The Microsoft Surface Pro has been the pride and glory of the Surface line and has gone through the most revisions of all the Surface products Microsoft has launched. I have actually used every single version of Surface, so I have some history. Microsoft effectively created the Windows detachable 2-in-1 category with the success of the Surface Pro and got a lot of the industry to follow them. Surface Pro is a premium detachable PC play and many of the competitive products followed with lower cost alternative or provided a more durable, industrial-strength alternative. The 5th generation of the Surface Pro is an improvement on an already refined experience, but as is with every product, there’s always room for improvement and Microsoft found some of that room in this 5thgeneration. Microsoft loaned me a new Surface Pro unit and I used it as my primary device for a week to write this review and I want to share my experiences with you.
Specifications and configuration
The Surface Pro I used had a fanless Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. This configuration comes out to $1,299 before the price of the $159.99 keyboard and the new $99 pen, if you don’t already have one. This is the middle configuration of the Surface Pro, as Microsoft offers a Core i7 configuration with more RAM and more SSD storage. Additionally, Microsoft offers a version with less RAM and SSD storage space and even a fanless Intel Core m3 version for $799 ($719 for students). The top-end Surface Pro spec, with Core i7, Iris graphics, 1TB SSD and 16TB of SSD space is a striking $2,699 which offers a lot of performance in a crazy-small package. The LTE Advanced option, available in the fall, is also a big deal because it enables fiber-like performance outside of the office and increases the versatility of the Surface Pro.
For my use of the Surface Pro, I used a broad array of productivity applications utilizing both desktop and Microsoft Store applications. For the desktop applications I used Office 365, OneNote, WhatsApp, Google Chrome, Edge and OneDrive. For Microsoft Store applications I used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Photos, Camera, OneDrive, Mail, Calendar, Weather and News. In addition to the software I used, I also used the Microsoft Surface Dock to connect the Surface to a 3K and 4K display and I also used the new Surface mouse when I took it on trips.
Equipped with the latest Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM, I could get a lot of work done. I ran multiple browser tabs, Mail app, Calendar app and Office 365 applications at the same time all without any noise thanks to the fan-less design and did it with minimal throttling. This a real testament to the thermal design and very hard to do. Even running three displays with the Surface Dock connected to a 3K and 4K display, I didn’t run into any perceptive performance challenges- and this is a tablet!
The Surface Pro also offers optional Qualcomm-based gigabit 4G LTE-Advanced capabilities too, which makes it more portable and useful than ever before. While I wasn’t sampled an LTE version as it isn’t available till the fall, I am quite pleased Microsoft added LTE as surface Pro is now a truly mobile device.
The Surface Pro comes with a high-quality, 12.3” PixelSense display with Intel 620 HD graphics. These graphics aren’t for heavy 3D modeling or FPS games, but they’ll be good enough for most business, sketching, and lighter 3D apps. The display supports, 10-point multi-touch capability, which makes the screen not only very responsive to the stylus as well as your fingers. It also supports Microsoft’s new Surface Dial adding even more input versatility. The color and brightness are very nice and while not a 3K or 4K display, looked great. The audio speakers on the device were loud and crisp, even though the Surface Pro itself is thin.
The add-on Surface keyboard is large enough for my bigger hands, but is also smooth when I type and is the best Surface and detachable keyboard I’ve used yet, very close to a notebook keyboard. The trackpad is large and responsive, as it has been with previous Surface products.
Surface Pro, like Surface Laptop, comes in 4 assorted colors which allows the user deeper customizations than the previous generations and in my opinion, a more personal experience. Although the new keyboard isn’t included in the price, the new 5th generation Surface Pro is compatible with the Surface 3 and 4 keyboards. Also, the keyboard detaches easily, unlike the other detachables like the Samsung Galaxy Book. The Surface Pro also has a great kickstand, which allows you to recline the device at several different angles that might fit your preferences including “Studio Mode”, great for pen use. Surface Pen was an excellent feature which has existed in previous models, but has been significantly upgraded. It is very responsive, with 4,096 points of pressure sensitivity and is 50% faster than the previous Surface 4 pen. It was extremely accurate and can also erase mistakes efficiently. I just love that the eraser is on the end of the pen- makes sense, right? It would be very applicable for college students or anyone that draws sketches for work. Given the improved pen experience, I can see more users actually using the pen for sticky notes, critiquing papers, signing legal documents and much more. I used to be a pen-objector, but I used it many times to sign contracts and sketch up a bedroom remodel, so even I have practical uses for it.
I also really enjoyed the continued small improvements that added up together to make the Surface Pro a more premium device. Microsoft made improvements to make Windows Hello seem faster which makes it feel like an overall faster device when powering up and logging in. Microsoft also upgraded the front-facing camera to 1080P for even higher quality video like Skype which is something that the previous model lacked. I’m surprised so many premium notebooks still ship with a 720P camera. The inclusion of a MicroSD card is still impressive when you consider the overall density of the Surface Pro and all its added capabilities like LTE. It still has a full-sized USB 3.0 port which means that there’s no need for dongles for standard USB devices that other 2-in-1s require.
The Surface Pro is ‘lappable’ and didn’t feel like it was a 2-in-1 after a few hours of use. It gets a bit challenging using Surface Pro on an airplane with the kickstand as it sometimes overshoots the end of the pull-out tray. Conversely, if you’re watching a movie, you can easily remove the keyboard and use it like a tablet. If lappability is paramount, I’d still consider you look at a notebook. If you need something more rugged, there are other options available from competitors.
Some users want high-quality pictures with their tablets and the rear-facing Surface Pro camera experience isn’t quite on par with what one may expect. It comes at 8 megapixels, which is well behind the rear-facing camera of Samsung’s Galaxy Book that has a 13-megapixel sensor, and was a bit laggy and lacked features compared to the new iPad Pro. Megapixels aren’t everything, but the quality of the images were different enough to be noticeable, too. While I do acknowledge that camera sensors aren’t necessarily the focal point of many laptops, 2-in-1s like the Surface are still fundamentally tablets and some users may expect better cameras.
Let’s talk about price and add-ons. While Surface Pro is a premium, hence premium-priced experience, I should point out the Surface Pen and Surface Cover are not included in the price of the Surface Pro. The additional $159 for the keyboard and $99 for the new pen could be a challenge to some relative to the overall price, especially for those looking at the $799 (or $719 for students) spec. Because plus the original price of the unit of $1,299 + 159 + $99 means that you’re already paying $1,559 for a 2-in-1. You don’t have to have the pen but you will need the keyboard. Out of the other side of my mouth, I’ll say, if you are looking for a premium experience, you need to pay a premium price.
I’d like to see a Surface Pro bundle including keyboard and pen for first time Surface Pro buyers. Without the keyboard cover and pen, you basically have a very capable and nice-looking tablet with full PC capability that is half of a 2-in-1. I realize that including the keyboard cover and pen would cost another $260, but I’d like to see Microsoft find a way to include these pieces of hardware into their package at a more competitive price.