Microsoft said it themselves: the Surface Pro is 'a laptop in tablet form', meaning that it has the components you usually find in an ultrabook, but in a tablet-shaped, under-1-kg body with a 10.6-inch Full HD screen and an optional detachable keyboard. Released last February in the US, the Microsoft Surface Pro finally made it to Europe last week. Time for a review.
We have to say, Microsoft did great work choosing the materials. The magnesium chassis conjures thoughts of the Apple MacBook Air and Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A. The only slight annoyance is the glossy black frame surrounding the screen, which is over a centimetre and a half thick. The more you use it, the more you wonder, why didn't they use some of that space to make the screen bigger and easier to read?
The bottom half of the back folds out to act as a stand, propping the tablet up like a photo frame, allowing the Surface Pro to sit upright on a desk or table. This can come in handy even without the keyboard; for example, you can use it to look at graphs or slides during a board meeting, as a screen for video conferences, or for watching movies on the train.
The connectivity ports are well integrated into the design, but there's just one USB 3.0 port, an audio in and a mini-DisplayPort out. With a USB hub plugged in, the port is powerful enough to support a mouse, keyboard and 2.5" hard drive simultaneously. But if you want to use Ethernet, you have to occupy the port with a USB-to-RJ45 adapter, which costs about an extra £35. The volume and standby buttons are located on the sides.
On the front of the display is a touch-sensitive button in the shape of the Windows logo that takes you back to the Windows 8 start screen. Just beneath that is the keyboard connector.
On the left edge next to the mini-DisplayPort there's a magnetic interface—like the one Apple uses to stop the connector from getting ripped out accidentally—where you can attach the stylus (included) or connect the power adapter... but not both at the same time.
The power adapter has a USB port on it so you can charge another device simultaneously (smartphone, MP3 player, etc.).
The Type Cover fits in well with the rest of the device. It has the same kind of magnetic attachment interface as the power adapter, but with stronger magnetism, allowing the keyboard to clasp easily into place.
When you fold the Type Cover over the display, it acts as a protective cover for the screen. When you fold it back around the rear side of the tablet, it automatically turns off so that you don't have to detach it before using the touchscreen. Whether you use your fingers or the stylus, the touchscreen is precise and fluid to navigate with and mistakes are rare.
The Type Cover keys are quiet to type on (with the exception of the Space bar). The shortcuts come in handy when using the Surface Pro as a laptop. The touchpad, however, isn't as practical as the keys; it's ridiculously small and doesn't recognise multitouch commands such as two-finger zooming.
Heat readings without any applications running
Handling heat is not one of the Surface Pro's strong suits. The body quickly exceeds 30°C (86°F) even when running basic apps.
Heat readings while running applications
Once you start launching more processor-intensive programmes (games, etc.) the heat goes up even further, nearly reaching 40°C (104°F).
Grey colour temperature
The screen is more like it. With a Delta E of 5 (which means that certain colours are slightly over-exaggerated) it isn't perfection incarnate, but it's definitely in the upper average for the notebooks we've reviewed. It also has great contrast of 1,000:1, no matter how high you set the brightness. Both the colour temperature and the gamma curve (which shows the distribution of brightness in grey tones) are impeccable. On top of that, despite the glossy screen, the Surface Pro should be able to effectively counter glare due to the high brightness (445 cd/m²).
The Full HD resolution is great for watching videos. That said, on a 10.6-inch display, file names, folder names and menus do look small once you leave the Start screen.
The Surface Pro's Intel Core i3317U gives it similar processing power to most ultrabooks. In other words, it can quickly handle any task, from word processing to 3D modelling.
The 128 GB solid-state drive makes it even more responsive. Bringing the Surface Pro off standby is practically instantaneous, startup takes less than 20 seconds, and shutdown is just 10 seconds. However, worth noting, 40 GB out of the total 128 GB are used up by OS and the backup, leaving you with about 90 GB for storing files and content.
Like any device with a lowly Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset handling the graphics, the Surface Pro's gaming capabilities are extremely limited. And the high resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) only makes things harder on it, so you have no choice but to be very selective about what games you play. The only titles that will run properly are older or small, non-demanding games. The Surface Pro is not a gaming device.
The headphone/microphone combo jack is okay. The sound is clean and the volume is high enough for most headphones.
Frequency response: speakers
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = heavily altered
The speakers are conveniently placed far from where you hold the tablet with your hands, so the sound doesn't get blocked every time you grab it (which is a common problem on tablets). They don't saturate and are clear enough to hear someone speaking intelligibly, but they could be louder.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
The Surface Pro's small size (27.46 x 17.3 x 1.35 cm) and weight (1.1 kg with the keyboard) make it easy to carry around in a briefcase or handbag, but the battery life is somewhat disappointing—even compared to ultrabooks, which average around 4½ to 5½ hours. The Surface Pro lasts for just 3½ hours of video playback (in airplane mode with the screen brightness at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in).