Decoding Microsoft’s complex Surface line-up
Not all Surface computing devices are the same. The Pro, Laptop and Book will be enticing for different use cases
This has indeed been a busy month for Microsoft. Earlier this month, the company announced the addition of the Windows 10 S operating system to the existing Windows 10 line-up, and the Surface Laptop (prices start $999). And now, there is the new and much expected Surface Pro update. It is simply called “the new Surface Pro”, instead of Surface Pro 5, considering it is successor to the Surface Pro 4.
In terms of the hardware, Microsoft has packed in the new Intel seventh-generation Kaby Lake processors in the Surface Pro. The Core m3 and the Core i5 variants have a fan-less implementation of these processors, while the more powerful Core i7 still gets a fan for cooling duties. Microsoft claims that the new Surface Pro will offer about 13.5 hours of battery life, and those claims are also relying on the processor architecture improvements made by Intel in the latest generation of processors—and this is 50% more battery life than the predecessor.
The new Surface Pro has a 12.3-inch display (2736 x 1824 resolution) with the PixelSense technology to bring it in line with other Surface products in the current line-up. The design language remains pretty much the same, making this the benchmark convertible PC—laptop, tablet and a studio mode. The magnesium-alloy chassis should feel as high quality as the aluminium on the Apple MacBook. Incidentally, Microsoft will now make you pay $99 for the Surface Pen stylus—that hardware could genuinely take advantage of this screen, and has 4,096 pressure points, compared to 1,204 in the previous generation.
There will be six variants on sale, with the Core m3, Core i5 and Core i7 options, as well as 4GB, 8GB and 16GB RAM, and 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB storage options. Prices start at $799 (around Rs51,800) and go as high as $2,699 (around Rs1,75,000) for the top-end variant. Microsoft has also indicated that there will be an LTE variant of the Surface Pro sometime soon, which should be a boon for those who travel a lot.
On 15 June, the new Surface Pro goes on sale in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the UK and the US. We do not yet know when this will arrive in India.
The new Surface Pro isn’t revolutionary, or trying to redesign the entire Windows 10 convertible concept. Compared to the predecessor, it brings in genuine improvements, but is still fresh enough to not be considered a repackaged old wine in an old bottle. You get a faster processor option that is also more frugal in terms of battery consumption, an industrial design that just works, a significantly better display and a more powerful stylus for those who need it. There is no messing around with the ports either, and it has full USB ports. We cannot put a premium on the potential utility and value of the LTE version, which is incoming sometime later this year.
But, how does it compare with the Surface Laptop and the Surface Book?
In terms of design, the new Surface Pro retains the form factor and the overall design flexibility from the predecessor. This includes the integrated hinge too. However, the new Surface Pro has lost some weight, and now tips the scales at 768 grams. You can detach the keyboard, and use it as a tablet too. The recently released Surface laptop (prices start $999) has a more conventional design, and tips the scales at just 1.2kg, for a bigger screen size—the slim design and attention towards using premium materials, including alcantara fabric, makes it feel genuinely expensive. The Surface Book (prices start $1,499), last updated in 2016, feels to be ageing in comparison to the new siblings—but its innovative display hinge that lets you push the display to any angle cannot be ignored.
The new Surface Pro has the 12.3-inch display, while the Surface Laptop has a slightly bigger 13.5-inch screen but with a slightly lower 2256x1504 resolution. The Surface Book also has a 13.5-inch display, with 3000x2000 resolution. The Surface Pro and the Surface Book offer 1TB storage options for power users, while the Surface Laptop currently tops out with the 512GB variant.
If you are a power user, the idea of handling multiple convertors and accessories isn’t very appealing. Microsoft knows that, which is why the Surface Pro gets a full USB 3.0 port, a microSD card reader, a Mini DisplayPort, a 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as Surface Connect. The Surface Laptop went the other way, with one Mini DisplayPort, one USB 3.0 port, Surface Connect and a headphone jack. The Surface Book is also not short of connectivity options, with two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, a Mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm headphone and surface Connect capabilities.