Mi­crosoft Sur­face Pro 6

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Tech Advisor - - Contents -

Our re­view of Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Pro 6 fo­cuses even more than usual on the dif­fer­ences be­tween this new gen­er­a­tion and its pre­de­ces­sor, the Sur­face Pro (2017), be­cause they seem nearly iden­ti­cal – at least on the, er, sur­face. Vis­ually, you’d be hard-pressed to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the Sur­face Pro 6, the Sur­face Pro (2017), or the Sur­face Pro 4, all

it­er­a­tions on Mi­crosoft’s iconic 12.3in two-in-one PC. This time around, the ma­jor changes are in­side: a bump up in the pro­ces­sor to an 8th-gen­er­a­tion Core chip, some weird ad­just­ments in pric­ing, and a new colour – black – sep­a­rate the new from the old. There’s ac­tu­ally a down­grade of sorts in the GPU com­pared to the Sur­face Pro (2017), which is a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment. The Per­for­mance sec­tion of our re­view shows the clear­est dif­fer­ences among the three gen­er­a­tions.

We’ve given the Sur­face Pro 6 what some would con­sider an ‘av­er­age’ score of 3.5 stars, a lower score than we’ve given some other tablet PCs we’ve re­viewed re­cently. De­spite be­ing un­der­whelmed by its fail­ure to break new ground (or even add USB-C), we will give it this: it also recorded a de­cent 8.5 hours of bat­tery life in our tests, which has been an Achilles heel with re­viewed com­pe­ti­tion. It is still one of the best­de­signed Win­dows tablets you can buy, and its pric­ing is com­pet­i­tive with sim­i­larly con­fig­ured prod­ucts.

Con­struc­tion and ports

The new Sur­face Pro 6 is vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to the Sur­face Pro (2017) in terms of di­men­sions down to the mil­lime­tre. We found it weighed al­most ex­actly the same, with a bit of vari­ance in our scale. Mi­crosoft has made it avail­able in two colours: the mod­ern, tra­di­tional Sur­face plat­inum; and the new jet black, harken­ing back to the first few gen­er­a­tions of Sur­face de­vices.

Like the Sur­face Pro 6, the tablet’s kick­stand folds down about 165 de­grees, nearly flat, for ink­ing with the op­tional Sur­face Pen ac­ces­sory (£99 from

fave.co/2z8vewH). Mi­crosoft doesn’t of­fer a Sur­face

Lap­top that folds back into tablet mode, so if you’re look­ing for a tablet ex­pe­ri­ence with the struc­tural rigid­ity of a lap­top, you might look at our top pick for a con­vert­ible among our best lap­top re­views.

Re­mem­ber, though, that the Mi­crosoft Sur­face line be­gins and ends with its magnificent dis­play: 12.3 inches (2,736x1,824), the same di­men­sions and res­o­lu­tion as its pre­de­ces­sor. Us­ing Mi­crosoft’s gor­geous new de­fault back­ground wall­pa­per as a guide, any dif­fer­ences be­tween the Sur­face Pro (2017) dis­play and the new Sur­face Pro 6 are slightly no­tice­able only in a side-by-side com­par­i­son. Our re­view unit pumped out 378 nits, 7 per­cent more than its pre­de­ces­sor. At that lu­mi­nance level, the SP6 is us­able out­side, though it’s best for high-con­trast ap­pli­ca­tions like Word.

Like the 2017 model, the Sur­face Pro 6 fea­tures vi­brant ‘en­hanced’ or more colour-ac­cu­rate ‘sRGB’

colour modes, and sup­ports on-screen use of the Sur­face Dial for dig­i­tal artists.

We’re told Mi­crosoft im­proved the in­ter­nal cool­ing. The Core i5 model we tested was fan­less (as was its 2017 pre­de­ces­sor), so we’d need to test the Core i7 ver­sion to gauge its fan be­hav­iour. Un­der some of the heav­ier bench­mark loads – Hand­brake, Cinebench and 3DMark – the up­per rear of our fan­less Sur­face Pro 6 be­came warm, but cooled off quickly.

Mi­crosoft’s prod­uct page claims the Sur­face Pro 6 uses the same sturdy mag­ne­sium uni­body of the Sur­face Pro (2017), though it feels a bit more pla­s­ticky to the touch. Mi­crosoft also elim­i­nated the slight two-tone aes­thetic at the top of the chas­sis that the Sur­face Pro (2017) used. There’s still the same slightly rounded cor­ners (not as pro­nounced as on the Sur­face Go) and the same sub­tle vent­ing at the rear. Fi­nally,

a small nit­pick: the black-on-black ap­proach made it a chal­lenge to find the ports when us­ing it within my dimly lit home workspace.

