Hands-on with Microsoft's Surface Pro

Hands-on with Microsoft's Surface Pro

Summary: Microsoft has given ZDNet a brief look at its eagerly awaited x86 tablet, which runs the full version of Windows 8.


Microsoft's second tablet, the Surface with Windows 8 Pro, was originally announced back in June 2012, with a launch date pencilled in for 90 days after the ARM-based Surface with Windows RT. That's fast approaching, and while a specific launch date remains a closely-guarded secret, the final hardware has made its first appearance in an offsite meeting room at CES 2013 in Las Vegas. We spent about 45 minutes with the Surface Pro, and although that's not enough time to get much beyond the surface of the Surface, we were able to examine some of its key features.

The Surface Pro has a 10.6in. 1,920-by-1,080-pixel screen, is 0.53in. (1.35cm) thick and weighs 2lb (0.9kg). It runs Windows 8 Pro on a third-generation Core i5 CPU with integrated HD Graphics 4000 and 4GB of RAM.

Compared to its ARM-based sibling, the Surface Pro is slightly larger (0.53in./1.35cm thick versus 0.37in./0.94cm) and heavier (2lb/0.9kg versus 1.5lb/0.68kg), and returns to Microsoft's Wintel roots with a third-generation Core i5 processor and the Windows 8 Pro operating system. That means you can run desktop software — and with a Mini-DisplayPort adapter, you can also add a second monitor. Design-wise, the Surface Pro and the Surface RT are very similar, with the same-size 10.6in. multi-touch ClearType screen — although the Pro has a higher 'full HD' (1,920-by-1080-pixel) resolution than its stablemate's 'HD' (1,366 by 768 pixels). Because it will draw more power, the Surface Pro has a higher-capacity battery (42Wh) than the Surface RT (31.5Wh).

This general design similarity means you can use the same TouchCover and TypeCover keyboards with the two Microsoft tablets, although we expect many users to opt for a Bluetooth device.

Pen support
Unlike Surface RT, Surface Pro comes with a pen. Designed to connect to the tablet's magnetic power connector when you're travelling, the pen is comfortable and easy to use, with an offset right-click button that's less likely to be accidentally clicked. The screen's active digitizer is pressure sensitive, and so should work well with art software. The magnetic connection isn't as strong as the Surface Pro's keyboard connector, but it's good enough for most purposes — although we'd be inclined to keep the pen in a pocket or a carry case for safety.

Peripheral venting
The Surface Pro runs surprisingly cool, thanks to its peripheral venting. Heat isn't pushed out of a single vent by a fan, but is evenly ejected via a slot that surrounds the entire tablet. It's an interesting approach, and one we'll need to spend more time exploring — especially under heavy CPU load. The vent also makes the Surface Pro seem thinner than it is, drawing the eye away from the rest of the case.

More accessible MicroSD slot
Microsoft has moved the Surface Pro's MicroSD card slot from its Surface RT location under the kick-stand to one of the sides. That makes it easier to pop flash storage in and out when you're using the Surface Pro in tablet mode. Unlike a traditional notebook there are very few ports: you only get one USB 3.0 port alongside the Mini-DisplayPort (which replaces the Micro-HDMI port on the Surface RT). With built-in Bluetooth 4.0 and the Surface Pro's proprietary keyboard connector, a single USB port is just enough — and USB 3.0 is extremely fast: we were able to bring a 30Mpixel image off a camera in just a couple of seconds.

A desktop slate?
One intriguing use case for Surface Pro is as a desktop slate. Laid flat on a desk, with an attached monitor mirroring the Surface Pro's full-HD screen, it becomes an editing tool much like a Wacom Cintiq. Using a mix of touch and pen, you can use desktop Windows software such as Adobe's Photoshop or Lightroom to edit images — using the Surface to control the image on a full-size monitor. Attach a Bluetooth keyboard and a mouse, and you've got a tablet that can also be a fully-fledged design workstation.

What Microsoft is delivering with Surface Pro is a laptop that's also a tablet (in a similar way, the Surface RT is a tablet that's also a laptop). It's shaping up to be the Tablet PC done right, with a mix of hardware and software that should make it attractive to many users — and at an ultrabook price point ($899 for 64GB of storage, $999 for 128GB — not including keyboard covers).

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Reviews, Tablets, CES

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

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  • Overpriced And Underpowered


    • lucky you

      So you've tried one?

      From what I've read it's under-priced and overpowered.
      • Over powered and underpriced?

