Microsoft launched its fifth generation Surface Pro in India in February this year, after almost six months of its international launch. This flagship tablet by Microsoft has been setting the benchmark every year in terms of how practical such a solution can be for someone who wants a light and portable computer on the go, but not necessarily a laptop. For the last couple of generations, Microsoft has launched the Surface Pro tablets in India and it looks like Microsoft wants to take the Indian user seriously when it comes to its flagship hardware — although the Surface Book is yet to see the light of day in India.
The Surface Pro is certainly wooing audiences who are on the fence about buying an Apple iPad Pro for instance. While the dimensions and specifications on both these tablets may vary, the Surface Pro’s competition is certainly no other OEM-made tablet which can function as a computer as well. Microsoft has decided to go with the Surface Pro (2018) naming convention, instead of Surface Pro 5 (considering this is the fifth generation). This is not meant for everyone, and yes, in its price you can get a lot more powerful laptops as well as MacBooks as well.
So without further ado, let’s jump right into the review.
Build and Design: 8/10
When I first held the Surface Pro, I was hard pressed to find any difference from the Surface Pro 4 I had reviewed a couple of years ago. Honestly, I failed to find any major difference in terms of design. Interestingly enough, I had the same observations for Surface Pro 4 and Surface Pro 3 as well. Good design, that didn’t require any major overhaul.
I got the Intel Core i5 processor sporting variant for testing, which weighs in at 770 gm. It measures 292.1 x 201.4 x 8.5 mm. These numbers are near identical to that of the Surface Pro 4.
Looking around the tablet, the Surface Pro 4 has a magnetic connector at the base where you get to attach the Surface Type keyboard cover. On the left-hand side at the top, you have the 3.5 mm audio jack, the volume rocker and power standby buttons are present on the top edge and it takes some time getting used to operating them blindly. There were occasions when I accidentally pressed the power/standby button when I wanted to increase the volume and vice versa. Along the right-hand side, you have the mini-DisplayPort, a single USB 3.0 port followed by a power port towards the base. All along the Surface Pro 4, you will find vents for cooling. The top portion has a light grey plastic strip which interrupts the otherwise silver edge.
The rear of the Surface Pro is made of silver metal with the Windows logo right in the centre. The kickstand mechanism on the Surface Pro 4 is quite sturdy and the hinge can stretch back all the way, almost 165 degrees, giving artists that much more leeway to work along the plane of the table. Once placed in a particular position, the kickstand stays steady and will require pressure being applied from both ends for it to move. The attention to detail on the hinge is praiseworthy.
Surface Type Cover and Surface Pen (sold separately): 8.5/10
The Surface Type Cover and Keyboard aren’t very different from the last generation. You get the same chiclet type keyboard where the keys have immense travel. The rear portion of the cover has a nice felt-like finish to it which Microsoft calls an Alcantara finish. On the inside, the palm rest is made of patterned coloured silicone material. It gives a very good grip for the palms when you are in a marathon typing session which is great, as the keyboard is angled at a slope and there is a fear of the palm rest being slippery. I never felt so.
It took me no time to find my rhythm on this keyboard and type fast. It does not add much in terms of thickness to the overall package. I did notice though that while typing speedily there was a slight flex in the keyboard in the central portion. I just wished it was a bit sturdier there. You will need to lay the Surface Pro out on a flat surface to type. Typing on your laptop is out of the question unless you are ready for a really wobbly experience on the keyboard.
The trackpad is large and is a lot wider than taller. The thumb rests ergonomically on the trackpad and it is quite responsive, both to touch and the tactile button. The rectangular trackpad also covers gestures such as two finger scrolling, pinch to zoom and so on. It is a single slab of plastic and has a nice soft click.
