Microsoft Surface Pro User Review

*This device is a loaned review unit from Microsoft Malaysia*

In June 2012, Microsoft unveiled a new line of laptop and tablet hybrid devices running on their latest Windows 8 OS which is optimised for touchscreen use with various swipes and gesture controls. The devices – Microsoft Surface RT and Microsoft Surface Pro.

The Surface RT is essentially a tablet. Built to run on Windows RT, it supports tile based Windows 8 apps for touchscreen controls and navigation. The Surface Pro on the other hand, runs on full Windows 8 Operating System that not only has the touch friendly, tiled based Windows 8 apps, it also has Desktop mode to support traditional desktop softwares that you’d normally download for a desktop PC.

Look at the new toy I just got to review. Surface Pro!!! #surfacepro #gadget #review

A photo posted by Winnie Chen-Head (@winniekepala) on

A month back, the great PR folks of Microsoft Malaysia loaned me a review unit of the Surface Pro for a couple of weeks use. Although it’s been over a year since the global announcement, the Surface Pro didn’t hit the Malaysian market until June 2013.

When I got the call to get my hands on the Surface Pro, I was ecstatic! I have been looking forward to play around with the Surface Pro tablet ever since the global announcement. I was initially contemplating about buying it as my primary workhorse. Something portable for mobile computing, as well as a good tablet and laptop hybrid. For a couple of weeks, I used the Surface Pro as my primary computer, for work, personal and blogging.

The device went through all the usual tasks that I currently do on my primary laptop – the Acer Aspire S7 ultrabook. From Microsoft Office to photo editing to web browsing and blogging, here’s my user review of the Microsoft Surface Pro.

 

Hardware Overview

Microsoft Surface Pro - Unboxing
Unboxing the Microsoft Surface Pro

The Surface Pro comes in a set of the Surface Pro as well as the Type cover keyboard accessory. Inside the Surface Pro box (a very cool packaging and division of the items inside, might I add) you see the device, a 3-pin adapter charger, a power adapter, an included Digitizer Pen and user manuals.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft Surface Pro

Here’s a quick specifications overview of the Microsoft Surface Pro :-

  • 10.6″ ClearType Full HD Display display (1920 x 1080)
  • 3rd Gen Intel® CoreTM i5 Processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 64 GB / 128 GB internal memory (expandable microSD slot) + 4 GB RAM
  • Powered by Windows 8 Pro OS
  • Two 720p HD LifeCams, front- and rear-facing with True Colour
  • 0.53″ thin, weighing only 2 lbs
  • 42 W-h non-removable battery
  • Ports : USB 3.0, micro SDXC card slot, headphone jack, Mini DisplayPort, Cover Port
  • Connectivity : WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, Accelerometer, Gyroscope
  • Build quality : VaporMg casing
  • Available in Dark Titanium colour

For more information, you can check out Microsoft Surface Pro Product Page at http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-my/surface-with-windows-8-pro/

Surface Pro - Hardware 3
Hardware overview of Surface Pro

The Surface Pro is solid, made of Microsoft’s proprietary Vapor Mg casing, which is pretty much an aluminium metal body. It has a nice matter finish, but somehow was still a fingerprint magnet (as seen in the bottom right image in the picture above).

The front is all glass with a clear full HD capacitive 10 point touchscreen. The only thing on the front is a capacitive Windows “Start” logo. At the top, you’ll see the tiny dot of the front facing camera that’s used for video calling. At the back, you’ll see the groove for the kickstand with a matte Windows logo. At the top, is another rear camera.

The screen is amazing. Images are so bright and clear, with excellent viewing angle. The amazing 1920 X 1080 resolution along with the 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio makes the display, pictures and videos look awesome!

Surface Pro - Hardware 2

The tablet/laptop hybrid device is not exactly slim – at 0.53″ thick and 2 lbs in weight, it’s not exactly the most portable “tablet”.

