This Is The Best Surface Ever Made, But It's Still No Laptop

True hubris is a person trying to use a Microsoft Surface Pro like a laptop. It takes Mr. Darcy levels of pride to believe you can trust so fully in a kickstand and flimsy keyboard. The Surface Pro is many things, including everything from Microsoft's attempt to woo creative professionals to a beautifully engineered device that wants to be a fusion of tablet and laptop. Yet it has never been the true take-anywhere device Microsoft has tried to sell it as. That kickstand and keyboard define it for many consumers. And now, on the Surface's fifth iteration, the kickstand seems to have finally accomplished what it set out to do: Bring the Surface as close to a laptop as it can ever hope to be — even though that isn't as close as Microsoft might like.

Mind you that new kickstand also happens to be mounted to the back of the best Surface Pro yet. Microsoft dropped the number naming scheme with this fifth iteration, settling on simply "Surface Pro" and the name makes sense. This refined device, with its sturdy kickstand and quiet guts, is what the Surface Pro always should have been. It's been tweaked to the 2-in-1's benchmark for perfection. The changes are all small compared to the Surface Pro 4. If you weren't a gadget blogger or gadget obsessed you'd be hard pressed to see them at a glance, but they make a difference.

Note the soft swell on the new Surface Pro on the bottom, versus the iconic, but blunt edges of the Surface Pro 4 on top.

The hard angles that have come to define the Surface line's design have been softened in this new Pro. It's especially noticeable on the sides of the devices, which on the Surface Pro 4 and earlier felt thick and too hard. Now there's a gentle, almost imperceptible curve. Clutched in my hands on the subway it feels thinner even though it isn't.

The vents on the device are also more subtle than past iterations. They allow it to cool virtually fan free in the i7 version reviewed (the i5 and m3 models operate entirely sans fans). With a 7th-generation processor, it's fast enough that I can edit a giant RAW photo file in one window, and watch a video in another and see zero slow down.

The Surface also has fantastic battery life. I wrote the majority of this post in an airport bar, pausing during my four-hour layover to periodically read the news or play Civilizations VI, and I barely made a dent in the battery. I did run into one problem though — and it's a fundamental one due to the nature of the Surface Pro and its fellow Windows 2-in-1s. Not all software plays nicely with its quick switch between laptop and tablet mode.

Civilizations VI should, ostensibly, be perfect on a Pro. The big 30cm display lets you see plenty of the continents you're civilizing, and the Surface Pen ($US60 ($79)) can, when everything works perfectly, be a great tool for picking and choosing armies, towns, and everything else you do in the game. It seems like a game built for touch, like its siblings on the iPhone, but in practice that isn't the case. Menus were non-responsive, and sometimes I couldn't even get past the title page. I ran into the same problem in Gwent, a Hearthstone-like card game that should, again, be great on a touch display.

As touch-friendly as these games should be, they aren't in practice. Their designers focused on creating great experience with a mouse and keyboard, forgetting that many Windows users might interact with a Pen and finger. These companies aren't the only ones who ignore touch, and it continues to be a problem in Windows 10, which makes the promise of a touch device like the Surface Pro less enticing. Unless the software you're planning to use has been specifically tweaked for touch, such as the multitude of illustration apps available, you'll find the tablet side of the Surface Pro extremely lacking. The Surface Pro is a hybrid, trying to meld the best of two worlds and demanding steep compromises in that effort.

The kickstand on the new Surface Pro (left) has far greater range than the Surface Pro 4 (right). It makes it much more comfortable for Pen use.

The biggest compromise, though, is the kickstand and keyboard. Yes, both are exceptional for a 2-in-1 device — the best I think you can get — but they mean the device will never feel as stable as a laptop, like the new Surface Laptop that ships later this summer. Though in this iteration it comes perilously close. The keyboard is identical to the fabric-covered keyboard Microsoft released for the Surface Pro 4 last year. It's a very good tablet keyboard. Better than my iPad one that's started to fall apart, or the super stiff ones from companies like HP and Huawei that are more half-a-laptop. Still, no matter how good it is, it leaves the device very unbalanced when open, thus requiring a strong hinge to stabilise it.

The hinge in the new Surface Pro's kickstand is very strong. On a desk it's perfect. In a lap it takes up significantly more space than a similarly sized laptop would, but it's still so stable I don't really mind. In a bed, on a couch, lounging in general, it's a whole other story. That hinge might make this the must stable Surface Pro ever, but it's still a top heavy behemoth. There's no perching the device on your chest and tilting the display forward so you can read sans glasses, in fact even laying it on your chest, in laptop mode, send a tremor of fear through you. Because, inevitably, you'll sneeze or cough or shout at the dog and then the whole thing will tilt forward and you'll get slapped with two pounds of tablet in the face.

Some things can't be cured with incredible design. They're simply flaws fundamental to the nature of the device. The 2-in-1 laptop cannot escape the flaws inherent to a super light tablet that straps onto an even lighter keyboard, but the new Surface Pro comes closer than any other device ever has. If you're absolutely in dire need of a laptop that converts into a drawing tablet then this is your choice.

README

  • The hinge on the kickstand is next level good.
  • The Pen now comes separately.
  • Fewer fans means this thing is way quieter than the Pro 4.
  • Battery life is surprisingly good.

