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Surface Pro is full of compromises

Microsoft's Surface RT hasn't exactly set the consumer tablet market ablaze since it was introduced late last year. According to IDC, Microsoft only shipped about 900,000 Surface RT tablets for Q4 2012 compared to 22.9 million for the iPad.
 
Despite a slow start with Surface RT, Microsoft is hoping for more success with its Surface Pro. Packing in a third generation Core i5 processor instead of the more limiting ARM-based processor its more svelte sibling, the Surface Pro can handle the vast Windows app library without breaking a sweat.
 
Even though Surface Pro isn't due to launch until February 9, reviews for the tablet went live tonight. Not surprisingly, reviewers loved the tablet's screen and its speedy Core i5 processor, but blasted the horrid battery life that puts it at the bottom of the pack.

 
Screen
The Surface Pro’s 10.6”, 1080p screen is a definite upgrade from the 1366x768 screen on the Surface RT. The reviewers seemed to be thoroughly impressed with its quality.
 
David Pierce/The Verge: The 10.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 panel on the Pro is gorgeous, maybe the best laptop screen I've ever seen. Blacks are deep and whites are bright (my MacBook Air's display looks comparatively yellowish now), and colors are both accurate and vibrant. Since it's 1080p, it also holds up to closer pixel-level scrutiny when you're holding the device nearer to your face in tablet mode.
 
But while the screen looks good, actual usability is a compromise between two extremes.
 
Tim Stevens/Engadget: By default, the tablet is set to scale text to 150 percent its original size, making most (but not all) menus and buttons huge and reasonably finger-friendly. That's great when you're actually using your fingers, but it results in a lot of wasted space on the display when you're using a mouse. More troublingly, it made the text and icons in many apps appear rather blurry…
 
When running apps at 100 percent, the visuals are much cleaner, and those who want maximum screen real estate will be happiest here -- but in this view scrollbars and other on-screen controls are tricky to hit accurately with a finger. Interacting with the desktop without a mouse suddenly becomes a chore.
 
Performance
The Surface Pro packs in a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317u processor, 4GB of RAM, Intel integrated graphics, and an SSD (64GB or 128GB). Compared to the ARM processor used in the Surface RT, the Core i5 simply blazes along in performance.
 
Joanna Stern/ABC News: The Surface Pro does a nice job running lots of apps simultaneously. Powered by a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and the 64GB solid-state drive, the Pro is just as capable and fast as most laptops. Programs load quickly and, in contrast to the Surface RT, there's none of that lag or stuttering when switching apps or swiping them in from the left. It also resumes from sleep in seconds and boots in under 10 seconds.
 
David Pierce/The Verge: In general, it runs remarkably smoothly. I consistently switch around between a dozen different apps, some streaming music or movies, and the Surface Pro never stumbled once in normal use — I was actually shocked at how quickly it would resume playing House of Cards on Netflix when I alt-tabbed my way back to the app. Where the Surface RT took forever to load anything, and stumbled its way through any kind of intensive task, the Pro simply flies.

 
 
Battery Life
When it comes to battery life, this is where the Surface Pro seemed to take the most criticism. The Surface Pro racked in anywhere from one-third to one-half the battery life of its Surface RT counterpart.
 
Michael Prospero/Laptop Magazine: Microsoft estimated that the battery life of the Surface Pro would be about half that of the Surface RT, and sadly, they were correct. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the Pro lasted 4 hours and 37 minutes. That's about three hours less than the Surface RT (7:43), and about two-and-a-half hours less than the tablet average of 7:10.
 
Tim Stevens/Engadget: On our standard Windows battery rundown test, in which we fix the display brightness and loop a video endlessly to exhaustion, the Surface Pro scored just three hours and 46 minutes, despite having a 42.5Wh battery -- a third larger than the 31.5Wh pack in the Surface RT. That's just more than a third of the nine hours and 36 minutes the Surface RT scored, well lower than the similarly specced W700 (which managed seven hours) and short of every touch-friendly Windows 8 device we've yet tested.
 
CNET: If only the Surface Pro had excellent battery life. It doesn't. In our video-playback battery drain test, the Surface Pro lasted 4 hours and 31 minutes, regardless of whether the Type Cover was connected or not. That's not far off from some other high-powered 11- and 10-inch ultraportables, but it's a big step down the 6-hour mark on many ultrabooks. The Acer Iconia W700 lasted more than 7 hours despite having a similar processor.
Conclusion
By all accounts, the Surface Pro is a significant [second] step for Microsoft in the realm of tablet/convertible PCs. Performance is respectable, the screen is gorgeous (although legibility/usability could use some work), build quality/design is top notch, and it offers a decent allotment of ports/connectivity options. The overall weight/size, awkward typing positioning while on your lap, and the battery life will be big concerns, however, for many users. In summary, perhaps David Pierce of The Verge said it best:

Even a well-executed Surface still doesn't work for me, and I'd bet it doesn't work for most other people either. It's really tough to use on anything but a desk, and the wide, 16:9 aspect ratio pretty severely limits its usefulness as a tablet anyway. It's too big, too fat, and too reliant on its power cable to be a competitive tablet, and it's too immutable to do everything a laptop needs to do. In its quest to be both, the Surface is really neither. It's supposed to be freeing, but it just feels limiting.
 
We eagerly await Surface Pro2


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RE: What did we expect?
By Mint on 2/7/2013 7:36:40 AM , Rating: 2
That's their video playback test, where something is going wrong for Surface Pro, likely certain videos not properly using hardware acceleration.

Anand found that the Surface Pro lasts 30% longer than the S7 in its light and medium tests. That would put the Surface right alongside a MBA13 and many ultrabooks:
http://www.anandtech.com/show/6535/acer-aspire-s7-...
In contrast, Engadget found the S7 to last 14% longer with video. In fact, all sites showing poor battery life tested the Surface with a video loop.

As an example of varying tests, PC advisor got 3:20 with a Netflix test on the W700:
http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/reviews/tablets/3416457...
This is not to excuse Surface's wildly varying video battery life, as there really seems to be a bug, but for general use I'm going to trust Anand's numbers.

The W700 does have a 35% bigger battery, though, so it should fare better. Note that it's not equally equipped without the light keyboard cover or stylus input. A stylus acts like an extremely portable mouse for x86 apps.


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