At the top of the device (in landscape mode, of course) is the Power On/Off button on the right. The left side is the headphone jack, volume rocker and a full sized USB port. At the right side is a microSD card slot (yeah!!) and the power/ charging port (more on this later). The bottom is the connector port for the Type Cover keyboard.

Surface Pro - Charger port

I like the connector for the power / charging port. It uses a proprietary port with 5 pin magnetic attachment. You just bring the cable connector close to the port and it clicks in place!

 

The click of the kickstand

First, check out this video from Surface YouTube channel titled “The Surface Movement commercial”.

A few people who have seen this ad asked me if the “click” of the kickstand was as satisfying. While clicking the kickstand out and in place to prop the Surface Pro was nice, to be honest, I much prefer the click of the Type cover keyboard.

Surface Pro - Hardware 1

The kickstand is much appreciated in the Surface Pro, it allows you to prop the tablet screen tablet at an angle for use. Unfortunately though, this angle is fixed. The kickstand is not adjustable to fir your viewing angle, so you kinda have to sit at just the right angle to be able to use it right, unlike a laptop that you can push the screen to suit whatever height you’re sitting.

Surface Pro kickstand
Looking under the Surface Pro kickstand

 

Using the Type Cover keyboard

Surface Pro - Type Keyboard
Rubbery matte finish to the Type Cover keyboard

One of Microsoft Surface bigger feature is the attachment keyboard. The younger (and less powerful) Surface RT uses a Touch Cover, which has flat rubbery keyboard surface (pun not intended) based on touch typing. This Surface Pro uses a Type Cover keyboard that is literally a super thin keyboard that feels like a regular keyboard on a laptop. It even comes with a small touchpad with left and right click options.

Surface Pro Touch Cover
Here’s the Touch Cover, with a Mentos to show you a Surface size comparison
Surface Pro with Touch Cover - back
The back of the attached Touch Cover is nice and flush, no exposed ports

The back of the Touch Cover is a nice felt material, that when flipped closed, looks like a very nice “Smart Cover” indeed.

Surface Pro & Touch  Cover keyboard connection
The Touch Cover is attached with a magnetic connection as well
Surface Pro with Type cover keyboard - angle
Kickstand out, Touch Cover open
Surface Pro with Touch Cover in hand
Surface Pro with Touch Cover in hand

Although the Touch Cover really makes the device looks nicely like a tablet, the whole package makes the Surface Pro rather hefty. As a tablet, it’s too bulky and big. As a laptop, it’s not quite the thinnest or lightest laptop.

 

Software Overview

The Surface Pro is powered by Windows 8 Pro, which means it’s a full Windows Operating System with tiled based Start menu and apps, as well as a “Desktop mode” for full fledge desktop softwares.

Surface Pro - Start & Desktop
Windows “Modern UI” for touchscreen & Desktop mode for mouse navigation

The Windows 8 “Modern UI” is optimised for touchscreen use. The tile based navigation is in the same flavour as you’d find on Windows Phone 8 OS. Of course, there’s a “Desktop Mode” where you can use (and install) your normal Windows 7 softwares, that you can navigate with your finger on the touchscreen or using the trackpad/mouse.

See Also : 6 Things You Need To Know About Windows 8

Surface Pro - Windows Store
Windows 8 Store with loads of touchscreen friendly apps

The Windows 8 Store actually has a number of apps that you can download, some free and some paid. These are touch screen friendly apps that you can navigate like a tablet. The free app selection is actually quite good, which also includes some good local pics like The Star, AirAsia and more.

Surface Pro - Browser & Bing Search
Browser and Bing Search – Modern app

These touchscreen apps are called “Modern app”. Like a tablet and a Windows Phone 8, you have your usual People, Messaging, Photo, etc.

The default browser (top) is, of course, Internet Explorer and it’s quite alright. It supports tab browsing and “InPrivate tab” aka “Incognito Browsing” in Chrome browser. The default search (bottom) is of course Microsoft’s own Bing Search, which shows you result in touchscreen friendly boxes.

