Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Review: Still Setting The Bar For 2-In-1s

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Microsoft Surface Pro (2017): Refinements For A Best-Of-Class Machine

A funny thing happened as we were evaluating the latest iteration of Microsoft's Surface Pro, a now iconic 2-in-1 that the company describes as "the most versatile laptop," despite its tablet-first design. A rumor emerged suggesting Microsoft would phase out its Surface line within the next couple of years. It was really more of a prediction than a rumor. During the EMEA Canalys Channels Forum in Venice, Canalys CEO Steve Brazier pointed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella being a software guy who is more interested in the cloud than hardware. Lenovo COO Gianfranco Lanci backed his assessment during a subsequent Q&A session, saying Microsoft might even abandon its Surface business a bit earlier.

Would Microsoft really abandon a category of computing that it essentially created? Hey, anything can happen in the ever-changing realm of technology, but we would be very surprised if Microsoft pivoted away from the 2-in-1 category that they're doing so well in currently. The newest version of the Surface Pro is the best implementation yet of what many consider to be the top detachable on the market right now. It is the culmination of hitsmisses and refinements throughout the years, and while this newest version does not introduce any revolutionary changes, it features a handful of improvements—longer battery life, a more flexible kickstand, etc.—that keeps it in the discussion as arguably the best hybrid mobile device available.

Microsoft Surface Pro

There are six main SKUs in the Surface Pro (2017) line-up, starting with an Intel Core m3 model priced at $799 and going on up to a Core i7 configuration that costs $2,699. Our model (1796) has an MSRP of $1,299 and comes configured with a Core i5-7300U processor based on Intel's 7th generation Core Kaby Lake architecture, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of fast NVMe solid state storage that taps into the PCI-Express bus for speedy file transfers.

Microsoft also sent us its Surface Pro Signature Type Cover, a special edition keyboard cover that comes in a "Platinum" color scheme and is advertised as the company's "most luxurious" variant, and a Surface Pen, also in Platinum. These are both optional add-ons—the Surface Pro Signature Cover costs ~ $144 and the Surface Pen runs $100. We would like to see at least one of these bundled with the Surface Pro, if not both. After all, Microsoft is no longer pitching the Surface Pro as a "tablet that can replace your laptop," instead calling it the "ultimate laptop." And that would be fine, if it came with a keyboard.

Call it whatever you want—the bigger question is how it performs. We will get to that on the following pages, but first, let's have a look at the full spec sheet.

Microsoft Surface Pro Back

Microsoft Surface Pro (2017)
Specifications & Features
Model 1796
Processor 7th Generation Intel Core i5-7300U (2-Cores, 4 Threads, 3MB Cache, 2.6GHz to 3.5GHz)
12.3-inch (2736x1824) PixelSense w/ 10-point multi-touch
Graphics Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620
8GB LPDDR3 1866MHz dual-channel (soldered)
256GB NVMe M.2 SSD
Ethernet N/A
Wireless Connectivity 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Interface (Left)
3.5mm audio
Ports (Right) USB 3.0 Type-A, mini DisplayPort
microSD card slot, magnetic pen storage
Cameras 5MP front, 8MP rear
Operating System
Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Battery 45Wh
Dimensions 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches
Weight 1.7 pounds (2.38 pounds with Type Cover)
In Bundle
Stylus Pen, ThinkPad Thin Keyboard, Power Adapter, USB Type-C Cable, USB 3.0 pen holder
Price $1,299 ($1,559 with Signature Type Cover and Surface Pen)

The Surface Pro has come a long way in the past four years since it was first introduced (and five years since the Surface with Windows RT debuted). It is less of a bump from the previous generation Surface Pro 4, but does see an upgrade from Skylake to Kaby Lake and supports Microsoft's Surface Dial accessory out of the box. Microsoft is also claiming much improved battery life—up to 13.5 hours on the new Surface Pro, versus 9 hours on the Surface Pro 4 (based on video playback).

One difference that is not visually evident is that the Core i5 variant is now fanless. This is kind of a big deal, given that the Core i5-7300U in this setup is a real Core i5 processor. What do we mean by that? Well, with Kaby Lake Intel introduced Y-series mobile parts that previously would have been labeled as Core m chips. For example, the Core i5-7Y54 (as found in Acer's Swift 7), a dual-core/quad-thread CPU clocked at 1.2GHz to 3.2GHz with 4MB of cache and a scant 4.5W TDP.

In comparison, the Core i5-7300U found in the new Surface Pro is a dual-core/quad-thread processor clocked at 2.6GHz to 3.5GHz with 3MB of cache and a 15W TDP. It has a much faster base clockspeed and a higher TDP (Thermal Design Power), and so it puts out more heat. Even so, Microsoft was still able to ditch the fan, allowing for a silent computing experience. It also freed up room for a larger 47Wh battery, up from 45Wh. Good stuff.

Let's take a closer look at the new Surface Pro.

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