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This incremental hardware update is an expensive option, but the Surface Pro's ultraportability and touch-friendly interface makes it ideal for hot-desking and working anywhere.
Like the Apple iPad, Microsoft have decided the latest devices have no need of a number to indicate which version it is. The fifth iteration of the Surface Pro tablet computer – following on from the Surface Pro 4 – is now just a “Surface Pro”.
To confuse matters further, every release of the Microsoft Surface Pro comprises several hardware options. At the top end, you’ll be paying around $2500 for the very best device; at the other end, less than $1000. They’re all known as a Surface Pro, however.
Three processor variants are available, the 7th generation Intel Core M3 7Y30, Core i5-7300U and Core i7-7660U. Memory is available in 4 GB, 8 GB and 16 GB 1866Mhz LPDDR3 configurations (the latter isn’t available for the Core M3, however), while storage is available as 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB flash. A 1 TB SSD is available for the top of the range Core i7 model. Both the Core M3 and Core i5 models are fanless. Just pick a price you’re willing to pay from $1000 to $2500 – there’s a model suitable for you.
We’re reviewing the lowest end of the spectrum: a Core M3 model, which comes with 4 GB RAM and 128 GB of storage.
As we expect the lowest spec version is the one that most people will buy, it’s the device we’ve opted to review. Will it make an adequate office machine? Can it run in any location? Does the low-spec Microsoft Surface Pro have the power to perform media editing or gaming?
Let’s find out!
Unboxing the Microsoft Surface Pro
This Microsoft-produced tablet PC is the fifth version since 2011, and ships in a compact box complete with a mains adaptor. And… that’s it.
There’s nothing else in the box. Nothing that you might have seen advertised alongside the Microsoft Surface Pro, or enjoyed trying out in your local electrical retailer. No stylus (the Surface Pen), and no keyboard. Fortunately, the tablet has a good touchscreen keyboard, but it’s not the same, is it? Surely a hybrid device that wants to be taken seriously should ship with the keyboard included!
Although the Microsoft Surface Pro no longer ships with a keyboard, we decided to add a Touch Cover for review purposes (note: the 2017 version of the Touch Cover has not been released at the time of writing). This is a magnetic cover that flips around the screen, and sits beneath the tablet when used on a table or desk. The suede-like finish makes it comfortable to hold.
It doesn’t take long to boot into the Windows 10 account setup, where Cortana can guide you through the options you need to select. She’ll listen for your responses, too, which makes for a simple setup while you’re tidying the packaging away.
Microsoft Surface Pro Specs
As noted, we’re reviewing the Core M3 model, with 4 GB RAM and a 128 GB SSD. The modest storage means that you’re going to need some additional space, and happily an SD card slot is provided,which can help you to keep the costs down. Meanwhile, the Core M3 CPU has two cores, running at a maximum of 2.6 Ghz.
Graphics on this model are courtesy of the Intel HD Graphics 620 chip, which outputs to a 2736 x 1824 pixel (267 ppi) display, 31.75 centimeters in physical terms. The Surface Pro is 29.2 x 0.8 x 20.1 cm in size, weighing 768 grams (higher spec Surface Pros are slightly heavier, up to 784 g). These dimensions make it as comfortable to carry as its predecessors, if not more so, as the Surface Pro is lighter than the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 3 by several grams.
The usual connectivity options — USB, wireless (801.11 AC), and Bluetooth — are included. The single USB 3.0 port will need a hub attaching, but if you have (or buy) a Surface Dock, extra ports will be available. Happily, a traditional headphone jack is also included. Inside, the obligatory gyroscope and ambient light sensors (accompanying the front camera) are also present.
Although not electrical hardware, there is another key feature: the kickstand. This has evolved since the original Surface Pro, and is now capable of positioning the tablet at almost any upright angle. It is particularly satisfying in “Surface Studio” in which it mimics Microsoft’s creative-focused desktop hybrid.
Hold On, Where’s the Surface Pen?!
When we previously looked at the Microsoft Surface Pro, it shipped with a pen. This Surface Pen was a high-quality, pressure sensitive stylus that could be used for note taking and artwork.
This time around, while a stylus continues to be available, it doesn’t ship with the Surface Pro. Instead, you need to buy it separately, which is going to add another $99 to the price tag. Now, you might be able to live without the Surface Pen, but if you’ve got a Surface Pro, it really makes sense to have one. We’ll leave it up to you.
Camera and Graphics
As is commonplace on tablets and hybrids, the Microsoft Surface Pro features two cameras, front and rear. Facing you is a 5.0 MP camera with 1080p high definition video and Windows Hello face authentication. (Other authentication methods — password and PIN — are available.)
Meanwhile on the reverse is an 8 MP camera with autofocus and HD video. There are better cameras out there, but this does the job.
