Microsoft Surface Pro Review: A Tablet/Laptop Hybrid With Compromises


However, I wrote most of this review on the Type Cover, the other keyboard available. The black Type Cover has physical keys and a more usable trackpad for navigating Windows 8 with a cursor. I was able to type at a faster clip (86 words per minute) using the Type Cover too. It's not as thin as the Touch Cover (and you can't get it in the colors of the rainbow), but I figure the tablet is already thick, so what's another few millimeters?

Another note about using it as a laptop: The kickstand and keyboard together allow you to transform the tablet into a clamshell device, but it doesn't sit very well on a lap. It's a balancing act, to say the least. You have to position the keyboard just right; if you lean back just a bit the whole thing can go toppling over. Good thing the tablet can withstand that drop on the floor!

With more desktop apps that weren't built for touch screens at my disposal, I found myself prefering to use a mouse with the Pro (much more so than with the RT version). The trackpad on the Type Cover is fine when you are in a pinch (literally), but I found myself using Microsoft's Bluetooth Wedge mouse or another external mouse most of the time. What would really be useful is a docking station of some sort for the Surface for when you are at your desk.

In addition to the touch screen and mouse input there's another way of navigating on the Surface Pro. Included in the box is a plastic black pen that resembles a mechanical pencil, complete with an eraser. It actually functions as one on the screen: scribble something wrong, flip over the pen, rub where you made the mistake, and it will disappear! The pen is very accurate and works great with Windows 8's built-in handwriting recognition tool. It's also great for sketching or taking handwritten notes in One Note. Additionally, the screen didn't pick up anything when I rested my palm on it when taking notes with the pen.

World of Programs and Performance
The beauty, though, of the Surface Pro is that you can download any previous Windows sketching program or any program for that matter. While the Surface RT version would only run the newest apps available in the Windows Store, the Pro is like any other Windows PC. You can download any of the apps in the Store that were designed for touchscreens, and also any programs via the web for Windows 7.

The wider selection of apps solves one of the biggest issues of the original, but the lack of some apps in the store is noticeable. There are still no great Twitter or Facebook apps for Windows 8, and while you can access either of those through the two Web browsers (the one through the desktop and the one on the Start Screen style version), they're not touch-optimized.

The Surface Pro does a nice job running lots of apps simultaneously. Powered by a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and the 64GB solid-state drive, the Pro is just as capable and fast as most laptops. Programs load quickly and, in contrast to the Surface RT, there's none of that lag or stuttering when switching apps or swiping them in from the left. It also resumes from sleep in seconds and boots in under 10 seconds, but it's also very quick to run out of steam.

The tablet has a larger battery than the Surface RT, but lasts about half the time on a charge. In regular use, which included writing this review, checking email in Outlook and surfing the Web, I got close to five and a half hours of power. However, when looping a video it lasted under five hours (4:40 to be exact); the Surface RT lasted nearly nine hours on the same test and many laptops run for nearly seven or eight hours. There are also some tablets with keyboard docks that are equipped with batteries that can double their endurance.

Bottom Line
The Surface Pro solves a lot of the issues I had with the Surface RT, but has some new ones. It can now run a lot more programs, but the tablet is much thicker and heavier. It is now a lot faster, but it only lasts five hours on a charge. It has a beautiful, high-resolution screen, but it's now more expensive.

As a tablet, the Surface Pro is not as strong as its competitors. It's larger, the battery life can't compete and still lacks critical apps. As a laptop it's hampered by its smaller screen size, lack of a good mouse option and the fact that it doesn't really sit on your lap. Putting the two together results in a breed that's simply not as compelling as separate tablets and laptops.

The Surface Pro is a good choice for a niche mobile user, one who is willing to pay $1,000 for the power and robustness of a full Windows computer in a small and very compelling form factor. Many people, however, will likely prefer to get a tablet and buy a separate Windows laptop, so they don't have to make another compromise.

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