Microsoft Surface Pro Review

Introduction and Design

Dear old Microsoft, were you really teasing us all this time with your Surface RT tablet? When we first laid our eyes on your modernized slate, we were intrigued by how well it seemed to come together – it just had this polarizing aura around it. However, the more we played around with it, the Windows RT experience to be specific, we soon realized that its infancy was primarily holding back the tablet from reaching full stardom. For those who waited out the storm, the timing is finally over, as the highly equipped Microsoft Surface Pro is hitting the scene with its full Windows 8 experience.

No folks, this isn't merely a Surface with Windows 8 slapped on, but rather, there's been a complete overhaul in the hardware department as well – making it a viable competitor to not only some of the titans in the tablet market, but also a killer ultrabook rival as well. Outfitted with components that put it in line to a notebook, this slick looking tablet isn't looking to mess around at all. And for Microsoft, it's surely going to provide the productivity that consumers need, seeing that it has full support for legacy Windows 7 software.

Quite demanding isn't it? Sure, it's a workhorse like any other ultrabook, but some might be enticed by the portability aspect of the Surface Pro – and that's despite the larger size over its sibling in the Surface RT! At the same time, though, it's worth mentioning that it's sporting a higher sticker price too. Throw in the fact that pricing starts at $899.99, it's undoubtedly pricier than other prized tablets like the Apple iPad and Google Nexus 10, but unlike those outstanding tablets, the Surface Pro might attract those who are looking to find the ultimate all-in-one solution.

The package contains:

  • AC wall charger
  • Pressure Sensitive Stylus


Sticking firmly to the design language established by the Microsoft Surface RT, some would be hard pressed to discern many noticeable differences with the design of the Surface Pro. However, there are a few that really stand out – such as the thicker casing (0.53-inches) and heavier feel (32 oz) in the hand. Considering that the Surface Pro is packing along beefier components, it doesn't really surprise us that it's accompanied by some heft, but then again, some might still be thrown off if they're accustomed to the iPad or other Android tablets.

Outfitted with the same slick looking magnesium composite casing from before, more commonly known as “VaporMg,” it gives the tablet that chic modern look to make it stand out from other conventional styles. At the same time, the sturdy materials give a sense of durability that makes its higher cost justified. As much as we appreciate the tablet's impeccable build quality, it definitely feels a bit sharp around the edges. Lastly, there's a recognizable gap in the rear of the tablet that separates the back panel so that air vents are exposed all along its trim. Of course, the design as a whole isn't something we haven't seen before, but it's still a distinctive one nonetheless. Sure, some might be distracted by the larger size over other full-sized tablets, but considering that it's more portable than most laptops, and some ultrabooks out there too, we surely can't complain much about it.

Like before, there's a capacitive Start button positioned directly beneath the display, which fittingly enough brings us back to the Start Screen. Rarely getting noticed, the capacitive button does indeed feature back lighting – giving it a sparkly glow. Meanwhile, above the display, we have a 0.9-megapixel camera and an LED light that shines up to indicate the front-facing camera is active.

Along the tablet's trim, all the components from before are sought out again – these consist of the dedicated power button and microphone on the top edge, volume control, 3.5mm headset jack, and USB 3.0 port on the left edge, microSD card slot, magnetic power connector, and a mini DisplayPort jack on the right side, and finally just the magnetic docking port on the bottom trim. With the latter, it's used in conjunction with either the optional Touch or Type Covers that Microsoft offers with its Surface tablets.

In the rear, the 0.9-megapixel camera is the only item that breaks up the uniform metallic finish – well, there's also the Windows logo slapped on there too. And once again, we're greeted to the familiar kickstand that makes the Surface Pro extremely unique in the tablet spectrum. Indeed, it provides us with the comfort of being able to have a hands-free video watching experience, but it's also needed for typing with either the Touch and Type Covers. Regrettably, we can only type comfortably with the covers on the Surface Pro when it's laid flat on a table. Since the kickstand only adjusts to a single open position, there isn't much flexibility in moving it around for better viewing.

