Sunday 17 February 2019

Tech review: Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Price: €1,255

Surface Pro 6
Surface Pro 6
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Buying a laptop has never involved so many choices. Do you want a traditional or touchscreen model? A 'two in one' or 'convertible'? Or what about a work-friendly 'pro tablet'?

Arguably the machine that kicked off most of this diversity was Microsoft's Surface Pro.

The original Windows work tablet, which I first got when it was newly launched in 2012, changed the game. Here was a premium designed, high-spec touchscreen tablet with full Windows and a detachable keyboard: a device you could as easily take to bed to watch Netflix as you could use for work presentations or office projects on a plane or in a cafe.

Even on its sixth iteration, that basic proposition - together with a consistently svelte form factor - is still arguably as compelling as it was back then.

With the 12-inch Surface Pro 6, Microsoft has retained the premium look, feel and componentry that make it look and feel like you have the best two-in-one Windows device money can buy.

It's not perfect (see below) and its position as an ideal travelling work device has been strongly challenged by powerful rivals such as the iPad Pro.

But the Surface Pro 6 still delivers.

One big advantage to this device is that it's fairly effortless. It's really well powered, doesn't get too hot (thanks to a very effective cooling system) and always feels like it can handle your tasks.

Its 12.3-inch high-definition LCD display (2736x1824) is superb. I hope that future Surface machines will thin out the bezels even more, as this would make it that bit more portable. But it's still very, very elegantly designed.

The kickstand on the back of the device is one of the best on the market, too, as it adds unrivalled flexibility in positioning the machine on your lap or on a table.

And if you're watching movies or presentations, the speakers on this are more than adequate.

Like its predecessors, the Surface Pro is a touchscreen Windows 10 laptop that comes without a keyboard. For work stuff, you'll clearly need the latter piece of kit, which costs €185. The good news is that this keyboard is great, with a trackpad that's perfectly positioned to help rather than cause mistakes.

While its specifications go all the way up to 16GB of Ram, a Core i7 processor and 1,000GB of storage, the model I had was a lower-to-mid-tier configuration, with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of Ram and 256GB of storage. Microsoft has this at €1,585, including the keyboard.

Go for the exact same model with half the storage (128GB) and you'll save a whopping €330. (It's quite unbelievable how manufacturers charge so much for such a modest additional chunk of storage memory, but that's another column.)

Because it's a Windows laptop, it includes a USB-A port in case you have things such as memory keys that you still need to draw on or save things to. It also features a mini-display port. Sensibly, there's also a 3.5mm microphone port.

While it doesn't have an SD card slot, there is a microSD card slot. This could be handy for anyone who needs to take footage from a camera, a drone or even a phone. There's also a 5-megapixel selfie camera and an 8-megapixel rear camera.

As someone who uses pro-tablets a lot, I'm very habituated to working with a keyboard and a touchscreen.

As I've written before, you don't get the same advantage from a touchscreen on a Windows device that you do on an iOS (iPad) or Android tablet. Windows is simply not built as intuitively for touch as interfaces from Apple and Google.

This, allied with the decent trackpad on the keyboard, means that you may not use this as a touchscreen device much in work mode. It's an important consideration; if what you're really looking for is a sleek, powerful lightweight laptop that doesn't need a touchscreen, there are other models (including some from Microsoft) that might make a better fit.

While we're talking about drawbacks, there's only really one other worth mentioning. It's hard to believe that Microsoft hasn't included a USB-C port on this. Instead, you still need to use Microsoft's bespoke power adaptor to charge it. That's an absolute negative, especially for everyone who has a decent Samsung or Huawei (or any new Android) smartphone and wants to cut their weight a little when travelling.

One thing I did find very useful, though, is Windows Hello. The Surface Pro recognised my face almost every time I woke it, significantly speeding up the login process.

In summary, this is a definitely one of the best Windows laptops you can get. Its combination of flexibility, premium design and smooth execution make it compelling.

I do have one caveat. Right now, Microsoft is selling off last year's Surface Pro 5 at a giveaway price: €699 including a 'Type' cover keyboard.

For anyone on a budget, that is impossible to ignore - it's around half the price of the 2019 model (even though it has an Intel Core M3 processor and 4GB of Ram rather than the Core i5 chip and 8GB of Ram of the Pro 6 model). Unless you're a heavy user, you should not notice the more modest engine specifications.

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