Having very sensibly concluded that nobody is going to beat Apple at making iPads, Microsoft has come up with a strikingly original take on the tablet.
Our first taste of Surface came via the ARM-based Surface RT, which took on other long-battery laptabs like the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity. It was well-made and nice to type on, but ultimately stymied by Windows RT, which prevents you from installing any third party desktop appllications.
The Pro version is designed to be an Ultrabook killer, running powerful hardware and full-fat Windows 8 in an 11in tablet. Can an injection of power put Surface on top?
Cut from the same VaporMG cloth as its slimmer RT sister, the Surface Pro has a solid, nicely made feel. At 907g and 13.5mm, the Pro's extra weight and thickness mean it doesn't seem as throw-aroundable as the RT version (680g and 9.3mm), but it's still a lot lighter on the lap (and in the bag) than the Ultrabooks it intends to replace.
Because the hardware is all behind the screen, it has a wobbly, top-heavy feel when you're typing, but this also gives the Surface an advantage over any laptop: because the CPU and battery are held away from your lap, you can type for hours without suffering from Hot Leg. If we were serious reviewers we'd look into the effects this has on male fertility, but we're not those guys.
Where the RT version has a 720p screen, the Pro takes a jump to 1080p. That's a lot of pixels for such a small screen. Pixel density fans, note that Apple considers 220ppi to be a Retina display in its Macbook Pro, and the Surface Pro has a PPI just shy of that at 208.
Compare it to the 720p screen on the 11in Macbook Air, the Pro's nearest rival in size and specs (see below for a full spec-off) and the 1920x1080 Surface is a crisp, clear winner.
Touch and Type Covers
The Touch cover is more suited to the RT version. The Type Cover flexes under pressure, but it's actually very nice to type on: we found ourselves getting a higher, more accurate word count than on the Asus Transformer keyboards.
It's also worth noting that neither cover has magnets to hold it shut – and while they're supposed to turn off the screen when closed, you can sometimes tell (especially with the Type cover) the screen has't turned off. Which wouldn't be a problem, if those weren't really useful features on a very similar-looking cover.
The Pro is very speedy at day-to-day tasks, loading web pages and less demanding programmes almost instantaneously. It remains unfazed by more powerful software, applying filters to large images in GIMP in a matter of seconds.
Like most Ultrabooks it relies on the integrated HD4000 graphics in its CPU, so don't expect it to play current titles at full settings. It will breeze through older and more basic games, though – it plays Microsoft Flight like a dream, touch controls and all. Gaming aside, the Pro is powerful enough; hook its Mini DisplayPort up to a larger monitor, add peripherals, and you've got a nifty removable desktop PC.
More after the break...
The Pro's stylus snicks neatly into its magnetic charging port, and is one of the best we've used, adding excellent handwriting recognition to the Pro's diverse list of skills. Thanks to a recent Wacom driver update, it also allows for pressure-sensitive input in Photoshop.
cameras and microphone
We're opposed to tablet photography in general, so perhaps it's a good thing that the Pro's twin 720p, 1.9MP cameras are incapable of taking a nice still photo. They will do a tolerable job of recording a meeting or lecture, though, and the microphone is excellent.
Unlike the Surface RT, which has superb longevity, the Pro holds enough juice for one film and a couple of hours' work or web browsing.
Streaming video over Wi-Fi, its battery was all done in less than four hours. It's a pity that the Pro makes itself so useful for working on the move, then requires you to take your charger with you (although as chargers go, it's a nice one, with an integrated USB port).
value for money
The Surface Pro starts at £719 without a keyboard, and because you'd have to be mad to buy one without a keyboard, it will cost you another £110 for the Type cover, bringing this tablet-cum-ultrabook to £829.
Compare that to the 64GB Macbook Air 11in (£849) and its lofty price doesn't look so crazy. However, it's also one of the least repairable or upgradeable products you can buy.
The Surface Pro is as powerful as a lower-end ultrabook, but more portable. Edging into our Top Ten list of best tablets, it's nice to type on and has a great screen.
But does it do enough to justify costing more than most Windows Ultrabooks? Not quite. Its nifty portability comes at the price of a little power, a proper keyboard and a pile* of battery life.
*Ten points if you spotted the French battery pun.
Review by Will Dunn
Microsoft Surface Pro
A portable powerhouse – but the Surface Pro's keyboard, grunt and battery life don't quite measure up to its Ultrabook rivals