Surface Pro - Snap
Snap apps side by side for multi-tasking

One of my favourite feature on the Windows 8 OS is the “Snap” function. It allows you to place 2 apps side by side for multi tasking. You can “snap” either a Modern (touch based) app or desktop app. You can also drag the divider line to any size you want. Really neat for me to watch my Twitter timeline while I work.

 

That available storage issue

One of the many user gripes about the Surface Pro is the available storage space for user’s files. The 64GB Surface Pro reportedly only has 23 GB of usable storage for your ow files. Obviously, there’s an outrage. What Microsoft didn’t clearly explain in their Marketing material, was that the bulk of the storage was used for the Windows 8 OS itself.

Surface storage

To clear the air on this issue, Microsoft released this page HERE with a full breakdown of storage for your Surface Pro devices.

Surface Pro - Storage Space

In this review unit, I actually have the 64GB version. However, as you can see, I only have 49.7 GB capacity. When I took the above screenshot, I didn’t really have any additional apps / softwares downloaded. Even so, it only gave me a 22.9 GB free space. Not much, to be honest, but thankfully for me, I use cloud storage mostly – like Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive, etc.

 

Camera

If this was a laptop review, then the performance for both the rear and front facing camera would not be the biggest consideration. Because Microsoft has marketed this as a tablet and laptop hybrid, I need to dedicate a section to the performance of the shooters.

Sadly though, both the front and the rear facing camera on the Surface Pro is a measly 1.2 megapixel camera. That won’t be any good for real photography. The rear camera also doesn’t include any LED flash, which is really not a big deal. The Surface Pro is such a hefty device to be used for any real photography. Anyone seen using a Surface Pro to snap pictures is worst than an iPad photographer.

Surface Pro - Sample Pic_Rear Camera
Sample Pic with Rear Camera (click to see original enlarged photo)
Surface Pro - Sample Pic_Front Camera
Sample Pic with Front Camera (click to see original enlarged photo)

I don’t understand why the picture quality in the front facing camera was so weird and orange. Both the pictures above were taken seconds apart, in the same lighting condition. I didn’t get to try a video call with the front camera, unfortunately. Perhaps, image quality was much better in those conditions?

 

Included Digitizer Pen

Surface Pro - Digitizer Pen stylus
Surface Pro comes with Digitizer Pen stylus accessory

I almost didn’t test out the digitizer pen that was included in the package with the Surface Pro. Even though I do use my S Pen with my Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 for doodling and note taking, I was never in the habit (or never had the option) to use a stylus pen for my laptop use.

Surface Pro - Keyboard & Digitizer

The on screen keyboard is quite alright as well. There’s word prediction available, but with a giant 10.6″ screen at landscape mode, it’s really easy to type without making much mistakes, almost like a regular laptop keyboard. You can also  select various on screen keyboard mode, which includes a split screen function (for easier two thumb typing when using as a tablet) and a handwriting mode.

Launching the handwriting mode pops up a bottom bar with line for you to use the included digitizer pen to write. It automagically converts your handwriting with the stylus to text. Check this Instagram video below…

I really really love it! I can’t believe I almost didn’t test this function!

Surface Pro - Digitizer pen 2

I had a lot of fun taking handwritten and doodle notes and drawing diagrams for work and ideas. In some softwares and apps like OneNote, there are even functions for highlight, paint brush, colours and more. Very handy if you’re like me who tend to draw diagrams and like to take free form handwritten notes.

 

Battery Life

I used the Surface Pro as my primary device for a couple of weeks. My regular Acer Aspire S7 laptop was sent to the Service Centre for some battery issues and I left my Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet at home. So, I used this device as my work laptop as well as my (supposed) portable tablet.

On battery life alone, the Surface Pro lasted me a little shy of 4 hours of continuous usage at work.

If it was a laptop, this would be average and acceptable. Not great, not too bad either. If I reviewed this as a tablet, then this wouldn’t be the best battery life from a tablet.

 

Pricing and Availability

The original listed price for the Surface Pro was USD$ 899 and RM 2,749 in Malaysia.

