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Review roundup: Microsoft's Surface Pro is about compromises

post #1 of 91
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With Microsoft's Surface Pro about to hit store shelves, review embargoes have been lifted and tech writers across the web are releasing their thoughts on the company's second ever attempt at building a personal computer.

Surface Pro
Microsoft's Surface Pro with stylus and Typecover. | Source: Microsoft


Overall, the tablet's hardware appears to be the main draw for most reviewers, with a fast processor, sharp display and included stylus able to take advantage of Microsoft's latest Windows 8 operating system. Unlike Redmond's previous offering, the Surface RT, the Pro runs a full version of the OS, allowing installation of Windows programs.

Looking at the reviews, it seems as though Microsoft had a difficult time bringing the price of the hardware within an acceptable range. Unlike its smaller brother, the Pro lacks Windows Office built in, nor does it come with a physical snap-on keyboard. As reported in January, disk space is also at a premium, with the operating system gobbling up most of the on-board flash memory.

Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal


Mossberg lists the pros and cons of Microsoft's powerful tablet, suggesting that would-be buyers can theoretically use the device as a "full replacement for a Windows laptop?if you used one of Microsoft?s thin keyboard covers." Unfortunately, the snap-on peripherals are not included in the high entry price, one of the reviewer's main gripes about the Surface Pro.

Another minus is the unit's battery life, which Mossberg calls "pathetic." In his testing, he found the battery lasted just under four hours. The weight of the device was also a sticking point, and coming in at two pounds is some 40 percent more hefty than the heaviest iPad.

Unlike many Android tablets and Apple's iPad, neither of Microsoft's Surface models offer cellular connectivity out of the box.

"But just as the Pro is compromised as a tablet, it?s compromised as a laptop. You get fewer ports and less storage than on many laptops and a keyboard that can?t compare with those on many laptops."

Surface Pro with Stylus


Ed Baig of USA Today


Baig found the Surface's hardware to be top notch, lauding the solid magnesium chassis and convenient kickstand. The Pro "packs a punch" with an Intel Core i5 processor, and there is noticeable boost to performance from the Surface RT. Compared to the RT, the Surface Pro's display boasts wider viewing angles and higher-resolution panel.

There are drawbacks to the impressive hardware specs, however, and Baig found that he could manage only 3.5 hours of runtime when pushing the tablet by streaming movie over Wi-Fi with the brightness level set at max. Unit cost was mentioned as a possible negative.

"And the touch environment is what makes the new operating system, and Surface itself, feel fresh and modern. But the very schizophrenic nature of Windows 8 means you're likely to spend a fair amount of time going back and forth between handling the screen with your fingers and reverting to the more traditional mouse/trackpad and keyboard worlds in which you've comfortably lived for years."

Harry McCracken of Time


McCracken said that with the Surface Pro, Microsoft "decided to show us exactly what it thinks a modern PC/tablet hybrid should be," and built two very different models to that end.

Just as the other reviewers, McCracken lauds the Pro's horsepower and high-end internal components, but comes away seeing the same issues of price and additional heft.

"Microsoft likes to use the phrase 'no compromises' when describing that versatility, but in fact, Surface Pro ? like all computing devices ? is a study in compromises," he writes.

Perhaps more important is how the latest Surface handles software. McCracken found the touch interface to work well with Windows 8 apps, but programs not built to take specific advantage of the new hardware were cumbersome to operate.

"And over and over again, these useful programs reminded me that they weren?t designed to work well on a new-wave computing device like the Surface Pro."

Other perspectives


For additional takes on the Surface Pro, see reviews from Anand Lai Shimpi of AnandTech, Joanna Stern from ABC, David Pierce of The Verge, Tim Stevens of Engadget and Kyle Wagner of Gizmodo.

The Surface Pro hits stores on Feb. 9, with the 64GB model coming in at $899, while the top-of-the-line 128GB version will cost $999.
post #2 of 91
So Walt agrees with Tim.
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post #3 of 91

Funny. The iPad is about making no compromises. This thing seems to be about making ALL possible compromises.

 

In before, "Mossberg is in Apple's back pocket; of course he hated anything from anyone else!"

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Originally Posted by Marvin

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post #4 of 91
Battery life will be the death of this thing. Unbelievable that Microsoft would think it wouldn't be an issue. But the fanboys are predicting it will drive the iPad out of the enterprise tout suite.
post #5 of 91

Zune. 

