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

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Microsoft Surface Pro (2017): Design And Build Quality

The last few generations of the Surface Pro have measured and weighed roughly the same, and there is very little difference between the new Surface Pro and Surface Pro 4 when it comes to dimensions and weight. It now measures 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches (292.10 x 201.42 x 8.5 mm) and weighs 1.7 pounds (770 grams), just a sliver thicker than the Surface Pro 4 at 8.45 mm.

Microsoft Surface Pro

Microsoft is using the same display panel as before, and that is a good thing. It is a 12.3-inch PixelSense screen with a native 2736x1824 resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio, featuring 10-point multi-touch. High resolution photos and videos look fantastic on the Surface Pro, though the 3:2 aspect ratio means there are black bars when watching movies. Otherwise, text is smooth and visuals are crisp with excellent viewing angles.

Brightness is a high point, too. We measured around 445 lux, plenty high enough to produce vibrant pixels in a variety of viewing environments, inside or even outside during a sunny day. Microsoft did not skimp in this area, and thankfully so since the display is the crux of a laptop, tablet, or 2-in-1 (or whatever you want to call the Surface Pro).

MIcrosoft Surface Pro HotHardware

While the resolution is the same as the Surface Pro 4, the new Surface Pro is compatible with Microsoft's Surface Dial, a $100 puck-shaped input device that is mostly aimed at content creators. Presumably this same functionality available on the Surface Studio is coming to the Surface Pro, but looking through the notes of firmware releases to date, there is still no mention of Surface Dial support.

Microsoft Surface Pro Corner Microsoft Surface Pro Corner

Visually the Surface Pro is virtually identical to the Surface Pro 4, though there are some subtle—very subtle—differences. For one, the corners on the new Surface Pro are ever-so-slightly more rounded that the previous iteration. You really have to place the two devices on right next to each other to see the difference, and even then it takes a focused eye.

A tinge more noticeable is the venting system. The gap that exists along the outer edge of the Surface Pro a little thinner, making the vents inside less obvious. In fact, unless you look closely, they are easy to overlook completely. For this model (and the Core m models), the vents provide passive airflow, whereas the Core i7 configurations are the only ones with a fan inside.

Microsoft Surface Pro Studio Mode

One thing that has always separated the Surface Pro from a tablet is its kickstand. For this year's model, Microsoft redesigned the kickstand's hinge to afford a wider positioning angle. The Surface Pro can now reach up to a 165-degree angle versus 150 degrees on the Surface Pro 4. Microsoft refers to this as Studio Mode, in that the Surface Pro can now position itself at a slight angle similar to its Surface Studio desktop. Like adding Surface Dial support, this is a function that is aimed at creative people and professionals who need to draw, work on blueprints, and so forth.

There is a micro SDXC card slot hidden behind the kickstand. It sits towards the right edge and is only accessible when lifting the kickstand.

Microsoft Surface Pro Right Side Ports
Surface Pro Ports (Right Side)

Microsoft Surface Pro Left Side Ports
Surface Pro Ports (Left Side)

Port selection remains a weak point of the Surface Pro. As with the previous generation model, the left side of the Surface Pro is almost completely bare, save for a 3.5mm headset jack that is oddly positioned near the top. Over on the right side is a single full-size USB 3.0 Type-A port, a mini DisplayPort, and a proprietary Surface Connect port that delivers power to the Surface Pro via the included power adapter. It can also be used with an external dock to add more connectivity options, albeit at the expense of portability—it is an extra accessory to lug around.

Given that Microsoft is pitching the Surface Pro as the ultimate laptop rather than a tablet-first device, the lack of additional USB connectivity is disappointing, and runs counter to the claim. It would probably take some engineering on the inside of the Surface Pro, but externally there remains plenty of room for connectivity options, such as a curiously missing USB-C connector. We are less concerned with the lack of a wired LAN port, considering the Surface Pro's thin waistline.

A power button and volume rocker sit on the top of the Surface Pro (and by top, we mean when the Surface Pro is in landscape mode).

Type Cover (Keyboard) and Surface Pen

Microsoft Signature Type Cover

In lieu of a built-in keyboard, Microsoft will happily sell customers a keyboard cover in one of two forms—a regular Type Cover (presumably $130), which Microsoft says is "coming soon" and a Signature Type Cover ($160) touting an Alcantara material that is soft to the touch.

"Our Signature Type Cover is crafted in a stunning two-tone grey mélange style of Alcantara—a unique, proprietary material, sourced only in Italy is used in high-end luxury products like fashion, automotive, and interiors. The material ages beautifully, growing richer and darker over time and is wonderfully soft to touch," Microsoft says.

Microsoft Signature Type Cover

What is interesting about this material is that it has a fuzzy, cloth-like texture on the outside that you will only feel when carrying the Surface Pro around. On the inside, it is a smoother texture. It is available in three color options—Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and as shown here, Platinum.

The Signature Type Cover is a rather attractive accessory, and an essential one if you are planning on using the Surface Pro like an laptop. And let's be real, nobody is buying a Surface Pro with the intention of using it strictly as a tablet. While it is frustrating that Microsoft charges a premium for a keyboard, the type-action is surprisingly good—the keys are not mushy like you might expect, but snappy with 1.5mm of key travel. It is also backlit, which you can adjust with the F7 key.

For mousing around the screen, the Signature Type Cover's matte trackpad is appropriately sized, responsive to gestures, and has hidden left and right mouse buttons.

Microsoft Surface Pro Sketch

The Surface Pen is also a separate accessory ($100), which is more forgivable since a smaller subset of Surface Pro owners will have a need for it. Those who do will appreciate the increased responsiveness, now with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. It also supports tilt to help with shading. When not using the Surface Pen, a powerful magnet allows you to 'clip' it to either side of the Surface Pro.

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