Mi­crosoft Sur­face Pro

£2,149 inc VAT from fave.co/2tMPosC

Tech Advisor - - Review - Mark Hach­man

Set Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Pro (2017) next to its pre­de­ces­sor, the Sur­face Pro 4, and we defy you to tell the dif­fer­ence. With the same di­men­sions and weight, the two are vir­tu­ally in­dis­tin­guish­able – a kick­stand that re­clines fur­ther and a few cos­metic changes are all that sep­a­rate them. What sells the new Sur­face Pro, though, is on the in­side: a dra­matic up­grade to the pro­ces­sor and graph­ics that pro­pels it to the head of the 2-in-1 class.

Mi­crosoft built the Sur­face Pro around a new 7thgen­er­a­tion Kaby Lake pro­ces­sor and its as­so­ci­ated Iris Plus in­te­grated graph­ics, and boy, do they shine. Es­pe­cially in graph­ics, the new Sur­face Pro (2017) al­most dou­bles the per­for­mance of the two-year-

old Sur­face Pro 4, and chal­lenges note­books like the orig­i­nal Sur­face Book and 15in HP Spec­tre x360, both of which use a ded­i­cated graph­ics chip.

Mi­crosoft de­mands a hefty pre­mium for that kind of per­for­mance, though. Not only is the fancy Al­can­tarabound Sig­na­ture Type Cover sold sep­a­rately (£124 from fave.co/2rkoB8V), but the more sen­si­tive Sur­face Pen is as well (£99 from fave.co/2rkBIqM). Add that to the whop­ping £2,149 that Mi­crosoft asks for our re­view model, and you have to ask your­self, do we re­ally want a Sur­face tablet, or could we save up­wards of £700 buy­ing a slightly heav­ier note­book?

Sub­tle changes

Be­cause the new Sur­face Pro is so nearly iden­ti­cal to the Sur­face Pro 4, most dif­fer­ences are triv­ial: The front-fac­ing cam­era now fades into the tablet bezel, for ex­am­ple, and the Sur­face Pro fea­tures a softer, rounded pro­file. (We only no­ticed these dif­fer­ences after Mi­crosoft pointed them out, and we bet most users sim­ply won’t be aware of them.) The Sur­face Pro is also the first of Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face prod­ucts to ship with the Win­dows 10 Cre­ators Up­date.

The Sig­na­ture Type Cov­ers are pleas­ingly fuzzy, though the fab­ric tends to com­press a bit, es­pe­cially on the bot­tom, and col­lect dust. The colour op­tions are nice: plat­inum, bur­gundy and cobalt blue, as well as the stan­dard black. The new Sur­face Pens ship in the same colours.

The spec­i­fi­ca­tions should sound fa­mil­iar. The new Sur­face Pro mea­sures 292.1x201.42x8.5mm, the same as the Sur­face Pro 4, and weighs be­tween 766- and

786g. Our cal­lipers found the Sur­face Pro 4 to be 8.45mm thin, ver­sus 8.5mm for the Sur­face Pro.

As tested, our ver­sion – with a 2.5GHz Core i7-7660, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of speedy NVMe stor­age – weighed 786g for the tablet alone, and 1,058g with the Sig­na­ture Type Cover key­board. That’s the same weight and di­men­sions as the Sur­face Pro 4 (£635 from fave.co/2rkruqb), al­ready one of the light­est Win­dows tablets on the mar­ket.

Like­wise, the screens are iden­ti­cal: a 12.3in Pix­elSense dis­play, with a res­o­lu­tion of 2,736x1,824 (267ppi). Here’s one dif­fer­ence: the Sur­face Pro in­cludes an ‘en­hanced’ colour pro­file, like the Sur­face Stu­dio, ver­sus the stan­dard sRGB colour dis­play. Un­der En­hanced mode, the colours pop a bit more, while in sRGB they ap­pear a bit more washed-out. (The Sur­face Stu­dio in­cludes a ‘Vivid’ colour mode, which Mi­crosoft

says is dif­fer­ent than the ‘En­hanced’ mode. “It takes the mid-tones as close to P3-D65 colour gamut as pos­si­ble while leav­ing skin tones as is,” ac­cord­ing to a spokes­woman.)

