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Microsoft Surface Pro review

Verdict

Microsoft conjures up a stylish, powerful Windows 8 tablet that remains desirable despite its flaws

Review Date: 24 May 2013

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £666 (£799 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £807
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

Good things come to those who wait, or so the saying goes, and Microsoft has finally brought its premium Windows 8 device – the Surface Pro – to the UK. It’s been available in the US since February, but Microsoft’s 10.6in tablet looks to have been worth waiting for.

Although it appears remarkably similar to its stablemate, the Surface RT, the Surface Pro is a different beast entirely: it swaps Windows RT for Windows 8 Pro, adds the engine of an Ultrabook and tops it all off with a stylus-friendly Full HD touchscreen.

Physically, the Surface Pro is barely distinguishable from its little brother, the Surface RT, and in many ways that’s no bad thing – just like its cheaper sibling, the Pro oozes class from every angle. The metallic grey body feels silky smooth to the touch, and the combination of chamfered sides and rounded edges make for a device that looks every inch the luxury tablet.

Second opinion

When I wrote our Surface RT review last year, I concluded by saying the Pro was the model we were really waiting for. Now it’s belatedly here, I’m not so sure.

Make no mistake, it’s a wonderfully well-constructed device. The screen is incredibly sharp, the build quality is exceptional and, despite the little extra bulk and weight over the RT, the difference is barely noticeable in your laptop bag. The option to install full-fat x86 software makes an enormous difference, and the performance of the Pro embarrasses the ARM-based RT.

Yet, it’s compromised as both a laptop and tablet. The kickstand design makes it almost impossible to use on your lap, and the Full HD display makes icons and text tiny in desktop applications that don’t provide an option to scale for the screen. Photoshop is almost impossible to use on the 10.6in display, for example.

As a tablet, the paucity of high quality Windows Store apps remains a problem, but not nearly as much as the pitiful battery life, which means you’ll be returning the device to the mains at the end of every working day, much like a mobile phone. An iPad will last far longer at similar usage levels.

If you’re looking to combine laptop and tablet in a single device, there are few – if any – that do it better (although I’m gagging to see the full Windows 8 version of the IdeaPad Yoga 11S). Sadly, however, I feel the Surface Pro falls agonisingly between two stools.

Editor, Barry Collins.

Look a little more carefully, however, and subtle differences begin to emerge. The more powerful components have swelled the casing, and the Pro’s 14mm-thick chassis is substantially fatter than that of the Surface RT. Unsurprisingly, it’s heavier, too, weighing in at 908g. That’s not light by the standards of many tablets, but the heft goes hand-in-hand with stunning build quality: no matter how much you twist or squeeze the Surface Pro’s chassis, there’s barely any flex to be found.

The 10.6in screen is stunningly crisp. Colours are rich and saturated, viewing angles are wide, and with a maximum brightness of 446cd/m2 and a measured contrast ratio of 910:1, photos and movies look fantastic. Admittedly, colour accuracy isn’t as good as the finest Ultrabook displays we’ve seen, such as the Dell XPS 13, but it’s one of the best screens you'll find on any Windows tablet, and the 208ppi pixel density makes for almost Retina levels of clarity.

Behind the Surface Pro’s stunning screen and classy chassis, there’s a familiar set of the components. The Core i5-3317U processor is one we’ve seen in plenty of Ultrabooks, and with 4GB of RAM and an SSD alongside, the Surface Pro feels spritely by tablet standards. An overall score of 0.63 in our Real World Benchmarks means that it’s not quite up there with the fastest Ultrabooks money can buy, but it’s more than quick enough for most people’s needs. In fact, the only thing we’d wish for is more RAM – as it’s impossible to upgrade any of the Surface Pro’s components, 8GB of RAM would have been a welcome future-proofing measure.

Microsoft Surface Pro

Of course, squeezing Ultrabook components into such a compact chassis does have its downsides. Battery life is the most pressing concern, and here the Surface Pro‘s 42Wh battery struggles a little. Even with the display brightness dimmed down to 75cd/m2, and Wi-Fi off, the Surface Pro lasted for 5hrs 52mins in our light-usage battery test. Turn on Wi-Fi, raise the screen brightness and start multitasking, however, and you can expect that figure to dwindle rapidly.

Another downside of the nippy CPU is that the Surface Pro’s slim chassis struggles to stay cool. Indeed, while the sliver-thin cooling vent stretching around the top edge is impressively subtle, the Surface Pro’s fans are less so. Push the processor hard, and the cooling fans spin up with a soft, but audible high-pitched whine, and the metal chassis heats up to match.

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User comments

Tell us about the bloatware

But how much rubbish comes preinstalled? I bought a Dell laptop a few years ago. Unbelievable amount of junk on it

By jeremyiwhite on 16 May 2013

Tell us about the bloatware

But how much rubbish comes preinstalled? I bought a Dell laptop a few years ago. Unbelievable amount of junk on it

By jeremyiwhite on 16 May 2013

Probably very little, if any. Microsoft tend to not fill their devices with bloat.

By turnma on 16 May 2013

The only "bloat" it comes with is a trial for office 365, which disappears if you already have have an account to log into or Office 2013 to install. Price compares reasonably favourably to the US price too, I paid $1206 for a 128GB Pro with type cover, when you factor in the difference in exchange rates and local taxes the prices are almost identical.