Touch Cover:

Connecting a Touch Cover to the Surface Pro, there's a firm connection between the two – so much so that it requires some force to remove. Naturally, there's an alienating feel the first time using the Touch Cover, since you don't get any tactile response when you tap on a button. Still, after some practice, we find it usable enough to comfortably use, plus, there's a trackpad on there as well for an alternative PC-way of navigating around the platform. For those who yearn for a physical response, the Type Cover offers us a more familiar process with its physical buttons – albeit, it's thicker than the Touch Cover. And finally, we like how Microsoft offers the Touch Cover in a variety of colors and designs, but then again, you'll need to think long and hard about their price points. Specifically, the Touch Covers start at $119.99, with the Limited Edition Touch Covers going for $129.99. Indeed it's expensive, especially when the single black colored Type Cover is selling for $129.99.

Pressure Sensitive Stylus:

Last, but certainly not least, Microsoft throws in one new accessory with the Surface Pro – an S-Pen like pressure sensitive stylus that utilizes Wacom technology and registers 1,024 degrees of pressure sensitivity. Frankly, it mimics the look of a mechanical pencil, which is comfortable with its large size, yet, it's a bit bland looking. On one end, you have the pressure sensitive nub, while on the other, there's an eraser-like flat stub. Along its body, more towards the pointy nub end, there's a narrow button that performs a function similar to pressing the right mouse key, and at the same time, it's how the stylus is attached to the Surface Pro. Unfortunately, it's not something that discretely tucks away – so there's a high possibility of it falling off and being misplaced.

As expected, the stylus works rather well with measuring varying degrees of pressure when using it with the preloaded Fresh Paint app, however, it seems as though the eraser portion is only recognized by Microsoft OneNote 2013. Beyond the obvious functionality of drawing and writing with the stylus, we appreciate how it also acts as a mouse cursor, which comes in handy when using the legacy PC interface on the go.


Giving this “Pro” model some much-needed separation from its sibling, there's a higher resolution 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 PLS display that remarkably gives the Surface Pro much of its sparkle, and a higher pixel density of 208 ppi. In contrast to the Surface RT's 1366 x 768 resolution display, this is undoubtedly sharper with its visuals, since every single detail has definition – whereas some jagginess was evident with the Surface RT's display. Adding even more pizzazz to its overall appeal, the display is delightfully high-contrast and vivid, which makes it easily viewable in outdoor conditions. Obviously, colors are truly robust with the display's warmer color production too, which are maintained thanks in part to its wide viewing angles – with distortion being evident only at extreme angles.

Sliding our fingers around, the 10-point multi-touch display reacts quite well with various swipes and gestures. Even though the glossy finish makes the display reflective, the strong brightness output tends to minimize those unwanted distractions, but then again, it's a magnet for smudges and finger prints. Luckily, they're easily removed with a quick wipe from a microfiber cloth of some kind. When it comes down to it, the higher resolution display is a welcoming sight, especially after looking at the Surface RT, but in the greater scheme of things, it still doesn't have the same sense of might that's attached to the Google Nexus 10 display.


No longer being regarded as a handicapped experience, the Surface Pro is running the full Windows 8 Pro experience out of the box, which means that it'll run legacy Windows 7 software – in addition to the handful of new touch-optimized Windows 8 apps. Visually speaking, there's no arguing that Windows RT and Windows 8 share many commonalities, like the Start Screen and its amalgamation of dynamic and colorful live tiles, but the Surface Pro unequivocally has more depth with its legacy support. As we've mentioned in our review of the Surface RT, there's a steep learning curve initially when using Microsoft's new platform, seeing that there are an eclectic set of gestures that need to be mastered. However, once they become second nature, we find navigating across the platform to be very intuitive – still, some will surely miss the “windows” structure.

We won't go into much detail about the Windows 8 platform, since it's one and the same as Windows RT, but with the exception that it can run Windows 7 software in desktop mode. When it comes to personalization, Windows 8 isn't as deep as Android, but it's far better than what the iPad delivers. Without question, there’s a lot of flashiness in the way Windows 8 is presented, but one of its Achilles Heel at the moment, is none other than the paltry offering of quality third party touch-optimized apps. Yeah, Windows 8 incorporates social networking services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but the People Hub, which aggregates all social networking content, doesn’t execute well with its layout. Making matters worse, third party offerings don’t do the platform justice just yet, however, it’s something we’re certain that developers will improve over time – as the platform builds steam and matures.

