Review: Microsoft's Surface Pro is the best Windows tablet to get, if you need one

Posted:
in iPad edited June 16
Microsoft's Surface Pro is the ideal Windows tablet, and is the one you should buy if you're looking for that kind of thing, but is a missed opportunity for Microsoft to demonstrate with Windows that it can do what Apple does for complete operating system and hardware integration.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 and iPad Pro 12.9-inch
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 and iPad Pro 12.9-inch


Microsoft's Surface line is the company's first-party attempt at its own hardware, that it tried to pioneer in the beginning of the century. Yes, that far back.

Microsoft's vision at the time was hampered by bulkier hardware, with tablet PCs weighing as much as a laptop -- six pounds or more. That wasn't exactly great for what the company had in mind.

And then, Steve Jobs announced the iPad, and things suddenly changed. It took Microsoft until 2012 to roll out a tablet with a crippled version of Windows, and 2013 for the first, real, implementation of Windows to arrive.

Now, here we are, nine years after the iPad. Microsoft wants you to believe that the Surface Pro line is the best of both the iPad and MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air.






Compared against any individual Apple product, it excels here and falls behind there. Like any hardware, it is a mixture of compromises and triumphs.

What it is

The Surface Pro we're talking about is from October 2018. It has an Intel Core i7 four-core processor with a 2.1GHz base speed, 256GB of storage, and 8GB of RAM. We're also using it in conjunction with Microsoft's keyboard cover, which back to the days of the dancing teens espousing the platform, has always been Microsoft's preferred venue of input.

The screen on the Surface Pro is 2736 x 1824, and is a touchscreen. In comparison, the 15-inch MacBook Pro has a resolution of 2880X1680 P3 display with 500 nits of brightness, and the 11-inch iPad Pro has a 2388 x 1668 Wide Color (P3) display with the same. The new MacBook Air has a 1680x1050 display.

The Surface Pro has a rear 8MP camera, and a front 5MP one at 2560x1960. The rear-shooter you won't use much, so that's okay here, and we'd argue not necessary for most users outside of enterprise at all.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 with Touch Cover
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 with Touch Cover


As far as ports go, Microsoft has not as of yet shifted to USB-C or Thunderbolt 3, but it appears that at least USB 3.1 type C is coming for the next model at some point in the future. At present, though, it has one USB 3.0 port, a DisplayPort, the Surface Connect port, a microSD slot, and a headphone jack.

Our Surface Pro configuration retails for $1499, without the keyboard. If you want more ports, you can use Microsoft's proprietary Surface Connect Port and a $199 breakout box for more -- but we don't recommend it.

But, these are just numbers, and not straight-across comparison points. Let's run some tests.

Hot silicon

We can run most of the test suite that we run when we review the Mac, on the Surface Pro. That's the point of benchmarks, after all.

We use the Geekbench suite a lot. While it isn't a universal measure, and simulates general use the best, it is useful to assess real-world, general use computing. And general use computing is the specific market that the Surface is aimed at.

Our Surface Pro scored 3323 single-core, and 11068 multi-core. Looking at about the same retail price, for comparison, the latest iPad Pro line scores around 5000 single-core, and 17622 multicore. The new 13-inch MacBook Pro gleans 4993 single-core, and 18283 in multi-core.

Cinebench R20 on the Surface Pro gleans 1144. For comparison, the 13-inch MacBook Pro scores 1779 on the test.

Day-to-day use

Windows is both the biggest feature of the Surface Pro, and the largest detriment. There's that immense software library on Windows -- but after all these years, does it matter if you're picking from 20-word processors or 200?

The Windows lineage shows, for instance, when you rotate the device. Instead of a pivot animation like in the iPad, the screen blacks out, and redraws in the proper orientation -- clearly the same effect as if you pivot a display, and tell Windows that your 3840 x 2160 monitor is now a 2160 x 3840 display.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Microsoft Surface Pro 6


A Surface Pro can casually game with Intel's UHD 620 graphics and is a pretty effective tool for that given the volume of the Windows library. But, an iPad Pro has a deep library too -- and has a faster graphics implementation. And, don't forget, the Mac can run Windows too, if you're so inclined.

