Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) review: Every bit the pro, but battery life is still a blow
Say hello to the Microsoft Surface 5. Ok, ok, so it’s “the new Microsoft Surface Pro”, rather than adopting the generational number format in its name. And that’s quite possibly because this fifth-generation model looks suspiciously like its predecessor.
It’s all change under the hood, however, with the 2017 Surface Pro adopting Intel’s seventh-generation Kaby Lake processors in fanless (and therefore silent) Core m and Core i5 form, or showing extra muscle with the Core i7 (as reviewed here, it has a fan but you’d struggle to hear it). The latest architecture ought to mean better battery life – which was out biggest complaint about the Surface Pro 4.
With a nip here and a tuck there, then, has the new Surface Pro achieved laptop-replacement perfection, or does it still exhibit familiar shortcomings?
Microsoft Surface Pro 5 review: Design and software
- 292.1 x 201.4 x 8.5mm; 766-786g
- 1x USB 3.0, 1x mini DisplayPort, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack, 1x microSD slot
- Infinite hinge angles to 165-degrees for versatile positioning
- Full Windows 10 Pro included (not Windows 10 S)
From afar the Surface Pro 5 looks just like the Pro 4. It has the same footprint and the same 12.3-inch screen size, but this time around its tidied things up at many possible turns.
The heat vents are sunken deeper into the aperture between front and rear panels; the front dual Windows Hello cameras now match their surroundings to be less visible; the rear hinges on the adjustable stand are the same metal finish of their surroundings – not black as they were on the Pro 4.
That adjustable stand is a major part of the Surface Pro’s design, too, able to adjust near infinitely in its position from upright down to 165-degrees downwards for an approaching flat position (in the Pro 4 that was limited to 150-degrees).
As for port choice, the Pro 5 sticks with the full-size USB 3.0 to its side, ensuring current compatibility with accessories. Our only ponder is why there’s not also a Type-C port alongside (instead there’s a mini DisplayPort, which is also handy) to make this pricey bit of kit even more future-proof.
It’s here we’ll also mention software: the Surface Pro sticks with Windows 10 Pro, which is fitting of its market position. As Microsoft has also launched the Surface Laptop with more basic Windows 10 S, it’s worth pointing out that the Pro can handle full Windows executable files, not just Store apps like its Laptop cousin.
Overall, we think the Surface Pro looks like a truly high-end device and it certainly feels robust as anything. That solid metal body has become an almost iconic look for Microsoft’s products and in its fifth-gen form it’s the most sophisticated it’s ever been.
Microsoft Surface Pro 5 review: Display
- 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824 resolution (267ppi)
- 10-point multi-touch operation
The new Surface Pro has the very same screen as its Surface Pro 4 predecessor. Which means it’s a very fine panel indeed, with that so-called PixelSense – yes, it’s just a marketing term – meaning there are heaps of pixels at play. Almost five million of them, in fact, which ensures that content looks super crisp.
At 12.3-inches in a footprint with relatively small bezels – although these aren’t nearing non-existent like on Dell, Huawei and HP laptops – the screen ensures the tablet portion of the Surface can be hand-held without accidentally making adjustments on the screen. For this is a 10-point touch-responsive panel, just like any tablet product.
Our only complaint is the glossy surface choice, which makes the new Surface Pro just as reflective as its predecessor. It’s not like a mirror, but if you allow your eyes to drift then you might catch your own reflection and find it rather distracting. As this was an issue in the Pro 4, it’s a shame a different panel hasn’t been employed – although this would likely make a different to colours and contrast, so might not be ideal.
Microsoft Surface Pro 5 review: New Pen stylus & Type Cover keyboards
- Surface Pen and Surface Keyboard sold separately
- New keyboard finishes in Alcantara / fingerprint scanner also available
Out of the box the Surface Pro 5 is effectively a tablet. There’s no keyboard or stylus in the box which, considering its £799 starting price (which quickly escalates into multiple thousands of pounds), has felt like a constant ongoing niggle since Surface began its life. Sure, older Type Cover keyboards will fit the new model no problems, but we still view the Surface as a laptop-replacement or 2-in-1 device – even though it can’t be called that out of the box, exactly.
For the new generation Surface Pro those Type Covers have seen a makeover: the latest offerings, which are priced at £150 each, come in platinum/cobalt blue/burgundy Alcantara material finish. These look great and add a certain softness to the Surface’s look – making it ultimately similar to the look of the Surface Laptop. The new Type Covers also have a longer key travel for an improved typing experience. Which is all well and good but, as we say – and have said for a long time – the absence of the keyboard in the box feels limiting. It’s a real nice keyboard, even if there’s not quite the rigidity that you’ll find from a full-on laptop.
