New Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 Hands-On Review: Killer Keyboard Comes With Questions – Forbes

New 2017 Surface Pro.

Credit: Brooke Crothers

New 2017 Surface Pro.

The “new Surface Pro” is not called the Surface Pro 5 but that’s what it is. Here are my impressions after spending some hands-on time with the device at a Microsoft Store in Los Angeles.

I also spoke with Ryan Day, who is a Communications Manager for Surface at Microsoft, and include his comments below.

Note that the new Surface Pro, starting at $799, won’t be available until June 15 but it is now in Microsoft Stores for demo purposes.

Overall impression: better than iPad Pro: The Surface Pro is meant to compete with Apple. Here’s what Microsoft’s Ryan Day said: “We designed Surface Pro for people who have an iPad Pro. It’s a richer full app experience with Microsoft Office etc. But it’s also just as powerful as the MacBook Pro.”

I agree about the iPad Pro. I tried for a long time (too long) to make the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard a laptop replacement. Never happened. And never going to happen unless iOS changes fundamentally and unless Apple incorporates a pointing device.  The new Surface Pro comes a lot closer to being a full-fledged laptop replacement.

The MacBook Pro is a different story. Apple’s (over-) pricing aside, if I’m in the market for a pure laptop, I would opt for the MacBook Pro over the Surface Pro. After all, the MacBook Pro is a real clamshell with the best trackpad in the business.

Keyboard: Microsoft always kills it with Surface keyboards. After spending some time with the new Surface Pro Type Cover keyboard, I can say the keys have good pitch (distance between keys), comfortable travel (distance to push down a key fully) and great tactile feedback. So, the mechanics of the keyboard are excellent.

Two issues, however:

One, the keyboard material: the Alcantara material surrounding the keys and trackpad isn’t a deal-breaker but I would’ve opted for a different material, as I said before. There’s a reason the majority of high-end laptops are all-metal (think: MacBook): it’s more durable over a long period of time and is difficult to stain or soil. As nice as the Alcantara feels, I don’t think the material will wear well over time. I could be wrong. Time will tell.

Ryan Day’s response: the Alanctara keyboard, like the Surface Pro, is a high-end product so, as with any premium product, it needs to be taken care of. My takeaway: if you’re using the keyboard with greasy or oily hands, it will get dirty quickly. And there’s no guarantee that a liquid or oil will just wipe off like they would on an aluminum palm rest.

Two, why isn’t the keyboard bundled? This has always been a mystery to me. The Surface Pro is not the Surface Pro without the Type Cover keyboard. Would you buy a laptop without a keyboard? The gotcha is price. For example, $1,299 might seem like a reasonable price for the 256GB / Core i5 / 8GB configuration. The Surface Pro is, after all, a premium product. Except you’re really going to have to spend an extra $160 ($159.99) if you buy the Surface Pro Signature Type Cover. Now the price is about $1,460. Not so reasonable anymore.

Ryan Day’s response about price: Surface is a premium brand. So, nothing is going to be cheap when you’re buying a Surface Product. But he also offered a second, much more compelling reason (which is also connected to the lack of bundling).  The Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 4 Type Cover keyboards can be used with the new Surface Pro so Microsoft wants to give customers the option of not buying the keyboard. Good enough.

Regarding bundling, he also said that Microsoft wants to give customers choice. The keyboards with the new Surface Pro come in four different colors and Microsoft doesn’t want to lock in one keyboard or one color.

Surface Pro Signature Type Cover keyboard with Alcantara material.

Credit: Brooke Crothers

Surface Pro Signature Type Cover keyboard with Alcantara material.

Full-size USB and Mini DisplayPort connectors.

Credit: Brooke Crothers

Full-size USB and Mini DisplayPort connectors.

7th Gen Intel silicon: performance and battery life. While the Surface Pro 4 is stuck with 6th Generation Intel Core processors, the new Surface Pro gets Intel’s spanking-new 7th Gen Core. This is not a trivial difference. As Microsoft points out, the new Surface Pro boasts 50% longer battery life than Surface Pro 4. That means up to 13.5 hours of video playback on battery, compared to 9 hours on the Surface Pro 4.

Performance: needless to say, you get a bump up in performance too. The 7th Gen “Kaby Lake” Intel processor is an “optimized” version of the 6th Gen Skylake. Though Kaby Lake is still a 14-nanometer manufacturing process — not 10-nanometer as was originally expected — Intel has still managed to improve performance overall. And particularly on video processing.

Display: no skimping here. same great 12.3-inch 2,736-by-1,824 (267 PPI) display. Kudos here, especially when some PC makers are now defaulting to 1,920-by-1,080 displays, even on pricey, high-end models. To me, there is an immediately noticeable difference between, for example, Dell’s 13.3-inch QHD+, 3,200-by-1,800 display and a prosaic 1,920-by-1,080 display. The higher resolution displays also tend to offer better color accuracy and color gamut.

Other stuff: Hinge, new Surface Pen, 4G/LTE: There’s a new hinge that allows you to put the Surface Pro almost perfectly flat in so-called “Studio Mode.” A new Surface Pen, sold separately for $99, has tilt support and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Microsoft’s Day believes artists will want this once they try it out. A version of the Surface Pro with integrated 4G/LTE is also coming just like Apple offers with its iPads.

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