Microsoft's Surface Pro Type Cover is adequate, and at $129, we'd like it to be more than adequate. Key travel is good, but because of how the keyboard attaches to the Surface Pro, the experience is bouncier than we want overall. The more spread out keys in the newest version are better than the older model, though, so that's an improvement.

Yes, we've used older Surface keyboards. More on that in a bit.

The Fingerprint ID in the keyboard is good, and quick -- but not fully implemented across everything that TouchID is on the Mac.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 trackpad
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 trackpad


But, that trackpad on the keyboard case is terrible if you're accustomed to the Mac's implementations. Just use the touchscreen instead.

Audio is clear from two front-facing speakers. But, the four speakers on the iPad Pro and the two on the MacBook Pro are better.

Battery life is decent. We're seeing the same as we do on our 15-inch 2018 i9 MacBook Pro at about nine hours of life, compared to over 10 on our 11-inch iPad Pro.

The platform wars rage on

The common refrain for a long time about AppleInsider staffers was, that if you cut us, we would bleed in six colors. While we do vastly prefer macOS and iOS to Windows, there is a benefit to Microsoft's platform as well -- one that many of us partake in.

And, this writer has had a Surface Pro of one variety or another for a long time. At launch, it was the best Windows tablet to buy, and remains so, above all others.

But that's the thing -- Windows. If you need or want Windows hardware and have no particular need for macOS or iOS, you generally buy Windows. If you need macOS, then that's what you buy.

Microsoft also wants to compare the Surface to something with a MacBook in the name when the Surface comes out on top, and the iPad when it is superior to that. Complicating that with the Surface, is there is no "Apple Tax" to speak of in this regard.

When promoting the Surface, Microsoft wants you to believe that the hardware is the most important thing and the platform is the ultimate solution to all computing devices. But, hardware hasn't been the only answer for about 15 years for nearly everybody, and a device tailor-made to how you personally compute is better than one that vaguely waves at a few different markets.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Microsoft Surface Pro 6


The MacBook, regardless of suffix, is a well-engineered piece of hardware that runs macOS. The iPad benefits from that same engineering, and great integration. And, Microsoft's Surface Pro hardware is just as well engineered as the pair.

Folks use Apple gear, macOS and iOS side by side because of the OS-level integration. Apple controls the entire hardware and software stack, allowing for integrations that are second to none.

Microsoft blew it with the surface in one regard. The Surface line gave the company the opportunity to control that entire stack, given that they produce Windows. Instead of using this integration to make synergies like iOS and macOS, they just slapped Windows on it, and called it a day -- and that's a shame. It could be much more of a tool had they done that.

But, as long as you know what you're getting into when you buy at whatever price-point you settle on, you can get the job done, integrations or no. What tools you use for that job depends on your own toolbox, and what you like to use.

The Surface Pro is nice but not perfect. Surface users are getting cheated with the lack of a truly high-speed interface in and out of the machine. Ditch the DisplayPort, go to Thunderbolt 3, and it will be better for everybody.

What is is not, is an iPad killer, nor a MacBook whatever killer. It sits in its own little niche, and Microsoft is doing it no favors with how it promotes it, and why it doesn't do more on the software side, specifically for the Surface ecosystem, is beyond us.

Score: 4 out of 5

Where to buy

Instant savings on Apple's latest iPad Pros, as well as Microsoft's Surface Pro 6, can be found below. Plus, check out B&H's new Payboo Card to save on tax in eligible states.

11-inch iPad Pros (current models) 12.9-inch iPad Pros (latest models) Apple Pencil 2 Microsoft Surface Pro 6
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    xp17xp17 Posts: 7member
    No, I don't need windows tablet. LOL
    macxpresswilliamlondonpscooter63macseekerMisterKitAppleExposed
  • Reply 2 of 46
    KITAKITA Posts: 197member
    Interesting timing for the review given the redesigned 2019 version might only be a few months away.

    The redesign should be using Intel's new 10 nm U series processors with up to Iris Plus graphics, up to 32 GB LPDDR4X and Thunderbolt 3 included.



