Microsoft Surface Pro Review: Powerful Windows Tablet

by Louie Tran Reads (60,138)
Editor's Rating
8.60

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Usability
    • 9
    • Design
    • 9
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Features
    • 9
    • Price/Value Rating
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 8.60
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Excellent performance thanks to top of the line hardware
    • A full Windows 8 experience without any compromises
    • Solid build with simplistic and elegant design
    • Endless possibilities for productivity depending on how it's used
  • Cons

    • Poor battery life
    • Can be heavy for some people
    • 150% scaling in desktop mode makes non-optimized apps look terrible

Quick Take

There really is no better solution for those that need a powerful-yet-portable  tablet.

Overview

Let me be honest with you: Before I tried it, my expectations for the Microsoft Surface Pro were very low. I was unimpressed with Windows Phone 8, and equally disappointed with the Surface RT tablet, mainly due to the lack of apps.

So how does the Surface Pro solve this? It runs the full version of Windows 8 Pro, which allows you to install and run any Windows desktop application you want without any compromise to speed, thanks to the top-of-the line hardware under the hood.

That being said, is the Microsoft Surface Pro relevant in the competitive world of tablets and ultraportables? Let’s find out!

Build and Design
At first glance, the Surface Pro looks glaringly similar to the Surface RT, as it has the same titanium color scheme and VaporMG material on its casing. However, if you look a little bit closer, the Surface Pro is slightly thicker than the RT (.53-inches vs .37-inches) and slightly heavier (2.0 lbs vs 1.5 lbs).

Microsoft Surface ProThe build of the Surface Pro is quite solid and sturdy, and the VaperMG gives it a high quality feel. The design of the tablet itself is elegantly simplistic with nothing but a Windows logo (that functions as a capacitive home button) on the face of the tablet.

Coming from an iPad mini, picking up Microsoft device and trying to use it as a tablet was a bit of a shocker to me because it feels significantly heavier than the Mini or even the larger iPad. I got used to it after a few hours and it became less of an issue. Most people will have a difficult time using it with one hand in tablet mode, and an even harder time navigating through the desktop mode while holding it. If all you are looking for is just a simple tablet, the weight of the device already makes the Surface Pro a less viable choice than its competitors, but you have to take into account that this is NOT a simple tablet.

The built in kickstand is very convenient for those who want to watch a movie or video chat with someone with the device on a desk or coffee table. I was also pleased to find that it is also very sturdy and well built into the device. I believe it will last along with the rest of the device with normal use.

Screen
The Surface Pro features a 10.6-inch display with 1920 x 1080 resolution at 208ppi. In Metro tablet mode, the bright and vibrant display is gorgeous and looks great on all viewing angles. The screen is also optically bonded so glare is reduced and the display is useable in most lighting conditions. Internet Explorer pages look great without any compromises, and it is a joy to watch HD videos on the screen. Games and applications that are designed to take advantage of the Windows 8 touch interface all ran great, including the Microsoft Office suite.

Now how about applications that aren’t optimized and those that have to run in desktop mode? That is a different story altogether. The issue here is that the tablet scales everything 150% of its actual size because anything less than that will be too difficult and uncomfortable to view, especially text. For Windows 8 native apps and media players such as VLC and Office, it’s not really an issue, but when I wanted to use iTunes or Google Chrome (yes, I do know there is a tablet mode for Chrome but it doesn’t work very well), these application are blurry and nearly unusable without a mouse. Just forget about using the touchscreen otherwise — you will be as frustrated as I was. Some people find scaling to 125% is the sweet spot, but I still found it a bit hard to read, and using it for over an hour will not be healthy for the eyes.

So keep this in mind, if you want to use non-optimized apps in desktop mode, it will be best to use a mouse instead of your fingers; and also, expect those apps to look blurry due to the scaling. If you are using Windows 8 optimized apps, you won’t have any issues.

On-Screen Keyboard and Stylus
The on-screen keyboard is very responsive. If you are using the Surface Pro as a tablet, you won’t have that many issues with the keyboard, and you have the option to split the keyboard into two parts so you can type with your thumbs in landscape mode.

Microsoft Surface Pen

The Surface Pen is a Wacom pressure-sensitive stylus that will please artists and those who like to scribble notes. “Gabe” from Penny Arcade did a nice write-up of how he utilizes the Surface Pen in drawing his comics. Like the S-Pen that comes with the Galaxy Note II, it’s nice to have, but it’s something that most people aren’t going to always utilize.

The only annoying thing about the Surface Pen is that it clips magnetically on the side of the tablet instead of being stored into the casing. Not sure why Microsoft did it this way, but it’s an inconvenience since there’s always the potential to lose this accessory.

External Keyboard
The main purpose of the kickstand is to allow the use of external (and optional) keyboards that allow this tablet to function like a notebook.

The Surface Pro has two keyboard options that you can choose from. They connect to the bottom of the device, and also double as a protective cover for the screen.

The Type Cover will run you an addition $130, and it features real keys and feels like an actual keyboard. The thinner Touch Cover, on the other hand, has pressure sensors to type on, and it costs $120. My recommendation for those who wish to be more productive and are going to use the device for some serious typing (as I am doing right now on this review) is to use the Type Cover.

The Type Cover is actually a joy to use, and is the best “tablet” keyboard solution in its class. The built-in track pad mouse is somewhat frustrating, but I found it more effective typing with the keyboard and navigating with the touchscreen. The only reason why I would use the mouse would be to right click, and getting an external mouse is a better way to go for this.

Microsoft Surface ProIf you are going to be using your tablet to just shoot out a few emails and surf the Web, I wouldn’t even bother with the Touch Cover. You’ll be better off just sticking with the on-screen keyboard and saving yourself $120 — or even going with an iPad/Android tablet because the Surface Pro would be overkill for what you want it for.

There is a separate wireless Wedge Mouse Surface Edition by Microsoft that compliments the device perfectly, but you’ll be looking at spending an additional $70. If not, any standard mouse will do fine

Other Buttons and Controls
You will find a sleep/power button on the top right hand corner of this tablet, a USB 3.0 port and volume rocker on the left side, a MagSafe-ish power port, a mini display port, and microSD memory card slot on the right. Along the the bottom you have the magnetic keyboard/accessory port.

Although the power port resembles Apple’s MagSafe, it is not as effective because it’s a bit of a pain to plug in and charge the device because you have to fiddle with it to get it to fit correctly. You will also notice a pair of air vents to help cool the Intel i5 processor, but you won’t really hear the fans blowing even in the quietest room.

You have one USB 3.0 port and a microSD slot for expandability. There is also the Display Port, which allows VGA and HDMI connectivity, which requires a separate adaptor for $40. At the bottom of the device, I mentioned earlier that there is a keyboard/accessory port. Microsoft says that there are some plans in the future to add other accessories such as a dock or separate charging source for the device, so that may be something to look forward to if Microsoft follows through with that project.

Wait, you’re not done! This is not even half of our review of this tablet. Please click through to Page 2 to see how it performs in our tests, and find out our conclusions on the Surface Pro.


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