In­ter­nal dif­fer­ences are slight as well. Both tablets con­tain 802.11ac, along with Blue­tooth 4.0 for the SP4 and Blue­tooth 4.1 for the new Sur­face Pro. The ben­e­fits of the up­graded Blue­tooth will be­come more ap­par­ent once Mi­crosoft re­leases the planned Sur­face Pro with LTE vari­ant later this year, as Blue­tooth 4.1 sig­nals don’t in­ter­fere with LTE.

The cam­eras of both the new Sur­face Pro and the older Sur­face Pro 4 ap­pear iden­ti­cal (5Mp on the front, 8Mp on the rear), and an ap­pro­pri­ate res­o­lu­tion for the form fac­tor. The SP4’s rear-fac­ing cam­era de­liv­ered richer colour, how­ever, and cam­era fans should con­sider the 13Mp cam­era within the Sam­sung Galaxy Book in­stead. Most im­por­tantly, the Sur­face Pro’s front-fac­ing cam­era is Win­dows Hello-en­abled and light­ning-quick, thanks in part to a sec­ond front­fac­ing sen­sor that isn’t present on the Sur­face Pro 4.

For­tu­nately, Mi­crosoft sticks with the tra­di­tional Sur­face I/O com­ple­ment: the Sur­face con­nec­tor, a mini-Dis­playPort con­nec­tor, and a full-sized USB-A con­nec­tor. A mi­croSD card slot hides un­der the kick­stand, as be­fore. The Sur­face con­nec­tor al­lows Sur­face own­ers to at­tach pe­riph­er­als that they’ve al­ready owned, like the stand­alone Sur­face Dock and charger. We think that’s a smart de­ci­sion, whereas the Sam­sung Galaxy Book’s whole­sale com­mit­ment to USB-C is a mis­take. In any event, you know what you’re buy­ing when you pur­chase a Sur­face.

A mini-Sur­face Stu­dio

Ex­ter­nally, the key dif­fer­ence be­tween the two Mi­crosoft tablets is that the new Sur­face Pro kick­stand now folds back to 15 de­grees off the hor­i­zon­tal, what Mi­crosoft calls ‘Stu­dio mode’. This refers to Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Stu­dio, the mas­sive all-in-one desk­top whose touch dis­play also dra­mat­i­cally re­clines to just a slight an­gle. If you own a Sur­face Dial, the new Sur­face Pro also al­lows you to use the de­vice di­rectly on the screen, some­thing that had pre­vi­ously been re­served just for the Sur­face Stu­dio.

Both the in­creased key­board pitch and the Sur­face Dial in­te­gra­tion are de­signed with ink­ing in mind, ei­ther us­ing the ex­ist­ing Sur­face Pen or the up­graded model. We didn’t no­tice the Dial slide down the screen as it does on the Stu­dio, though it sim­ply takes up

a bit too much real es­tate to be as use­ful as it is on Mi­crosoft’s mas­sive all-in-one.

Though Mi­crosoft up­graded its Sur­face Pen to in­crease the lev­els of pres­sure to 4,096, it did so by mak­ing the Pen slightly less use­ful. The new Pen does away with the pen clip. In­stead, Mi­crosoft de­pends on the mag­netic strip on the side of the Pen to se­cure it, which sim­ply proves im­prac­ti­cal over time. We still wish there were a pen loop.

