I really want to like the Surface Pro. A full Windows 8 Pro device in tablet form has the potential to shake up the mobile computing world, offering genuine computing power in a truly portable package. To be *that* device the Surface Pro doesn't need to match the iPad or Nexus 10 in terms of thinness and lightness, or even battery life - after all, it offers functionality more akin to that of a laptop than a Windows tablet. But it does need to come close. UPDATE: see our full Surface Pro 3 review.
The Surface Pro launches in the UK on 23 May 2013. It will cost £719 for the model with 64GB of onboard storage, and the larger 128GB model will cost £799. So now the Surface Pro is available in the UK, should you rush out and buy one?
The good news is that the Surface Pro offers Ultrabook performance in a chassis only marginally thicker than the Surface RT. The bad news is that it is hot and heavy and the battery life isn't what we'd hoped for. It's a B+ product. A four-star device that is almost, but not quite, the one device for all. Here's why...
Surface Pro: Design and build
It's difficult to know how to judge the Surface Pro's design. It's a hybrid device, designed to replace your Ultrabook or Macbook Air and to do away with your need to travel with an iPad or Nexus 7. I'm writing this on a business trip on which I have brought a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch touchscreen Ultrabook and a Nexus 7 tablet. Compared with the former the Surface Pro is a true lightweight. It is unmistakably thicker than the 9.4mm Surface RT - and for that matter the iPad - but next to the 22mm X1 Carbon Touch its 13.5mm thickness means it's a baby. Use the kick stand and Touch or Type keyboard and you will feel like you have a tiny laptop on the go. But try to use the Surface Pro and you will realise what a chunk of tech this is.
Make no mistake: the Surface Pro is one hot and heavy device. The fact that it weighs around 900g doesn't tell the whole story. In our tests it ran really hot - as might be expected of such a small Core i5 device - and holding it in one hand for any period of time is a trial. There are two near-silent fans working to dissipate heat, but they do a far from perfect job. It also looks and feels almost fatally chunky. This is a subjective thing, but unlike the svelte Surface RT the Pro has a certain Fisher Price asthetic. It just doesn't look like something I'd want to show off to my friends.
The Surface Pro does retain the design plus points of the Surface RT. That 22-degree kickstand is a neat solution, albeit one with no gradient so you have your screen angled at 22 degrees or not at all. And the way the Type keyboard clicks in is a joyous thing. But the gap between the back and the top of the chassis remains. It's presumably there to allow for air flow, but we can't say it adds to the way the Surface Pro makes us feel.
The Surface Pro has a better display than did the RT. It is a 1920-by-1080-pixel, 10.6-inch screen. That makes for 208 pixels per inch - somewhat behind the iPad or Nexus 10, but not so as you can really notice. It's a decent screen for a tablet, but on size alone it can't match up to that of a decent laptop. Viewing angles are pretty good though, at least side to side. It's a pretty reflective screen, however. We found it all but useless outside.
Surface Pro: storage
The 128GB Surface Pro we tested offers only 83GB of usable storage capacity. The Surface Pro supports USB 3.0 so you can expand your storage using an external drive. There's also a MicroSDXC card slot in case you want to add onboard flash memory.
Surface Pro: performance, connectivity, battery
Here we meet only good news. With an average PCMark7 benchmark score of 4751 the Surface Pro is a Windows 8 PC offering the performance of a high-end Ultrabook. Consider the specs. Like the previously mentioned ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch (and the Dell XPS Duo 12, Lenovo Yoga 13, et al) the Surface Pro is supplied with a 1.7GHz Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64GB or 128GB SSD, and integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. It's a power laptop in tablet form, and it performs as such. It's truly zippy in use - there are compromises being made here, but not in the general performance of the Surface Pro.
The connectivity options are good, too. You get a Mini DisplayPort which can drive HDMI and VGA displays - get a full-spec keyboard and a decent display and the Surface Pro could be your primary PC when not in tablet use. My PCWorld.com colleague Jon Phillips tested the Surface Pro driving a 24in Dell monitor with a 1920x1080 resolution with no problems at all. (He also used the Surface Pro for Photoshop work which worked well.)
The Surface Pro has integrated graphics, which means it's not much of a gaming rig. In PCWorld.com's Civilization V and Dirt Showdown gaming tests frame rates were described as 'unplayably poor', with numbers in the mid-teens at best. We did, however, see a playable 34 frames per second in Dirt Showdown after reducing in-game resolution to 1366 by 768 and setting visual quality to low.
Battery life is good, but perhaps not good enough for the new category of device that the Surface Pro represents. With a 42-watt-hour battery the Surface Pro has Intel Ultrabook battery life, rather than that of an Arm-based tablet. In PC World's video rundown test, the Pro lasted only 5 hours, 8 minutes. This compares poorly in comparison with hybrid tablet/Ultrabooks such as the W700 (6 hours, 7 minutes), and the Yoga 13 (5 hours, 37). Perfectly useful, but nothing compared to the Surface RT or the iPad, both of which offer more than 9 hours of in use battery life.
Surface Pro: pen
The Surface Pro comes with a pen that offers a drawing and writing input for the tablet. It's a passive device that doesn't draw power and attaches magnetically to the side of the device. According to Microsoft the Surface Pro's pen offers 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity and it's true that it is a very sensitive tablt pen. In use it can be laggy however, and it feels flimsy and plastic - if you're spending this much money on a tablet you want premium quality, and the Surface Pro's pen doesn't feel like that at all.
The pen does offers a certain amount of useful functionality, however. In essence it's useful when you need a drawing pad, and pointless at all other times. And sitting on the side of your Surface Pro it can feel a little in the way.
Surface Pro: software
For the full low-down on Windows 8 read our Windows 8 review. For the Surface Pro suffice to say that it offers the full no-holds-barred Windows 8 Pro experience. So you can run any software that you have installed on any other Windows device, as well as Windows apps. That means you can run Office on your tablet, making the Surface Pro a more than useful travelling companion for business people.
Surface Pro: keyboards
The two Surface keyboards are compromise devices. The Touch and Type Covers are brilliant keyboard/covers, but you have to consider what the Pro is good at, and then wonder if a combination case and keyboard is good enough. I started typing this review on the Type Cover... and gave up. It's perfectly useable, but with a full laptop keyboard within reach it just seemed a compromise too far to have to wrestle with what is a mobile keyboard. The keys are small, don't have much travel, and suffer from a perceptable lag. Both covers are as good as it gets in tablet cover keyboards, but that isn't as good as a proper keyboard or even that of an Ultrabook.