Is it a tablet? Or is it a laptop? It’s a perplexing question that users of Microsoft’s new Surface Pro are likely to ask themselves.
And one which Microsoft itself is likely to welcome, given that it could potentially allow it place a foot in both markets.
However, there is a danger that a device which looks much like a tablet, but feels and is priced more like an ultrabook, could end up falling between two stools.
Science & Technology Correspondent Will Goodbody reviews Microsoft's Surface Pro
At first glance the Microsoft Surface Pro looks much like its more entry level predecessor, the Surface RT. But on closer inspection there are some major differences.
The first and most obvious is weight. At around 2lbs, its magnesium case and what’s inside it is heavy – considerably heavier indeed than the RT and most of its tablet rivals like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Note and Tab. But in some ways that can be justified because Microsoft are clearly pitching it not just at tablet buyers, but at the ultrabook market too.
The device can take a magnetically attachable keyboard which is not touch-based, but is fully ‘depressible’ like a normal laptop or PC keyboard. It’s one of the better features of the Surface Pro, and was partially designed by Microsoft’s operations here in Dublin. The downside however, is that it doesn’t come included with the Surface Pro, and that adds a not insignificant €120 extra to the overall price.
The device does, however, come with a pressure sensitive stylus, which has a clever switch on the side, equivalent to a right click on a mouse. The stylus is a handy addition and works really nicely with software that supports pressure sensitivity. The switch also doubles as the means of attaching the stylus magnetically to the power connector on the side of the case, although it can be knocked off quite easily while on the move.
The battery life, while adequate, is far from being the best in the class – although again, much depends on how you classify the Surface Pro. There has also been some criticism of the lack of ports on the device. It comes with only one USB 3.0, a microSDXC slot, headset jack and mini DisplayPort. There’s also Wifi and Bluetooth. But no ethernet port, nor is there any option for an onboard SIM card.
A kickstand on the back can be used for propping the device up when the keyboard is in use. It’s apparently set at an angle of 22 degrees, which Microsoft say is the optimum for sitting on a plane. But it cannot be adjusted to tilt further back, and for tall users, that may well prove a problem.
The screen is a generous 10 inches, and unlike the RT the Pro comes with a full HD display. There are, as you’d expect, two fairly standard level 720p front and rear facing cameras. Under the bonnet, the Surface Pro is pretty powerful, again underlining its pitch at the ultrabook market. It’s powered by an Intel Core i5 processor, has 4GB of RAM and comes with the option of either 64 or 128GB of solid state memory.
Microsoft says the device will run current Windows 7 desktop applications and will integrate with existing enterprise management infrastructure. That’s just as well, because it comes with very little software or apps preloaded. Just Windows Mail and Messaging, SkyDrive, IE10, Bing, Xbox Music, Maps, Video and Games. But as this is a pricey device, pitched at pro users, it’s a valid question to ask why no MS Office?
The device goes on sale on the 30th May. Overall it’s solid, fast & powerful, and uses the Windows 8 touchscreen interface smoothly and to the max. But it is heavy, there is that issue with the kickstand angle and at €879 for the 64GB model, and €979 for the 128GB version it isn’t cheap – particularly given that the keyboard is not included. And it is this, more than any other feature, which is likely to place it more in the ultrabook than tablet market, and ultimately define its level of success.