    Intel's Core i7-1065 G7 (15 W) with Iris Plus graphics and 32 GB RAM as seen inside the XPS 13 2-in-1:





    Surface patent with USB-C:

     

    Magnetic USB-C patent:



    On a different note, it's a bit odd to see the keyboard being used flat like that. Typically it's elevated:

    Image result for surface pro
    edited June 2 williamlondoncanukstorm
  • Reply 3 of 46
    ttollertonttollerton Posts: 202member
    I work in accounting and there’s no way I could get away from windows at my firm.  I have the Surface Pro 4 and love it, save for the battery life.  I’m looking forward to the Pro 6 or 7, where battery life will be much better.  
    bigtdschemengin1
  • Reply 4 of 46
    ttollertonttollerton Posts: 202member
    xp17 said:
    No, I don't need windows tablet. LOL
    Helpful!
    edited June 2 napoleon_phoneapartrevenantbigtdschemengin1
  • Reply 5 of 46
    pscooter63pscooter63 Posts: 943member
    So... MicrosoftOutsider now?

    With all due respect to Mike (whose content is generally great), there are dozens of places that already provide review content like this.

    I am forced to use a Windows machine at work.  AI used to be my escape from all that.
    edited June 2 NotsofastmacseekervisualzoneAppleExposed
  • Reply 6 of 46
    Time for you to join Windows insider now... BYEEEEEEEEE!
  • Reply 7 of 46
    thttht Posts: 3,252member
    With Windows’s move to a black Taskbar, as default (?), it makes the bottom bezels of Windows laptop displays look even thicker, and the aspect ratio of the display even wider. The Surface Pro has a 13.5:9 display, and it looks like a 16:9 in these pictures. And laptops with 16:9 displays, and the black Taskbar, wow, they look like 18:9 sitting on top of a stand. I think it would look better if it was not a color that blended with the bezels of typical laptops.

    It’s the same as it was since the beginning. If you want a laptop that can occasionally be used as tablet (using Windows software etc), that’s basically right up the Surface Pro’s alley. It’s been something that Windows tablet PCs have been doing for like 18 years now.

    If you want a tablet that can be used as a laptop, maybe that’s an iPad. I don’t recommend it though. I recommend using an iPad flat on a table using the software keyboard. Or on a level surface or resting place. It really needs to be this way to effectively use the multi-touch gestures. Adding a keyboard case accessory negates all the advantages of a thin and light tablet. A lot of the cases make thicker than a laptop, heavier than a laptop, and that’s a lot of tradeoff. 

    Apple does need to improve its software keyboard. There really should be arrow and meta keys, and a software trackpad controlling a pointer (not just a text insertion point). External keyboard and pointer is all but inevitable though, where people will use an iPad+monitor like they would a desktop PC.
  • Reply 8 of 46
    The Surface Pro. The tablet has been around since 2012, has a touch screen, runs a real desktop OS, you can develop and release software on it, you can install any apps you want onto it with no restrictions. Apple has nothing like it.
    ttollertonKITAchemengin1
  • Reply 9 of 46
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,672member
    The Surface Pro. The tablet has been around since 2012, has a touch screen, runs a real desktop OS, you can develop and release software on it, you can install any apps you want onto it with no restrictions. Apple has nothing like it.
    Agreed - the even the ipad ‘pro’ is still not a ‘full computer’ in the sense of being a laptop replacement. It has the potential to be but unfortunately remains hamstrung. By iOS. 

    I had the same thought as pscooter63 about AI posting a review of a windows computer, but coincidentally, my daughter needs a new computer for college this fall as my old 2011 MacBook Air she’s been using is on death’s door. Given the issues I’ve had with my MacBook Pro keyboard I’m very hesitant to get one for her and have actually been considering getting a windows machine, possibly a Surface Pro. I think Macs are better and I can help her more if she has issues with a Mac, but if her keyboard craps out why she’s trying to get a term paper done, she can’t afford to deal with the hassle of getting it repaired or being without a computer for a week. Macs are better than PCs, but a working PC is better than a non-working Mac. :/
    80s_Apple_GuyOutdoorAppDeveloperchemengin1
  • Reply 10 of 46
    ravnorodomravnorodom Posts: 234member
    I thought this is April Fool for a second. 
    pscooter63visualzone
  • Reply 11 of 46
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,979member
    The Surface Pro. The tablet has been around since 2012, has a touch screen, runs a real desktop OS, you can develop and release software on it, you can install any apps you want onto it with no restrictions. Apple has nothing like it.
    And honestly, it doesn't need it. The iPad already outsells the Surface Tablet many times over...
    edited June 2 AppleExposed
  • Reply 12 of 46
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,883administrator
    So... MicrosoftOutsider now?