 

This thing is DOA. MS can't even sell the RT model. The branding is confusing. A laptop trying to be a tablet trying to be a laptop. 

 

The UI is beyond ugly. 

 

Etc., etc. 

 

I can think of virtually no criticism which can't be at least reasonably applied to this ill-conceived attempt at making MS somehow relevant in mobile.

post #6 of 91
I would say Apple's products are ALL about compromises: you can't avoid compromise, so make the very best ones. Be proud of what you don't include, as much as about what you do.

Microsoft had some interesting ideas here, but they made all the WRONG compromises... a heavy, low-battery-life tablet plus a non-adjustable awkward laptop, all at a bad price!

If you really could have both a tablet and a "classic OS" laptop in one and have both be excellent, that would be something. But you can't. Let Windows go, Microsoft! For tablets, at least.

The best combination of both is to forget legacy apps and simply get an iPad plus your favorite Bluetooth keyboard (some of which snap as screen covers, Surface-style). Or if you need conventional mouse-driven apps, then a MacBook Air is the best.

If I were getting an MS product as a gift, I'd want it to be a Surface RT... but a hypothetical next generation that ditches the legacy Windows interface entirely. Metro is interesting. Metro crammed in with old stuff is just a mess.
post #7 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Funny. The iPad is about making no compromises.

 

Not true. There are compromises left and right in the iPad. And Apple admits this. 

 

The difference is which things they compromise and why. Battery life, for example, is not something they will screw with just to say they have a spec. Case in point, no retina on the iPad mini. 

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post #8 of 91

Of course it's full of compromises. At this stage of the game it's a mediocre proof of concept. I'm sure it'll get refined in time but no one will want one anyway.

 

However it's not an iPad competitor at all. It's a Macbook Air / Ultrabook competitor. 

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post #9 of 91
it appears that the word compromise, or rather saying a device has no compromise, is not good descriptor. Perhaps we need a new term that shows how the iPad's focus on a certain usage type compared to what MS has done by not wanting to give up any one thing so it ended up with a device that is mediocre in all its forms.

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post #10 of 91
Originally Posted by charlituna View Post
Case in point, no retina on the iPad mini. 

 

That's not a compromise; the tech isn't there yet.

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post #11 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

That's not a compromise; the tech isn't there yet.

Nonsense. If there are 5in - 1920 x1080 (440ppi) LCD panels in mass production, they could very well make a 7in retina display at 326ppi. Apple chose not to for the first generation - and that's fine. Doing so would have a required a better GPU for sure, and all of that raises costs. 

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post #12 of 91
23 GB of free space on a 64 GB device is laughable. This should be listed as compromise #1
post #13 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

That's not a compromise; the tech isn't there yet.

 

 

You mean the tech isn't there at a price point Apple thinks people will be willing to pay? Clearly, Apple could put a Retina Display in the Mini. It just couldn't do it at a price point it wanted to do so. 

post #14 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBell View Post


You mean the tech isn't there at a price point Apple thinks people will be willing to pay? Clearly, Apple could put a Retina Display in the Mini. It just couldn't do it at a price point it wanted to do so. 

How is that clear? I assume that the weight, thickness, and battery life are key factors in the iPad mini's appeal and I don't see enough evidence to suggest that 4x as many pixels can be pushed while using a battery about the same size and weight.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #15 of 91
Totally moronic (Are you listening Walt) comparing the Surface Pro, running Windows, to an iPad. That's like comparing a Macbook running OSX to an iPad?

I'll bet the Macbook Air and Pro are both heavier than an iPad also (Which it is!).

Look, I have and use an Air and an iPad. I also use a 5 year old Dell desktop running Windows 8. All have their strengths and weaknesses. I can understand why someone would prefer one OS to another. But, I tire when people, who prefer one OS over another, feel the need to exaggerate, embellish or otherwise unfairly demean another system. If your case is so strong, why embarrass yourself with half truths (Or outright lies)?
post #16 of 91
Originally Posted by tbsteph View Post
That's like comparing a Macbook running OSX to an iPad?

 

Maybe they shouldn't be trying to pass off a laptop as a tablet, then.

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post #17 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by tbsteph View Post

Totally moronic (Are you listening Walt) comparing the Surface Pro, running Windows, to an iPad. That's like comparing a Macbook running OSX to an iPad?

