The Bottom Line
Feb 14 2013 - The ability to run full Windows application on a tablet has been something that many people have been waiting for and the Microsoft Surface Pro allows them to do that. The problem is that it is still too much of a work around for that capability. Compared to tablet it isn't quite as portable and certainly not as friendly when having to switch between native and desktop modes. Ultrabooks offer the same level of performance with better input support and often for a similar or lower cost. The big sticking point for many though will be the very limited battery life that is lower than both tablets and many ultrabooks. It is a great first attempt that will appeal to many but either the price has to come down or the hardware needs to improve for better portability and running times.
- Great High Resolution Display
- Solid Build Quality
- Ability to Run All Windows Software
- Short Battery Life
- Noticable Fan Noise
- Problems Switching Between Native and Desktop Mode
- Intel Core i5-3317U Dual Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB DDR3 Memory
- 128GB Solid State Storage
- 10.6" WUXGA (1920x1080) Multitouch Display
- 1.0 Megapixel Front and Rear Webcam
- Intel HD 4000 Graphics
- 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, microSD, Cover Port, Pressure Sensitive Pen Stylus
- 10.8" x 6.8" x .53" @ 2 lbs.
- Windows 8 Professional
Review - Microsoft Surface Pro 128GB
Feb 14 2013 - While Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT has been available for some time, it offered a restricted experience that did not allow legacy Windows programs to be run on the system. This is where the Surface Pro offers a much different experience from the company's first tablet. It shares much of the same appearance on the outside with a few port changes. It is of course thicker and just over half and inch and is very hefty for a tablet at two pounds in weight. In terms of build quality, the Vapor Mag chassis is solid and features the same built in kick stand that makes it easy to set down on a tablet or desk which will be quite often as the weight does make it tiresome to hold for extended periods.
The heart of the Surface Pro is the same hardware that would typically be found in an ultrabook today. It is powered by the Intel Core i5-3317U dual core mobile processor that is matched up with 4GB of DDR3 memory. This means that system offers some outstanding performance that allows it to take on tasks that most tablets would not be able to. The downside is that this is much more power demanding . Of course the processor setup along with the full Windows 8 Professional means that it can run any of the traditional Windows applications on the market. It should be noted that this is not a silent tablet when running though. The more powerful hardware also requires active cooling meaning that there are fans inside the case. They will spin up and create a slight noise that isn't found in other tablets. At least Microsoft did a good job of disguising the air intake and output slots.
Storage is a big subject with regards to the Surface Pro tablets. In fact, I'm reviewing the 128GB model specifically because of the space constraints that exist within the 64GB model. After the OS and recovery partitions are taken up, there is just 29GB of space left on the 64GB model that leaves little space for programs and data. In contrast, the 128GB version has 89GB which is much more functional. This does drive the cost up but should be something that anyone considering the tablet should take seriously. The solid state storage does help make the system extremely responsive with the operating system cold booting is just about twelve seconds and applications come up almost instantaneously. There are options of adding extra storage through an internal micro SD card slot for use with flash memory or external storage through a USB 3.0 port which is something not seen in a tablet to date.
One major difference between the Surface RT and the Pro is the display. The less expensive model was restricted to a 1366x768 native resolution that was nice but limited to 720p high definition video and just not quite as sharp as its competition from the likes of the Apple iPad 4 or Google Nexus 10. The Surface Pro screen takes the 10.6-inch display panel up to a 1920x1080 resolution while still not as high in detail can fully support 1080p high definition video. Color and brightness are quite good and the viewing angles are very wide with little contrast loss. It should be noted that the default OS setting is to scale 150% as a means to combat the small print that can be difficult to use on the screen. This is fine for the modern UI but can cause some issues when in the desktop mode.
In fact, this is where one of the first big issues with the Surface Pro comes up. Users are likely looking at this tablet for its ability to run all those Windows applications out there. The problem is that most of them will launch into the Desktop mode which has not been optimized for use in a touchscreen environment. Issues such as the virtual keyboard and mouse pointer will frequently cause problems unless you opt for either the Touch ($120) or Type ($129) Covers for their dedicated keyboard. Of the two, the Type is the better option but it still has the tiny trackpad space with limited functionality that makes mouse control hard. The included pen stylus also doesn't help here as it can't function as a mouse but merely makes touch location a bit easier not to mention the problems of transporting the pen that frequently will be knock out of the magnetic cover port holder. Going back and forth between Desktop Mode and the Windows 8 UI can also get quite tiresome.
The more demanding hardware of the Surface Pro meant that Microsoft needed to put a larger battery in the tablet. They wanted to balance the weight and size of the system as well. They eventually settled on a 42Whr battery pack. This is larger than the Surface RT tablet at just 31.5WHr and roughly the same as Apple's iPad 4. In digital video playback testing though, the system was only able to run for under four hours. This is less than half what most of the dedicated tablets on the market can achieve. In fact, this is even well below the Lenovo Yoga 13 hybrid ultrabook that achieves five and three quarter hours but is obviously much larger and heavier. Still, this is a serious thing for buyers to be aware as this means it will not last an entire day of work let alone a cross country flight without needing to be plugged in.
Finally, we come to price. The 64GB model of the Surface Pro retails at $899 while the 128GB model runs $999. This already places it at the premium end of ultrabooks and well beyond the cost of your typical tablet. A 64GB iPad 4 costs just $699 and a 32GB Nexus 10 is just $499. Sure, they don't have the same flexibility in terms of software but they offer greater portability thanks to their lower weight, high resolution displays and longer running times. On the laptop side, an Apple MacBook Air 11 is $999 for the 64GB model and offers just as much performance and a fare greater typing experience while on the Windows 8 side the Lenovo Yoga offers a touchscreen as well with similar performance and for roughly the same price just bigger and heavier.