When it comes to laptop brands in India, Microsoft isn’t a name that immediately comes to mind – especially for hardware. Beyond tech enthusiasts, few know about Microsoft’s Surface range of devices. This was quite evident from the reactions I received for the couple of weeks I’ve been using the new Surface Pro. It is clear that Microsoft wants to change this scenario, and has brought its range of Surface Pro laptops to India. Having used the new Surface Pro as my daily driver, here’s my review.
There are two things that define the Microsoft Surface Pro. It is designed unlike any laptop that you’ve come across, and it is powerful enough to replace most available in the market today. The variant we received comes with seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor paired with 8GB of RAM, and 256GB onboard storage.
Redesigned inside out
If you’ve never seen Microsoft’s Surface lineup before, the best way to describe the Surface Pro is by calling it a tablet PC that come with a keyboard, stylus, and mouse. Those familiar will barely see much difference when compared to the Surface Pro 4. But, Microsoft maintains that the new Surface Pro has been redesigned from the inside out.
“We’ve optimized every millimeter, with over 800 new custom parts and used 99 percent of the space inside the device – to give people exactly what they need to work and create anytime, anywhere,” Panos Panay, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Devices said in a blog post at the time of launch.
The Surface Pro is quite sleek, and extremely portable too. While you can’t really compare it to the portability of say the Apple iPad Pro, this is still comfortable enough to carry and use it when on the move. Being a 2-in-1, you can use the Surface Pro either as a very powerful tablet, or an ultraportable laptop.
For both the scenarios though, there are accessories that one needs to buy. If you plan to use the Surface Pro primarily as a tablet, then you need to buy the Surface Pen, which costs Rs 7,999. For use as a laptop, you can (should) buy the Surface Type Cover that essentially adds an excellent keyboard to the device. The Type Cover is available in black for Rs 10,999, and the more expensive variant costs Rs 12,999. There is also the Surface Arc Mouse that can be bought for Rs 6,399.
These are, no doubt, excellent additions to the Surface Pro. But that’s exactly where I differ from Microsoft’s design philosophy. These accessories are additions. For a device that’s touted as a laptop replacement by Microsoft, it is quite ironic that the Surface Pro doesn’t come bundled with a keyboard.
Using the Surface Pro
I’ve been using the Surface Pro as my daily driver in office, and I must admit that I’m thoroughly impressed with it. It is not often that I can say that I don’t miss my MacBook, but the Surface Pro has largely made me forget about my laptop.
Featuring a seventh-generation Intel i5 processor under the hood with 8GB of RAM, performance is not a concern at all. Despite having over 15 tabs open on Google Chrome browser, and apps like Slack and WhatsApp running in the background, the Surface Pro handles everything with extreme ease. However, if you plan on playing graphic-intensive games, the onboard Intel HD Graphics 620 is bound to struggle.
What’s particularly impressive though is how there is absolutely no noise coming from the Surface Pro, and it is all down to Microsoft adopting a fanless design. Equally impressive is how despite there being no fan, the laptop doesn’t heat up during heavy usage.
The Surface Pro flaunts a gorgeous 12.3-inch PixelSense display with 2736×1824 pixels resolution, and 3:2 screen ratio. The display is sharp, colors look punchy, and it is a treat to watch videos. Having said that, you can’t help but wish that Microsoft had opted for slimmer bezels around the screen. The near bezel-less design of say the Dell XPS 13 is so much more contemporary.
Microsoft also says that the kickstand has been improved with the new hinge now allowing you to lower the stand up to 165 degrees. The company is calling this orientation as ‘studio mode’, and says it is ideal for artists. While I’m no artist, I did prop up the Surface a couple of times to doodle with the Surface Pen. It is also fairly easy to open, close, and adjust the degree of the kickstand as per your requirement.
The Surface Pro comes with a 5-megapixel front-facing camera that is more than capable of handling video chats. There’s also an 8-megapixel snapper at the back, which can be used to shoot basic photos and videos. The addition of HDR mode no doubt improves the photo quality, but this is not one for professional photographers.
Microsoft promises battery life of around 13.5 hours. In reality, I got approximately 8-9 hours. Although that’s below Microsoft’s claim, it’s still good enough to get through your workday.
Accessorize the Surface Pro
Despite how much the accessories cost, I strongly recommend them. At the very least the Type Cover and the Pen. The Surface Pen is said to have been improved quite a bit, and now supports 4,096 levels of pressure. It also lets one do a bit of shading using the tapering edges near the point.
Since I’m good at scribbling, once I was done with different strokes, I let Nash David try out a bit of calligraphy and sketching. Since he had reviewed the Apple iPad Pro 2, it was worth the comparison of the two devices from a design workflow point of view. While he still prefers the Apple Pencil, he was quite happy with the Surface Pen too. And the reason for an enhanced experience in the iPad Pro 2 and Apple Pencil is the choice of software. But more on that later.
Microsoft has also improved the Surface Type Cover, and in India, there are two variants to choose from – Black and Platinum. Typing on the keyboard is a joy with good tactile feedback from the keys, and the trackpad too is nice and responsive. It even works well when you keep the Surface on your lap.
I have already admitted that this is among those rare occasions that I didn’t miss my MacBook. But there were times when I did miss it, and it is all down to the software. Windows 10 has no doubt improved a lot, and it is well optimized for multiple inputs (touch, stylus, and mouse). But ever so often I would miss the simplicity of macOS.
The built-in software on Windows OS too leave you wanting for more ever so often. This is especially true when you are in the mood to sketch. While you can choose from the SketchPad or 3D Paint, the power of the Surface Pen is truly visible when using the pre-installed Sketchbook from Autodesk. I did wonder why there were no default Microsoft apps that showcased the full potential of the Pen. You also tend to miss some apps that are optimized for on-the-go use. After using Surface Pro, you can’t help but think how much more useful the iPad Pro would be if only Apple were to launch it with macOS onboard.
A Surface Pro or a traditional laptop?
As I said at the onset of this review, Microsoft isn’t one of those names that come to minds of the masses when considering a laptop. It’s typically one of the Windows-based OEMs that seem to enjoy that stature. If anything that’s missed opportunity. Probably a route similar to Apple years ago would have made it a household name today. On the face of it, the Microsoft Surface Pro seems to have everything you need from an ultraportable laptop. It’s light enough to carry anywhere. It’s a tablet when you need one. It’s also mobile enough without the need to plug in a charger throughout a typical workday. Its versatility is far ahead compared to traditional laptops, and it paints a pretty picture about the future of this segment.
While exciting, Microsoft doesn’t seem to be doing enough to make its Surface range more mainstream. It certainly hasn’t helped that the company took this long to bring them to India. What also mars the otherwise stellar experience is the software. Windows 10 is no doubt way better than previous iterations of the operating system. But truth be told, the OS can come across as one with a split personality, unlike say iOS. However, the Surface is undoubtedly capable of much more strain than an iPad given its full fledged operating system.
To answer the question of choice of opting for or rejecting the Surface Pro, let’s focus on India’s favorite metric – price. The Surface Pro is far from cheap with prices starting from Rs 64,999 and going up to Rs 182,999 for the top-of-the-line variant featuring Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and 512GB storage. But as I have mentioned, this only covers the Surface Pro, and you will need to shell out extra for those excellent accessories. For a decent performing laptop-replacement, you will need to shell out somewhere between Rs 130,000-150,000.
In a country where the best deals and the value for money aspect rules over everything else, you tend to question Microsoft’s decision to not bundle the accessories with the Surface Pro. When spending over Rs 100,000 on a laptop (or laptop replacement), a keyboard isn’t too much to ask for.