When the original Microsoft Surface (Review) and Surface Pro were launched over five years ago, the entire world took notice. Both devices drew attention not only for their style, but also because their existence meant that Microsoft was willing to compete with its own partners in the consumer market. At the time, Microsoft said that the Surface tablets were all about showing Windows off to its full potential; reimagining how hardware and software can work together. They were meant to be the gold standard of Windows devices, and it was easy to see that the software giant was trying to take a page out of Apple's book.
The lower-end Surface has been discontinued now, but the Surface Pro has firmly established itself as a premium 2-in-1 that's more tablet than laptop. Still, it straddles the line between entertainment and productivity, and fans swear by it because of its portability and versatility.
Microsoft took a long time to launch the Surface Pro in India, and it's an extremely niche product here thanks to its high price. The company has also taken a long time to refresh the lineup here, and the fifth-gen Surface Pro (now minus a generation number in its name) which debuted in the USA in May last year made it to India only this February. It faces off against a number of brand new ultraportable laptops and 2-in-1s from all the major manufacturers. Will Microsoft's formula work in India, where cost is a huge factor in people's buying decisions? Read on to find out.
Microsoft Surface Pro design
Not much has changed since the Surface Pro first debuted. The concept of a tablet with a kickstand and detachable keyboard cover is deeply associated with the Surface Pro, even though we've seen many other companies use the same basic idea for all sorts of tablets including extremely low-cost ones. The body of the Surface Pro is made of a light grey metal, and the overall look is quite minimalist.
The kickstand is brilliantly engineered, and can support the weight of the tablet in nearly any position. You can adjust the angle that the tablet reclines at almost as much as most laptops let you adjust their screens. This is particularly useful when it comes to using the Surface Pro nearly flat on a table with a stylus, and when dealing with the reflections of overhead light fixtures. When closed, the stand sits perfectly flush with the rear of the tablet.
On the other hand, we're not quite so excited about the Surface Pro from the front. Having seen the latest ultra-slick 2-in-1s that Dell, Lenovo, and others have launched over the past year or so, this tablet actually feels a little chunky. There are thick borders around the screen which other manufacturers have been working on reducing. The one advantage of this is that there are neatly masked front-firing stereo speakers at roughly ear level.
The screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio which is great for reading and productivity in both landscape and portrait orientations, but not ideal at all for movies. The power and volume buttons are within easy reach on the top. The sides are magnetic so that the Surface Pen can just snap on. There's also a magnetic connector on the bottom for the Type Cover.
The tablet alone is 8.3mm thick, and weight varies slightly between 0.76kg and 0.78kg depending on which variant you choose. The Type Cover will add 5mm and 310g to those figures respectively. That's still extremely portable, and lighter than many ultraportable laptops.
Microsoft Surface Pro features and specifications
Other manufacturers have been using Intel's 8th Generation processors with more cores for several months now, but because the Surface Book we're reviewing was launched abroad in mid-2017, we're still dealing with Intel's 7th Generation architecture here. The entry-level Surface Pro variant is built around a low-power Y-series Intel Core m3 CPU, and while there are U-series Core i5 and Core i7 options, these are also designed to run within tight thermal constraints.
Our review unit has a Core i5-7300U processor, which has two cores with Hyper-Threading and runs at up to 3.5GHz in bursts. We also have 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe SSD. This variant is officially priced at Rs. 1,06,999 but it sells for a few thousand rupees more online. Unfortunately, although the Surface Pro line starts at Rs. 64,999, you'll get only 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage which would feel a bit too constraining. The top-end spec gets you a Core i7-7660U processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD for a whopping Rs. 1,82,999 - Microsoft isn't even offering the 1TB SSD option here.
The 12.3-inch screen has an unusual but super-sharp resolution of 2736x1824, and Windows 10 scales to 200 percent by default. There are 4,096 levels of sensitivity for stylus input, and 10-point multitouch gestures are also supported. The stereo speakers are Dolby Audio Premium certified.
You'll be extremely limited in terms of physical connectivity. There's only a single USB 3.0 port and a Mini DisplayPort video output - in this day and age we'd expect at least one USB Type-C port, if not Thunderbolt. The proprietary Surface Connect slot will mostly used with the bundled charger, but you can also buy breakout accessories that give you more connectivity. Finally, there's a microSD slot that's almost completely hidden beneath the kickstand.
There's no cellular data option in India (yet) but you do get Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.1. Battery life is rated at 13.5 hours of video playback, but Microsoft doesn't specify the capacity. There's an accelerometer and a gyroscope. The rear camera has an 8-megapixel sensor and autofocus, while the front one has a 5-megapixel sensor.
You get Windows 10 Professional and a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office. The only custom software is a Surface dashboard that lets you check your accessories' battery levels, and look up your serial number and warranty information.
Microsoft Surface Pro Signature Type Cover, Surface Pen, and Surface Arc Mouse
It's unfortunate that Microsoft isn't bundling at least its Type Cover with the Surface Pro, but it's downright upsetting that you'll have to spend a minimum of Rs. 10,999 on top of the already expensive to harness the true 2-in-1 potential of this tablet. If you choose the soft-touch fabric-coated Signature Type Cover, you'll be spending Rs. 12,999.