Barring the clip design on the top, nothing much has changed with Surface Pen in terms of design, so allow me to repeat what I had said in my Surface Pro 4 review. The Surface Pen actually looks like a pen and comes in four colours, of which we got the elegant, silver coloured model. It provides a good grip and the top of it has a button to which you can assign some gestures. By default, a single click opens up Microsoft OneNote and a double click takes a screenshot, it can also function as an eraser and so on. One side of the Surface Pen is flat and this comes with a magnetic strip, which lets you attach the Surface Pen sturdily to one edge of the Pro, so there are fewer chances of losing it. I don’t know why they got rid of the clip on top of the pen, which made carrying the pen easier.
The new Surface Pen comes with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity which will be loved by artists and creators as they have a lot more granularity to play around with when it comes to shading work. The response of the Surface Pen has certainly improved over the Surface Pro 4, where I noticed a definite lag. With this new Surface Pen, there is absolutely no lag and this certainly helps when you are doing some fine shading. It also supports tilt mechanism, which will again be relevant only for creators. I am not a sketch artist, but it was still fun trying my hand with Autodesk Sketchbook.
The Surface Pen weighs around 20 gm and it connects to the Surface Pro via Bluetooth 4.1. The palm rejection with the Surface Pen is great. Surface Pen makes sense only if you are going to use it on illustrations or drawings — so that’s a really niche use case scenario. If you just want to take notes, then the keyboard is good enough.
The Surface Pro Type Cover is available for Rs 12,999 and the Surface Pen is priced at Rs 7,999.
One of the highlights of the Surface Pro series has always been the display, and with the current generation Pro, things aren’t very different. You get a 12.3-inch PixelSense display with a resolution of 2736 x 1824 pixels which gives a pixel density of 267 PPI. It comes in the 3:2 aspect ratio which can take a while to adjust to, if you are coming from a 16:9 displays. One good thing about the 3:2 aspect ratio is the vertical real estate being more, you get to work on your Excel spreadsheets with ease.
The thick black bezel looks out out place in 2018 for sure. I mean that could at least have been changed with this generation considering how OEMs such as Dell, HP, Asus have been impressing customers with Infinity displays. C’mon Microsoft, you can certainly do better to stay contemporary here.
The colours on the IPS LCD display appear vibrant without appearing too saturated, as in the case of AMOLED displays. The contrast levels are good enough to enjoy a movie or two on your Surface Pro. Text and images are tack sharp. While the glass is certainly reflective, you can adjust the kickstand to a point where you can get rid of reflections. This is a major advantage that the Surface Pro offers over the fixed Origami cover of the Apple iPad Pro.
On testing the display, our Spyder 3 unit indicated that colour gamut was around 87.5 percent which is impressive. Measured brightness came in at around 395 cd/m2. The static contrast ratio was pretty good at 1204:1.
Considering this is the annual incremental update to the Surface Pro 4, the fifth-gen Surface Pro’s changes are mostly internal. The new Surface Pro comes with 7th Gen Intel Core series processors going from the Core m3 to Core i5 to Core i7 processors. The variant I got for testing comes with Intel Core i5-7300U which is a dual-core hyper-threaded processor clocked at 2.6 GHz with a Turbo frequency up to 3.5 GHz. This is paired with 8 GB RAM. The graphics solution is provided by the integrated Intel HD 620 GPU. It’s impressive to know that the Core i5 processor sporting Surface Pro has a fanless design.
It comes with Windows 10 Pro operating system out of the box with a one-year subscription to Office 365 bundled in. In terms of storage, this variant came with 256 GB SSD storage. But you also get 128 GB and 512 GB storage variants. There is a microSDXC card reader slot just under the rear flap in case you want to transfer files between devices.
In terms of connectors you get a USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort and a USB 2.0 port attached to the power adapter, which lets you charge your smartphones if you so wish, thereby leaving the USB port on the Surface free for USB sticks or a wired mouse and so on. There is no USB Type C port, something that has become quite mainstream now. Microsoft’s decision to stick with the same ports is surprising. Either that or it wants to ensure that its core customers have the familiarity of ports. But hey, adding an extra USB Type C port would not change things much.