Oth­er­wise, the up­graded Pen still uses a AAAA bat­tery with a one-year life­span. Just as im­por­tantly, it re­tained its abil­ity to ‘erase’ dig­i­tal ink, a fea­ture not ev­ery sty­lus in­cludes. It inks just as well as the orig­i­nal Pen and comes with ‘tilt’ sup­port as well, gen­er­at­ing a broader ink stroke. Mi­crosoft’s new Pen also re­duces ink­ing la­tency to 21ms. That was im­pos­si­ble for us to con­firm, but dig­i­tal ink flows off the Pen with­out any no­tice­able lag – more im­por­tant as Mi­crosoft makes pen nav­i­ga­tion a more in­te­gral part of Win­dows.

Other than the fab­ric, we can’t dis­cern any ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween the Sur­face Pro 4’s key­board and that of the new Sur­face Pro. (For some rea­son, how­ever, Mi­crosoft did away with the In­sert key.) We pre­ferred the Sur­face Pro 3 key­board, and the way in which my fin­gers sim­ply glided over the keys. But nei­ther the key­board nor the new Sur­face Pro’s track­pad hide any flaws, and they’re both ef­fi­cient and com­fort­able to type upon for long pe­ri­ods of time.

Per­for­mance: Blaz­ing fast, but at a price

Here’s one of the most im­pres­sive fea­tures of the new Sur­face Pro: from a graph­ics per­spec­tive, it of­fers the

per­for­mance of the orig­i­nal Sur­face Book, to­gether with its cus­tom, dis­crete-GPU base. It vastly out­per­forms the two-year-old Sur­face Pro 4 – though with a few caveats.

For one thing, our older Sur­face Pro 4 used a Core i5, rather than a top-of-the-line Core i7. And the per­for­mance in­creases, as im­pres­sive as they are, are largely con­fined to graph­ics-in­ten­sive ap­pli­ca­tions. In the generic PCMark 8 Work bench­mark, for ex­am­ple, we noted just a 10 per­cent im­prove­ment over the Sur­face Pro 4. From a per­for­mance stand­point, then, up­grad­ing from the Sur­face Pro 4 to the Sur­face Pro makes sense only if you plan to use the Sur­face Pro for games, im­age ren­der­ing or sim­i­lar tasks.

Still, the Sur­face Pro isn’t a ma­chine that just checks the boxes, us­ing com­po­nents with min­i­mal per­for­mance in the ser­vice of sim­ply fill­ing out a spec sheet. Look­ing back over our data­base of tested prod­ucts, for ex­am­ple, its in­ter­nal Sam­sung KUS040202M-B000 NVMe pro­vides among the fastest read speeds we’ve tested: 1,702MB/s, ac­cord­ing to the Crys­talMark 5.0.3 bench­mark.

The new Sur­face Pro’s per­for­mance, though, comes at a sig­nif­i­cant price. Ac­cord­ing to our test­ing, the Sur­face Pro 4 doesn’t suf­fer any ther­mal degra­da­tion – the tablet runs at the same per­for­mance level through­out. While test­ing the new Sur­face Pro un­der

pro­longed load (such as a looped bench­mark or game) its fan turns on and the tablet will clock down, re­duc­ing per­for­mance in 3DMark, for ex­am­ple, by about 24 per­cent to over 33 per­cent. The rear of our tablet, near the top, also gets quite hot. Mi­crosoft told us that it only ex­pected a drop of about 20 per­cent or so, and ad­vised us that we may have a de­fec­tive de­vice.

In the fol­low­ing graphs, we’ve com­pared the new Sur­face Pro (2017) to sev­eral Win­dows tablets, ul­tra­books, and lap­tops, with a range of pro­ces­sors and graph­ics op­tions.

We al­ways run the PCMark suite of bench­marks, which mea­sure two dif­fer­ent work­loads: Home and

Cre­ative. Both in­clude web brows­ing and light gam­ing. The up­shot here is as the work­loads be­come more graph­ics-in­ten­sive, the Sur­face Pro’s value in­creases.

