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Microsoft Surface Pro review: Goodbye Surface Pro 5, hello hybrid perfection

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It’s been nearly two years since we last saw a Windows 10 2-in-1 from Microsoft; that was the lovely Surface Pro 4, which despite recent spin-offs like the Surface Book, Surface Laptop and Surface Studio, hasn’t had a true replacement until now.

That’s unusual for an industry where new models tend to appear on a yearly basis, sometimes to the week, and yet even with this relatively lengthy gap, Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro (number suffix be gone) feels awfully familiar.

Microsoft Surface Pro review

You might have heard of Microsoft’s Surface lineup. There are a smattering of devices to wrap your head around, but the Pro is the firm’s 2-in-1 offering, with its sights set on professional creative types. In short: it’s a 12.3in laptop/tablet hybrid that’s top of its class.

It has a 2,736 x 1,824-resolution touchscreen, with support for Microsoft’s pressure sensitive stylus – the Surface Pen – and it comes in a handful of impressive configurations, all running Windows 10 Pro. Crucially, the Surface Pro is still extremely thin and light, but it doesn’t come cheap.

Microsoft Surface Pro review: Price and competition

The Surface Pro covers a hugely wide range of price points. At the bottom end, the cheapest Surface Pro includes an Intel Core m3 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and this will set you back £799.

If you’ve got plenty of money to spend, the top-spec configuration includes an Intel Core i7-7660U, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for a wallet-wilting £2,699, but I suspect most will plump for the far more reasonably priced Core i5 model, which costs £979 for the 4GB RAM/128GB SSD model. Don’t forget to include the cost of the Type Cover, though, at £125, which brings the price of the latter model up to £1,104. Microsoft still doesn’t include it in the box with the tablet.

Buy Surface Pro from Microsoft

Even with the keyboard included, though, the Core i5 model looks pretty competitive. Our favourite Windows 10 convertible is the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and this will set you back £1,299 for the equivalent specification.

Microsoft Surface Pro review: Design

As I said, the Microsoft Surface Pro feels very familiar. There’s the big, 12.3in touchscreen, once again in 3:2 aspect ratio, the angular shape, the magnetic keyboard connector underneath, the magnesium alloy construction, the huge, fully adjustable kickstand… it even has the same dimensions, having neither bulked up nor slimmed down, and the heaviest 768g model is a mere 2g lighter than its 2015 equivalent.

You’d need to take a pretty close look to notice any physical changes with this year’s Surface Pro.

But they are there, though. The edges, while still sloping inwards in that traditional Surface style, are just a tad bit rounder and softer, and the same goes for the strip of air vents. They’ve sunken deeper into the chassis, so are harder to see, and thus maintain a cleaner aesthetic.

The hinge has been upgraded, too. Besides being able to fold out even further, allowing the Surface Pro to lay down almost flat, it’s both tidier than the Surface Pro 4’s bulky mechanism and, as far as I can tell, slightly stronger and more durable.

What certainly hasn’t changed is your supply of connections. As before, you get a USB 3 port, mini-DisplayPort and charger input on the right-hand edge, plus a microSD slot integrated into the rear panel and, cleverly, a backup USB 3 built into the power brick.

It’s a pretty good setup for a tablet – though the lack of USB Type-C is a missed opportunity. This might not have been the case back when the Surface Pro 4 launched in 2015, when hardly anyone bothered with Type-C, but times have changed and this reversible connector could have been a very worthwhile addition.

Microsoft Surface Pro review: Performance

Mercifully, the tablet itself lands on the right side of the luxury-versus-rip-off spectrum. This is largely down to its performance, which is fitting, since the minor design adjustments mean you’re largely paying for the addition of a 7th-gen Kaby Lake Intel chip anyway.

In our 4K application benchmarks, the Intel Core i7-7660U powered Surface Pro managed an exceptional image test score of 102, which is on par with a good desktop system. It also performed well in the video encoding test, scoring 61, and came out with 46 in the multitasking benchmark and 60 overall. That’s not bad at all for a dual-core mobile processor.

It would be unfair to compare this to the i5-equipped Surface Pro 4 I tested way back when, but the Surface Pro easily beats the top-end Surface Book, which ended up with 42 overall.