    With all due respect to Mike (whose content is generally great), there are dozens of places that already provide review content like this.

    I am forced to use a Windows machine at work.  AI used to be my escape from all that.
    When we have time, we have a list of requests from users. A look at the Surface's hardware as it compares to the Mac and iPad has been on the list for two years.
    pscooter631STnTENDERBITSravnorodombigtdsgatorguychemengin1AppleExposed
  • Reply 13 of 46
    So... MicrosoftOutsider now?

    With all due respect to Mike (whose content is generally great), there are dozens of places that already provide review content like this.

    I am forced to use a Windows machine at work.  AI used to be my escape from all that.
    Wait.  In your effort to escape Windows you {checks notes} come to an article about a Windows tablet... just to {checks notes again} complain about a single article on a site filled with articles about Apple?  That makes sooo much sense considering you could have, I don't know, read one of the other articles on the site.  

    It's like you're complaining about getting sick from riding roller coasters while in line to ride a roller coaster.  Don't ride the roller coaster.  Don't read the article and your respite from Windows remains intact.
    KITApscooter63bigtdsgatorguychemengin1
  • Reply 14 of 46
    MisterKitMisterKit Posts: 283member
    I can’t imagine using Windows for personal use.
  • Reply 15 of 46
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,449member
    tht said:
    With Windows’s move to a black Taskbar, as default (?), it makes the bottom bezels of Windows laptop displays look even thicker, and the aspect ratio of the display even wider. The Surface Pro has a 13.5:9 display, and it looks like a 16:9 in these pictures. And laptops with 16:9 displays, and the black Taskbar, wow, they look like 18:9 sitting on top of a stand. I think it would look better if it was not a color that blended with the bezels of typical laptops.

    It’s the same as it was since the beginning. If you want a laptop that can occasionally be used as tablet (using Windows software etc), that’s basically right up the Surface Pro’s alley. It’s been something that Windows tablet PCs have been doing for like 18 years now.

    If you want a tablet that can be used as a laptop, maybe that’s an iPad. I don’t recommend it though. I recommend using an iPad flat on a table using the software keyboard. Or on a level surface or resting place. It really needs to be this way to effectively use the multi-touch gestures. Adding a keyboard case accessory negates all the advantages of a thin and light tablet. A lot of the cases make thicker than a laptop, heavier than a laptop, and that’s a lot of tradeoff. 

    Apple does need to improve its software keyboard. There really should be arrow and meta keys, and a software trackpad controlling a pointer (not just a text insertion point). External keyboard and pointer is all but inevitable though, where people will use an iPad+monitor like they would a desktop PC.
    An iPad flat on a table is an ergonomic nightmare for any extended use. You’ll need a good chiropractor if that’s how you primarily use it. Unfortunately, using the software keyboard takes up a lot of the display, which makes that a less than optimal choice in many use cases. It’s really too bad in offering iPad Pro USB-C mirroring for use with an external monitor, they didn’t provide for a software keyboard to work in an extended mode. You’d still have to look down to see what you’re doing in navigating around the screen with Touch only input, but that would be less frequent than keeping ones head down to read the horizontally positioned display. Of course a mouse moving a virtual finger would have solved many of those issues.
    edited June 2
  • Reply 16 of 46
    djames4242djames4242 Posts: 554member
    When my wife needed her own computer earlier this year, I tried to convince her to get another Mac. She bought one of the older 2009 MacBooks and never figured out how to use it, so she decided to stick with what she knows (because, work) and opted for a Surface Pro. I agree with this article that it's a really, really nice piece of hardware. She also likes that she can detach the keyboard and use the tablet for watching videos when she travels.

