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★★★★★ £2,149 • From www.mi­crosoft.com

Computer Shopper - - CONTENTS - James Archer

The Sur­face Pro is fi­nally back with a new, cleaner de­sign and choice of up-to-date Kaby Lake pro­ces­sors – but with the most pow­er­ful i7 mod­els ex­ceed­ing £2,000, is this ul­tra-pre­mium lap­top re­place­ment worth your cash?

VERDICT

It will dev­as­tate your bank ac­count, but the re­designed Sur­face Pro is the tech­ni­cal pin­na­cle of Windows 2-in-1s

IT’S BEEN NEARLY two years since we last saw a Windows 10 2-in-1 from Mi­crosoft. That was the lovely Sur­face Pro 4 (Shop­per 336), which de­spite spin-offs such as the Sur­face Book, Sur­face Lap­top and Sur­face Stu­dio hasn’t had a true re­place­ment un­til now.

That’s un­usual for an in­dus­try where new mod­els tend to ap­pear on a yearly ba­sis, some­times to the week, yet even with this lengthy gap, the lat­est Sur­face Pro (the num­ber suf­fix has been ditched) feels fa­mil­iar.

There’s the big, 12.3in touch­screen (again with a 2:3 as­pect ra­tio), the an­gu­lar shape, the mag­netic key­board con­nec­tor un­der­neath, the mag­ne­sium al­loy con­struc­tion, the huge, fully ad­justable kick­stand… it even has the ex­act same di­men­sions, hav­ing nei­ther bulked up nor slimmed down, and the heav­i­est 768g model is a mere 2g lighter than its 2015 equiv­a­lent. You’d need to take a pretty close look to no­tice any phys­i­cal changes.

They are there, though. The edges, while still slop­ing in­wards, are just a tad rounder and softer, which to our eyes makes the whole thing slightly nicer to look at. The same goes for the strip of air vents: they’ve sunk deeper into the chas­sis, so are harder to see, thus main­tain­ing a cleaner aes­thetic.

FLIPPING POINT

The hinge has been up­graded as well. Be­sides be­ing able to fold out even fur­ther, al­low­ing the Sur­face Pro to lay down al­most flat, it’s both ti­dier than the Sur­face Pro 4’s hefty mech­a­nism and, as far as we can tell, slightly stronger and more durable. Some users had is­sues with the pre­vi­ous model’s hinge snap­ping if pres­sured too much; we reckon you are, at the very least, run­ning less of a risk of that hap­pen­ing here. What cer­tainly hasn’t changed is your sup­ply of con­nec­tions. As be­fore, you get a USB3 port, Mini Dis­playPort and charger in­put on the right-hand edge, plus a mi­croSD slot in­te­grated into the rear panel and, clev­erly, a USB3 port built into the power brick for charg­ing other de­vices. It’s a pretty good setup for a tablet – it’s al­ways nice to have one full-size USB port, for con­nect­ing a mouse or ex­ter­nal drive – though the lack of USB Type-C is a missed op­por­tu­nity. This might not have been the case back when the Sur­face Pro 4 launched in 2015, when hardly any­one used Type-C, but times have changed and this re­versible con­nec­tor could have been a very worth­while ad­di­tion. Still, this small omis­sion isn’t nearly as much cause for hes­i­ta­tion as the pric­ing. The ab­so­lute cheap­est Sur­face Pro, with a fan­less Kaby Lake In­tel Core m3 pro­ces­sor and 4GB of RAM, will set you back a cool £799, while the model we were given to re­view, which packs an In­tel Core i7-7660U, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, costs a wal­let-wilt­ing £2,149. This isn’t even the top spec, ei­ther – that has the same CPU and me­mory, and adds a 1TB SSD, all for £2,699. This is, quite sim­ply, the most ex­pen­sive 2-in-1 we’ve ever tested.

It gets scarier, too: none of these in­cludes the cost of a Type Cover key­board or Sur­face Pen sty­lus, both of which are sold sep­a­rately. These have also been re­designed for the fifth gen­er­a­tion, to be fair. The new Type Cover of­fers 0.2mm deeper key travel, and the Sur­face Pen has four times the pre­vi­ous ver­sion’s sen­si­tiv­ity lev­els. The con­cern­ing part is the for­mer costs £125, and the lat­ter £99. For the rich and/or clumsy, there’s also a Sig­na­ture edition Type Cover, which is cov­ered in hy­dropho­bic fab­ric – yours for £150.

CORES TO SETTLE

Mer­ci­fully, the ac­tual tablet man­ages to land on the right end of the lux­ury-ver­sus-rip-off spec­trum. This is largely down to its per­for­mance – fit­ting, as the mi­nor de­sign ad­just­ments mean you’re largely pay­ing for the ad­di­tion of a 7th-gen In­tel chip any­way. In our 4K ap­pli­ca­tion bench­marks, this i7-pow­ered Sur­face Pro man­aged an ex­cep­tional im­age test score of 102, which is on a par with a de­cent desk­top sys­tem. It also did well in the video-en­cod­ing test, scor­ing 61, and came out with 46 in the mul­ti­task­ing bench­mark and 60 over­all – not bad at all for a dual-core mo­bile pro­ces­sor.

The i7-pow­ered Sur­face Pro man­aged an ex­cep­tional im­age test score of 102 – on a par with a de­cent desk­top sys­tem

It would be un­fair to com­pare this to the i5-equipped Sur­face Pro 4 we tested way back when, but the Sur­face Pro eas­ily beats the top-end Sur­face Book (Shop­per 339), which scored 42 over­all. Other than that, it’s hard to find any 2-in-1s that even come close to it. Dell’s XPS 13 falls far be­hind with its over­all score of 31, and even the re­cently re­freshed XPS 13 lap­top (Shop­per 351) only man­aged 50. Both are much cheaper, how­ever.