From a tablet point of view, the Microsoft Surface Pro, much like the other available Windows 8 tablets and convertibles out there, benefit over the iPad and rival Android tablets thanks to its rich productivity aspect. From video editing software to PC games, the Surface Pro is equipped to handle them all – making it more valuable in getting things done on the road. When legacy software is installed, they all run within the desktop hub that most Windows users are familiar with, and to an extent, the touch navigation still works with all software – though, at times they’re not all that intuitive. For example, Internet Explorer for the desktop works fantastic, but when using other browsers like Chrome and Firefox, navigation is best executed the old fashion way – with a mouse. In fact, scrolling is a monotonous process – while pinch zooming isn’t even supported.

Despite those qualms, the Surface Pro negates all the compromises we’ve seen with tablets from the past, so when it comes down to it, this is a tablet that undeniably can replace your traditional personal computer. At the moment, Windows 8 might scare first time users initially, but with touch navigation, it brings Microsoft’s platform into the modern age. Much like any new platform venture, there are still some huge opportunities at the beginning, mainly getting some quality touch friendly apps, but over time, we can expect that to be less problematic.


On the surface, the core organizer apps of Windows 8 are the same to what’s found with Windows RT –so there isn’t a lot new with the experience here. Generally, things like the Calendar and People Hubs work relatively well, since the platform also provides synchronization between various accounts; such as Gmail. Also something we appreciate, Windows 8 packs along a myriad of useful tertiary apps that center around lifestyle – these consist of Finance, Games, Messaging, News, Sports, Travel, and Weather.

Even though its features set pales in comparison to the Gmail experience with Android, the Windows 8 email experience is nevertheless effective enough to handle our basic needs. Sporting the cookie cutter email layout, which employs a paneled interface, we’re able to organize our messages properly – with setup being a breeze as well.

If you decide to forgo getting either the Touch or Type Covers for the Surface Pro, you won’t be at a disadvantage seeing that the on-screen Windows 8 keyboard is effective enough to deliver an equally lovable experience. With the sizable real estate of the display, the layout is comfortable enough to use – plus, it helps that it’s super responsive to the touch. After some practice, we’re able to move at an effective rate that rivals even us using a standard keyboard.

Processor and Memory:

Showing off its might against other tablets, the Microsoft Surface Pro relies on PC-like components to power it. Indeed, it might not be as power efficient as some other ARM-based chips that are used by many tablets, but the 3rd generation 1.7GHz dual-core Intel core i5-3317U processor coupled with 4GB of RAM is no doubt a stranger amongst tablets at the moment. Not surprisingly, its performance rivals some of the Windows 8 ultrabooks on the market, which is good taking into account that it’s running a full desktop operating system. In general, it maintains a very buttery performance with all Windows 8 specific tasks – though, in our experience, it’s still prone to some of the bugs that can lock up or freeze the typical Windows experience.

Another advantage that the Surface Pro has over the sea of other tablets, is that features a solid state drive for quick reading/writing. Available in 64GB or 128GB capacities, it’s naturally higher in capacity than what we’re typically exposed to with tablets, but out of the box, the final free storage amount comes out to 29GB and 89GB respectively. Some will be bummed out by the revelation, but knowing that there’s a microSD slot in tow, we’re forgiving about it. Also, we can’t neglect to remember about its USB 3.0 port, which is an alternative source for storage needs.

Internet and Connectivity:

As expected, the web browsing experience with Internet Explorer is fantastic – and that’s with the two versions that are available with the Surface Pro! On one hand, the touch-friendly version gets things popping with its quick page loads, instant rendering, and wickedly smooth navigational controls. For a more desktop-like experience, Internet Explorer in the desktop mode is none other than the familiar one that’s used by all Windows PCs – so it even offers Adobe Flash support. Naturally, the Surface Pro can also run other desktop browsers, like Chrome, and Firefox, if Internet Explorer isn’t your cup of tea.

Currently, there’s no indication that we’ll be seeing cellular connected versions of the Surface Pro, so it’s strictly a Wi-Fi affair at the moment for this one. Being on the cutting edge of things, it doesn’t surprise us that it’s sporting the usual fanfare of connectivity features –such as aGPS, Bluetooth 4.0, and MIMO dual-antenna 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. Noticeably absent from the list, however, is the modern convenience of NFC that's increasingly becoming a standard.


