Review: Microsoft Surface Pro is a thoroughbred forced to jump over hurdles
Microsoft Surface Pro: €880 64GB/€980 128GB
WHILE the iPad gets all the hype and attracts acres of media coverage, the world still broadly runs on Windows. And if Microsoft has ever built a tablet that might emphasise its advantages over Apple, it is the Surface Pro. Here, finally, are all the advantages of a tablet and all the power of a proper Windows PC. So if you want to run Microsoft Outlook, or Photoshop or serious games, this is the device for you.
That, at least, is the theory. The new Surface Pro is, in many ways, neither a laptop nor a tablet, and there’s not much you can’t do on an iPad anyway. As a tablet, the Pro is a funny rectangular shape, while others tend to be more square. Yet it’s heavier than some light laptops.
Click in the keyboard, which is available either with proper keys or as a touch-sensitive sheet of printed plastic, and it becomes a fully fledged laptop. It has the fastest, newest interfaces, such as USB3 for sending files at ultra-high speed. Yet for all its top-of-the-range features, including a beautiful high-definition screen and fast processor, there is still a whiff of compromise.
Most users who buy the 64GB version, or more likely the 128GB model, will probably be seeking to run high-powered software and log in to secure networks for work.
It’s an audience that appreciates a keyboard big enough to type on properly, and with a backspace and a forward delete button. And it’s an audience that will value the flexibility the Surface Pro offers. With this device plus a phone, no trip will be lacking in technology. It can also connect to larger screens.
There is, none the less, plenty wrong with the Surface Pro. At a centimetre thick it is too chunky and too heavy, albeit because of what is packed inside. The model I tested consistently couldn’t work out which way up the screen was without some help, which is an irritant.
And Microsoft still declines to pre-install versions of, say, Office, that are just good to go, even if they are trials. Using a new Surface sometimes feels like running a steeplechase over the hurdles placed by Microsoft in the way of its customers. But it is worth slogging to set the thing up in a way that works for you. The stylus, for handwriting recognition, is particularly useful.
All of this is without touching on the more general problems of Windows 8 – it, too, is looking so much towards the future it has forgotten its past. While few users needed the Start Button, ditching this obvious gateway to all applications made Microsoft look arrogant and generated a PR disaster where none was needed. Windows users wanted their Start button, so why take it away?
Windows 8’s mixture of lovely tablet interface and traditional desktop still jars somewhat, but on a tablet rather than a touchscreen-free PC it is less painful.
All in all, there is no better all-rounder on the PC market than the supremely versatile Surface Pro. It could comfortably serve as my only computer. But the fact that a conspicuous compromise is the best PC around is a testament not to its brilliance, but to our changing technological times.
Available from May 30 in Ireland
Intel i5 1.7 GHz processor