Review: Surface Pro

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Microsoft’s no-compromise, Surface Pro is now available in Australia. Before you lay down the cash to get your next tablet, you should stop for a second, read the review and then make an informed decision. For some people this device will be their only option, for some it won’t fit their needs, but to see which camp you fall into.. read on.

It’s now been some time since my hands-on impressions of the Surface Pro so let’s get into a lengthy, in-depth detailed look at how it stacks up again competitors and Surface RT.


The Surface Pro hardware has some important differences from the RT model, like higher screen resolution, more storage, faster USB port and an included pen. This does mean the device is heavier, thicker and gets less battery life. In reality, there are compromises for the Surface Pro, but you need to decide if they are acceptable trade offs.

Make no mistake about it, the Pro is designed for those that need to still run legacy aps. Personally I fall into that camp. There’s Photoshop amongst many other Creative Suite apps, together with Visual Studio and especially Windows Live Writer.

To run these productivity apps, we were always going to need a higher resolution than the RT offered, remembering that the display is just 10.6”. This means the 1920×1080 full HD screen looks gorgeous and the extra speed is seriously appreciated.

The difference in performance between the Pro and RT versions of Surface is dramatic. The Core i5 processor inside the Pro simply smashes ARM. The good news is that it’s silent and doesn’t really get hot during long use. That passive vent clearly does it’s job to give the Pro adequate cooling.

Battery Life
This is one area I need to spend more time on before delivering the full results. Best case the Pro gets around 5 to 5.5 hrs of casual use. This is down from 9-10hrs on RT, pretty sure that counts as a compromise.

In the initial impressions, I expected to be able to kill the device in 2-3 hours with intensive work and a reasonable screen brightness. More extensive testing confirmed this theory. That was all fine before we seen Haswell-based devices pulling some amazing numbers, in some cases 50% better battery life.

Battery life is certainly is something you should consider before buying, but if you have a charger at work and home and only plan on going between the two, then this is irrelevant.

There’s no hiding it, the Pro is heavier at 907g vs the RT at 680g and the iPad at 652g. I found myself wanting to place the Pro down on a flat surface, but I’d put this behaviour down to the landscape orientation than a result of the weight. It’s certainly still ultra portable, weighing much less than most laptops, so well within acceptable limits.

Pen Input
When I first read the Pro was shipping with a pen, I really couldn’t have cared less. Pens on mobile devices have typically been a pretty poor experience and often get lost. Microsoft designers did something really smart with the pen. The magnetic power connector on the right side also double as a pen holder.

There’s also pressure sensitivity supported and a hover state allows you to interact without making contact with the display (not sure why anyone would do this). One trick you can try when in a paint app is to turn the pen around and use the ‘eraser end’ and it actually works like an eraser.

While I’m not an artist, I can absolutely see that this is an important feature. Other users that should pay attention to the pen are business types that like to annotate presentations and document corrections.

Kick stand
Still my biggest complaint is the angle of the kickstand. While it’s impressive the stand is integrated without adding extra bulk like most keyboard cases, the fixed angle isn’t fixed. Tall guys like myself will find that sitting the tablet on a bench or desk will leave you crouching down to get the viewing angle right. Microsoft, an adjustable kickstand is now on your to-do-list for Surface 2.

Video out
Of course you connect your Surface to an external display, then this problem goes away. Interestingly there has been a change in the external display connector between the RT and the Pro. The RT had a HD video out port, while the Pro moved to a standard Mini DisplayPort. This means for those households with both versions of the Surface, you’d need two separate adapters, this is just dumb Microsoft.

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The Surface Pro is supposed to be Microsoft’s no compromise device, offering the flexibility of new Metro apps, while supporting legacy desktop apps. The Surface Pro is the only device on the market that lets you do this, so for that Microsoft should be commended. In reality, it can feel like a two headed monster, but some that is being addressed in Windows 8.1.

There’s a perception that Windows 8 apps (aka Metro apps) are basic you may think the metro environment wouldn’t vary much between the Pro and the RT, but the speed different is dramatic. Just launch a game like Drift Mania 2, everything from the application launch to level loads is just a night and day experience.

