tablets

Microsoft Surface Pro Review

The Surface Pro is a powerhouse of processing power, but it would be better suited as a laptop.

April 01, 2013
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Introduction

This is what the original Surface tablet should have been. Hyper-powered, versatile, and it's actually a true Windows 8 tablet. Unlike its predecessor, it can run any program that works on Windows 7 (hardware permitting), and is a rather strange step between netbook and tablet, but it seems to work. This unit is very pricy, very low on storage space, but definitely has an appeal to Windows 8 fans.

Design & Usability

This tablet is rather large and heavy, so the included kickstand is quite merciful for those using this thing. However, that makes for an interesting dynamic: you see these all the time in commercials with the type cover, and it's very obviously designed to sit on a surface. Couple that with the fact that the Intel processor throws a lot more heat than most mobile processors (making holding this thing a liability), I have to ask: why was this not a laptop again?

Why was this not a laptop again? Tweet It

Not included with the tablet but often used is the Touch (or Type) Cover which gives you a keyboard and screen cover for your Surface Pro, which is very useful to have if you often use your tablet for productivity purposes, as using the on-screen keyboard is most definitely a chore, and hooking in your own keyboard takes up the precious USB port.

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The included stylus itself isn't really a radical departure for tablet design, but for the Surface Pro, it may be more of a necessity if you're not using a mouse or touchpad to interact with the legacy desktop. It's a little perplexing because it does not send the same command to the unit as your finger does, but it could be worse.

But hold on— Wacom (of graphics tablet fame) made the stylus, and built it as a pressure-sensitive item so that if you should put Photoshop or Illustrator on your system, you'll be able to draw right on the screen, and that's a great feature for any artist. Samsung may have brought out the S-Pen for their Galaxy Note series, but the Surface Pro's stylus feels like a worthy competitor.

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Performance

Perhaps the single greatest (and worst) thing about this tablet is the hardware. It's very obvious that Microsoft built this tablet to out-muscle every other tablet out there, but it gets in its own way more than once due to the fact that much of it is poorly matched with the form of the device. For example, the processor throws too much heat for such a small device, and there's very little in the way of cooling, which will lead to long-term problems.

The Achilles' heel of the device is the hard drive. On most tablets, you can expect storage space roughly around 6GB less than what you saw in the advertisements due to things like a cache partition or the space eaten up by the operating system, but if what we saw with the Surface RT was unacceptable, the Surface Pro is somehow even worse. Not only was the hard drive space after partition almost 14GB less than advertised, but the operating system plus system apps and resources ate up around 21GB after updating. Thought you were getting 64GB? Try less than half of that. To put this in perspective, a 32GB Google Nexus 10 has more initial storage space than a 64GB Surface Pro.

The Achilles' heel of the device is the hard drive Tweet It

The operating system itself is huge and takes up an enormous portion of the hard drive, but the upside of having the full version of Windows 8 is that it allows you to install just about any Windows-compatible program on your tablet. Because it also has the same driver packs available, you can also do things like install games onto your Surface Pro, and use an XBox 360 controller to play them. In the office, we were able to do this with Super Meat Boy and Counter Strike after installing the Steam client. Honestly, with all performance settings maxed out, it isn't half bad, but it will struggle with more demanding games.

The Surface Pro has an extremely responsive screen that will work wonderfully with the included stylus, but navigating the legacy Windows desktop can be a bit frustrating if you're only using a finger. However, the tablet does use a system of swipes to call out app-agnostic controls. Namely, the "charms" menu can be accessed by swiping in from the right of the screen, and that will give you access to the basic system controls like settings, search, etc. Incidentally, all the normal touch controls still apply: tap to open items, pinch to zoom, and swiping all do what they would on an Android tablet or iOS device.

With a passable pixel density, the Surface Pro has fairly legible text, but it's no retina display. Honestly, this doesn't matter as much unless you're a stickler for absolute perfection, but it does annoy some people. At this stage of the game, tablets seem to be trying to one-up each other for diminishing returns in the PPI department.

Conclusion

If you're looking to sink almost $1,000USD into a device that can run productivity software and Windows programs, why not get an ultrabook? Despite the many things going for the Surface Pro, it doesn't really excel at being either a tablet or a laptop, and still shares the same identity crisis with its cheaper counterpart, the Surface RT.

The Pro does have some of the best components out there for tablets, but some of the parts seem to be a bit ill-advised for this form factor. The poor battery life and comparatively high weight of the device means that it's a chore to lug around, and that's a bad thing for a tablet to bring to the table. It's good that Microsoft finally gave a tablet the full version of their operating system to quickly bridge the gap in available software between the major mobile players, but at the end of the day this device is more "laptop with a smallish screen" than tablet.

If it sounds like I'm trying to undersell the ability to install legacy programs on a tablet, I'm not: being able to play resource-intensive games and use industry-standard productivity software on the go is fantastic. The pressure-sensitive stylus is also a very awesome thing to have with the tablet too. However, if you need a keyboard and mouse to make the most of the Surface Pro, why bother when these needs are met easier, safer, and more affordably with a laptop?

At the end of the day, it's up to the consumer to decide, but the Surface Pro has some annoying hangups. Namely, the storage fiasco is a huge issue, the battery life needs to improve, and the device does not make a strong case for why it is a better buy than a less expensive ultrabook. Until these happen and Microsoft irons out the kinks in their vision for a product, the Surface will probably appeal mostly to those who have money to spend and don't want to learn a new operating system.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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