The Microsoft Surface Pro is a tablet with the guts of a laptop. It runs Windows 8, features the same Intel Core i5-3317U processor found in many recent ultrabooks, and has a high resolution display.
But it’s not a laptop. Instead it’s a slate with a 10.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display, a capacitive touch panel, and an active digitizer that lets you use a digital pen to writer, draw, or hover a mouse cursor over the screen.
The Surface Pro is Microsoft’s attempt to show what Windows 8 can do when you put it on a powerful tablet. Unfortunately it appears to suffer from poor battery life, a mismatch between the operating system and the screen resolution, and a design that makes the Surface Pro difficult to use as a laptop replacement… which makes the $1000 starting price for the tablet plus a keyboard cover a bit tough to justify.
Microsoft’s newest tablet goes on sale February 9th, but the first reviews are already in. There seems to be general consensus on a few points:
- The Surface Pro is about as speedy and powerful as an ultrabook with a Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor.
- The battery life stinks, topping out at around 4 hours of run time. You’ll get closer to 3 hours if you’re watching video.
- Unlike the Surface RT tablet, the Surface Pro gets warm to the touch and generates a bit of fan noise thanks to the more powerful 17W processor (the Surface RT has a 3W NVIDIA Tegra 3 CPU).
- Even with the built-in kickstand and a Touch or Type Cover, there’s no comfortable way to use this tablet on your lap — unless you’re only using touch input.
- The high resolution display is a mixed blessing. Images and text look crisp and clear in Metro mode, and in desktop mode Microsoft sets the default DPI settings to 150 percent. But many apps, menus, and other items don’t look right at that setting. So you have to choose between inconsistent text and graphics or making everything look too tiny on the 10.6 inch screen.
- It’s also tough to use the touchscreen to tap icons when they’re tiny. The digital pen helps, and it’s also great for writing or drawing, thanks to handwriting recognition and 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. But there’s no getting around the fact that desktop apps are really designed for a keyboard and mouse.
In other words, the Surface Pro isn’t ready to replace a similarly priced (or cheaper) Windows 8 ultrabook for day to day use. While it can run all the same apps as an ultrabook, it gets awful battery life and it’s tougher to use on your lap (or even on a desk, since the kickstand isn’t adjustable — the desk has to be the perfect height).
It may also not be able to replace a much cheaper Android or iOS tablet if you’re primarily looking for a device for surfing the web from a couch. It’s bigger and heavier than most of those tablets, won’t last as long on a charge, and doesn’t offer as many tablet optimized apps… at least not yet.
While it’s impressive that you can now buy a slate that looks a lot like an iPad but can do much of what a laptop does, it’d be even more impressive if the Surface Pro offered the best of both worlds. Instead, it seems like a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none type device. And even though the hardware’s probably more than worth the $1000 asking price, it’s kind of hard to justify dropping that kind of money on a device that does a lot of things… but doesn’t necessarily do them very well.
Here are some of the first reviews of the Microsoft Surface Pro:
- ABC News
- All Things D
- Ars Technica
- Business Insider
- Chicago Times
- Los Angeles Times
- The Verge
The Surface Pro is good enough that most reviewers agree that if you really want a Surface tablet, this is the one to get… not the cheaper Surface RT. But they seem to be searching for reasons you might want to buy it at all.