Nonethe­less, credit is due to the i7-7660U, which can Turbo Boost its 2.5GHz cores all the way up to 4GHz with enough ther­mal head­room; this ex­plains its storm­ing run through the mostly sin­gle-threaded im­age test. With In­tel Iris Plus Graph­ics 640, it’s also fairly ca­pa­ble of gam­ing: we got a slick 60fps out of Dirt Show­down run­ning at 720p with High set­tings, and bump­ing up to 1080p still pro­duced a playable 30fps. The back of the Sur­face Pro gets rather toasty when jug­gling heavy multi-threaded tasks, but we’re sat­is­fied with how it runs even if some throt­tling did oc­cur.

TAK­ING CHARGE

Only the Core i7 Sur­face Pros come with fans this time. The m3 and i5 edi­tions get by with pas­sive cool­ing, which means silent run­ning. Mi­crosoft says the fan is qui­eter than on the Sur­face Pro 4, and we’re in­clined to agree – even when pushed to the limit by our bench­marks, we could barely no­tice its whirr over the am­bi­ent sounds of our of­fice.

An even big­ger im­prove­ment on the Sur­face Pro 4 comes in the form of bat­tery life. This is re­mark­ably long-last­ing for a Windows 10 tablet, achiev­ing a time of 11h 33m in our video play­back test. That’s nearly four hours more than the Sur­face Pro 4 man­aged in the same con­di­tions, and even though our test in­volves things such as re­duc­ing the bright­ness to 170cd/m2 and en­abling flight mode, you shouldn’t have any prob­lem get­ting through a full work day and then some.

That said, it al­most feels dis­ap­point­ing to tone down the 2,736x1,824 dis­play, since at full whack it’s ut­terly gor­geous. Strangely, though, ours ar­rived with the screen in En­hanced mode, which by our mea­sure­ments isn’t as pris­tine as the al­ter­na­tive sRGB mode (you can switch be­tween them freely in Windows’ set­tings). Not that En­hanced mode is bad: here, the Sur­face Pro cov­ers 89.1% of the sRGB colour gamut, which is down on the Sur­face Pro 4, though colour ac­cu­racy re­mains high with a Delta E of 1.93, and bright­ness and con­trast reach ex­cel­lent highs of 440cd/m2 and 1,312:1 re­spec­tively.

Switch to sRGB mode, and it gets even bet­ter. Colour cov­er­age jumps to 94.3%, and ac­cu­racy reaches photo-edit­ing wor­thi­ness with a delta-E of 1.16. Bright­ness is ef­fec­tively iden­ti­cal, at 437cd/m2, and con­trast only drops slightly, to 1,296:1. We’re not sure what the point of En­hanced mode is, but when sRGB mode looks this good with barely any ex­is­tent draw­backs, it’s not re­ally an is­sue. As a con­trol method, we can’t fault the touch­screen for re­spon­sive­ness ei­ther, whether pok­ing at it us­ing fin­gers or draw­ing with a Sur­face Pen.

On that note, we weren’t sup­plied with one of the new, 5th-gen Pens, but we did get to try out the up­dated Type Cover. Yes, it’s ex­pen­sive, but it’s also very well made, with back-lit chi­clet keys, a soft touch fin­ish and a glass-topped track­pad. Typ­ing is a plea­sure: the ex­tra travel doesn’t make a huge dif­fer­ence, but the keys are well spaced for ac­cu­racy and the amount of tac­tile, me­chan­i­cal feed­back is as good as you’ll get on a 2-in-1 key­board. Even when in a slanted po­si­tion, rather than flat on the ta­ble, strong strokes don’t rat­tle or bend it ei­ther.

The track­pad, too, is ex­cel­lent. Smooth, well sized and re­spon­sive, it han­dles de­ci­sive clicks and mul­ti­touch ges­tures equally well.

One of the lesser-cited ben­e­fits of the Sur­face Pro range over most other 2-in-1s is the choice of Windows 10 Pro as an op­er­at­ing sys­tem. This adds a few fea­tures aimed specif­i­cally at mak­ing the Sur­face Pro a work-ready lap­top re­place­ment, such as greatly en­hanced re­mote desk­top ac­cess and BitLocker drive en­cryp­tion. A Trusted Plat­form Mo­d­ule (TPM) crypto-pro­ces­sor in the CPU safely stores your lo­gin de­tails and any en­cryp­tion keys, which could come in very handy when work­ing with sen­si­tive data.

GO WITH THE PRO

As an in­cre­men­tal up­date to the Sur­face Pro 4, the new Sur­face Pro un­doubt­edly suc­ceeds – it’s faster, lasts longer, and looks bet­ter. Its only pos­si­ble un­do­ing might be that it doesn’t go even fur­ther; at the time of writ­ing, you can buy an equiv­a­lent-spec Sur­face Pro 4, plus both a Type Cover and Sur­face Pen, and still end up pay­ing nearly £400 less than just the tablet com­po­nent of the 2017 model. The question is whether the im­prove­ments are re­ally worth that pre­mium.

Per­haps not to most, but then the Pro line has al­ways been a pre­mium propo­si­tion. The Sur­face Pro is a lux­u­ri­ous, hy­per-ex­pen­sive prod­uct you’re more likely to want than truly need – but at least you get what you pay for.

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