Comparatively, Windows 8 is a relatively new platform on the scene, but still, it makes us cringe in agony to know that its native camera app is devoid of any useful features or manual settings. Essentially, the majority of the interface is dominated by the viewfinder – with a few icons on-screen to change cameras and modes. Sadly, it's clearly the furthest thing from appeasing camera aficionados.

Looking down the list, there's no kidding that nearly every aspect of the Surface Pro has been improved over the Surface RT, however, that's not the case with the camera. Instead, it's the same old less than 1.0-megapixel camera in the rear, which doesn't feature auto-focus or an LED flash – things we perceive to be common amongst all devices nowadays. After snapping several photos, we're soon reacquainted with the same terrible quality from before. Sure, it's nice to have a camera in hand for those unpredictable moments, but there's no valid argument using the Surface Pro's camera. Not only is its quality muddy in appearance and lacks any sort of definition, but it doesn't even try to handle dynamic range, which results in images being either under or over exposed depending on the lighting condition. Just forget about it, seriously.

Nothing screams “high-definition” like 720p videos that look like they were taken by an old school flip phone, right? Call us crazy, but it's mind boggling to even fathom that the Microsoft Surface Pro can shoot videos in up to 720p resolution after looking over some of the videos we recorded. Seriously, there's nothing pretty to say, as its super soft toned visuals make it seem as though we're wearing out of focus reading glasses. And depending on the lighting situation, its recording speed can go anywhere between 14 to 29 frames per second. Be afraid people, very afraid for this one!

Microsoft Surface Pro Sample Video:

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Microsoft Surface Pro Nighttime Sample Video:

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Just like with Windows RT, the Photos Hub with Windows 8 doesn't offer anything out of the ordinary with its feature set, but rather, it's a basic picture viewer that offers us the ability to crop and rotate images – and nothing more! As for sharing, there isn't a native option strange to say, and instead, accessing the “Charms” section of the Windows 8 interface will present us some of the apps that can handle the sharing process. So yeah, it's maddening with its minimal set of features.

We know what you're thinking, this is Windows 8, so how can the music player be different from the usual Windows Media Player from yesterday? Well, the new Music Hub for Windows 8 is deliciously sweet looking, as it incorporates the Modern UI styling of the platform into the music player – and also offers synchronization with our XBOX Music account. All in all, it's one of the better looking music player UIs out there on any platform. With its speakers discretely hidden behind the gap of the tablet's chassis, it doesn't produce anything spectacular with its output. Instead, its weak and mute tones make it notoriously difficult to hear in noisy environments.

Having laptop components in tow, it doesn't really surprise us that the Surface Pro handles high definition videos with no issues at all. In addition, it supports various video codecs out of the box too (DivX, H.264, MPEG-4, and Xvid). And with sharper looking 10.6-inch 1080p PLS display, it's simply a joy to watch videos, as our eyes gaze in awe to the display's vibrant output and luscious detail.

By now, most of us are accustomed to seeing microHDMI ports for easy video-out functionality with smartphones and many tablets, but the Surface Pro opts to rely on a mini DisplayPort instead. Certainly, it's nice to know that video-out functionality is available with it – though, part of the battle is trying to acquire the proper cable.


In our review of Windows RT, we found that Microsoft brought forth some new apps to the updated experience, which are found here as well in the Windows 8 experience. For starters, you have Bing Maps on board, which is something that Windows users of the past aren't used to seeing or experiencing. However, it's on the Surface Pro, but it's rather mundane and limited with its functionality. In fact, it doesn't even offer voice guided turn by turn directions or 3D views. Quite honestly, you're better off using the web browser to check out Google Maps.

Earlier in the review, we briefly talked about the Fresh Paint app that's preloaded with the Surface Pro, which works in conjunction with the included pressure sensitive stylus. Naturally, it's a neat tool for drawing and whatnot, especially when it can recognize firm and light presses, but it's still nowhere close to the functionality level seen with Samsung's S-Pen related apps. To tell you the truth, we were expecting to see the stylus being used in a number of apps, but sadly that's not the case. Rather, we find its usefulness elsewhere in Microsoft OneNote – and that's about it!