Other than that, it’s hard to find any 2-in-1 devices that even come close; Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 falls far behind with an overall score of 31, and even the recently-refreshed XPS 13 laptop only managed 50. Both these devices are much, much cheaper, however.

With Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, the Surface Pro is also a fairly capable gaming machine. I got a slick 60fps out of Dirt Showdown running at 720p with High settings and bumping the resolution up to 1080p still produced a playable 30fps. We did notice the back of the Surface Pro gets rather toasty when juggling heavy multi-threaded tasks, but I’m satisfied with how it runs despite obvious throttling.

One of the lesser-cited benefits of the Surface Pro range over most other 2-in-1s is the choice of Windows 10 Pro as an operating system. This adds a few features aimed specifically at making the Surface Pro a work-ready laptop replacement, such as greatly enhanced remote desktop access and BitLocker drive encryption. A TPM (Trusted Platform Module) cryptoprocessor in the CPU safely stores your login details and any encryption keys, which could come in very handy when working with sensitive data.

Microsoft Surface Pro review: Battery life

Only the Core i7 Surface Pros come with fans this time; the m3 and i5 editions get by with passive cooling, which means silent running. Microsoft says the fan is quieter than that of the Surface Pro 4, too, and I’m inclined to agree. Even when pushed to the limit by our benchmarks, I barely noticed the whirr over the ambient sounds of the office.

An even bigger improvement on the Surface Pro 4 comes in the form of battery life. This is remarkably long-lasting for a Windows 10 tablet, achieving a time of 11hrs 33mins in our video playback test. That’s 5hrs 37mins longer than the Surface Pro 4 achieved in the same conditions, and it means you shouldn’t have any problem getting through a full work day and then some.

Microsoft Surface Pro review: Display

That said, it almost feels disappointing to tone down the 2,736 x 1,824 display, since at full whack it’s utterly gorgeous. Strangely, ours arrived with the screen in Enhanced mode, which by my measurements isn’t as pristine as the alternative sRGB mode. You can switch between them freely in Windows’ settings, by the way.

Not that Enhanced mode is bad: here, the Surface Pro covers 89.1% of the sRGB colour gamut, which is down on the Surface Pro 4’s 97.5%, though colour accuracy remains high with a Delta E of 1.93 and brightness and contrast reach excellent highs of 440cd/m2 and 1,312:1 respectively.

Switch to sRGB mode, however, and it gets even better. Colour coverage jumps to 94.3%, and accuracy reaches photo editing worthiness with a Delta E of 1.16. Brightness is effectively identical, at 437cd/m2, and contrast is pretty much the same, at 1,296:1.

Microsoft Surface Laptop review: Keyboard and touchpad

On that note, I wasn’t supplied one of the new, 5th-gen Pens, but I did get to try out the updated £150 Signature Edition Type Cover. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s also very well-made, the keys have a longer stroke length, it’s clad in premium Alcantara fabric and features a glass-topped trackpad.

Typing is a pleasure: the extra travel doesn’t make a huge difference but the keys are well spaced for accuracy and the amount of tactile, mechanical feedback is as good as you’ll get from an ultraportable laptop keyboard. Even in the slanted position, rather than flat on the table, strong keypresses don’t rattle or bend it. The trackpad, too, is excellent. Smooth, adequately sized and responsive, it handles decisive clicks and multitouch gestures equally well.

Microsoft Surface Laptop review: Verdict

As an incremental update to the Surface Pro 4, the new Surface Pro undoubtedly succeeds. It’s faster, lasts longer, and looks better than the model it replaces. Its only possible undoing might be that it doesn’t go even further. At the time of writing, you can buy an equivalent-spec Surface Pro 4, plus both a Type Cover and Surface Pen, and still end up paying nearly £400 less than just the tablet component of the 2017 model. Are the improvements really worth that premium?

Buy Surface Pro from Microsoft

Perhaps not for most people, but then the Pro line has always been a premium proposition. Like the 2-in-1 analogue to Samsung’s Galaxy S8, the Surface Pro is the kind of luxurious, hyper-expensive product you’re more likely to want than truly need, but at least you get what you pay for.

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