Pros : Great power; perfect for working on the move; Touch Cover keyboard is impressive.
Cons : Seriously weighty; battery life is disappointing; limited choice of apps.
If you’re after a tablet for some serious work, and have plenty of money to spend, the Surface Pro will make a great choice. But if you really want a device that can be popped into a bag and used for games, browsing reading and so on, there are better choices. This is something of a niche device that is somewhere between a laptop and a tablet – and it’s the only device that fills the spot.
Hot on the tails of the original Surface comes the Surface Pro, and like its predecessor it does have something of an identity crisis. It is a tablet that has a detachable keyboard, and also doubles as a netbook – and yet it weighs the same as your average laptop. Pick it up and you’ll see just how heavy it is – it’s 300g heavier than the first iPad.
However, all that weight is compensated by the power that lurks beneath the hood – here at last is the tablet that can be used like a desktop.
The first standout feature is the slim, touch-sensitive keyboard, which is an amazing piece of kit. We wrote the whole of this review on it, and while it took a while to get used to, typing out long copy is no problem. We quickly managed to get used to the smaller size of the keyboard and learn to touch rather than bash the keys. Even the onscreen keyboard proved to be speedy and one of the most accurate we’ve tried.
The keypad is another remarkable feature – it’s incredibly responsive, and is able to detect the smallest of movements. Multitouch works too, so you can swipe on the trackpad rather than reaching out to the screen, if you wish. It’s amazingly easy to switch between the two – and makes it feel like a really futuristic device.
Taking a stand
There’s a flip-out stand, which gives the device a more professional feel. But the Surface Pro needs to stand out in what is an overcrowded market. There’s plenty on offer here, but it comes at a price. Expect to pay £719 for the 64GB version, or £799 if you want to double capacity to 128GB. We’d recommend opting for the bigger version if possible – it’s worth the £80 more.
Another thing we like about the Surface Pro is that it acknowledges that touch is not always the best option. There’s a Surface Pen included with the tablet, and a Touch Cover and Type Cover are also on offer. The pen is useful in desktop mode because the elements are a lot smaller than the Metro touch tabs.
The tablet is able to detect where the pen is – a small dot appears on the screen when the pen is about 1cm away. The only issue with the pen is that it’s hard to use it and use your other hand at the same time because the Surface Pro blocks touches when it realises the pen is nearby.
The pen uses a pretty impressive and user-friendly handwriting-recognition facility. When we started using it, we used our best handwriting, but after a while it became a bit of a scrawl – yet surprisingly the surface Pro was still able to decipher it. You probably wouldn’t want to use it for anything longer than writing a quick email, but it’s there if you want it.
It’s a pity Microsoft didn’t take a bit more care with the pen’s design though. If it gets picked up and put with your other pens, it’s hard to distinguish it from any other cheap pen. It looks like one of those plastic pens that you get in banks. A little more care could have been taken over how it integrates into the device, as well. On the Samsung S-Pen tablets, the pen slots into the chassis, but on the Surface Pro it is attached to the edge of the device using a magnet. It’s a pity the magnet is located where the charger slot is, so if you want to use the pen and charge at the same time you have a problem. And the pen falls off every time you put the device in a bag.
It’s a pity because the pen is a great tool – the end of the tool even acts as a digital rubber – very neat.
Bad day at the Office?
In the menu you’ll spot Office Suite – but don’t get excited. Click on the icon and you’ll be asked if you want to buy the software – a bit mean when you’ve paid out at least £719 for your device. That’s for the basic tablet with 64GB of storage – but it’s worth paying another £80 to double the capacity to 128GB. Even more important when you realise that a big slice of the storage is already taken when you get the Pro out of the box – we’d already lost 40Gb on our 128GB version. The Surface Pro can also support an external hard drive with a capacity of up to 2TB.
The Surface Pro starts up pretty speedily for a large powerful device – it only takes five seconds. It’s also speedy when it comes to searching out and connecting to Wi-Fi networks. While you’d expect it to be the case with all devices, it isn’t, so it’s a big thumbs-up to Microsoft for making the process so simple.
The operating system is Windows 8, which offers a good combination of tablet interactivity and some of the more traditional features in the desktop mode. You may need a while to get used to Windows 8 if you’re not familiar with it, but it will soon make sense.
The flexibility of this device is always to the fore. Unlike most similar devices it is possible to run two apps on the screen at the same time – so you can watch your favourite TV show, while checking up on your emails.
Battery life is okay. If you’re just surfing the net and doing a bit of writing you’ll get a day out of a full charge but if you start playing media and games, juice will drain quicker. And streaming video will see the battery last 15 minutes short of four hours, which is probably long enough for most people, but no good for a long flight.
On the big screen
At more than £700, you’d expect an excellent display – and you get one. The screen measures 10.6 inches and is in 16:9 widescreen format – it’s one of the best features of the device. It is really sharp, crisp and blacks are truly deep. The Full HD screen makes games, movies and photos look great. Because the tablet runs on Windows 8, you have a full choice of PC games (although we did notice a little lag on some of the more graphically intensive games). Portal 2 was stable and fast – just remember to keep near a mains supply when you’re gaming as the battery runs out of juice quickly.
The browser of choice is IE10, which works perfectly – you won’t need to install an alternative.
If you’re after a tablet for some serious work, and have plenty of money to spend, the Surface Pro will make a great choice. But if you really want a device that can be popped into a bag and used for games, browsing, reading and so on, there are better choices. This is something of a niche device that is somewhere between a laptop and a tablet – and it’s the only device that fills the spot.
Exterior 27.46 x 17.30 x 1.35 cm 907 grams
Storage 64GB, 128GB
Display 10.6" ClearType Full HD Display
1920x1080 pixels 16:9 (widescreen) 10-point multi-touch
Pen Input Pen input and Pen (included with purchase)
CPU 3rd Gen 1Intel CoreTM i5 Processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000
4GB RAM—Dual Channel Memory
Wireless Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)
Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy technology
Battery 42 W-h
Cameras and A/V Two 720p HD LifeCams, front- and rear-facing with True Colour
Ports Full-size USB 3.0
microSDXC card slot
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