Microsoft Surface Pro review

Reviews 17 May, 2013

The 10.6in Windows 8 hybrid tablet finally launches in the UK, but it's not worth the wait.

3
Price: 
From £719 (64GB)
£799 (128GB)
Pros: 
Beautiful HD screen; Full Windows 8; Good performance
Cons: 
Inflexible kickstand; Too heavy; Expensive; Virtually unserviceable; So-so battery life
Verdict: 
The Surface Pro fails to live up to expectations. Despite the HD screen and solid performance, it's weak when it comes to portability and doesn't do enough to stand out from OEM competitors.

Microsoft has belatedly released the Surface Pro in the UK, seven months after the launch of Windows 8. But with a plethora of devices from established OEMs such as Dell and Lenovo available, is it wise to invest in a hybrid made by a firm with no pedigree in hardware?

Ultrabook or Tablet?

Positioned as an Ultrabook which can be transformed into a tablet, the Surface Pro sounds like the ideal device on paper. It’s powered by a meaty Intel Core i5 dual-core processor pegged at 1.7GHz, has 110GB of usable storage space, a beautiful screen and the build quality is good.

However, there is one core design flaw.

The Pro has the same kickstand found on the Surface RT. You pop this out when using the tablet on a flat surface so it doesn't fall over. The hinge is not adjustable, which is annoying. But when in the office, you can connect the device to a larger monitor using the built-in miniDisplay port.

The real problems starts when you want to use the device on the move. If you’re at an event or on the train and need to use the tablet on your lap, the Surface Pro is awkward to use. When using the Surface during a press conference I spent the first 10 minutes worrying it was going to tip off my lap and cartwheel onto the floor. Every keystroke resulted in the 910g chassis wobbling and after a few minutes, when the fear of falling subsided, another problem emerged.

Use the Pro on your lap for any prolonged amount of time and you’ll find the kickstand digs into your thighs and starts to cause discomfort. This is quickly alleviated by re-adjusting the position, but then you'll have to start the balancing act again. It’s a tiresome process and I was craving an Ultrabook by the time my two hour event finished. I was even envious of the person on my right who had his iPad slotted into the keyboard dock and was happily tapping away.

Keyboard

Microsoft doesn’t supply a keyboard with the Pro, so you’ll need to purchase one separately.

There are two choices. The Touch Cover (£99) or the Type Cover (£109) which aims to provide a traditional typing experience. Both function as a screen protector when the device is not in use.

Adjusting to the cramped conditions of the Pro keyboards takes a while, especially if you're used to a large laptop or keyboard. The letters on the Type Cover are well laid out, but the arrow and enter keys are condensed and can be hard to hit. The Touch Cover takes longer to get used to as the keys are pressure sensitive and there is no give.

The trackpad is inadequate. It’s a measly 66mm x 34mm so there’s not much room to operate and it can be sticky too. The ability to tap the touchscreen does alleviate some of the shortcomings of the trackpad and you can also plug in a Bluetooth mouse in the office.

Specifications: 

Processor: Intel Core i5 1.7GHz 

RAM: 4GB DDR3

Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000

Display: 10.6in 1,920 x 1,080

Storage: 128GB SSD

Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy technology

Ports: 1 x USB 3, micro SDXC card reader, mini-DisplayPort, proprietory chargers

Dimensions: 274 x 173 x 13.5mm (WxDxH)

WEIGHT: 910g

OS: Windows 8 Pro 64-bit

Warrenty: 1-year limited hardware warranty

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Interesting. The iPad 64GB with Retina display costs a relatively modest (by comparison) £560; with 3G included it goes up to a robust £660. But still well cheaper than the Surface. It's not a 'real PC', of course, whatever that's supposed to mean now that Windows 8 has arrived. Microsoft has made some valiant efforts to get with the programme, but somehow they always seem to be scrabbling round the edges - there's something immutable at the core of the company (rather like Adobe, in fact, with their latest user-fleecing 'subscription' concept; all experienced Adobe watchers know that's business-speak for 'we'll be jacking up the monthly prices just as soon as we've got all you poor saps suckered in') that doesn't really change. Our way or the highway, perhaps. A shame, because the basic ideas (Windows 8, Surface) are often rather good.

"Microsoft has used its ClearType display technology, which make colours jump out of the screen."

I'd be surprised, given that ClearType is a way of smoothing fonts. If you're referring to the ClearType HD Display, that's just a brand name for the IPS screens in the Surface tablets. There's no special Microsoft technology involved.

Quite why MS's marketing department picked up on an obscure font setting as the name for the screen is anyone's guess.

I suggest you bypass the review and try it yourself. I think you'd be happily surprised.

There are sufficient excellent reviews and YouTube's suggest that this product is not so good in may areas.

Couple points on this biased review:
"Lack of Serviceability" and "lack of pre-installed software"
- Most corporates that I have experience of, use in house deployment images. Any new hardware that comes in has an appropriate deployment image applied to it as soon as it is out of the box.
The image will include ALL required software - which is inevitably volume licensed, so preinstalled software is irrelevant.
Serviceability is a problem for the service company that most corporates will use:
"Hello helpdesk my Surface just died" - "Ok we'll bring you a new one - just logon with your domain credentials and you are good to go"
The dead Surface is then passed back to the service company under the terms of service agreement.
Finally the cost argument i.e. "too expensive", doesn't hold up. You have no details of individual enterprise agreements so you cannot say, realistically, what the actual price is to an enterprise. Example: my last company used HP desktops, middle spec core i5 models. HP's official price for these was well over £1000. On paper they were blown away on cost by lots of other models. Needless to say, the actual cost to my company was FAR less, but importantly also included a service level agreement, that supported the help desk scenario that I outlined above.
I think your assertion that: "Is it possible to recommend this device for widespread rollouts? The answer is a resounding no."
Is fatally flawed.

Thanks autodrivel - sad that the comments section shows better quality input and is more industry savvy than the article author.

I drive an Alfa which is regularly canned in reviews - go try it!

is it wise to invest in a hybrid made by a firm with no pedigree in hardware

So you'd disregard the Xbox then? A highly successful and widely regarded hardware platform?

What a strange remark. And a straw man argument, when I've yet to find any device that is truly secure - or comfortable - on your lap, with a keyboard attached.

I'm not in the business of defending Microsoft but this review had an oddly petulant tone to it.

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