Oh, and as for ports – no, there’s no USB-C, even though you’ll find it on the Sur­face Go and Sur­face Book (and many other de­vices). In­stead, there’s the stan­dard com­ple­ment of Sur­face Con­nec­tor, Mini Dis­playPort, USB 3.0 Type-A, and the mi­croSD slot hid­den un­der the kick­stand. If you don’t own a Sur­face Dock, the lack of USB-C is a dis­ap­point­ing omis­sion, as your ex­pan­sion op­tions are lim­ited. Per­son­ally, this says yet again that we’re over­due for a new Sur­face Dock, ei­ther as a re­place­ment to the cur­rent brick, or some more por­ta­ble don­gle that en­ables both power and I/O.

Type Cover, cam­era, and speak­ers

Mi­crosoft didn’t up­date the ex­ist­ing Type Cover, which is in­ter­change­able with those sold with the Sur­face Pro 4 and Sur­face Pro (2017), though not the Sur­face Go. The keys still feel a bit stiffer than I’d like. There does seem to be Al­can­tara fab­ric used in both the front and un­der­side of the Type Cover, though it’s not as fuzzy as the other Type Cov­ers I’ve used. I did no­tice a rather strong odour of polyurethane when I un­boxed the Type Cover, some­thing I hadn’t no­ticed pre­vi­ously. It faded fairly quickly.

I have no con­cerns about the over­all qual­ity of the Type Cov­ers, how­ever. Be­cause the Sur­face Pro tablets are of­ten my test beds for Win­dows In­sider builds, I type on them for a few weeks straight at dif­fer­ent times

of the year, and they’re per­fectly com­fort­able to use for long pe­ri­ods. The touch­pad is equally func­tional.

When used on the lap, the Sur­face Pro 6 grips the Type Cover se­curely, though it’s not fool­proof. I do wish that Mi­crosoft would steal some of Len­ovo’s kick­stand ideas, though. I’m a fan of the first-gen ThinkPad X1 Tablet kick­stand that un­folded from the base, but also the more rounded down­ward-fac­ing kick­stand on its third-gen model, which feels less like a but­ter knife on your thighs. One tra­di­tional knock on Mi­crosoft has been its fol­low-through: hav­ing suc­cess­fully es­tab­lished the Sur­face Pro, some of its en­gi­neer­ing at­ten­tion seems to have wan­dered else­where.

The same goes for its cam­era. Oth­ers have ex­per­i­mented with ways to dis­able or cover the front-fac­ing cam­era for pri­vacy’s sake, yet Mi­crosoft de­clined to fol­low suit – back to mask­ing tape if you’re wor­ried hack­ers may spy on you. Oth­er­wise, though, the front-fac­ing Win­dows Hello fea­ture is as con­ve­nient and ef­fec­tive as ever, con­sis­tently rec­og­niz­ing me and log­ging me in. The rear-fac­ing cam­era boasts auto-fo­cus as well as HDR ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but no flash. It does shoot 8Mp photos, though only in a 4:3 for­mat; the cam­era cap­tures 6Mp when cap­tur­ing im­ages in a 16:9 for­mat.

I thought I heard a slightly flat­ter sound the Sur­face Pro 6 speak­ers than from its pre­de­ces­sors, but I’m not cer­tain. Mi­crosoft omit­ted con­sumer-friendly de­tails like Bang & Olufsen speak­ers (avail­able on the ex­cel­lent HP Spec­tre x2 tablet) and Dolby Au­dio (re­served for Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Book line) in favour of a down­load­able Dolby Au­dio app or the built-in Win­dows

Sonic au­dio pro­cess­ing for head­phones. Oh, and don’t for­get about the new Sur­face Head­phones, too.

We didn’t re­ally test a Sur­face Pen (model 1776) that Mi­crosoft shipped to us as an ac­com­pa­ni­ment, as we’ve used it be­fore with the Sur­face Pro (2017). With 4,096 lev­els of pres­sure, it’s more sen­si­tive than be­fore, a dis­tinc­tion only artists will ap­pre­ci­ate.

Per­for­mance

The Sur­face Pro 6 may have changed lit­tle on the out­side, but in­side, Mi­crosoft claims the new 8thgen pro­ces­sor makes it 67 per­cent faster than the Sur­face Pro (2017). That’s a lit­tle com­pli­cated for us to mea­sure. While the Sur­face Pro (2017) used dual-core 7th-gen mo­bile chips, the new Sur­face Pro 6 jumps to a quad-core, 8th-gen pro­ces­sor. But our Sur­face Pro (2017) re­view unit was pow­ered by a Core i7 chip, and an Iris Pro GPU, while our SP6 re­view unit uses a Core i5 and ho-hum In­tel HD 620 graph­ics.