By Shuflie on 16 May 2013

Being a bit of weakling and tending to use my tablet on the sofa or in bed and hand holding it this is too heavy for me at almost 1kg.

I found using the iPad v3 at 650g approx quite heavy to hand hold for extended time. Which is why I swapped to the Nexus 7 at 350g approx.

Just pre-ordered the 10inch but super light Sony Xperia Z tablet - 495g

I'm sure the weight isn't a problem for the muscle bound PC Pro team.

By cyberindie on 16 May 2013

Microsoft SIGNATURE PC

All PC's sold at Microsoft.com or at a Microsoft Store have no bloatware. These PCs are called Microsoft Signature PCs. Google it.

By BobK212 on 16 May 2013

Coming soon.

Still "Coming soon." on the MS site?

By RobFullerSpirx on 16 May 2013

Coming soon.

Still "Coming soon." on the MS site?

By RobFullerSpirx on 16 May 2013

No...

Short and sweet no...
To big/heavy for a tablet.
Extra keyboard turns it into a poor laptop.
Costs £900 !
Supplied free with poor battery life and the ability to get warm.
Worth the wait then.......

By davidk1962 on 16 May 2013

NO Bloatware

@ jeremyiwhite As this is made by Microsoft - if you get it via the Microsoft Online store, you will not have any bloatware apps installed.

By henry20012 on 16 May 2013

Realistic battery life

I noticed you said it lasted just over 5 hours turning everything off but using it normally with wifi on, how long does it last? You said it dwindled but can it even make three hours?

By TimoGunt on 16 May 2013

Wait for Haswell....

All the issues are pretty well-known. Nice idea, shame about the execution.

Theoretically (great word that!) Intel's latest, greatest x86 CPUs will solve most of the issues: Lighter, faster (a bit) , longer battery life, cures spots etc....

Time will tell.

By wittgenfrog on 17 May 2013

@ jeremyiwhite Re: Bloatware

Dell is the first name in bloatware and I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole.

The RT despite its critics is good enough for me.

NO BLOATWARE

By 5735guy on 18 May 2013

Deja-vu..

Didn't Samsung release this about 18 months ago, been using my series 7 slate since then and yet all I hear are people eagerly awaiting the release of this rip off...

By pboughton on 19 May 2013

Very Cool Device

I can't say that this was worth the wait - I couldn't wait and had a friend ship it to me from US - so I have had it a few months now. I went from an iPad to a Surface RT and the improvement in functionality was huge, but the Pro is even better. It is a fast laptop which is also a tablet. Plugged in to a docking station you would never know you were not using a desktop PC. It does everything an iPad or Android does but also so much more. The only negative thing I have to say is that the battery only lasts about 5.5 hours - roll on Haswell....

By Inadorel on 20 May 2013

Full windows 8 tablet

Thanks for the advice guys. I definitely need the full windows experience as I've got a couple of must use programmes that won run on RT. and I can stand the crapware/bloat ware

By jeremyiwhite on 20 May 2013

Out of Date

So late in arriving it is out of date with haswell being released in a few weeks (OEM have haswell already).

Should have been updated for UK,shame.

By pcrook2 on 23 May 2013

Fantastic, but I am now used to waiting

This is fantastic I want one, I've been waiting for a tablet that uses a pen and a full version of Windows but I am now used to waiting so I will wait for a version with Haswell, GSP and a SIM slot. A better camera would be nice too.

By frrichardcurtis on 23 May 2013

Late and limited

When the RT was advertised this range looked razor sharp, cutting edge, but in all honesty the Pro should be at the price of the RT and they delayed it way too long. (Volume supply issues I guess?)

Limiting it to 4Gb RAM seems shoddy at the price, and charging extra for the keyboard puts a nail in the coffin to this under achiever.

I am far happier with the second hand Lenovo X300 I bought for around €150 which is far more flexible going forward, and teams up nicely with an iPad mini for reading books etc and all for less than this.

By Gindylow on 23 May 2013

Sony!

Don't buy the Sony tablet - poor all round. Googles 10 much better

By Digital_Agency_Guru on 23 May 2013

Thanks for the Video review

I listened to the Podcast and was sufficiently interested to come to the PCPro web site:-)
I appreciated the video review, good to see the PCPro staff in the flesh and real hands on.
Keep it up.

By MikeRobins on 23 May 2013

My Pros and Cons

My Pros:
Hi-Res screen is great for some apps (but see below for negative points);
Beefy system specs, 3x faster compared to an Atom tablet;
USB3 port;
Docking for the digitiser-pen;

My Cons:
Too heavy (typical Atom tablet is 600g, versus 900g for the Surface Pro);
Terrible battery life;
Windows Desktop is really not designed for poking with a finger, and a 1080p 10.6" screen only makes matters worse; you can adjust some desktop settings, but then Title Bars become huge and look stupid.
A tablet which requires cooling fans, no matter how quiet, is missing the point of a tablet; the noise, the vents, the heat generated, are irritations you don't expect with a tablet.
Very Pricey.

In summary, I think you have to make too many compromises to force an Ultrabook Laptop into a tablet chasis. I really wish it could work.

By TinTin6 on 23 May 2013

Funny

http://www.examiner.com/article/if-the-surface-pro
-had-been-built-by-apple

By rhythm on 16 Jan 2014

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