Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) review

The most massively improved Surface yet

microsoft surface pro

Our Verdict

We’re astonished Microsoft has refrained from naming 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 advancements 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

Did you know the 2017 Surface Pro isn’t the newest Surface on the block? Check out our review of the more recent Surface Pro 6.

Though the 2017 Surface Pro is two years old now, even in the shadow of its successor, it’s still, hands down, one of the best Windows tablets. It’s an impressive display of everything Windows 10 is capable of, thanks to some creative design decisions that are proving to stand the test of time.

Launching the Surface Pro for the first time, you’ll appreciate that Windows 10 makes this device superior over the first three tablets that shipped with Windows 8.1. And, with some decent discounts for the Surface Pro, this device is an even more alluring investment.

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Still, does the Microsoft Surface Pro succeed as a follow-up to the beloved Surface Pro 4? Does it build upon the features that made the premium Windows tablets so popular? We’ve been wondering about this since the 2017 Surface Pro was unveiled in Shanghai. And the answer is a definitive ‘yes’.

It’s easy to understand why the Surface Pro is such a beloved Windows tablet, even if it did settle on some aspects to the Surface formula. It has a similar chassis to the Surface Pro 4, but refines the design ever so slightly. The Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 doesn’t change the formula significantly, but it was still influential in shaping the future of Windows tablets.

This approach even continues with the Surface Pro 6, but with a new black color option. With iterative updates like this, we can’t wait to see what Surface Pro devices look like in the future.

Starting with where you can buy it and for how much, let’s take a deeper and personal look at the Surface Pro 2017, to find out precisely why the device has once again earned our ‘Recommended’ seal of approval.

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

Falling in line with previous Surface iterations, the Surface Pro 2017 begins at $749 (£749, AU$1,129), and the price continues on up from there. For that entry-level price tag, you’re getting a device equipped with a Kaby Lake Intel Core m3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage.

That configuration is adequate for users who don’t need to do intensive computing tasks. However, if you have a workload like ours, that’s really not enough power to get the job done. If that is the case, we’d suggest jumping for a Surface Pro configuration with at least an Intel Core i5 processor with more RAM and SSD space.

In the US right now, the Surface Pro maxes out at $1,449 for an Intel Core i5 processor with 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. This should power you through many of your productivity tasks without breaking a sweat, though we’d be careful about filling up your storage with too many photos and videos.

Currently, a configuration loaded with an Intel Core i7 chip is not available in the US, unless you’re buying off Amazon, which still offers more configurations and at lower prices at that. It is, however, available in the UK, with the 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM priced at £1,119, and the more powerful 1TB SSD and 16GB RAM setting you back a hefty £1,611.

Lined up against some of the Surface Pro’s competition, like the newest iPad Pro 11-inch, Apple starts things off at $799 (£769, AU$1,229) for a tablet with Apple’s A12X Bionic processor and 64GB of SSD space. Meanwhile, the maxed out version retails for $1,549 (£1,519, AU$2,349) with 1TB of storage and the same processor.

microsoft surface pro

The Samsung Galaxy Book 2, on the other hand, starts at $999 (about £780, A$1,440) for the 12-inch version with a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM powered by a Qualcomm SDM850 processor. This model is, however, not available in the UK and Australia.

Both the 10.6-inch and 12-inch Samsung Galaxy Book models are available in the UK, but currently these can only be purchased through third-party retailers. In the US, the 12-inch version with a 7th Gen Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD is more expensive at $1,299 (about £1,020, A$1,873).

When you take into account that the new Surface Pro is sold sans the Type Cover or Surface Pen, Samsung’s tablet starts to look like a much better value than both the Surface Pro and accessory-challenged iPad Pro. It’s too bad, then, that neither its performance nor its design is particular great.

While Microsoft pulling the Surface Pen out of the box seems to indicate that the Surface Pro 2017 costs more to make than its predecessor, a unit purchased with both the Pen and Type Cover would exceed the price of a comparable Galaxy Book by only $100. But, we’d still like to see the pen included in the initial purchase.

Keep in mind, however, that while the Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 is still available for purchase, it has been succeeded by the newer Surface Pro 6. That means that you should be able to find it for significantly less than list price. You should start to come across a lot of deals and bundles on whatever’s left on the shelf – not to mention the refurbished models, which will be even cheaper.

microsoft surface pro

Design

At first glance, the 2017 Surface Pro looks a lot like the Surface Pro 4. It has the same, admittedly stunning, 12.3-inch PixelSense touchscreen with a 2,736 x 1,824 pixel resolution.

However, a closer look reveals some key differences. For one, the magnesium-aluminum alloy frame is dramatically rounder at the edges than before. If you were a Surface Pro 4 user before picking up the Surface Pro 2017, your fingers might notice the difference before your eyes do.

There’s also the hinge, which has been vastly revamped on the Surface Pro, drawing inspiration from the Surface Studio. The hinge now bends further back than ever, thanks to a new ‘Studio mode’ that makes for a narrower, 165-degree angle that is perfect for artists. To that end, the hinge looks noticeably different, obviously integrating new parts to make this more dramatic angle possible, but operates in exactly the same way.

microsoft surface pro

Another refinement worth mentioning is the thermal design, which Microsoft also improved, allowing it to make both the Core i5 and Core m3 versions fanless devices.

The new Alcantara Type Cover is a striking enhancement in comfort over the previous generation, and certainly worth the slight upcharge in asking price over the microfiber cloth version. The keys feel like they’re deeper set and come back from a press bouncier than ever, and the material looks like it’s sturdy enough to last for a quite a while. For those who want to veer away from neutral colors, the burgundy and cobalt blue colors are also available.

At the end of the day, the Surface Pro 2017 measures at the same 0.33 inches (8.4mm) of thickness as its predecessor, with its weight of 1.73 lbs (786g) also staying the same. Considering that Microsoft managed this while still boosting battery life by up to 20%, this is quite an impressive feat, indeed.

microsoft surface pro

Surface Pen gets a big boost 

Why the Surface Pro 2017 wasn’t given the ‘5’ moniker – even though it was followed by the Surface Pro 6 – makes no sense, especially considering the pretty drastic changes this received. However, it is the Surface Pen that got some of the most meticulous and belabored changes.

For starters, Microsoft raises the pressure sensitivity of the Surface Pen to 4,096 levels, giving creators more control over the width and intensity of their lines in designs and illustrations than ever before. Plus, the Surface Pen now has lower latency, so its tip has a far lower chance of ‘leading’ the ink on the PixelSense display.

The Pen now supports tilt detection, though only through the new Surface Pro and Surface Book 2. The other current Surface devices will receive the support for this feature through a firmware update later on. This feature will – short of some useful navigation controls in some apps – mostly matter to true creators who would be most concerned about representing tilt and direction of the strokes in their work.

microsoft surface pro

Looks-wise, the Pen is available 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 question that both the new Surface Pen and Type Cover deserve their slight price hikes. Still, we remain disappointed in the lack of bundles to save loyal customers some money for fully buying in on Microsoft’s products since day one.

First reviewed June 2017

Images Credit: TechRadar