Exposed to a fully capable operating system, you'd think that the Surface Pro would be armed with some quality productivity suite, however, you'll be shocked that it doesn't boast a full version of Microsoft Office. Instead, we're given only a 30-day trial of the software, where upon its completion, we can purchase a license to buy it. Sure, we're bummed by the realization, but if you know your options, there are a myriad of alternatives. Specifically, we can go with the cloud services route with Google Drive, and for those who prefer something locally, there are things like OpenOffice that'll get the job done for free.

Touch navigation is emphasized with the new Windows 8 experience, obviously, but when going back to some legacy software in the desktop, we find ourselves tempted to fall back with the usual gestures. Even though we have to remind ourselves about resorting back to the tedious processes of yesterday, the touchscreen is accurate enough to register all of our presses and gestures – though, the stylus does come in handy with navigation with legacy software.

Before we close things out with the Surface Pro's software, we have to reiterate that it's a pleasure to know that Windows 8 is the real deal – in the fact that it's a fully equipped platform that doesn't compromise with the software support. However, as we dive deeper to some of the currently available apps in the Windows 8 Store, it's still lagging behind with some quality ones fit for the touch experience. Furthermore, many of the popular apps we're familiar using on a daily basis, like Instagram or Foursquare, have yet to make an appearance in app form for Windows 8.


Stuffed with ultrabook-like components, we really can't expect battery life on the Surface Pro to exceed those of ARM-based tablets – like its sibling in the Surface RT or iPad 4. Still, with its fully charged battery, we're able to inch out approximately 6 hours of normal usage, which primarily consisted of heavy web surfing and word processing with the brightness set to the 50% mark. Naturally, power users will want to charge this whenever the opportunity arises, but it's well in line with the performance of other similarly spec'd ultrabooks. Worth mentioning, too, is the amount of heat that the rear of the tablet generates during prolonged usage. It's not scalding, but it does make us wonder how it'll affect things over time.


It's been several months after the release of the Surface RT, and it's unknown how well Microsoft's slate was able to penetrate the market, since the Redmond based company hasn't been vocal about actual sales numbers. Regardless, it was something that Microsoft was banking on to take on some of the titans in the industry, but as we've witnessed, its fortunes have been unseen. In fact, the more that it's analyzed, it's fighting competition from tablets running rival platforms – as well from its own group in the Windows RT camp. However, we all knew that it was only a matter of time before the Microsoft Surface Pro would be released.

So, here we are now, in the presence of the fully equipped Surface Pro, which is sporting a higher starting price point of $899 for the 64GB version – while the 128GB model will set you back $999. In our recent history of tablets, those figures would spell instant death, since we normally perceive top-tiered tablets edging out at around the $500 mark. However, this isn't your typical tablet, especially when its guts are more ultrabook-like, which warrants the higher price point. Solely as a tablet, the one advantage it has over its brethren is the rich productivity aspect it offers over the crop – albeit, it's not the only Windows 8 tablet in town. And knowing how quickly things move in the industry, it wouldn't surprise us to find one of Microsoft's many partners to deliver that killer Windows 8 tablet

Despite the competition it's going to see from both sides, tablets and ultrabooks alike, the Microsoft Surface Pro has the brand recognition right now to propel itself above most of the crop. If you're looking for the all-in-one solution, there's no denying that the Surface Pro is intriguing and empowered to handle the needs of power users. Obviously, there are no compromises since it caters to both tablet and PC functions – on top of being a wonderful consumptive device! As we've witnessed, you're paying a premium price for a tablet in the Surface Pro, but what you get is an untethered experience.

In the back of our mind, though, we're torn still whether it proves to be more valuable than some other highly prized ultrabooks on the market, especially when you get physical keyboards, touchscreens, and extensive ports that make them far more versatile. Throwing in the Type Cover, you're looking at a final tally of $1,130 for the Surface Pro, which can score you a killer ultrabook. Still, if portability is placed highest on the totem pole, the Surface Pro easily has the edge over most ultrabooks.

Microsoft Surface Pro Video Review:

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  • Full Windows 8 Pro experience
  • Vibrant and sharp looking display
  • Distinctive and solid design
  • Useful pressure sensitive stylus
  • Peppy performance


  • Terrible camera
  • Battery life is less than other tablets
  • Not enough apps make use of the stylus

PhoneArena Rating:


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