On the stylus front, the Surface Pen isn’t included… and if you’re thinking about getting one then you might want to wait. Why? Because a new £100 Surface Pen will be launched – also in cobalt blue/burgundy, if you’re interested – with pressure sensitivity up from 1,024 levels to an impressive 4,094 levels. If you’re an illustrator that’ll be a must-have, we suspect, although at the time of writing we only have the older Pen in hand, the same as we used with the Surface Pro 4.
There’s no doubting the ability of the Pen. Click the eraser to open an app, draw and annotate to your heart’s content; eventually you’ll become a whizz in lobbing documents between programmes like a pro. The built-in battery lasts for months at a time, too, if not a whole year.
Microsoft Surface Pro 5 review: Performance & battery life
- Intel Core m (fanless) with 4GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 615, 128GB SSD
- Intel Core i5 (fanless) with 4GB/8GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 620, 128GB/256GB SSD
- Intel Core i7 (fan cooled) with 8GB/16GB RAM, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB SSD
- Seventh-gen Intel Kaby Lake processors for improved battery life
- Bespoke magnetic charging port
And so to the meat of the Surface Pro: how well it works. In the Intel Core i7 guise of our review model, it’s a perfectly capable machine, save for its lack of discrete graphics options.
We’ve been using the device as a day-to-day machine, for emails, word processing and Photoshop work, where it’s been able to crunch through images quicker than our MacBook Air is capable. Perhaps no surprise given the more powerful load out.
We’ve even downloaded some games to see how the Surface can cope, with PayDay 2 running at a usable frame-rate in Full HD resolution. The back of the device heats up a little, but it’s not considerable. And if full 3D games work then we’re sure that CAD project will be light work for this Surface Pro too.
One of the greatest things about the new Surface Pro, however, is how wonderfully quiet it is. It’s approaching silent. Which, for a fan-based Intel setup, is very impressive indeed. Nothing like the atrocious sound we got from the recent Lenovo Yoga 910 laptop.
We’re kind of sad we didn’t get to review the fanless Intel Core i5 machine instead of this top-spec model, because that ought to be completely silent in operation. Plus, with no fan and a lower clock speed there’s less strain on the battery.
Which brings us to the new Surface Pro’s inevitable bugbear: its battery life. In the Core i7 form it isn’t that great. We streamed YouTube videos for two hours and the battery drained by 48 per cent. Yikes. In normal operation things have performed fairer that that, but over the two full days of initial use we’ve not been getting anything more than we did from the previous Surface Pro, which, for us, offsets the need for its ultra-powerful Core i7 version. Choose wisely, then, to make sure you get the right balance of power to battery.
The new Surface Pro shows how far Microsoft has come with the series. It’s a really well made and great performing Windows device. Even in the Core i7 form of this review model it’s approaching silent in operation, thanks to seventh-generation Intel Kaby Lake processors, which is fantastic.
However, despite the nips and tucks making for a more sophisticated design in this fifth-generation model, there are still familiar issues: the battery life isn’t great, there’s no keyboard included, and with accessories and higher spec selections can get very expensive – this review model hitting a whopping £2399. That’s rather a lot of cash given the competition now available in the 2-in-1 market space, from the Acer Switch 5, to Lenovo Miix 720 or even Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.
That said, with an official Type Cover clipped into place, the Surface Pro is a formidable machine that not only looks better than its rivals, but brings fewer compromises than many too. Pick your spec wisely, however, because we suspect the Core i5 model’s battery life would score the new Surface Pro an extra half star. As it stands, however, the six hours of normal use from the Core i7 model doesn’t see it accelerate enough beyond where last year’s model left off. Shame, because it’s a great product in so many ways.
The alternatives to consider…
Acer Switch 5
- from €1,099
With keyboard and stylus included, along with silent operation and oodles of power to boot, the Acer Switch 5 certainly isn’t messing around. You’ll get more for your money overall, even if the finish isn’t quite as iconic or standout as the Microsoft device.
Read the full article: Acer Switch 5 preview
Lenovo Miix 720
- from $999
Adding a bit of bling with its watchband hinge to the rear, the Lenovo clearly apes the Surface Pro’s design – but comes in at a cut of the price.
Read the full article: Lenovo Miix 720 preview
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
- £599 (keyboard sold separately)
Ok, ok, so it’s a tablet. But, in some respects, so is the Surface Pro. As tablets go, the Samsung is fairly pricey, but pop a keyboard accessory on (an extra £100) and it’s a slender, fast acting Android device. No full Windows here, but an interesting compromise that might work if you’re not looking for the need to run heavyweight applications.
Read the full article: Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review