        All I have to say is, what?
        Surface Pro
        •Core i5 processor (clock speed not specified)
        •10.6" 9 ClearType with 1920x1080 full HD resolution
        •Full digitizer and ink support with Palm Block technology
        •Full-size USB 3.0 port
        •Mini DisplayPort (can drive an external display up to 2560 x 1440 resolution)
        •Estimated 5 hour battery life


        Acer Iconia W700

        •Core i5 processor 1.7 GHz
        •11.6 inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display.
        •included dock and wireless mouse and keyboard
        •Full-size USB 3.0 port on the tablet, 3 USB 3.0 on the dock
        •Mini HDMI
        •8 hours battery life

        Its comparable to other windows tablets, and losses on some regards.
        • Icyrock, why compare a penabled tablet-ultrabook with one that's not?

          The users tend to have hugely different uses in mind.
      • under over

        Perhaps you assign no value to the digitizer pen,
        The Magnesium case, or the Pro version of Win 8
        What did I leave out?
        Oh yeah.
        35% of all Acer tablet go in for repair in the first 180 days.
        • Yup

          Most people never used a digitizer, they think it's a cheap stylus, free pen or something.
    • Required field

      Ha, you just described a Chromebook.
      • uh, no

        A Chromebook can't run any tradition desktop apps...
      • Chromebook is an overglorified web browser...

        ....no comparison whatsoever to a tablet or even a PC. A Chromebook is a web browser in a laptop....
    • Let's look at cost

      1129$ for the higher one with a keyboard (type cover).

      1099$ for the competing Macbook Air.

      That's a grand 30$ more for a touchscreen. Also, they're likely using the same CPU (i5)
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Additional costs

        Factor in the cost of the OS's that are bundled with the devices

        Windows 8 Pro = $140
        OS X Mountain Lion = $20

        The Surface Pro is a convergent device that merges both desktop and tablet ecosystems. Factor in the fact if you want access to iOS tablet ecosystem you need to buy a second device. iPad Mini = $330. Add in the cost of a Bluetooth keyboard that you see a lot of iPad users carry around so they can use mobile apps that borrow desktop UI's (IE Pages, Numbers, etc). $50. Notice how lugging around a bluetooth keyboard is pretty much the Apple analog to that Type Cover for mobile and you don't even get a trackpad solution. You also have the active digitizer with stylus. $50

        Even at $1130, the Surface Pro still looks like a decent value proposition. You get a lot more out of that $1130 because of its convergence. The only drawback I can think of is the MS mobile ecosystem still needs to grow.
        • And it does all this weighing LESS

          Than a Macbook Air!
          • Mac Air vs Surface Pro

            I have to say as a student this surface pro sounds really good for a student or business person. First let me state I am a apple lover I just upgraded to the new retina display MacBook Pro from my original MacBook when the new pro came out I also have the new IPad and I have owned every IPhone which now I have the 5 So as you can see I'm an Apple supporter Now with that said non of my apple products help me when it comes to school every professor I have had in the last couple semesters have not excepted any work done with Mac Office which I don't understand at all but I have to comply with the professors with that said my IPad which I bought for the travel/carry convenience has not worked out at all. Now the only way to do homework at school is to hope I can get on a computer in the library or I have to wait Til I get home to use my husbands HP net book. The world business and education is Microsoft wether we agree or not So unfortunately if your a student or business person and really love Apple products your gonna have to have both somewhere along the line. I may get a surface pro for school BUT I will never give up any of my Apple products.
          • Parallels

            Purchase a copy of Parallels Desktop 8 and then you can install and run Windows 7/8 within the OSX environment. I did this for school and work and have the best of both worlds.
          • What?!

            @esajovic: "Now with that said non of my apple products help me when it comes to school every professor I have had in the last couple semesters have not excepted any work done with Mac Office"

            That is hard to believe. I challenge the professors to tell me the difference between a word document created on a windows machine versus a word document created on a Mac using Office for Mac. The iPad is a different story, but your MacBook Pro is perfectly fine as a school device. Your advice is just wrong and bad.
          • iCloud bridges the gap

            With iCloud, you can have your documents in the cloud, edit them on either device, and then save them to MS Office format on the Mac
          • Save as...Windows document format

            Is supported in pages and in numbers. That should let you create a digital version of your work that your professor can use.
        • Windows 8 Pro is a $40 upgrade ...

          ... and so is the upgrade to Mountain Lion, making it effectively a wash!
          M Wagner
      • Different animals

        Surface is Windows, Mac Air is OS-X. One is not necessarily a substitute for the other, unless you like both (I don't myself).
        • OS is irrelevant

          They're both PCs.
          Michael Alan Goff