Review: Microsoft Surface Pro

Originally, I was going to post this review a week after I got the Surface Pro. But as fate would have it, the unit became defective and I was forced to do an exchange. So I gave it the benefit of the doubt that I purchased a defective unit at the time and went to get an exchange. So I postponed this review for another week to see how well this unit will last. The first one lasted a week.

Instead of reviewing the 64GB model, I am now reviewing the 128GB model. They’re essentially the same unit with the only exception being the storage capacity and price. Because Windows 8 is a pretty big operating system compared to mobile OS like Android or iOS. Windows actually takes up quite a bit of storage from the advertised capacity. So with Windows installed and the recovery partition. You are left with around 29GB of free space on the 64GB model and around 89GB of free storage on the 128GB model. You can always create a recovery image of your Surface Pro onto a removable storage such as a USB flash drive and free up space on the Surface Pro. In return you would free up approximately 5GB of extra storage. The internal drive I would recommend to use for applications. As for storage. You can always use an external drive or MicroSDXC, so capacity can potentially be unlimited. Storage also would not be a main deal breaker for most.

After reading through all the hype about the Microsoft Surface (RT and Pro) I had high expectations for the device to live up to my standards. Obviously, the Surface RT was not expected to be a high performance tablet device since it’s only running a Tegra 3. Granted Tegra 3 was considered one of the top performance SoC on the market, but this only included the mobile market. The Surface Pro runs a full i5 processor from Intel, and as much as people want to compare an ARM based processor to an x86 based processor. The Intel i5 would obliterate the ARM based processor. Sure, it can run applications specifically designed for the processor very well. But those apps still cannot compare to more powerful programs for Windows.

I purchased the Surface RT not too long after it came out. Played around it for a couple of days and returned it. Decided that the tablet performed exceptionally well, however my preference still laid with the upcoming Surface Pro. With the Surface RT I went with the touch cover. Which I have to be honest, did not like to use. The concept behind it is great, but did not give a good typing experience. So, for the Surface Pro, I went with the Type Cover instead. Which is more like a traditional notebook style keys with tactile feedback. So far I really like using the Type cover over the Touch cover and would easily recommend it for people looking to purchase either the RT or Pro version. The covers are interchangeable.

On to the Surface Pro…

At first glance it looks just like the Surface RT device. Same size screen and look. The major difference would be the Pro version is thicker and slightly heavier. With the Surface Pro, instead of traditional vents built in any one location of the unit. Microsoft made a tiny gap around the entire unit to act as air vents to help cool the i5 processor that the device features. This makes the unit thicker than its ARM based brother. With the use of an x86 processor, Microsoft was able to put in a USB 3.0 port instead of the USB 2.0 port on the RT. A Mini-Displayport instead of a Mini-HDMI port for the video output. Changed the location of the MicroSD slot from behind the kickstand to the right side of the device. The Power button is still located on the top and as well as the volume button still on the left side of the unit. The screen is also different. Surface RT featured a 5-point touch 10.6” screen with a 720p display (1366×768). The Surface Pro features a 10-point touch 10.6” screen with 1080p display (1920×1080).

By default, Microsoft set text and other images to 150% normal size. This essentially makes everything look bigger and might make the screen look less sharp. For me I set it down one lower. At 120% normal size, you experience a sharper experience without sacrificing the touch screen experience. You can set it to normal 100% but will make everything look a lot smaller. The option is there and is up to the user to decide which option works best for them.

Because it is running an x86-64 based processor. Microsoft has Windows 8 Pro installed. Unlike Windows RT installed on the Surface RT, This is a full fledge Windows capable of running all the existing software you own and run on your desktop/laptop computer. This is especially useful for people wanting a power yet small tablet like device without sacrificing what applications and software it can or cannot run. The Surface Pro is more of less an Ultrabook computer stuffed into a tablet form factor. Which a lot of companies are now starting to bring out to the market. Lenovo has their Thinkpad Table 2 (albeit, running an Intel Atom Processor), they recently announced the Helix which will feature an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor depending on configuration. Other companies like ASUS are also planning to release their own Tablet PC running an i5 processor. Called the Transformer Book. I’m sure more companies will be releasing similar products.

I currently do not have Steam installed or any games installed on the Surface Pro. It is not my main purpose of getting this tablet so I have not bothered. With the HD4000 Graphics from Intel on the processor, I am sure it is capable of light gaming. Though you would want to have it plugged into the wall for power, otherwise I can see the battery life plummet. I might end up one day, if I decide to keep this unit that is. I am tempted to getting some RTS installed on the Surface Pro, to see if Touchscreen would be a better option compared to the mouse and keyboard. I shall explore that at a later date when I have time.

