The Microsoft Surface was the biggest new tech of 2012, at least for me. Its first iteration—Surface RT, a confusingly named and marketed tablet-with-a-keyboard—bombed and I predicated that. The RT version was a bad idea, A Windows tablet…. without the power of Windows. What I was waiting for was the full-powered Surface Pro? Why? Well it is a braver and more divergent take on the laptop-tablet convergence than anyone else has risked so far.
But while the Pro improves on the RT in nearly every measurable way, it presents a whole different problem set for Microsoft. Where the RT was aiming at Tablet Plus—an ambitious enough goal—the Pro cannot afford to be Laptop Minus. In this strange new world of hybrid devices, is that even possible?
The Surface Pro is the fullest expression of the Windows 8 ethos. It has the face of a tablet & the guts of a laptop. Where other convertibles have struggled to contort old world design into now-world needs, the Surface starts fresh. This is the best chance we have to prove we might finally be ready to move past traditional, tired designs and interfaces.
But the Pro is also a reality check for Windows 8 itself. Defenders of the new OS insist that it just hasn’t been given the right vessel to showcase it yet. Well, there will never be any better hardware for Windows 8 than Surface Pro. If it doesn’t work here, maybe there’s a problem.
Like the Surface RT before it, the Surface Pro is gorgeous. The Pro is a bit thicker than the RT, but keeps the same design principles. Trapezoidal angles, sure-footed kickstand, snap-in keyboard cover.
At first blush, the Pro looks thick for what it is—a slate—and that can give the impression that it’s bigger than small-for-a-laptop machines like the MacBook Air. Don’t be fooled; it’s actually lighter and thinner than the 11.6-inch Air. Along with the Surface, Microsoft will happily sell you either a Touch or Type cover, both of which function as the Surface’s keyboard and trackpad. The Type cover has a traditional keyboard that’s basically full sized, while the Touch cover is a flat surface that detects your keystrokes with no moving parts. I personally have used the type cover keyboard and really like it. While these were purely optional on the Surface RT, they’re essential to approaching the Surface Pro’s full-PC potential.
The Surface Pro runs Windows 8 Pro, meaning it plays nice with all of Surface RT’s Metro apps as well as all your old desktop apps. If you want to use Surface Pro as a laptop? Simply snap in a keyboard cover, pop out the kickstand, set it down on a table. If you want to use it like a tablet, remove the keyboard and you have a great tablet – with the power of a real operating system.
As a tablet, the Pro has significantly more weight to it than the iPad . But the build quality is so strong—everything feels like it just fits—that you don’t really mind, unless you try to use it one-handed. It’s a little too heavy for that.
One of the Pro’s fundamental problems is almost tragically ironic. Its screen is too good. Which is to say, its 1080p resolution is so dense on the 10.6-inch screen that desktop programs seem too small, too cramped. Since you’re already going to probably be hunched over your desk and squinting while using this 10.6-inch screen, teeny tiny text isn’t much of a help. To offset this, Microsoft has made the default Magnification setting 150 percent. That helps a bit by enlarging icons, text, and some apps, but results in many third party apps looking like fuzzy eyesores.
There is zero difference between the keyboard covers that come with the Surface RT and the Surface Pro. They’re identical, and interchangeable. But unlike RT, Surface Pro needs a real keyboard if it has any chance of fulfilling its potential.
Both the Touch and Type keyboards are totally usable. You’ll need more time to get used to typing on the Touch, with the biggest difference being the lack of tactile feedback when you miss a letter. It’s also a little harder to reliably hit the bottom row of function keys, because they bleed into the palmrest instead of being clearly delineated. Annoying, but manageable, mostly. You’ll be able to type at basically full speed with the Type keyboard, and after a week or two, pretty confidently on the Touch cover as well. As I stated earlier I have the type keyboard and for about 10 bucks more than the touch I very much recommend the touch.
Should You Buy This?
If it fits your professional needs, you’ll at least want to consider it.
The Surface Pro is ultimately the best tablet on the market right now if you truly are trying to get work & play done at the same time on your mobile computing device.