PC review

Microsoft Surface Pro: Still the best hybrid around

Look under the hood to see where the latest Microsoft Surface Pro's improvements are.
Look under the hood to see where the latest Microsoft Surface Pro's improvements are.PHOTO: MICROSOFT

The latest Microsoft Surface Pro, launched here last month, is very much in the mould of its predecessor from 2015. Now into its fifth iteration, its improvements are mostly under the hood.

Like previous models, the Surface Pro is a hybrid device that switches between laptop and tablet forms. Simply attach the keyboard accessory to its oversized 12-inch body, flip open the integrated kickstand and the Surface Pro can rest on your lap, like a notebook.

There is a slight amount of flex when typing on the keyboard while the device is on the lap. It also takes up more space than a laptop. But it works, which is why the design has stayed relatively unchanged since the original model in 2013.

The integrated kickstand now opens up to 165 degrees, an increase of 15 degrees over the previous version. This new angle, dubbed Studio Mode, offers a gentler slope, making it easier for users to write or draw using the Surface Pen accessory.

The Surface Pen ($148) is no longer bundled with the device, but is sold separately. This is good news for those who do not need a stylus. But I would recommend trying it out, because it is much improved.

It really recreates a writing experience akin to using pen and paper. There was barely any lag between my scribbles and seeing them appear on screen. It offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, compared with 1,024 on the previous version. You can even tilt the pen slightly to write, which was not possible with the older Surface Pen. Having tried a few other pens, I would say the Surface Pen is the best of the bunch by a slight margin.

The Surface Pro is about the same size as its predecessor and will work with an older Type Cover keyboard accessory.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $1,788

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-7300U (2.6GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics 620

    RAM: 8GB

    SCREEN SIZE: 12.3-inch, 2,736 x 1,824 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x mini-DisplayPort, microSD card slot, headphone jack

    BATTERY: 45 watt-hour

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

At almost 800g (the weight varies slightly depending on the processor model), the Surface Pro is still as hefty as before. Microsoft probably could have further reduced the weight. Instead, it has gone with a larger 45 watt-hour battery, up from the 39 watt-hour battery of the previous model.

This, coupled with newer seventh-generation Intel processors, seems to have done the trick in terms of battery stamina. In our video-loop battery test, the new Surface Pro clocked 7hr15min, which is a huge leap over the 5hr managed by its predecessor.

Other features are mostly the same as before, such as the 2,736 x 1,824-pixel touchscreen and the front-facing Windows Hello camera for facial recognition.

Its ports, too, are similar to those of the previous version - a full-size USB 3.0 port, a mini-DisplayPort and a microSD card slot. While they are useful, I was hoping to find newer interfaces like a USB Type-C Thunderbolt port.

Microsoft once called the Surface Pro the "tablet that can replace your laptop". But the tagline has evolved with the latest iteration. It is now dubbed a "best-in-class laptop, plus the versatility of a studio and tablet".

The thing is, laptops usually come with a keyboard. Microsoft, however, continues to sell the Type Cover keyboard accessory separately. The standard black version costs $199, while the Signature Type Cover, which is available in four colours and wrapped in the suede-like Alcantara material, goes for $249.

These accessories add to the base cost of the Surface Pro, which starts at $1,188 for an Intel m3 model with 4GB RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). The top configuration with an i7 chip, 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD is an eye-watering $3,888, without any accessories.

•Verdict: The newest Surface Pro feels like an incremental upgrade, but with much improved battery life. It is still the hybrid to beat, though it gets expensive with the full complement of accessories.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2017, with the headline 'Microsoft Surface Pro: Still the best hybrid around'. Print Edition | Subscribe