After months of waiting, Aussies can finally get their hands on the Surface you really, really want. A Surface running a real Intel CPU and a real operating system in Windows 8: This is the Surface Pro.
What Is It?
The Surface Pro is nothing short of incredible.
It's a 10.6-inch tablet packing a beautiful 1920x1080 (207ppi) display, powered by an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. It also has a full-size USB 3.0 port, a microSDXC card slot, Mini Displayport, stylus and two 720p HD LifeCams.
All that power is supported on your desk by the hallmark of the Surface: a beautiful VaporMG kickstand, and the tablet is also compatible with either clip-on keyboards in the form of Microsoft's Type and Touch Covers. All this weighs in at just under a kilogram at 907g.
The Surface Pro is everything we wanted the Surface RT to be when we reviewed it: faster, more powerful, more intricate, more fully-featured. It's transcendently beautiful with its selection of Touch and Type Covers, while also being absurdly practical thanks to the addition of Windows 8 Pro.
Out of the box, it's an incredible Windows 8 experience. This isn't just some dinky tablet that a partner has thrown together and dumped Windows on, it's how Windows 8 should be used. For professionals, it's a fantastic device that will make your work day so much easier. The Surface Pro accompanied me around Computex in Taipei this year, and it was so nice to be able to have a tablet form factor that actually worked as a fully-fledged computer.
The Surface Pro is also more impossible when it comes to its design. The Surface RT made sense as a tablet with its ARM chip quietly tooling away in the background, but the Pro model is actually a little more baffling. The main problem with chips like Intel's Core i5 is that it's meant to sit in an Ultrabook, complete with a little more breathing room and a fan. Fans, however, aren't sexy, so rather than spoil the Surface Pro's physique with one, Microsoft instead turned the entire back panel into a sort-of vented heat sink. It's an impossibly-thin groove on the back of the unit that you wouldn't even notice if you weren't either looking for it or comparing it to the Surface RT. It's little things like this all over the device that make the Surface Pro so damn impressive.
Interestingly, gaming is a real possibility on this thing. The Surface Pro is packing integrated graphics in the form of the Intel HD 4000, which means you can play a bunch of games — with an added keyboard and mouse — on mid- to low-settings. Make sure a charger is nearby, however: gaming tends to suck your battery dry in less than an hour.
A bit more on that battery: because it's a small device with a large processor and a big OS on top of it, you're most likely concerned that battery will be an issue. You're right: it is. We got around 3.5 hours out of our Surface Pro on average, but if you turn off all the laptop-like functions and use it as spartanly as possible, you can get up to 6 hours with the thing before you're scrambling for a charger. Like our US-friends said in their review: this isn't like any other tablet where you can just leave it on standby for a few days and expect to pick it up and use it.
The Stylus connector is a magnetic clip on the side of the Surface. Make no mistake: you will lose that Stylus. Either in your bag, on a train or somewhere else out there in the wild thanks to the fact that it's easier to flip off than police doing random breath testing (it's an odd metaphor, but you get my meaning). Perhaps it would make sense to install your own fabric loop on a Type Cover to keep it safe?
The Surface suffers the same design issues as its counterpart — the Surface RT — simply because it's the exact same tablet, only heavier:
Because of the way the beautiful VaporMg kickstand rests on a benchtop, you’ll need to ensure that there aren’t any slats, grooves or marks. If there are, the tablet could either fall into one of these and make viewing it super obnoxious, or it could even break if it falls through hard enough. Using it on your lap is pretty awkward, too due to the angle of the kickstand and how it sits on your legs, which at the best of times, will always be angled downward. You have to keep a pretty tight hold on the Surface keyboard you’re using to make sure it stays on your lap. If you don’t you risk stowing the kickstand and dropping the device altogether.
The speakers are also a little too quiet for it to be ok. Bring your headphones with you.
Should You Buy It?
The undoing of the Surface Pro can be found in the opening line of this review: "after months of waiting".
Microsoft released the Surface Pro first in the US followed by Canada and China. Several other territories followed, and a few months after the original release date and almost half a year behind the half-baked Surface RT companion, the Surface Pro landed in Australia.
When we asked Microsoft Australia why the wait, it told us that the company didn't want to launch the device here without the stock to support the market. Microsoft chose not to cheese-off people who wanted the Surface Pro but couldn't get one due to a lack of stock. In doing so, however, it fell behind. The Surface Pro became less relevant in a market that sees new hybrid/convertible tablet devices hit the market each day, until finally, nobody really cared about it anymore. Its release was just a formality.
We're now in a time where the market is about to be flooded with Intel Fourth-Generation Core tablets and convertibles, which offer twice the battery of the Surface Pro along with Intel Iris graphics and more power to boot. Add that on top of the fact that light, portable Haswell-powered laptops are also on the way, and you end up with an obsolete device on the other side of your equals-sign.
Sure, die-hard Microsoft fans who loved the design of the Surface RT but wanted something more powerful are going to — or have already — bought a Surface Pro, and that's great news: as we mentioned, it's a great device. But it's not going to set the mainstream on fire like it could have if Microsoft decided to hang the sense of the release date delay and just put it out there anyway so that Aussies could eventually get their hands on it.
So, should you buy a Surface Pro? As long as you don't mind a brilliant device that is disappointingly obsolete as soon as you walk out of the store with it thanks to a business decision that put it squarely behind the eight-ball, then sure: buy one.
If you want something a little more modern, however, check out Haswell-powered tablets. You'll spend around the same amount and get the latest gear.
The Surface Pro. What a waste: a beautiful shame.