Microsoft on Tuesday launched its latest Surface Pro. It’s called, well, the Surface Pro, and it’s the first refresh to the company’s popular line of hybrid PCs since October 2015.
But aside from the lack of a number in its name, there aren’t many major differences to the new Surface Pro model.
If anything, the most interesting shift is that Microsoft is avoiding any talk of the Surface Pro being a tablet in the first place; the company now refers to the device as a “versatile laptop” (rather than “the tablet that can replace your laptop“), nudging it alongside more traditional clamshells instead of in some niche category.
Whatever you want to call it, the new model may not make it immediately obvious if Surface Pro 4 owners who’ve been patiently waiting for an upgrade should take the plunge right away.
I was able to use the new Surface Pro for a short while prior to Tuesday’s launch, so if you’re on the fence, here’s a quick rundown and what is and isn’t new:
- The idea behind the new Surface Pro is exactly like its predecessors. It’s still a big tablet running Windows 10 that you can connect to a keyboard and use like a laptop.
- That means it’s still lighter and easier to carry around than most full-size laptops. It’s still not as comfortable on your lap as a traditional notebook. And Windows 10 still plays much nicer with desktop-style work than tablet-style apps. (Hence Microsoft’s change in marketing.)
- The display is virtually identical to before. It’s still 12.3 inches big, with a sharp resolution of 2736 x 1824 and a squarish 3:2 aspect ratio. The Surface Pro 4’s screen was good, and this looks the same. Just don’t expect any 4K video or shrunken-down bezels a la Dell’s XPS 13.
- Its corners are slightly more curved, but generally speaking the new Surface Pro looks and feels very similar to the Surface Pro 4. You’d likely have a hard time telling the two apart at first. It’s not the flashiest device around, but its magnesium finish still feels smooth, study, and suitably high-end.
- The new model is the exact same size as the Surface Pro 4: 11.50 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches. It’s still huge if you look at it as a tablet, but not a big burden if you look at it like a laptop. Some of the new models are a hair lighter than before, but really not by much.
- The main difference is that you can push the kickstand on the back of the new Surface Pro much further. Microsoft says this model can now lean back as far as 165 degrees. That doesn’t make it any easier to use on your lap, but it could make it easier to use as a digital canvas, a la the Surface Studio.
- The other main difference is that two-entry level models are fanless. That means they should make less noise in operation than before. The little vents you’d see on the back of every Surface Pro 4 aren’t around on the non-Core-i7 models here.
- The chipset has gotten the expected bump, going from the 6th-generation Intel Core chips on the Surface Pro 4 to 7th-generation Intel Core chips here. The jump from “Skylake” to “Kaby Lake,” as the they’re called, isn’t all that big, but it’s a bit more efficient and powerful all the same. The integrated graphics have received the same generational update with them.
- You still get an ok Core m3 chip with the cheapest model, then stronger Core i5 and Core i7 chips as you go up the price ladder. You’ll get either 4 GB, 8 GB, or 16 GB of RAM, as well as 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, or 1 TB of storage.
- The biggest technical improvement, if Microsoft’s claims are true, should be battery life. The company says the new Surface Pro can get up to 13.5 hours of juice. It used to market 9 hours with the Surface Pro 4. Per usual, take the proclamation with a grain of salt until we can test further, but, at least with some models, the new Surface Pro should last longer than before.
- The port situation, however, is exactly the same. You’ve still got Microsoft’s proprietary, MagSafe-like charging port, a mini DisplayPort, one USB 3.0 port, a microSD card, and a headphone jack.
- That, notably, means there’s no USB-C (or Thunderbolt 3) ports. Microsoft reps said they don’t think the newer standard — which could theoretically let you use one cable for all your devices — is ready for prime time just yet, pointing to the fact that not all USB-C ports and cables support the same level of power. The company will release a USB-C dongle later in the year, however.
- One thing that will be added is LTE support, which’ll let some Surface Pro buyers connect to mobile internet on the go. This won’t be available right out of the gate, though — Microsoft only says it will release certain LTE models sometime later in the year.
- Perhaps the most dramatic changes here are with the Surface Pen, which Microsoft says is four times as pressure-sensitive as the old model. So, it should be more precise and nuanced. The company says it’s fine-tuned the Pen to be particularly smooth on the new Surface Pro — I saw a little lag in my pre-production unit — but in general it’s still a tool for artists and designers more than the typical PC buyer.
- The catch is that the new Surface Pen doesn’t come with your purchase, as the last one did. Instead, you can only buy it as a $US99 accessory. That’s on top of the keyboard, which has always been sold separately, and still starts at $US129. Other keyboards made from alcantara fabric go for $US159.
- The Type Cover keyboard looks almost identical to those made for the Surface Pro 4, but is slightly clickier than before. It’s nothing major, but it’s something. Those keyboards, like the Pen, can work with the older model, though.
- All of this is still pricey. The new Surface Pro starts at $US799, just like the last one, but only comes with a Core m3 chip, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. Everything starts shipping on June 15.
- The best configuration for most is likely the $US1,299 model, which has a Core i5 chip, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage. Add the keyboard on top of that, and you’re up around $US1,420. There are decent 2-in-1s and great standard laptops that go for less than that, so you’re still paying a bit for the brand.
Microsoft is eventually going to phase the Surface Pro 4 out — most models are discounted as of this writing — so if you’re a loyal Surface user, you may have no choice but to upgrade eventually.
Right now, though, the new Surface Pro mainly looks like your everyday spec refresh. There’s no grand rethinking that fixes the 2-in-1’s fundamental problems, so if you have a Surface Pro 4 that’s still kicking fine, there’s little here that immediately screams “drop everything and buy me.”
If the time comes, though, the big upgrades will likely be in battery life and the lack of noise with the fanless models. If you love the Pen, the upgraded stylus and more flexible hinge should help, too. If you’re sitting on a Surface Pro 3, then the performance boost is probably enough to upgrade sooner.
In any case, we’ll have a full review of the new Surface Pro in the coming weeks, so expect a final verdict then.
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