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Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) review

The most massively improved Surface yet

Surface Pro 5
The Surface Pro 5’s huge leap forward helps it keep our coveted Recommended award.

Our Verdict

We’re stumped by the fact that Microsoft didn’t call this the Surface Pro 5, since it’s the biggest improvement on a Surface we’ve ever seen so far. Despite losing the included Surface Pen, the Surface Pro’s huge leap forward helps it keep our coveted 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? Read our review of the Surface Pro 6, Microsoft’s most recent Surface release.

While the 2017 Surface Pro – unofficially, the Surface Pro 5 – is two years old now, even in the shadow of its successor, it’s still, indisputably, one of the best Windows tablets. It’s an astounding display of everything Windows 10 is capable of, thanks to some inventive design decisions that are holding up to the test of time.

Starting up the Surface Pro 5 for the first time, you’ll appreciate that Windows 10 makes this machine superior to the first three tablets that shipped with Windows 8.1. And, with some excellent price cuts for the Surface Pro, this device is an even more appealing investment.

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Still, does the Microsoft Surface Pro 5 triumph as a follow-up to the much-adored Surface Pro 4? Does it build upon the key features that made the premium Windows tablets so popular? We’ve been curious about this since the 2017 Surface Pro was announced in Shanghai. And the answer is a decisive ‘yes’.

It’s easy to see why the Surface Pro is such a beloved Windows device, even if it does settle on some aspects to the Surface formula. It has a similar chassis to the Surface Pro 4, but improves the design ever so slightly. The Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 didn’t change the recipe considerably, but it was still influential in shaping the future of Windows tablets.

This approach carries on in the Surface Pro 6, but in a new black color option. With iterative refreshes like this, we can’t wait to see what Surface Pro machines look like in the future.

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

Spec Sheet

Here is the Surface Pro 5 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 models of the Surface, the Surface Pro 5 starts at $749 (£749, AU$1,129), and the price just goes up from there. For that entry-level price tag, you’re taking home a device rocking a Kaby Lake Intel Core m3 processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB of SSD storage.

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

In the US currently, the Surface Pro 5 maxes out at $1,449. With that, you’re getting an Intel Core i5 processor with 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. This configuration should get you through most of your productivity tasks without breaking a sweat, though we’d be careful about filling up your SSD with too many photos and videos.

At the moment, a configuration packed with an Intel Core i7 chip is not available in the US, unless you’re purchasing it from Amazon, which still offers more configurations and at discounted prices at that. It is, however, up for grabs 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 substantial £1,611.

Lined up against some of the Surface Pro 5’s rivals, like the latest iPad Pro 11-inch, Apple start things off at $799 (£769, AU$1,229) for a tablet with Apple’s A12X Bionic processor and 64GB of SSD storage. Meanwhile, the kitted-out version retails for $1,549 (£1,519, AU$2,349) with 1TB of space and the same processor.

Surface Pro 5

It’s easy to see why the Surface Pro 5 is such a beloved Windows device

The Samsung Galaxy Book 2, on the other hand, starts at $999 (about £780, A$1,440) for the 12-inch configuration 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 devices are on hand in the UK, but currently, these are only available for 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 consideration that the new Surface Pro is sold without the Type Cover or Surface Pen in the box, Samsung’s tablet starts to look like a much more attractive purchase than both the Surface Pro and accessory-challenged iPad Pro. So, it is unfortunate that neither its performance nor its design is particularly impressive.

While Microsoft not including the Surface Pen out of the box seems to indicate that the Surface Pro 2017 costs more to make than its precursor, 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 love to see the pen included in the initial purchase.

Keep in mind, however, that while the Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 is still available to buy, it has been succeeded by the newer Surface Pro 6. That means that you should be able to find it for considerably less than list price. On Amazon, for example, a base configuration with an Intel Core M processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB is only $585. 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.

Surface Pro 5

Surface Pro 5 has the same stunning 12.3-inch PixelSense touch display.

Design

At first glance, the 2017 Surface Pro 5 looks a lot like the Surface Pro 4. It has the same stunning 12.3-inch PixelSense touch display with a 2,736 x 1,824 pixel resolution.

However, a closer look reveals a few key differences. For one, the magnesium-aluminum alloy frame is significantly rounder at the edges. If you were a Surface Pro 4 user before picking up the Surface Pro 2017, your fingers might even feel the difference before your eyes see them.

There’s also the hinge, which has been much improved on the Surface Pro 5, taking cues from the Surface Studio. The hinge now bends back further than ever before, thanks to a new “Studio mode” that makes for a narrower, 165-degree angle that’s ideal for artists. To that end, the hinge looks particularly different, obviously utilizing new parts to make this more dramatic angle possible. It does, however, operate in exactly the same way.

Surface Pro 5

The new Alcantara Type Cover is a notable improvement in comfort over the previous generation.

Another change worth noting here is the thermal design, which Microsoft also improved, making both the Core i5 and Core m3 versions fanless devices.

The new Alcantara Type Cover is a notable improvement in comfort over the previous generation, and it’s absolutely worth the slight upcharge in asking price over the microfiber cloth version. The keys feel like they’re deeper set and bouncier than ever coming back from a press. Plus, the material looks like it’s durable enough to last for a long time. Those who want to steer away from neutral colors will be happy to know that burgundy and cobalt blue colors are now also on hand.

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 improving battery life by up to 20%, this is quite an impressive feat, indeed.

Surface Pro 5

It is the Surface Pen that got some of the most meticulous and belabored changes.

Surface Pen gets a big boost 

Why the Surface Pro 5 wasn’t given the ‘5’ moniker – even though it was followed up by the Surface Pro 6 – is beyond us, especially when you take into account the fact that it received pretty significant changes. It is, however, the Surface Pen that got some of the most meticulous and belabored changes.

To start, Microsoft has enhanced 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. In addition, the Surface Pen now has lower latency, so its tip has a far lower chance of ‘leading’ the ink on the PixelSense screen.

The Pen now supports tilt detection, though only through the new Surface Pro 5 and Surface Book 2. The other existing Surface devices will get 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 are most concerned about representing tilt and direction of the strokes in their work.

Surface Pro 5

The Pen now supports tilt detection.

Another thing that’s new here is that the Pen is available in new appealing colors: platinum, black, cobalt blue and burgundy, meant clearly to match to the available colors of new Type Covers.

There’s no question that both the new Surface Pen and Type Cover are well-deserving of their slight price hikes. Still, we remain disappointed by 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