In July 2013, Microsoft announced it’s quarterly earnings and it showed a USD$ 900 million write off for its Surface RT, indicating that it didn’t sell quite as well as it’d hoped. Subsequently, they started to cut the selling price of the Surface RT the same month. Then, Surface Pro price came down by USD$100 as well to reveal the new USD$ 799 price tag. Not long after that, the price cut went into affect worldwide, with CNET Asia reporting the same for Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in end August 2013.

Microsoft Surface Pro

So, instead of the original RM 2,749 price tag for the Surface Pro, it’s now on sale at a lower Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 2,449 as shown in the Microsoft Surface Pro product page at http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-my/surface-with-windows-8-pro/

Is this more affordable? Even for a tablet and laptop hybrid device? I don’t believe so.

Pricing is a sore point for the Surface Pro. Because it’s a hybrid device, do you compare the price with a tablet or a laptop? For a tablet, against an iPad, for example, the Surface Pro is way too pricey. For a laptop, then the price point is that of a mid to high end laptop. Unfortunately though, the specs, outlook and usability of the Surface Pro is not really on par with a mid to high end laptop.

 

Conclusion

In case you haven’t seen the Microsoft Surface Pro commercials, it’s a whole load of body poppin’ and lockin’ action going on there. A bunch of men (and women) in suits having way too much fun with all the clicking of the Surface Pro kickstand and Type cover.

Check it out…

This is Microsoft’s attempt to make the Surface Pro a cool work and personal device. People in suits = work device, dancing and all = fun and personal device. A hybrid device, indeed.

So, here’s a list of what I like and what I dislike about the Microsoft Surface Pro:-

What I Like

  • Touch Cover is great – excellent material and build quality, doubles as a cover and a very good keyboard, might I add
  • Turns head in public – Hybrid tablet / laptop device is a great idea and I get so many people asking me if it’s a Surface and what I thought about it
  • Digitizer Pen stylus – The digitizer pen stylus is awesome! Handwriting to text works so well I wish it’s made for all Windows devices

What I Dislike

  • Too thick and heavy – for a tablet for sure, and even for a laptop especially with so many ultrabooks and Macbook Air in the market today
  • Expensive price tag – RM 2,449 is way too pricey to be competitive (against the iPad or other mid to high end laptops)
  • Windows 8 touchscreen or desktop – I turn to desktop mode using the trackpad and mouse more than using the touch friendly Modern app, but screen is too small and made desktop mode working painfully annoying

So, in conclusion, I really think this hybrid device is a good idea, probably not executed too well. As a tablet, the Surface Pro is not portable enough, there’s not enough good touchscreen apps to make it worthwhile as a competitive tablet. As a laptop, maybe I’m spoilt with my thin and light ultrabook here, this is not exactly thin and portable enough for my liking.

I don’t dislike the device. It has some great qualities and is a rather good device in general. Something I would consider buying, really. If only the price was more affordable. I really can’t get behind that price tag. Hmmpphh.

If the Surface Pro was sold at, say RM 1,500 or something, I’ll likely be owning one right now.

Microsoft has just sent out the invite to the launch of the Surface 2 for 23 Sept 2013 happening in New York.

 That’s less than 2 weeks away.

It’s rumoured to have a better Intel Haswell processor (better battery life and faster speed and performance), includes a Surface Dock and has additional connectivity options like NFC and 4G LTE. Check out this interesting TechRadar article with all the speculations and rumours of the upcoming Microsoft Surface 2 line HERE.

So, should you buy this current Surface Pro reviewed?

Well, with less than 2 weeks to go, I suggest you wait a bit and see what the new Surface 2 is gonna look like. If the new Surface 2 don’t appeal to you, and/or you might have to wait a few more months or maybe more for it to hit Malaysian shores, then go check out this current Surface Pro. See for yourself the great display screen and play with that awesome-sauce Digitizer Pen stylus handwriting function. Did I tell you enough times how much I love it?

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