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October 3, 2018

Surface Pro 6 hands-on review

by John_A


Research Center:

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

To you and me, the big change with the new Microsoft Surface Pro 6 — beyond the overhaul and upgrade of the components that power the system — is the finish. This one comes in a new matte black that looks professional and feels great. But don’t tell Ralf Groene that it’s “just a different color.”

Groene is head of Industrial Design with the Microsoft Devices group and the man most responsible for the look and feel of the products. At Microsoft’s big Surface launch event in New York City, he told me that black is more than just a color. It’s a whole new material, one that’s slightly thicker than the standard platinum finish – and that was a big problem.

“You can’t make it bigger than the last version,” he told me. Because obviously. Every new iteration of a product must be thinner, lighter, faster. You can’t grow the damn thing. So Groene’s team went back to the drawing board and shaved a few microns off the internals to facilitate the slightly thicker coating from the vapor-deposition process.

So it’s not just black. Don’t ever say that.

Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

Beyond the black

The new coating feels great under the fingers, but beyond that, there’s little external change to the new Surface Pro 6. The Surface Pro has offered a compelling mix of tablet and laptop since day one, and having refined and polished what exactly that means over the years, Microsoft hit a winning balance with the Surface Pro last year. Don’t mess with perfection, in other words.

The new Pro 6 has the same detachable keyboard, the same pen, the same tablet functionality, and so on. I didn’t get a chance to check, but I suspect earlier keyboards would work with this newer product.

Microsoft hit a winning balance with the Surface Pro. Don’t mess with perfection, in other words.

It’s the internals that have changed. Last year’s Surface Pro was fast for a 2-in-1, but its seventh-generation Intel Core processors went out of date quickly. To fix that, Microsoft has upgraded to the eighth-generation chips.

That’s a big, big, big deal. Why? Because this is the generation that expanded quad-core to a wider swath of the lineup. The Surface Pro 6 is the first version of the Pro with a quad-core processor. Microsoft says that improves performance by 67 percent. That’s a bit of a loaded figure because it’ll only apply to heavily multi-threaded workloads, but you’re going to notice the difference in demanding applications.

Despite the upgrade in performance, Microsoft says battery life has also improved. The new version apparently nets up to 3.5 more hours of additional battery life compared to the prior Surface Pro generation. The Pro 6 is good for a whopping 14.5 hours.

Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

Our past reviews have found that Surface devices don’t often meet Microsoft’s claims, but 14.5 hours is a long time. We guess you’ll see more like 10 or 11 hours in normal use, which is still more than enough for most people.

The new Surface is still a lot like the old Surface

While the performance grows, the feature set and connectivity is the same as before. There isn’t USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 on the device, despite what you may have hoped and prayed for. USB-C is a huge step forward for device manufacturers, and by skipping it, Microsoft has drawn a line in the sand.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Compared To

Lenovo Thinkpad T480s

Razer Blade Stealth (2018)

Dell XPS 15 Touch

Dell XPS 13 (2014)

HP EliteBook 820 G1

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (2013)

Acer Aspire V5

Asus UL30A

Asus Eee 1008HA Seashell

Fujitsu LifeBook U820

Apple MacBook (2.4GHz, 2008)

Asus Eee PC 901

Apple MacBook Air (80GB)

Apple MacBook 2.0GHz

Sony VAIO C1MW PictureBook

That’s too bad. As time goes one, and these new connection standards become more common, the Surface’s lack is becoming a problem. It wasn’t a big deal two years ago. Today, it feels like a big oversight.

We can appreciate why Microsoft has taken an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach. The Surface Pro has long topped our list of the best 2-in-1 PCs. Yet we don’t think Microsoft should let itself get comfortable. Other devices, like the new HP Folio, are introducing radical new designs to unseat the Surface Pro.

It was good. It is good. It will be good.

The Surface Pro 6 brings forward the carefully honed design of earlier models and bumps the speed of the computer significantly.  It doesn’t try to revolutionize the Surface Pro’s now well-known look. It doesn’t need to. The 2-in-1 race is Microsoft’s to lose, and the company remains well ahead of the competition.

You can order the Surface Pro 6 today starting at $899. The product will be available starting Oct. 16.

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