The biggest surprise really came when scrolling the start screen. I never thought RT was slow in general navigation, with the ‘fast and fluid’ experience feeling well done. That is until you compare the ARM processor to the Core i5 and you’ll hate your RT from that point forward. Let that be a lesson to you, don’t use them side-by-side.

The resolution isn’t noticed until you hit the desktop and you see that those 1920×1080 pixels at work. It s noticeably crisper, but smaller. The DPI default is set at 125% (100% is unusable), things are a reasonable size and I was surprised to see how precise the touch points were when using a finger. It does a great job at guessing where you meant to touch, despite the actual contact point being at times, pretty far off.

Of course you can bump up the DPI to 150% but then you’re essentially loosing any benefit to the higher resolution. Keep in mind the size issue can be a benefit, particularly when trying to fit 2 snapped windows side-by-side. Navigating using a USB mouse, keyboard trackpad or included pen make navigation a breeze.

While other platforms have substitutes, no other platform has Microsoft Office. Like it or hate it, the reality is Office is the most used productivity suite on the planet. For some users and many businesses, alternatives don’t cut it, Office is what they need. If you fit into that camp, then Surface is really the tablet for you.

It’s a strange decision for Microsoft to include Office 2013 with the cheaper Surface RT, but not with the Surface Pro. Of course if you’ve opted into the subscription services Office 365, you have the ability to install it on up to 5 PCs, which of course Surface Pro qualifies for.

One of the big benefits of Surface RT is that it’s always connected, even when in standby mode. This means when you wake the device, your mail, calendar and notifications will be up to date. One of the downsides of the Surface pro is that in an effort to conserve that precious battery life, connectivity gets shut off when hibernating or sleeping. This creates a delay of a couple of seconds when waking the device, then the WiFi connects and your data begins updating. it’s not a deal breaker, but is definitely a compromise on what’s supposed to be a no-compromise device.

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Speed comparison video

Price & Availability

As I mentioned at the start, the Surface Pro is available now in Australia, you can order it online from Microsoft’s Store or from retail partners like JB HiFi and Harvey Norman. The Surface Pro comes in both 64GB and 128GB models to make sure all those legacy apps can fit with ease.

The Surface Pro prices start at A$999 (64GB model) and A$1,099 (128GB model) and they both include the pen and a power supply that contains a USB port, smart. $100 difference to double your storage is really a no brainer. You’ll definitely want the Type keyboard cover which is an additional A$149. In the US they are currently giving away covers with Surface Pro, Microsoft really need to offer this deal in Australia.

The Surface RT price has dropped to start at A$459 (32GB model) so you could have two for the price of the Surface Pro. If you can think of the Pro as a PC, then the prices make sense, think of it as a tablet and it really doesn’t.

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The Surface Pro is a fantastic piece of hardware, especially considering Microsoft’s history of taking 3 versions to get something right. While the device isn’t perfect, it will serve a specific market well. Most of that market have been vocal on social media while they waited the months between the US and Australian launches.

My biggest problem is the way in which this product is marketed. Saying it’s no-compromises, immediately opens them up to criticism in the areas it falls short on like battery life. If they had simply highlighted it’s strengths over the competition like Office and USB ports, they could seriously attract the business world, at least the ones that hadn’t already bought iPads for their employees.

I love that I can run productivity apps on the Surface Pro, it’s a serious differentiator. That does need to be weighed against the 3-5hrs of battery life. I can’t help but feel that a 4th-gen Intel processor will really let the device show it’s real potential.

The idea of having a single device that could walk between the old and new worlds is a bold, ambitious goal, one Microsoft should get credit for. With the changes coming in Windows 8.1, Surface Pro will get even better. I’m happy to recommend this device for those who live in the Windows world, most who are not yet ready to switch a metro-only app experience.

Overall the Surface RT and iPad feel like cute entertainment and consumption devices, but the Surface Pro is a productivity machine.

This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn't seeking credit.

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