I was unimpressed by Microsoft's Surface RT, which was released in New Zealand earlier this year. I saw the potential in the device, but it was hamstrung by its poor performance and the lack of apps. The Microsoft Surface Pro is that potential finally realised.
At a glance
Operating System: Windows 8 Pro
Dimensions: 275 x 173 x 13 mm
Weight: 907 grams
Display: 10.6-inch, 1920 by 1080 pixels LCD
Processor: Dual-core Intel i5, 4 GB RAM
Price: $1349 for the 64 GB model
The Pro has the same design as its younger brother, the Surface RT, using a similar elegant shape and black magnesium body. It looks and feels like a premium device.However, the Pro is significantly thicker and weightier than the RT – which is due to the improved specs and the fans needed to keep them running. At just short of 1 kg, the Pro is lighter than most notebooks and even Ultrabooks, but is a pain to hold in one hand for very long.
The 10.6-inch Surface Pro display is its main strength. It's gorgeous, bright and incredibly clear. Viewing images and video on the screen is a pleasure and the Pro support HD video with its 1920 by 1080 pixel resolution screen.
The touch interface for the Pro is much more sensitive than its RT counterpart. The tablet contains a digitiser from graphics tablets manufacturer Wacom, which makes input using a stylus very accurate. Sure, it's no where near as advanced as Wacom's $3000-4000 stand alone high end tablets, but for taking notes and doing the occasional doodle it does the trick.
A stylus is included out of the box, which as I figured out last week, attaches to the power input on the side of the Pro when not in use.
Unlike the Surface RT, the Pro runs a full version of Windows 8 which means it supports the desktop apps you're used to in previous versions of the operating system. Outlook, Excel, Photoshop are all back on the table – which makes the pro much more of a contender in the business space.
The Surface Pro was able to tackle all tasks I threw at it without stumbling, the dual-core Intel i5 processor seemed completely unphased by what was going on – even when multitasking. On the specs sheet the Surface Pro sits somewhere near the middle for laptops in a similar price range, but its real life performance it does really well.
Unsurprisingly for a tablet with a bright display and relatively powerful processor (and a cadre of cooling fans) – the Surface Pro's battery life is unimpressive.
With a full charge I usually managed around 2.5 – 3 hours worth of moderate use, mostly web browsing and word processing. Most Ultrabooks now have around five hours of battery life, while tablets such as the iPad have eight hours or above. Of course the pay off with the Pro is a laptop that's lighter than most or a tablet that's more powerful than most others.
The experience you get with the Surface Pro differs depending on whether you treat it like a slimmed down laptop, or a chubby tablet.
My setup at home has the Surface Pro connected to a 24-inch monitor via its MiniDisplay port (the type that connects most Macs to monitors). I use the Type Cover accessory as a keyboard and a USB mouse to do most of my navigation. For me, the Surface Pro is a laptop alternative that doubles as a video player tablet or a simple web browsing device when I need it.
The price is a bit steep, but the Pro easily has the best Windows 8 experience I've had so it might be worth just expensing it to the company credit card. Keep in mind the Type Cover is an extra $200, bringing the grand total up to around $1550.