From there, we move on to mea­sur­ing more spe­cific tasks. Maxon’s Cinebench mea­sures how well a pro­ces­sor and graph­ics chip ren­der scenes, and we use it to push the Core i7-7660U’s two cores and four threads to their ul­ti­mate. Again, the Sur­face Pro 2017 per­forms sur­pris­ingly well. You can’t con­sider the Sur­face Pro to be a gam­ing lap­top by any stretch, but the Dell In­sp­iron 15 7000 (not in­cluded), a Core i5 note­book with a GTX 1050 Ti GPU, re­ports a Cinebench score of 478.

We also test how the pro­ces­sor fares over time us­ing the Hand­brake bench­mark, which transcodes a ma­jor Hol­ly­wood film from a MKV for­mat into some­thing that could be watched on a plane. Again, the Sur­face Pro is at the top of the heap.

Bench­marks are bench­marks, though. Don’t ex­pect to be able to play the lat­est Bat­tle­field game at its high­est de­tailed set­tings. We’re fans of play­ing older sin­gle-player games on the cheap, though, and games like the orig­i­nal Tomb Raider re­boot topped 42 frames per sec­ond (fps) on 1080p/High set­tings. Bat­man: Arkham City also gen­er­ated 48fps on 1080p set­tings, with even bet­ter frame rates when you di­alled down the

res­o­lu­tion a bit. Our only con­cern is how the ther­mals would hold up over pro­longed game­play.

Of all the sur­prises that the Sur­face Pro (2017) of­fered, one of the most in­ter­est­ing was in bat­tery life. Given that the di­men­sions of the new Sur­face Pro left lit­tle, if any, room for ad­di­tional bat­tery cells, it still sur­prised me that its 45Whr bat­tery ran down over the course of eight hours, sub­stan­tially more than the Sur­face Pro 4.

Still, that’s way short of the 13.5 hours Mi­crosoft promised, even though we both test us­ing video run­downs that loop video un­til the ma­chine dies. (If it mat­ters, Mi­crosoft used a Core i5 in its tests, not the Core i7 ma­chine we tested. Dif­fer­ences in screen bright­ness could also help ex­plain the dis­crep­an­cies, as well as the pos­si­bil­ity that Mi­crosoft in­ad­ver­tently loaned us a de­fec­tive ma­chine.) Ver­dict On bal­ance Mi­crosoft has crafted a win­ning Win­dows tablet. The new Sur­face Pro is pricey, though a £979 Core i5 ver­sion Mi­crosoft sells may be far more af­ford­able. The Sur­face Pro ab­so­lutely ex­cels un­der short use, though per­for­mance tends to suf­fer when the fan kicks in. Though the bat­tery life falls short of the 13.5 hours Mi­crosoft prom­ises, it’s still bet­ter than the older Sur­face Pro 4.

We thought about whether the new Sur­face Pro (2017) de­served a full four stars, and fi­nally de­cided against it. True, other tablets lack the Sur­face Dial in­te­gra­tion and don’t lean back quite so far. That, for us, doesn’t change the game. Mi­crosoft has sim­ply

made an im­proved Sur­face Pro 4 for Sur­face Pro 4 fans. Mean­while, through each suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tion, com­pe­ti­tion has grown more in­tense. That’s fine – Mi­crosoft in­tended to break trail with its Sur­face de­vices, but al­ways ac­knowl­edged that it was lead­ing other hard­ware mak­ers into the mar­ket.

It’s pos­si­ble that Mi­crosoft may of­fer in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments to its tablets go­ing for­ward. That’s left a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to the com­pe­ti­tion. We en­dorsed the leap into the Sur­face Pro 3, and still be­lieve that the Pro 4 rep­re­sents Mi­crosoft’s best Win­dows tablet. At the time, how­ever, we won­dered whether the oth­ers would catch up. They have. We still rec­om­mend the new Sur­face Pro (2017), but you should also check out the com­pe­ti­tion.

Hand­brake 0.99.0 En­cod­ing (H.264) (sec­onds)

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