When it comes to image creation and editing, however, this Core M3 model is adequate. You’ll need a stylus, of course, but you’ll find the tablet is an enjoyable drawing experience, as well as capable of manipulating your original art and photographs. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator will play very well on the low end tablet, but of course the higher the spec, the better the performance.
Get Efficient with the Microsoft Surface Pro
Owning a Surface Pro will increase your productivity: fact. Having owned the original Surface Pro and previously reviewed the Surface Pro 4, I’ve enjoyed considerable flexibility whenever I’ve used these devices.
In short, it works anywhere. Thanks to a good mobile CPU, efficient battery (see below), and the ability to run all of the apps I regularly need, the Surface Pro is the ultimate portable workstation. The 12.3-inch display might be a bit smaller than you’re used to (my daily driver is a HP Envy with a 17-inch display), but it’s big enough for most tasks. If you need a larger screen, you can connect a monitor via the Surface Dock, or use wireless HDMI.
If you work away from your usual office a lot and need to run Microsoft Office, edit images and sound, watch online video, do some general gaming, even video editing, the Surface Pro is the device you should consider. The high spec version will do all of these things with aplomb; the Core M3 model is good, but less accomplished.
Can You Really Work Where You Want?
Well, yes you can. Because the Surface Pro is so light and slim, it can fit into many small bags. Whether you’re a freelancer or someone who finds themselves hot-desking regularly, the Surface Pro is the ultimate in convenience hardware. Although there have been some problems reported with the device waking from sleep, it’s generally ready for you to use, when you want it.
But, there is a downside to this flexibility. Using the tablet with the keyboard on your lap is just silly. Even if your thighs are long enough for a keyboard and tablet stand to balance on them, the keyboard itself starts to get a bit bouncy.
In fact, for knee-based typing, the best option is to fold the stand right back and use the touchscreen keyboard. It’s not ideal, and can take some getting used to. However, it is an acceptable replacement to a physical keyboard and you can see why Microsoft opted not to include one by default.
Media Creation, Editing and Gaming
Word processing an office tasks are effortless with the Surface Pro. This is to be expected. We’re reviewing the “budget” low spec version — so how does it cope with graphic-intensive tasks, and gaming?
We’ll tackle games first. In short, don’t expect to be able to play the latest titles. While we were surprised to find Civilization VI ran without a problem, the same cannot be said for recent FPS titles. In short, the Core M3 and the Intel HD graphics aren’t up to the task. While you’ll find some games will run at the lowest settings, this isn’t a gaming machine. However, games up to around 2012 should run without any real issues.
When it comes to audio editing, you shouldn’t run into any real problems. I’ve edited a podcast on this device and everything went as well as you would expect. In fact, the edit might even have gone quicker than my usual Core i7 laptop!
HD video editing, on the other hand, are where things are going to fall flat for you. While the top end Core i7 (and to a lesser extent, the Core i5) model will deliver efficient video editing, this bottom-of-the-range variant will not. It can get the job done, but not without lockups and delays. If high definition video editing is what you want, we recommend at least the Core i5 version, but with at least 8 GB of RAM.
Battery Charge Tested
This version of the Surface Pro ships with a single Lithium ion cell, with a stated average duration of 13.5 hours. But how does this balance out in practice?
For basic browsing and word processing, I’m certain that the tablet exceeded the average by around 45 minutes. However, this was before additional software was installed, and the number background tasks increased. It’s a good idea to have a socket in easy reach, or at least a portable battery for quick recharging. Speaking of which, the recharge speed isn’t great, but it is good. Once again, Microsoft has persisted with its Surface Connect magnetic power cable connector, rejecting the modern convention for USB Type-C. However, we suspect this is more to do with the power requirements of the Surface Pro.
The low power of the Core M3 CPU is a massive part of this long battery duration, of course. However, gaming on the go isn’t going to be too successful. While the typical mobile gaming apps in the Windows Store won’t have too much of an impact on the battery, standard Windows games will. On the plus side, anything that’s running when the battery runs out will be saved, ready to use when you recharge the device.
The Surface Pro 2017: Incremental, Ultra Portable, But Expensive
We’ve mentioned the previous version of the Surface Pro several times in this review, simply because the two devices are so close in spec. In fact, the only real differences are the physical specifications, and the introduction of a new version of the Intel Core Skylake CPU.
Oh, and the latest version of Windows 10.
Which brings us to an interesting argument against buying it. Given the closeness to its predecessor, it might be more cost effective to buy last year’s model. There simply isn’t enough new with this model to justify the $1000-$3000 price tag. The Surface Studio mode is certainly an advantage, but will appeal purely to artists. Of course, the lack of a Surface Pen with this model might equally discourage the digital artists among you.