WATCH MORE: Tech News


Comments

    I know, it just lacks an Apple logo, doesn't it?

    I disagree, I have an SP4 and I use daily as my main working device. I use for note taking in meetings with the pen, driving excel sheets etc for engineering calculations etc etc. It is not so great at driving drawing software but that is ok as that is not my function.

    On top of the above I use as a tablet at home consuming entertainment and surfing etc. For me the device has easily replaced my laptop and tablet. Win win for me.

    What part of the meaning of the word "tablet" did you not understand... It's a tablet, not a laptop. The keyboard is a convenience. If you need to use a PC on your lap... Get a laptop... Hence why it's called a laptop and not a tablet.

    I have a Surface Pro 4 And while its awesome and has replaced my Wacom for illutrating/animating etc it has one major flaw which is still present in this new Surface Pro which prevents it from replacing my Mac (I confirmed with Microsoft yesterday).

    The problem is the battery, more specifically that it will not re-charge when its being used for processor heavy tasks (pretty much everything I do). My Surface Pro 4 is lucky to get 2 hrs use before the battery dies, but to re-charge for another 2 hours off-charge use I have to plug it in and not use it at all, otherwise the battery will not charge. This isnt a fault with my Surface, its the way its been designed to work, but not mentioned until you dig deep into the FAQ/help section on the Surface site! So beware if you are considering buying a Surface and do any sort of semi-heavy use!!

    Last edited 19/06/17 4:59 pm

      Wow.. that's dirty of them, and very good to know!

      I dunno wtf you are doing, because I've never had that issue even when using it for photoshop/lightroom/mediamonkey or massive excel sheets.

        If your doing anything processor heavy enough for the fans to kick in while on the charger thats when it will stop charging the battery. It's the trade off for being both compact and powerful, it cant handle the heat generated by the battery charging and the heat from the processor at the same time, its the way its been built. If you arent having that issue you arent doing processor heavy tasks. Excel definately wont cause it, lightroom is sometimes fine ubless your doing batches, decent photoshop work and larger files will usually cause it. I notice it mostly when doing video editing, rendering, heavy photoshop use or heavy multitasking (for me 90 percent of my usage)

        Also there is the possibility you've just not noticed it depending on the way you use your machine. For example If you take it out for the day then put it on charge and continue using it in desktop mode in the evening then go to bed leaving it on charge and take it out again the next day you wouldnt notice as it would have recharged overnight when sleeping.

        But I use mine for an hour commute each way to work (2hrs total) when I get home in the evening its dead (or around 5percent). So i plug it in and then set it to render out what ive been working on, if the render takes all night and still going the next morning the battery will still not be charged (sometimes may slowly tick up a few percent) but will not be usable for another 2 hr commute thats for sure. Its extremely frustrating and something thwy shpuld definately mention up front. I really really wanted the sirface pro to be my Mac killer, but with this design flaw I cannot rely on it unfortunately :(

          Have you looked into an external battery so you can charge it while using it in transit? https://www.amazon.com/Qi-infinityTM-Surface-Pro-External-Battery/dp/B0183UJ2SY/

          It would be a little bit annoying to carry an extra battery pack and the battery itself is on the $$ side, but it could be a solution to what you need

            Yes, I have an external battery already, but still doesn't help as it still wont charge the battery while in use, so if its low and I plugged it in and continued using it then unplug it the surface will die...

    Been using my SP4 with dock as a full laptop/desktop replacement for over a year and a half... best thing I ever did. Best of both worlds, never had a problem working as a laptop or desktop. Can't help but feel if it was made by Apple title of the article would have been "Bestest Thing Ever, Shut Up and Take My Money"

    I was going to reply with some comments that were calm and respectful in their disagreement.

    But instead I'll just quote you and offer a short opinion.
    ... laying it on your chest, in laptop mode, send a tremor of fear through you. Because, inevitably, you'll sneeze or cough or shout at the dog and then the whole thing will tilt forward and you'll get slapped with two pounds of tablet in the face.
    You're doing it wrong.

      Don't hold it that way

        Seriously? The guy's negative comment for the hardware is 'I dropped it when I yelled at my dog'.

        I've had a Surface for over 3 years and I use it in bed from time to time. Never once have I smacked myself in the face with it.

        If you drop something when you sneeze the fault lies with you, not the thing you dropped. It's like blaming the lounge when you kick your toe on it.

          I was referring to Steve Jobs where the iPhone 4 had antenna problems, "antennagate" or the "grip of death".
          Someone emailed SJ who replied "don't hold it that way".

    If they had another option like the surface book style keyboard do you think it would fix the one big issue? I could see a future option where the surface pro docs into a hard keyboard with extra battery and ports being a great option for those who really want both.

    I know this is basically a surface book so I guess I am saying combine both devices and keep the new just surface laptop to exist. On the laptop, a Macbook pro 15 inch competitor please.

    Would also like a 17inch version. If you are going big and powerful go all out.

    You often overuse the word "sans". I'm a fan, but "sans fan" just looks and sounds stupid don't you think? You should expand your vocabulary, otherwise you'll lose this 'fan' man, like the new surface pro bro.

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