We’ve made sure to com­pare the Sur­face Pro 6 to its most po­tent ri­vals, in­clud­ing the Len­ovo Miix 520 and ThinkPad X1 (3rd Gen) Tablet, as well as HP’s

ex­cel­lent, con­sumer-friendly Spec­tre X2. If you de­cide you’re look­ing for a thin-and-light note­book that flips back into ‘tablet’ mode, con­sider the HP Spec­tre x360 13t from late 2017, which is com­pared as well. You’ll also no­tice three bars, shaded red and pink: we’ve called out the Sur­face Pro 4, Sur­face Pro (2017) and the Sur­face Pro 6 to bet­ter un­der­stand the gen­er­a­tional im­prove­ments Mi­crosoft has made.

Mi­crosoft has said time and again that the Sur­face em­pha­sizes pro­duc­tiv­ity, which we typ­i­cally find em­bod­ied in PCMark’s Work, Home, and Cre­ative tests. The Work tests tends to be the most com­monly used, and what it mea­sures – word pro­cess­ing, spread­sheets, and video­con­fer­enc­ing per­for­mance, among oth­ers – are usu­ally pretty easy tasks for any mod­ern tablet. Any score over 2,000 is good here, and all the Sur­face Pro gen­er­a­tions eas­ily sur­pass that.

The Home test mi­grates the work­loads into more fa­mil­iar space, such as web brows­ing and light gam­ing. Here, the Sur­face Pro 6 does fairly well, though it’s the gam­ing por­tion where it strug­gles a bit.

PCMark’s Cre­ative tests push the mul­ti­me­dia as­pects a bit harder, with photo and video edit­ing. Note that gam­ing also plays a large role here, which could ex­plain the Sur­face Pro 6’s close rank­ing rel­a­tive to the higher-end 2017 model.

We use Maxon’s Cinebench test as a stan­dard­ized test of the CPU within the Sur­face Pro 6, as well as other PCs we’ve tested. Cinebench is a widely adopted stan­dard, pri­mar­ily be­cause it stresses each and ev­ery core and thread in a CPU, re­ally demon­strat­ing the po­ten­tial per­for­mance of a lap­top or mi­cro­pro­ces­sor.

It’s here where the bump to four cores and eight threads ben­e­fits the Sur­face Pro 6. Keep in mind, though, that many con­ven­tional ap­pli­ca­tions aren’t writ­ten as ef­fi­ciently, which make the PCMark tests a more ef­fec­tive real-world eval­u­a­tion.

Hand­brake, mean­while, is an open-source video­con­ver­sion tool. We use it as a pro­longed stress test of a lap­top un­der load, con­vert­ing a movie into a for­mat ap­pro­pri­ate for an An­droid tablet. It’s a re­al­world ap­pli­ca­tion, though niche. But it’s also a good test to see how the lap­top will man­age ther­mal stress un­der a heavy work­load. Will it slow down to avoid over­heat­ing? The Sur­face Pro 6 barely broke a sweat, post­ing one of the best scores of the group.

We nor­mally don’t test SSD per­for­mance, but we wanted to see whether Mi­crosoft was im­prov­ing the

un­der­ly­ing hard­ware, or cut­ting cor­ners. Un­for­tu­nately, based upon the avail­able tablets re­main­ing in our test bed – we re­turned HP’s tablets, un­for­tu­nately – it seems like Mi­crosoft lags be­hind Len­ovo’s lat­est ThinkPad X1 tablet. Our Sur­face Pro 6 re­view unit in­cluded a 256GB SKHynix BC501 NVMe SSD.

Next up is the 3DMark test, which tests the lap­top GPU. In this case we’d ex­pect the Sur­face Pro (2017) to out­per­form the Sur­face Pro 6, and that’s ex­actly what hap­pens, though the sub­stan­tial 39 per­cent per­for­mance ad­van­tage speaks as much to the Iris Pro GPU Mi­crosoft de­signed as to the Core i7 our Sur­face Pro (2017) re­view unit shipped with. Mi­crosoft seems to be lean­ing back to­ward the main­stream pro­duc­tiv­ity as­pect with the Sur­face Pro 6, and away from games.

Any dis­ap­point­ment you may feel as a re­sult of the 3DMark test, though, should be leav­ened by the im­prove­ments in bat­tery life, to over 8.5 hours. We’re see­ing two changes here: a shift from the Core i7 to the Core i5, and pos­si­ble im­prove­ments in the fun­da­men­tal Core chips. Note that the bat­tery ca­pac­ity of the Sur­face Pro (2017) and the Sur­face Pro 6 are both 45 watt-hours, so there’s been no im­prove­ments there. Also note that this graphic looks worse than it is: we in­cluded lap­tops like the Sur­face Lap­top, the HP Spec­tre x360, and the Dell XPS 2-in-1, which twists into tablet mode.