It might not be the most comparable due to OS differences but the Surface Pro is still a tablet, and one that doesn't comes with a keyboard cover as default so I don't think it's wrong to make comparisons to the iPad.

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #18 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

That's not a compromise; the tech isn't there yet.

 

That depends on what you mean by 'the tech'. They can totally make the screen, after all they could use the same parameter in terms of ppi as the full sized ones.  So display wise, the tech is there. 

 

Now if by 'the tech' you mean the total package with battery etc so as quality of use is more or less equal to previous standards, then no. It's not there. Which is my point. Apple could use said display but it would cost something more important. A rather than diminish use to say they have a spec they compromised and used less than a retina display. 


Edited by charlituna - 2/5/13 at 8:20pm

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post #19 of 91

So it's worse than a tablet, worse than a laptop and more expensive than both with less than half the battery life. Apple has nothing to worry about. Zune.

 

At this point, Microsoft needs to bring back Windows 7 and concentrate on Office for tablets. I think over the next 2 years we will see them laying off thousands of workers and condensing their business. Steve Ballmer is old and doesn't get it anymore. They are the new HP.

post #20 of 91
Other site's comments are raving about the stylus. Stylus-driven tablet PCs have been around for over a decade... yet their sales have proven to be niche at best. Why is the stylus suddenly the greatest thing ever?

And the other big promise of the Surface Pro is that it is "a laptop and tablet in one"

Where that fall apart for me is... the 10.6" screen. That's far too small to be my laptop... even if it can also be a tablet.
post #21 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Scrip View Post

Other site's comments are raving about the stylus. Stylus-driven tablet PCs have been around for over a decade... yet their sales have proven to be niche at best. Why is the stylus suddenly the greatest thing ever?

And the other big promise of the Surface Pro is that it is "a laptop and tablet in one"

Where that fall apart for me is... the 10.6" screen. That's far too small to be my laptop... even if it can also be a tablet.

I wouldn't say it's stylus driven, it's multitouch driven like the iPad. The included Wacom powered digitizer is just another way you can interact with the device, and it's something I hope Apple will adopt at some point.

"The real haunted empire?  It's the New York Times." ~SockRolid

"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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"There is no rule that says the best phones must have the largest screen." ~RoundaboutNow

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post #22 of 91
One of the interesting things is that around this price point, one could buy a cheap Windows laptop AND an iPad.
post #23 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by charlituna View Post

 

That depends on what you mean by 'the tech'. They can totally make the screen, after all they could use the same parameter in terms of ppi as the full sized ones.  So display wise, the tech is there. 

 

Now if by 'the tech' you mean the total package with battery etc so as quality of use is more or less equal to previous standards, then no. It's not there. Which is my point. Apple could use said display but it would cost something more important. A rather than diminish use to say they have a spec they compromised and used less than a retina display. 

 

They should've used a new resolution. Stop sticking to 4x resolution, the dev can handle it. Afterall, Android handled tens of different resolutions. 

post #24 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post

It's not stylus driven, it's multitouch driven like the iPad. The included Wacom powered digitizer is just another way you can interact with the device, and it's something I hope Apple will adopt at some point.

I wasn't talking about the tech... I meant the actual use of the stylus. Earlier tablet PCs had a stylus... but they didn't exactly take the world by storm.

Is the stylus really the reason the Surface Pro is so desirable?
post #25 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by charlituna View Post

Not true. There are compromises left and right in the iPad. And Apple admits this. 

 

Uh-oh. That means the iPad is the same as Surface. All about compromises.

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post #26 of 91
It's funny, many of the earlier opinions that I read were along the lines of "Surface with Windows RT is useless. Wait for the Surface Pro." But, reading the specs of the Pro, I'd say the exact opposite.
Surface Pro drags the Windows legacy behind it like a dog with cans tied to its tail, and because of that, it stinks as a mobile device. Who'd want this thing instead of a regular laptop?
On the other hand, Surface with Windows RT made a clean break from the past, was much better in terms of power management and had a consistent touch-based GUI. The biggest problems were the price and the lack of apps.
IMO what Microsoft should have done was ONLY release the RT model, but at a substantially lower price-point. This would have fueled many more 'curiosity' purchases and helped to create a market for apps that the platform needs. It also would have reduced market confusion and helped to focus developer energy.
Also "Windows RT" is a bad name. It should have been something like "Metro OS." This is not a windowed operating system! (Or maybe to screw everyone up they could have called in "Command Line.")
post #27 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by Quadra 610 View Post

Zune. 