Video on this is great. At a 1080p screen with an Intel processor it can playback 1080p video without any issue. I run my video through VLC so I can stream videos from my media server without any issue. I read that Windows 8 doesn’t come with Windows Media Player, so I was a bit surprised when I saw it installed. But it doesn’t really matter, as I do not use it. The speakers are rather weak however on the Surface Pro. The volume at 100% seems too quiet. I suspect it encourages people to use headphones if they want to use it in a public place. I suppose you can call that a good thing. I am sure you do not like it when you hear music or video playing from someone else’s machine when you’re trying to do your own thing. I have been unable to get a chance to use the camera as a video conferencing device, but I did take some pictures with the camera. The sensor and quality of the pictures taken are the same as the one featured in Surface RT. Not much has changed in that area. It takes decent pictures and the kickstand + timer allows a great way to take group shots with you in the picture. Though those chances are far and few and usually in those situations there will always be someone who has a DSLR or a Micro 4/3 camera with a tripod which takes much better picture than what the Surface will be able to do.

Battery life is suppose to the biggest downfall to the Surface Pro. Surface RT managed to have an 8+ hour of battery life thanks to using a more power efficient processor based on the ARM architecture. Surface Pro does not have that luxury. The Core i5 simply drains more power than the ARM based processor but providing a substantial performance boost over the ARM. Regardless of the processor, the battery life is considered weak when you compare it to other Ultrabook. But it still manages to provide 5-6 hours of battery life for me when I am using it. So in the end it’s not entire bad. Not as bad as what a lot of people are saying about it. Surely it can be better. Since more is better in this case. Microsoft stated that the battery life would be half that of the Surface RT. Which Given that the Surface RT had around 8-10 hours of battery life, the Pro would be expected to have roughly 4-5 hours of battery. If you’re going to be doing nothing but watching videos you will get lower battery life. Potentially 3-4 hours. Therefore, to achieve high battery life you’d probably only be using it to surf the internet with the occasional video every so often.

For a tablet you will notice it run on the warm side after using it for a while. For a laptop, this is to be expected. With Air vents surround the entire unit to help dissipate heat, it does help. I decided to download and run hwmonitor. A standalone program that monitors the temperature of the unit. I found the temperature hovering around mid-50s to high 50 degree Celsius. And it does get rather warm to the touch. This is not surprising considering the hardware its running and the fact the unit itself is made of vapor-mag. A type of metal that does conduct heat. As long as the unit does not overheat and cause issues or burn me as I use I do not see this being a big issue. Though I do prefer it running a little cooler, as the hotter the component the shorter the life span.

The Surface Pro currently goes for $899 for the 64GB and $999 for the 128GB option. Both options only comes with the tablet and the cover is sold separate. The Touch cover goes for $119.99 while the Type goes for $129.99. It is a little on the pricey side so it might be something you’d have to think twice before purchasing it.

The biggest change in Windows 8 is the removal of the legacy start menu in favor for a more modernized touch-oriented display. Instead of just showing icons for users to access their applications however, they are tiles. Microsoft calls them Live Tiles. They will show you content on the tiles relevant to the application itself. For example for the Mail tile. If you have unread messages it will show you information about that message such as the sender’s name and a brief preview of the message. Calendar tile will show you your next calendar event. The Live Tiles feature is open for developers to develop their own live tile for their applications and not just limited to Microsoft’s own applications.

Like every iteration of Windows. You will need to worry about security. It’s still an x86 based software therefore if you’re not careful it can still catch a virus and wreak havoc on your machine. You’ll still need to purchase and install a good Anti-Virus program. Although Windows 8 does come with Windows Defender pre-installed, I would still recommend using a proper security protection suite such as NOD32, Kaspersky or Avira. AVG is good as well, followed by Bit Defender. I would stay away from MacAfee or Norton, but that’s just my opinion. Although with the recent purchase of MacAfee by Intel, They might make a comeback in terms of being less resource intensive as before and potentially offer a better protection. But based on past experience with them, I refuse to buy their software.

I did run into an issue with the Surface Pro. After a week of using it, the SSD on the first one decided to fail and would not let me boot back into Windows. I did a search on Google and found that I was not the only one experiencing this phenomenon. But this is not a wide spread issue that is to be a cause for alarm. Defects do happen, even for a big a company as Microsoft. Brought it to the place where I purchased it, showed them the problem with my unit and they offered to exchange it for a new unit. Right as they were doing the exchange. I noticed an associate opening a box of new Surface Pro shipment. Turned out they just received stock on the 128GB model. I took it as a sign that I should upgrade to the 128GB model and upgrade I did. I asked if I could, they said yes. I just had to pay the difference of the two units which is $100 + tax. So I walked out of the store with a new 128GB model. They are apparently selling quite well. Not sure if it is because Microsoft is not making enough or simply the demand is just that high.

In conclusion, Microsoft has done a great job with their Surface line. The RT is a great tablet for the basic uses and with more application support, it should be growing anytime soon. The Pro is a great device for travelers looking for a power laptop replacement unit. As with any new releases, there are always room for improvement. Such as better battery life, higher storage internal capacity for when prices come down on NAND drives. Did I mention better battery life? Also better graphics performance I suppose. Though you might want to still carry around a charger just in case. It is not like you will not be able to locate a wall outlet to quickly charge up your Surface pro anyway. I checked the price for the Accessory. It cost $79.99 for a spare charger. It’s a little on the steep side. But might come in handy if you want to keep one at home and one on the go with you. I will probably eventually pick one up, for now I will just stick with the one that came with the purchase.

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