Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) review

The most massively improved Surface yet

TODO alt text

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

Did you know the 2017 Surface Pro isn’t the newest Surface on the block? Check out our hands-on coverage of the Surface Pro 6

It’ll be turning two years old in 2019, but the Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 is still a fantastic Windows tablet that’s one of the best 2-in-1 laptops on the market right now. Thanks to some great design decisions by Microsoft, this is an excellent showcase for everything Windows 10 is capable of in 2019.

Immediately upon removing the Microsoft Surface Pro from its box, you’ll realize that Windows 10 makes the Surface Pro 2017 better than the original trilogy of professional tablets that shipped with Windows 8.1. However, as a successor to the wildly successful Surface Pro 4, does it succeed?

That’s a question we’ve asked ourselves a lot since it was first unveiled. Since then, we’ve come to a resounding ‘yes’. The Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 doesn’t change up the aesthetics of the Surface Pro 4, but it’s still in a league of its own. Beyond making some necessary compromises to the formula we know and love, it’s easy to see why we’re so enamored with the Surface Pro 2017.

But, even if it’s not all that different, the Surface Pro 2017’s design still helped shape what the best Windows tablets would look like throughout 2018. The chassis has a familiar look, but it improves on the formula with very few compromises. This approach continues with the Surface Pro 6, too, though that brings a new black design. We’re excited about what future Microsoft Surface devices will look like. 

Starting with where you can buy it and for how much, let’s get up close and personal, analyzing why the Surface Pro 2017 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 devices, the Surface Pro 2017 starts at $799 (£799, AU$1,199), and the price escalates from there. For that entry-level price tag, you’re getting a Kaby Lake Intel Core m3 processor paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. 

If your workload is anything like ours, those specs won’t really cut it, 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 some of the Surface Pro’s competition, like the latest 10.5-inch iPad Pro, Apple kicks things off at $649 (£619, AU$979) for a tablet with Apple’s A10X processor and 64GB of SSD space. Meanwhile the most heavily equipped version retails for $949 (£889, AU$1,429) with 512GB of storage and the same processor.

Surface Pro

Then, the 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. What’s more, all these models come with Samsung’s S Pen.

When you consider 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.

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

However, keep in mind that the Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 has been replaced by the Surface Pro 6. That means that you should be able to find it for much less than list price. You should start to see plenty of deals on whatever’s left on the shelf – not to mention the refurbished models.

Surface Pro

Design

The 2017 Surface Pro looks a lot like the Surface Pro 4 at first glance. It 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 lies in the hinge, which has been improved, drawing inspiration from Microsoft’s original Surface Studio. The hinge now bends even further back, thanks to a new ‘Studio mode’ that makes for a narrower, 165-degree angle, which is perfect for drawing.

Surface Pro

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.

That’s not even to mention that Microsoft improved thermal design, allowing it to make the 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.

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 1.73 lbs (786g) of heft also staying the same. When you consider that Microsoft managed this while still upping battery life by up to 20%, it’s quite impressive, indeed.

Surface Pro

Surface Pen gets a big boost 

Why the Surface Pro 2017 wasn’t given a ‘5’ – even though it was followed by the Surface Pro 6 – is beyond us, as you can see now that Microsoft has pretty drastically changed this product. But, the Surface Pen got some of the most meticulous and belabored changes.

For starters, Microsoft increased the pressure sensitivity of the Surface Pen to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, so that creators have more control over the width and intensity of their lines in designs and illustrations than before. What’s more, though, the Surface Pen now sports lower latency, so 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.

Surface Pro

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.

First reviewed June 2017