It is a good keyboard by the standards of ultraportable devices, and you'll be able to type comfortably enough to get work done, but it just doesn't feel like it's worth so much extra money. The keys are a little mushy and it takes some time to get used to them. The layout is fine, except for the kind of cramped arrow keys that we're seeing everywhere now. The best part about it is that there are three levels of backlighting to choose from, but this will put additional strain on the tablet's battery.
The keyboard comes with a built in trackpad, which works fine as long as you don't try to click it. The mechanism is loud and stiff, and we soon learnt to only use taps and swipes. The entire cover can lie flat on a table or be slightly inclined thanks to magnets in the tablet, but doing this means that it will bend and flex as you type.
As a cover, the Type Cover is pretty ordinary. It snaps on to the bottom of the tablet and stays attached firmly. It also stays closed with magnets when you want it to, and the Surface Pro recognises this as a cue to go into standby.
The Surface Pen is less essential, but it's still a shame that you don't get one in the box with the Surface Pro. This will cost you Rs. 7,999 extra and we suspect that a lot of people won't feel it necessary to buy one. If you do, you'll be able to sketch and scribble across a variety of apps. OneNote and Edge in particular have lots of pen-friendly tools. Windows 10 has decent handwriting recognition built in, but you still need to pause after every few words. You get an AAAA battery already installed, but Microsoft doesn't say anything about how long you can expect each one to last.
Finally, Microsoft sent us its Rs. 6,399 Surface Arc Mouse to test with our Surface Pro, and we can quite easily say that this is the most dispensible of the lot. You can use any Bluetooth mouse (since there's only one USB port) and there are several popular ones that sell for about one tenth this price. Just like the original Arc Mouse, this one flattens for easy transport and can be bent into a convex shape for better grip. It automatically switches itself off or on when you do so. The surface has a rubbery coating and there's a single physical button, so you have to lift your forefinger to right-click, Apple Magic Mouse-style. We also have to note that tracking worked well on smooth surfaces that standard optical mice have trouble with. The Surface Arc Mouse will get many people to take a second look, but we didn't find it very comfortable for long-term use.
Microsoft Surface Pro performance
The Surface Pro is generally a pleasure to use, and has enough power to get through most common tasks. We were able to type a few documents, surf the Web and stream some video with loads of browser tabs open, and it didn't break a sweat. The screen is crisp, colours are vibrant, and viewing angles are great.
Videos look good, if you can deal with the relatively small viewing area and huge black letterbox bands for widescreen content. Even simple games from Steam and the Windows Store ran smoothly. Despite the Dolby label, we found the speakers to be harsh and tinny, and there was no bass reproduction at all.
That said, buyers should expect top-end performance at this price level, but what you get is last year's warmed-over parts. Intel doubled core counts with the 8th Generation, so being stuck with the 7th isn't just a minor difference. Benchmark tests showed that performance is significantly weaker compared to the Acer Swift 5 which has an 8th Gen Core i5 CPU. The Lenovo Yoga 920 features a Core i7 CPU and is a little more expensive, but took only around half as long as the Surface Pro in content creation tests.
We recorded scores of 98 and 332 in Cinebench R15's single-core and multi-core tests respectively, and POVRay took 6 minutes, 31 seconds to complete its benchmark render. Our file compression and video encoding tests took 7 minutes, 4 seconds and 2 minutes, 32 seconds respectively. As for graphics performance, 3DMark Time Spy gave us 374 points, and Unigine Valley running at 1920x1080 gave us a reasonable 15.1fps average. Rise of the Tomb Raider was barely able to push 8.91fps on average at its low preset running at 1920x1080, and that only rose to 11.25fps with the resolution reduced to 1280x720.
While casual users likely won't notice any difference, they will still have to accept that they aren't getting the best possible bang for their buck in mid-2018. It's a great pity, and it isn't something we can take lightly considering the overall cost involved.
On the positive side, our review unit ran completely silent even when under extreme stress, thanks to Microsoft's fanless design. Battery life was also quite good. We were able to get through a full workday with a lot of Web surfing, typing, and some video streaming. The intense Battery Eater Pro test ran for 3 hours, 15 minutes.
We really like the Microsoft Surface Pro for its portability and convenience. We were even able to use it on our laps for short stretches - it wasn't very comfortable, but it was certainly possible. Its design and components are however a little dated, and the companies that Microsoft wanted to compete with are currently putting out far more compelling products.
For example, the Lenovo ThinkPad X280 with an 8th Gen Core i5 processor costs less than this and weighs just a tiny bit more, but has twice the SSD capacity, a legendary keyboard, and a perfectly adequate screen. If you were interested in the Core i7 version of the Surface Pro, chances are you'd be happier with the super-svelte Dell XPS 13 9370 (Review) or the more luxurious Lenovo Yoga 920 (Review) instead - both of which came to India very shortly after their international debuts.
The fact that this tablet is so expensive makes the lack of bundled accessories really sting. We'd consider the Type Cover a necessity rather than an option, and Rs. 10,999 extra is far too much to pay. By not including its Surface Pen, Microsoft risks having people simply not bother trying it.
We really wanted to like the Surface Pro, after having waited so long for it to launch, but the value proposition just isn't working for us in 2018. Microsoft badly needs to release an update, and bring it to India within a reasonable timeframe.