Surface Pro's gutsy design successfully reinvents the Windows 8 laptop by cramming an ultrabook experience into the body of a 10-inch tablet.
On 9 February, the Surface got another lease on life. This version, known as the Surface Pro, tackles head-on many of the complaints about the original Surface RT — especially that model's compromised Windows RT operating system. The Surface Pro offers a full Windows 8 experience that works with older Windows software titles, packs a real Intel Core i5 processor and boldly stuffs the entire PC experience into a sleek and appealing tablet body that's just a tad thicker and heavier than the RT version.
There's a lot to like here, if not to love. While the Surface Pro isn't the first Windows 8 tablet, it may well be the best one to date, at least in terms of design. The magic here is in the details: the ingenious detachable keyboard cover and the included pressure-sensitive stylus both go a long way toward setting the Surface Pro apart from the other laptops, tablets and hybrids we've seen so far.
Can the Surface Pro work as a real, everyday PC — a task that rival iPads, Android tablets and even those Windows RT models couldn't quite handle? For us, initial sceptics, it can. You can colour us impressed.
If you were skipping the Surface RT because you wanted "true" laptop power and performance, the Pro version is definitely the way to go.
But while it's undeniably more powerful, the Surface Pro makes trade-offs — most notably middling battery life, a heavier chassis and a price tag that starts at US$899. That hit on your wallet becomes closer to US$1200 if you go with the 128GB version (a necessity) and add the so-cool-you'll-want-it keyboard cover. And you can say goodbye to the free version of Microsoft Office that came with the Surface RT; Surface Pro buyers will need to spring for that, too.
We're waiting for Microsoft to throw us a bone. The Surface Pro's best feature isn't even in the box; toss in the US$129 Type Cover. Or give us Microsoft Office. Otherwise, we think we're holding out for the inevitable Surface Pro 2 — the one that will undoubtedly offer better battery life and a host of other upgrades. This version makes strides, but it's not the perfect laptop killer yet.
You can connect the Surface to a larger monitor easily; many will. A built-in Mini DisplayPort carries audio and video, and with adapters (sold separately), you can switch over to VGA or HDMI if needed. Working in multi-monitor mode operated exactly the same as you'd expect on a Windows PC. It took some fiddling to get window sizing just right, but we found that working on our desks with the innocuous Surface on the side of the monitor as a PC/second screen was a bit of a treat.
Type Cover, Touch Cover: killer accessories, neither included
Nearly this entire review has been written on the Surface Pro, using a combination of Type and Touch covers. The US$130 Type Cover has an actual keyboard with depressible keys, whereas the US$120 Touch Cover is a membrane keyboard. They both weigh about half a pound (227g), and double as screen covers for the Surface.
The Type Cover keyboard feels wonderful, easy to bang away on and largely responsive. The Touch Cover...well, not quite as much. It's usable, however. The key spacing on the Touch Cover is identical, and as long as you can get used to the lack of actual key motion and give in to tapping away lightly on what amounts to raised polyurethane squares, then it can work — even with touch typing.
The Type Cover has a real but tiny honest-to-goodness multi-touch touch pad with lower click zones; the Touch Cover's touch pad has "clickable" areas delineated below the touch-pad space with cut-out grooved lines. The Touch Cover is fun (it's available in multiple colours), but the real keyboard on the Type Cover only costs US$10 more.
We can't say enough good things about the Type Cover keyboard — if we were reviewing it separately, it would get an Editors' Choice award hands down. It attaches magnetically and seamlessly to the Surface Pro's bottom. It forms a pretty attractive cover along the lines of Apple's own (keyboard-less) Smart Cover, but with the addition of that Surface-powered keyboard/touch-pad combo that doesn't noticeably drain HP Pavilion dv6 Battery life at all.
And, yes, it forms a strong enough bond to dangle the Surface Pro upside down, but we wouldn't try this at home over a concrete floor.
Working with the included touch pad gets the job done, but you can just as easily use the Surface's touchscreen — or add a Bluetooth or USB mouse or touch pad. We used the Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse that Microsoft included with this review unit. It's expensive but small enough, and it pairs nicely with the Surface.
The Surface Pro supports pressure-sensitive styli, and the Surface Pro comes with its own Surface Pen that magnetically attaches to the power connector to hold it in place when you're on the go. Writing and sketching felt natural, and the pen worked far more responsively than a capacitive iPad stylus (the technology's different).
Using a few basic drawing apps from the Windows Store, it all worked easily enough for my 4-year-old son and myself to enjoy.