 

This thing is DOA. MS can't even sell the RT model. The branding is confusing. A laptop trying to be a tablet trying to be a laptop. 

 

The UI is beyond ugly. 

 

Etc., etc. 

 

I can think of virtually no criticism which can't be at least reasonably applied to this ill-conceived attempt at making MS somehow relevant in mobile.

 

I thought the Surface was released last year. Is this a new version already?

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

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post #28 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by tbsteph View Post

Totally moronic (Are you listening Walt) comparing the Surface Pro, running Windows, to an iPad. That's like comparing a Macbook running OSX to an iPad?
 

 

Walt is confused because Microsoft calls it a tablet, not a laptop with a removable keyboard. Which is exactly the intended effect.

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post #29 of 91

“If you see a stylus, they blew it.” - Steve Jobs

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post #30 of 91

That thing is ridiculous. lol.gif

 

It's not quite a laptop and it's not quite a tablet. It's worse in both areas, so who the hell would want one? 

 

And who wants a horribly bloated Windows install? 

 

That battery time is a total joke.  Plus that thing is not that cheap either, so that leaves out the cheapskate Android people from the equation.

post #31 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apple ][ View Post

That battery time is a total joke.  Plus that thing is not that cheap either, so that leaves out the cheapskate Android people from the equation.

 

Yes, but the lame battery life really speaks to those Android people.

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post #32 of 91

Don't worry, folks. When the British wake up, they'll fill these forums with flowing praise for Surface, and Windows. They always do.

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post #33 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

 

I thought the Surface was released last year. Is this a new version already?


Yes. This version runs on an Intel chip and runs legacy Windows software. The other tablet can't run the old Windows software.

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post #34 of 91
Im actually really tempted by this device. I like the idea of a device i can keep in my bag (like i do with my ipad) to use in a break at work. Compared to a laptop its still a lot smaller, making this a possability. Unlike the crappy netbooks it also has a decent amount of power, not a huge amount but enough.

The battery life is rubbish but then your left with a question. Do you go RT and have the battery life and a device more like an ipad, or do you make some sacrifices and have full windows. Im a programmer so its a question of, do I want to be able to program on this device? My ipad is thoroughly annoying in that i cant write apps on it. Having a device that is light, can be kept in my bag, that i can actually do work on in my spare time is a huge selling point for me.
post #35 of 91

Hi Tim,

 

I'm wondering though, wouldn't you rather have something like a PC version of the MacBook Air for about the same price as the Surface Pro? With a proper laptop, you have an experience that is designed for keeping your hands on the keyboard, using the touch-pad, etc. With the Surface Pro, you have to switch between touch, stylus and optionally track-pad, and UIs that are designed for a mouse and for touch. It seems like a jumble. Plus, most portables in the MacBook Air category almost double the battery life of the Surface Pro. There's also very little disk space left after the OS has taken it's fill. And there's less expandability and connectivity than you get with a real laptop.
 

As an example the Toshiba Portege:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2410357,00.asp

Costs less than the Surface Pro, and gives you 8 hours battery life.

post #36 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by jd_in_sb View Post


Yes. This version runs on an Intel chip and runs legacy Windows software. The other tablet can't run the old Windows software.

Ah. So Windows, but not Windows Windows. Got it.

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post #37 of 91
Quote:
Originally Posted by lkrupp View Post

Battery life will be the death of this thing. Unbelievable that Microsoft would think it wouldn't be an issue. But the fanboys are predicting it will drive the iPad out of the enterprise tout suite.

 

I'm sure at Microsoft, HP, Dell, and others will be using Surface or Surface clones, because they all make those products, but I don't know if Microsoft is going to get much traction in the Enterprise.  They haven't so far and these Surface products aren't that much different than the products that have already been on the market.

post #38 of 91
*Too heavy. I rather have a MacBook Air 11-inch with extra ports and OS X inside! A shame Apple has not a tablet 400 to 600 g of weight, though.
post #39 of 91

I read that it has a fan? lol.gif

 

I guess it has to have one for the Intel chip, but having a fan inside a tablet doesn't exactly sound like a great idea.

post #40 of 91

I guess time will tell, whether people want a separate tablet and notebook, or a converge device like this. My prediction is that the pure tablets will increase in power (e.g. the new 128GB iPad) and not give this type of in-betweener a chance to catch on.

 

Odd that it doesn't come with Office.

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