More than three months after the release of Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet, the first full reviews of the Surface Pro are in — and they’re not good. While being lauded for its innovative design and top-notch display, almost every review notes that the Surface Pro is plagued by poor battery life, cumbersome dimensions for a tablet, and weak cameras.
The hard truth of the matter is that the Surface Pro — like Windows 8 — suffers from a massive identity crisis. The Surface Pro, without a dock or physical keyboard, tries to be a tablet — but with just four or five hours of battery life, using the Surface Pro as an on-the-move tablet is impossible. The Surface Pro, with a kickstand, tries to be a laptop — but it’s very hard to actually use on your lap, the screen’s angle can’t be adjusted, and again the battery life is an issue. As with its brother, the Surface RT, we have to ask: What is the Surface Pro, and who is it for?
The Surface Pro is, in essence, a 10.6-inch (1920×1080) Core i5 tablet running Windows 8 Pro. (See: The Surface Pro’s full specs.) Squeezing a real, laptop-class x86 processor into a tablet is an exciting concept, but there’s a reason that no one else has done it before: Laptop chips are hot, and all sorts of design affordances must be made to accommodate them. There is a reason that laptops have larger batteries than tablets; there is a reason that laptops have fatter cross-sections and powerful fans. Don’t get me wrong: Squeezing a Core i5 processor into the Surface Pro is an impressive feat of engineering — but if it only lasts for four hours, what’s the point?
Then there are the dimensions, which are an odd mix of good and bad. On the one hand, having the power of a Core i5 processor in a 10.6-inch tablet is rather impressive — but on the other, numerous reviews point out that Windows 8, with a 1920×1080 10.6-inch display, is rather hard to use. Windows 8 does include UI scaling for high-resolution displays, but seemingly it just doesn’t work as intended. A few reviews also point out that multitasking on a 10-inch screen isn’t very fun.
It is because of the Core i5 processor that the Surface Pro is rather chubby, too: It’s 13.2mm thick and weighs 2lbs (0.9kg). This might not sound too bad, but almost every review says that the Surface Pro feels chunky and heavy in the hand — especially when compared to an Android or Apple tablet. Personally, I can tell you that holding a two-pound tablet in one hand is verging on painful. The MacBook Air, incidentally, is 17mm thick and weighs 2.4lbs.
There are positive notes to the reviews, though. Everyone agrees that the display itself is beautiful, and perhaps the finest display to ever grace a mobile device. Most reviews compliment Windows 8′s performance on the Surface Pro, too; whereas the Surface RT could be quite sluggish in and around Metro, the Pro positively flies. The price, at $ 900, is also quite reasonable for what you get — though you’ll probably want to spring for the 128GB version ($ 1000), as the 64GB model only has 23GB of free, usable space. The question is, though, do you really want to spend $ 1000 on a device that isn’t particularly mobile, and at the same time isn’t as good as a laptop for actually getting stuff done? Wouldn’t you be better served by getting a $ 500 Android or Apple tablet, and a $ 500 laptop?
The Surface Pro tries to be a jack of all trades, but is instead the master of none. The Surface Pro’s designers should be applauded for such a valiant attempt at creating a single piece of hardware that neatly embraces and espouses Windows 8 Jekyll & Hyde Edition, but in doing so they have simply flown too close to the sun.