Ver­dict

Some have sug­gested that the lack of sub­stan­tive dif­fer­ences be­tween the Sur­face Pro (2017) and the Sur­face Pro 6 in­di­cates of sort of Ap­ple iPhone-like ‘S-year’, where lit­tle changes are prepa­ra­tion for more dra­matic rein­ven­tions. There are sub­tle im­prove­ments: Ad­ding a quad-core pro­ces­sor is cer­tainly worth ap­plaud­ing.

Mi­crosoft seems more likely to launch smaller (Sur­face Go) or larger (Sur­face Stu­dio) vari­a­tions than dra­mat­i­cally re­vamp the Sur­face Pro se­ries. Is a USB-C port on the way? Maybe. But if you want a Sur­face Pro tablet, this is pretty much it.

If you al­ready own a Sur­face Pro (2017), there aren’t that many rea­sons to up­grade. A Sur­face Pro (2017) with 8GB of mem­ory and 256GB of SSD stor­age cur­rently costs £999 (fave.co/2q7i­fan), £150 less than the Sur­face Pro 6 we tested with the same con­fig­u­ra­tion.

You also have some al­ter­na­tives to con­sider. The Len­ovo Miix 520 is more af­ford­able, in­cludes both the key­board and the pen, and was the first to of­fer quad-core per­for­mance, but it lacks Win­dows Hello and skimps on bat­tery life. Its cor­po­rate cousin, the ThinkPad X1 (3rd Gen) Tablet of­fers a brighter, more high-res­o­lu­tion screen and op­tional LTE, though bat­tery life is again sub­par. We also like the HP Spec­tre x2’s con­sumer-friendly de­sign, su­pe­rior dis­play, and GPU – though bat­tery life suf­fers yet again.

Though we like el­e­ments of all those other tablets, how­ever, the Sur­face Pro 6 is an all-around solid en­try. Most no­tably, it smokes those al­ter­na­tive mod­els in

bat­tery life. In ret­ro­spect, Mi­crosoft’s re­cent Sur­face launch suf­fered from mul­ti­ple hard­ware ‘spec bumps’. Mi­crosoft prod­uct chief Panos Panay may have gamely tried to tie the launch to­gether by in­vok­ing a need for fo­cus, but un­for­tu­nately it’s hard to get past luke­warm ef­forts in hard­ware, soft­ware, and ex­e­cu­tion. (Mi­crosoft’s Win­dows 10 Oc­to­ber 2018 Up­date was mid­dling, and it was ini­tially held up due to a risk of data loss.) And for all the talk about the need for con­nected PCs, it would have nice at least to pre­an­nounce a Sur­face Pro 6 with LTE.

Set aside what the Sur­face Pro 6 should be, though, and what you have is this: Mi­crosoft’s im­plicit state­ment that the Sur­face Pro line-up has reached its zenith, and needs no fur­ther im­prove­ment save for pe­ri­odic up­grades. HP and Len­ovo would prob­a­bly dis­agree. I stand by what I said in my re­view of the Sur­face Pro

Folded down flat, the Sur­face Pro 6 is sturdy enough for draw­ing, though it’s more com­fort­able to de­tach the tablet and hold it while you ink notes

A row of re­cessed vents runs along the top and sides of the Sur­face Pro 6, fun­nelling warm air out of the sys­tem sur­pris­ingly quickly

The Sur­face Con­nec­tor, USB-A, and a Mini Dis­playPort con­nec­tor pop­u­late the right side of the Sur­face Pro 6 tablet

Don’t for­get about the mi­croSD slot, which hides un­der the kick­stand

The power but­ton and vol­ume rocker of the Mi­crosoft Sur­face Pro 6

A fan­less lap­top that’s nearly the top of the heap in pro­longed video con­ver­sion? That’s solid work by the Mi­crosoft en­gi­neers who de­signed the Sur­face Pro 6

Len­ovo’s lat­est ThinkPad X1 Tablet sub­stan­tially out­per­forms the Sur­face Pro 6 in SSD per­for­mance

The Len­ovo Miix se­ries are strong per­form­ers with an eye to­ward value, but their Achilles heel is bat­tery life

In choos­ing be­tween the black and the plat­inum colours, con­sider how tar­nished the plat­inum Sur­face Pro (2017) has be­come in a year or so of use, be­ing shut­tled back and forth to work in a back­pack

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