In terms of connectivity, the Surface Pro comes with support for Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi 802.11ac and among the sensors, there are the ambient light sensor, the accelerometer and the gyroscope. It comes with a 5 MP front-facing camera which supports Windows Hello login and an 8 MP rear-facing camera. Both these cameras support Skype HD calling feature.
When I had tested the Surface Pro 4, it came bundled with the Windows 10 Pro edition, and it was just out recently then, so the OS was riddled with bugs. Two years later, Microsoft has taken care of most of the teething issues. And everything was just buttery smooth this time around.
Among the new features, you have the Paint 3D, Windows Mixed Reality support, improved Microsoft Store experience and more. There were few instances of animation freezes or unnecessary shutdowns with the new gen Surface Pro.
It performed in line with laptops such as the HP Pavilion x360 14 and the Acer Switch 5 on most processor related tasks as they both sport similar processors and the same amount of RAM. The Acer Switch 5 is super impressive with read and write speeds, thanks to the PCIe based SSD housed inside. When transcoding the video file, it took around 105 mins to complete the task and after the first 15 mins, the Surface Pro processor speeds started throttling — hovering around 2 GHz to 2.5 GHz for the base clock of 2.6 GHz. This can be attributed to the fact that there is no fan design, and in such a case throttling the processor speeds is better than an outright shutdown of the application.
In terms of graphics performance, it gave decent enough scores to enable you to use multimedia applications, watching movies is a joy on this display as well as viewing photographs. We also tried a bit of gaming and Rise of the Tomb Raider gave around 20 fps on HD resolution with anti-aliasing switched off. I would not advise on gaming the Surface Pro, lest you are willing to replace your Surface Type Cover every six months.
The Surface Pro is a workhorse in the true sense of the word. In my day to day operations, I did not find any major thing lacking with the device. Of course, you can eke out more raw performance from the Core i7 version, but that will come at an added premium. For most use cases, the Core i5 variant is more than enough.
Battery Life: 8/10
I was quite impressed with the battery life on the Surface Pro. Of course, it was nowhere close to what is being marketed by Microsoft, ie 13.5 hours of video playback. But having said that, it would easily last me a work day of 8-9 hours on regular usage which involved daily office work involving working on documents and minor photo edits. Add in a video or audio streaming functions and the battery life would drop down to 6-7 hours. What did impress me was the standby time. The charge held admirably despite not using it for a couple of days at a stretch. In our PC Mark 8 battery test, we got a score of 4 hours and 31 mins, which is quite impressive.
Verdict and Price in India
To cut a long story short, the Surface Pro will appeal to someone who wants to make the most out of Microsoft software. With tools such as the Surface Pen, the tablet can also let you get creative and provides a formidable competition to the artistic proposition sold by the Apple Pencil. In terms of productivity, I would certainly recommend the Surface Pro over the iPad Pro, as the former comes with a Windows 10 Pro operating system. But just like the iPad Pro, the Microsoft Surface Pro is just the tablet and you will need to purchase the Surface Type Keyboard (Rs 12,999) and the Surface Pen (Rs 7,999) and Surface Arc Mouse (Rs 6,399) separately. This is in addition to the Rs 1,06,999 you will spend on the Surface Pro tablet itself. That's quite a huge bill if you ask me. Microsoft should at least have bundled one accessory or better still, gave users a choice on their preferences whether they want a Surface Type Cover or the Surface Pen. This is because, adding up the prices takes the Surface Pro to over Rs 1 lakh, an amount in which you can get a much powerful Windows laptop or even the latest from the Mac stable.
If you are on a strict budget, but want to invest in a Surface Pro, then you can get your hands on the Core m3 processor sporting variant which is priced at Rs 64,999 or a Core i5 processor with 4 GB RAM and 128 GB storage variant priced at Rs 79,999. Of course, both of these variants will have lower performance numbers. If you want to go all out on the Surface Pro, then the Core i7 variant with 16 GB RAM and 512 GB SSD is priced at Rs 1,82,999.