Microsoft’s Surface Pro restyled as a laptop
Whatever you call it, Kaby Lake CPUs and longer battery life are welcome changes. MARK HACHMAN reports
Microsoft’s Surface Pro line-up has remained largely unchanged for the past two generations. Now you can make that three: The new Surface Pro (2017) – no, not the Surface Pro 5 – features substantial internal improvements, but otherwise refuses to mess with a good thing.
Ranging in price from just £799 to a whopping £2,699, the Surface Pro is slightly more expensive than its Surface Pro 4 predecessor, which has been discounted from £749 to £636 at fave.co/2rkruqb.
At the time of writing, all of the new Surface Pros are available for preorder at fave.co/2rkrE0L and are set to ship on 15 June, the same day as the Surface Laptop (see page 4).
Perhaps the biggest change is semantic: Microsoft has decided to call the Surface Pro a ‘laptop’ rather than a 2-in-1. The firm isn’t abandoning the idea of a ‘tablet that can replace your laptop’, but it believes that users now buy Surfaces as laptops, doing everything on them that they’d do on traditional notebooks.
The Surface Pro (2017) gives Microsoft three families, including the high-performance Surface Book with the Performance Base and the more balanced Surface Laptop. What’s not clear is where Microsoft is going with this ‘laptop’ rebranding. The Surface Pro’s form factor has always had ‘lapability’ issues, and changing the name isn’t going to make that go away. The Surface Pro 4 is aging rapidly, however, and we’re glad to see this refresh, even if it’s mostly internal.
How the Surface Pro stacks up
Microsoft Stores will offer ‘custom device fittings’ to help people find the Surface that’s best for them. Set next to each other, the Surface Pro 4 and the £799 Surface Pro are virtually indistinguishable, especially when matched up with the Surface Pro 4’s Signature Type Cover. Both boast 12.3in PixelSense displays, but the new Surface Pro (2017) adds a better keyboard, reclines to a Surface Studio-like 165 degrees, and takes advantage of a new, more sensitive optional Surface Pen. You’ll have the choice of either a more traditional Type Cover keyboard (£124 from fave.co/2rkoB8V) or
a new Signature Type Cover with the Alcantara fabric for £149 and are available from fave.co/2rTNSDX. The Surface Pen will cost £99 from fave.co/2rkBIqM.
Inside, the differences are much more profound. The new Kaby Lake chips boost performance by 20 percent, and battery life increases from nine hours to about 13.5 hours, about an hour short of the Surface Laptop’s spec. And if you don’t like the Surface’s fan, you’re in luck – there’s a new, fanless Core m model, too.
A ‘laptop’ that looks a lot like a tablet
Some things about the Surface Pro haven’t changed. Microsoft still prefers the Surface connector for charging, for instance, rather than the trendy USB-C port. In other ways, the firm changed course from prior generations. The new Surface Pro will go out the door with an Intel Core m option (it was a later arrival in the prior generation). None of the new Surface Pro devices will be sold with a Surface Pen. That has nothing to do with user reluctance to use the pen, Microsoft says, but merely reflects that Surface owners who choose to upgrade may already own one.
In fact, the software giant is also using the Surface Pro’s launch to show off a new Office app that depends on the pen: Whiteboard, a collaborative app (page 14) where ink can be applied from multiple users as part of a shared drawing space.
Future Surface Laptop versions this autumn will include a dedicated LTE version, and, surprisingly, a version running its new Windows 10 S operating system. That would be a change of pace, as the Surface Pro hardware has always showcased Windows 10 Pro.
For Surface Pro 4 owners, the new Surface Pro is a tablet that’s 20 percent faster, with 50 percent more battery life, all for roughly the same price. If you’re wondering how Microsoft eked out more battery life, executives said it was a combination of an increased battery capacity as well as efficiencies in both the new Core chip and the Creators Update of Windows 10.
With the new Surface Pro, looks like you’ll have a comparable selection of processors, memory, and storage to the Surface Pro 4’s. Prices are as follows:
£799: 128GB SSD, Intel Core m3, 4GB RAM £979: 128GB SSD, Intel Core i5, 4GB RAM £1,249: 256GB SSD, Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM £1,549: 256GB SSD, Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM £2,149: 512GB SSD, Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM £2,699: 1TB SSD, Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM
You’ll also be able to select among four colours of accessories: The new Surface Pen, the improved Type Cover, and a Sculpt Mouse will each be available in platinum, burgundy, cobalt blue or black.
Otherwise, most of the revamped Surface Pro echoes the older Surface Pro 4, including the memory and storage configurations. You’ll notice slight improvements here and there, including better Bluetooth connectivity and the faster NVMe interface for the terabyte storage option. Microsoft executives also said they’ve rounded the Surface Pro’s edges and pushed the cameras further back into the bezel – all recognizable features when someone points them out, but otherwise small details that you may overlook.
One nice feature you will notice, though, is how far back the kickstand reclines, to a nearly flat 165 degrees. Microsoft calls this Studio Mode, in homage to the Surface Studio. The revamped Surface Pro is also the first Microsoft device other than the Surface Studio that can use the nifty Surface Dial (£89 from fave. co/2rTQHVx)peripheral directly on the screen itself.
The associated peripherals are largely identical. The Surface Pro Signature Type Cover delivers 1.33mm of key travel, and is bound in the Alcantara fabric that appears on the Surface Pro 4’s Signature Type Cover as well as the Surface Laptop’s keyboard deck. On paper, the Surface Pro Signature Type Cover appears to be identical to the Surface Pro 4’s Signature Type Cover, and felt identical to my fingers, too.
Digital artists have more to like. The redesigned Surface Pen offers 4,096 levels of pressure accuracy compared to its predecessors’ 1,024 levels, and it has
tilt support. This means you can ink with the pen, or angle it and shade in brushstrokes with the side of the nib, just like a real pen would. The new Surface Pen is also a little longer and sleeker, and it eliminates the clip. Microsoft’s also quite proud of the fact that the new Pen virtually eliminates the pen’s latency (now just 26ms) between when you ink a line on the screen, and when the digital ink actually appears. Finally, like the Studio, Microsoft now offers the option to switch to ‘enhanced colour’ from sRGB.
For anyone torn between the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro (2017), Microsoft’s new tablet – er, laptop – looks like a no-brainer upgrade.