    I personally don't care for Windows and, unless Apple really screws up down the road, will never own any Microsoft products myself. However, for those who want Windows, the Surface line is really nice.
    gatorguy
  • Reply 17 of 46
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,697member
    Nope, don't need a Windows tablet or Windows anything. :#

    I've managed just fine to get by my entire life without ever using or touching Windows, and I don't have any plans to start now.
    edited June 2 lkruppAppleExposed
  • Reply 18 of 46
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,194member
    My sister got one over an iPad Pro because of the USB capabilities. I hope Apple announces better USB support for iPad Pro at WWDC.
  • Reply 19 of 46
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,194member
    MplsP said:
    The Surface Pro. The tablet has been around since 2012, has a touch screen, runs a real desktop OS, you can develop and release software on it, you can install any apps you want onto it with no restrictions. Apple has nothing like it.
    Agreed - the even the ipad ‘pro’ is still not a ‘full computer’ in the sense of being a laptop replacement. It has the potential to be but unfortunately remains hamstrung. By iOS. 

    I had the same thought as pscooter63 about AI posting a review of a windows computer, but coincidentally, my daughter needs a new computer for college this fall as my old 2011 MacBook Air she’s been using is on death’s door. Given the issues I’ve had with my MacBook Pro keyboard I’m very hesitant to get one for her and have actually been considering getting a windows machine, possibly a Surface Pro. I think Macs are better and I can help her more if she has issues with a Mac, but if her keyboard craps out why she’s trying to get a term paper done, she can’t afford to deal with the hassle of getting it repaired or being without a computer for a week. Macs are better than PCs, but a working PC is better than a non-working Mac. :/
    Here’s something I just don’t understand....why does the iPad need to replace a PC/laptop? Maybe for some people it can, maybe for a lot of people. But for those where it can’t laptops do exist. No company has developed a device that is the perfect laptop and perfect tablet. There are all sorts of trade offs. My feeling is if you want both and can afford it buy both. If you can’t pick the one that will best suit your needs. From what I see the people complaining the most about iPads are people that are probably better off using a Mac or Windows PC.
    bigtds
  • Reply 20 of 46
    thttht Posts: 3,252member
    mac_128 said:
    If you want a tablet that can be used as a laptop, maybe that’s an iPad. I don’t recommend [using an iPad like a laptop] though. I recommend using an iPad flat on a table using the software keyboard. Or on a level surface or resting place. It really needs to be this way to effectively use the multi-touch gestures. Adding a keyboard case accessory negates all the advantages of a thin and light tablet. A lot of the cases make thicker than a laptop, heavier than a laptop, and that’s a lot of tradeoff. 

    Apple does need to improve its software keyboard. There really should be arrow and meta keys, and a software trackpad controlling a pointer (not just a text insertion point). External keyboard and pointer is all but inevitable though, where people will use an iPad+monitor like they would a desktop PC.
    An iPad flat on a table is an ergonomic nightmare for any extended use. You’ll need a good chiropractor if that’s how you primarily use it. Unfortunately, using the software keyboard takes up a lot of the display, which makes that a less than optimal choice in many use cases. It’s really too bad in offering iPad Pro USB-C mirroring for use with an external monitor, they didn’t provide for a software keyboard to work in an extended mode. You’d still have to look down to see what you’re doing in navigating around the screen with Touch only input, but that would be less frequent than keeping ones head down to read the horizontally positioned display. Of course a mouse moving a virtual finger would have solved many of those issues.
    I’m basically in direct opposition to what you are saying regarding using an iPad flat on a table. It really is the best way to use it while at a desk or on your lap. If the an iPad is propped vertical like a laptop, you lose the biggest advantages it has: multi-touch input and Pencil input. It is so much easier to do while flat. Multi-Touch as in two hands, not two fingers. Like you can select a block of text longer than a page by holding the text selection handle and using your other hand to scroll up or down to select more text. The more famous ones are selecting multiple items: one hand holds the selected items, the other hand selects, and then navigates to the target location for dropping. The Pencil input while flat versus vertical goes without saying.

    Doing this type of stuff while an iPad is vertical isn’t tenable and why so many people want mouse or pointer support. Apple should really be trying to improve it’s advantages, not try to make it a kind of a laptop.

    For external monitors, I think the default method for use is to have the iPad flat on the table, running a software keyboard and trackpad that controls the apps on the external monitor. I do think external keyboard and pointer device support should be provided, it’s just they should be working to the iPad’s strengths which is multi-touch and stylus input.
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