Microsoft Surface Pro: Australian Review

The new Surface Pro gets an extremely minor upgrade to the Surface Pro 4 — apart from dropping the number at the end, it's minor under-the-hood changes at best, as well as a more versatile kickstand. Not much is different to tempt existing owners. But that doesn't change the fact that it's still the best 2-in-1 tablet-laptop hybrid you can buy today.

What Is It?

The new Microsoft Surface Pro — no longer following the Pro 2, Pro 3, Pro 4 moniker — is a $1199-plus tablet made by Microsoft for Windows 10. It has the longest legacy of any Surface device, besting the two-generation-old Surface Book and the even newer Surface Laptop, and that means Microsoft has had a long time to refine its design. Put a new Surface Pro next to an original Surface Pro and you'll see the difference.

If you lined up a Surface Pro 4 next to a new Surface Pro, you'd be extremely hard pressed to notice any difference. That's because, on the outside, just about the only noticeable one is the minimisation of the convection air vents around Microsoft's tablet's circumference — on the new Pro, they're smaller than on the already-small Pro 4. Otherwise identical, the new Pro also joins a new range of coloured Alcantara Signature Type Covers, although there's no coloured chassis variants like the Surface Laptop gets.

At 768 to 784 grams depending on whether you buy the fanless Core M or fan-boosted Core i7 version — the mid-range fanless Core i5 is a middling 770g — the Surface Pro is a very light tablet, rivaling some recent Android tablets in portability. Similarly, at just 8.5mm thick it's ridiculously easy to throw into a backpack of any size, satchel or purse. Of course, almost all users will be adding the negligible weight and few extra millimetres of thickness that Microsoft's Type Covers add; even then, the Surface Pro is a smaller proposition overall than Microsoft's Surface Laptop, Apple's 12-inch MacBook or just about any other ultraportable Windows or macOS laptop or tablet.

Microsoft has persisted with the same magnetic, Apple MagSafe-esque multipurpose dock connector for the new Surface Pro as it has for every Surface family device since the original five-year-old Surface Pro of 2012. It's a fine connector, though you might find yourself adjusting it before it fits perfectly into the long, skinny port on the lower right side of the new Pro; as well as the charger, which also has a 5 Watt USB port for slow-charging your smartphone, Microsoft also sells a $299 desktop dock power adapter that includes monitor outputs and USB ports aplenty.

What's It Good At?

Not that any recent Surface tablet has ever felt slow, but the new Surface Pro is a zippy lil bit of kit. Startup especially — like the new Surface Laptop — takes mere seconds, and with the carried-over speed advantage that Windows Hello's face recognition and password avoidance adds, I've been finding myself jumping in and out of Windows' sleep mode far more on the Pro than I usually do on laptops — instead of carrying them around the office with the screen on and only powering them off or closing the lid when I'm taking an actual break from processing, I've started the practice of powering the Pro on and off for those few seconds. It's these kind of speed advantages that translate into tangible battery life improvements for the everyday user.

The again-redesigned kickstand for the Surface Pro is incredibly impressive in its flexibility. It reaches that same desktop-kissing, studio-esque angle as the Surface Studio, and it really extends just as far as you'd expect it to without touching the table that you're resting it on in the first place. As kickstands go, I hazard to say it couldn't be any better. If you're the kind of person that wants to use their Surface tablet for some drawing, you could do a lot worse than to invest in a new Surface Pro versus any other model.

Battery life on the new Surface Pro is significantly improved from even the impressive Surface Pro 4. Where you could happily expect six hours of productive Web work from the Pro 4, you can easily add another couple of hours on top of that with the new Pro. If you're watching video and keeping brightness to a moderate level, this is even longer. Microsoft claims 13.5 hours, and that's definitely an extremely generous figure, but you can get a full workday out of the Pro The Core i5 variant feels to me like a good compromise between the power of the i7 and the efficiency of the m3.

With most model variants of the new Surface Pro being fanless, despite the more efficient Core M and Core i5 processors under the hood, the Surface Pro just feels more refined to use. There's no fan ramping up to audible volumes under load when you're doing a little bit of Photoshop or Lightroom or Premiere work. It's skinny, it's eminently portable — even moreso than some of its other tablet competitors like Samsung's Galaxy Book — and it's a great everyday productivity device. Unless you want to use it on your lap, but more on that later.

What's It Not Good At?

There's still no Thunderbolt, and still no USB Type-C on the Surface Pro, just like the newborn Surface Laptop — as wonderful as it is otherwise. If you're buying a device that you want to last years and years and years, you'll be making a compromise with the Surface Pro's single USB Type-A port and single DisplayPort connector. My kingdom for a single Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB Type-C port, Microsoft. My entire kingdom.

It's also disappointing to see that the Surface Pro no longer has the Surface Pen included by default, where previous models shipped one in the box. The redesigned Surface Pen is an excellent tool, even more precise and accurate for writing and drawing and interacting with the Pro's touchscreen and Windows 10's built-in touch apps, but If you want to type, you'll have to buy a Type Cover. If you want to draw, you'll have to buy the Surface Pen.

By that same token, you have to take the Surface Pro's $1199 ($1499 for a Core i5, the realistic entry level) starting price with a large grain of salt. Throw in a $249 Signature Type Cover, and a $139 Surface Pen, and that $1199 becomes $1587. Want a separate mouse? The $119 Surface Arc Mouse — up to $1706. Want the $149 Surface Dial? $1199 somehow became $1900. These accessories are all awesome — best in class — but boy they're expensive.

And also, finally, as a victim of its design, the Surface Pro still isn't amazing for lap use. It's doable, especially if you can slouch forward in your chair to give yourself a little more lap-top real estate, but by virtue of its flexible Type Cover hinge, the Surface Pro doesn't play too well with work surfaces that aren't flat and stable. It's workable if you really need it to be, and I've covered hour-long press conferences in a cramped seat with a Pro before, but it's not a comfortable way to work. If you intend to work like that a lot, you'll much prefer an actual laptop.

Should You Buy It?

The $1199-plus New Surface Pro is the best tablet-laptop hybrid device that you can buy in Australia. Hands down. There, I've said it. There are many reasons that this is the case: an excellent kickstand, Windows Hello password-free logins, first-party Microsoft hardware for Windows software, better performance and battery life, and a fanless design on anything but the most powerful models.

If you're an existing Surface Pro 3 or Pro 4 owner, you don't need to upgrade to the new Surface Pro; there won't be enough difference in it for you. But for anyone new to the Surface fam, or anyone who hasn't bought a new laptop in the last three or four years, it's going to be a massive upgrade. The Surface Pro is more powerful and more versatile than ever before, and this latest iteration is far from boring even if it's identical at first glance.

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