Size: 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.33 inches (W x D x H)

Pricing and availability

Consistent with its predecessors, the refreshed Surface Pro costs $799 (£799, AU$1,199) to start, but it’s price escalates from there. For that entry-level price, you’re fetching yourself a Kaby Lake Intel Core m3 CPU paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. 

Those specs aren’t ideal if your workload is anything like ours, so your best bet is to run with a Surface Pro configuration featuring an Intel Core i5 or i7 chips with more memory and storage. Currently, 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.