When it launched Surface RT, Microsoft mentioned that 3 months later it would be bringing out an Ivy Bridge version running Windows 8 Pro. At the end of last year, Microsoft announced pricing for Surface Pro: $899 for the 64GB version and $999 for the 128GB version, both without any bundled touch/type cover. Today we get the missing puzzle piece: availability. Surface Pro will be available in the US and Canada starting on February 9th.

Microsoft Surface Comparison
  Surface RT Surface Pro Apple iPad 4
Dimensions 10.81 x 6.77 x 0.37" 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53" 9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37"
Display 10.6-inch 1366 x 768 PLS 10.6-inch 1920 x 1080 PLS? 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS
Weight 1.5 lbs 2.0 lbs 1.44 lbs
Processor NVIDIA Tegra 3

Core i5 with HD4000 Graphics (17W Ivy Bridge)

Apple A6X

Connectivity WiFi WiFi WiFi , Optional 4G LTE
Memory 2GB 4GB 1GB
Storage 32GB or 64GB 64GB or 128GB 16GB—64GB
Battery 31.5 Wh 42.0 Wh 42.5Wh
Starting Price $499 $899 $499

Earlier in the month I had the chance to sit down with a pre-release Surface Pro. While my time with the unit was too brief for a full review, there are a few points I'd like to share:

- From a distance, Surface Pro looks a lot like Surface RT. You can easily tell the difference in display sharpness compared to Surface RT (1080p vs 1366 x 768 helps), but both sport the same 10.6-inch 16:9 form factor. When viewed head on with the display off, you can't tell it apart from the RT version. I really believe Microsoft settled on the right display size for a notebook/tablet convergence device (although I'm still not sold that this is the ideal aspect ratio).

- Surface Pro is definitely thicker and heavier than Surface RT. Microsoft does a good job of masking the weight in both of these devices, but I'd still like to see thinner/lighter versions next round.

- I'm not too bothered by Surface Pro's pricing, as it's ultimately an Ultrabook competitor. However I would like to see a bundled touch or type cover at those price points. I'd also like to see integrated Thunderbolt to truly enable the tablet/notebook/desktop usage model. 

- As I mentioned in the first Surface Pro announcement piece, the tablet uses a 17W Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) SKU. I'm not sure how much we should read into Surface Pro not being a 7W SDP Ivy Bridge launch vehicle. The performance per volume is obviously going to be very good as a result. Microsoft demonstrated content creation and even gaming workloads on the tablet, both of which were very responsive. This is really where I feel Microsoft dropped the ball on not including Thunderbolt, although if all you need is miniDP out then Surface Pro has you covered. If you're fine with an Ultrabook/MacBook Air-class system as your main machine, Surface Pro could really be everything from your tablet to your desktop.

- Don't be fooled by the similarities in capacity. Surface Pro uses a full blown SSD, not an eMMC solution for storage. It also features an integrated USB 3.0 port, so IO performance will be notebook-like not tablet-like.

- Surface Pro features two fans that are audible under heavy load but attempt to remain as quiet as possible. The fans will adjust their direction of rotation depending on how you're holding the tablet, with the goal of never exhausting warm air into your hands. The vents are located around the top half of the device as you can see in the image above (this separation doesn't exist on Surface RT).

- The digitizer that ships with Surface Pro attaches magnetically to the charge port on the tablet. 

- Surface Pro uses the same type and touch covers as Surface RT. These two remain the best tablet keyboards I've ever used, not in that they are great keyboards but they offer a great balance of usability and form factor. Type/touch cover really do feel like a cover that you never need to remove, whereas most other tablet keyboards make me feel like I've turned my tablet into a notebook. I would still like to see Microsoft take a second pass at the covers though, I feel like there's room for improvement in usability. MS nailed the form factor, now it's time to perfect the keyboard/trackpad functionality.

- Surface RT was built from three discrete pieces of VaporMg (injection moulded magnesium): frame, back and kickstand. Surface Pro only needs two: the frame and back are integrated, and the kickstand is the only other discrete piece of VaporMg. The finish feels identical to Surface RT, although the kickstand did feel different to me. I didn't get enough time with the unit to really pinpoint how it was different, I just noticed that something was different. Overall I'm still very impressed with the build quality of Microsoft's Surface devices, if the rest of the Windows RT/8 tablets and notebooks felt like this I'm not sure Microsoft would have needed to build Surface to begin with.

- As much as I love the kickstand (all tablets need Surface's kickstand), Microsoft still doesn't have a great solution for in-lap use. The kickstand is workable, but not ideal. I'm not sure if there's even a real mechanical solution to this problem, but I'd love to see one. 

Overall I'm very excited about Surface Pro. Like Surface RT, I feel like the one that's going to be really exciting is the next generation device though. Without Haswell you lose S0ix and support for ARM-like idle platform power, which I suspect is going to be largely responsible for the "5 hour battery life" claims vs. Surface RT. Anyone shopping for an Ultrabook won't be put off by the battery life, but compared to ARM based tablets it doesn't look good. When you can get Ultrabook/MBA performance and ARM-like idle power however, things get very interesting. The appropriate Haswell parts won't be available until Q3 of this year, making holiday 2013 (or maybe a little sooner) a probable launch for a Surface Pro 2.

I'm glad to see Microsoft going down this path. The past few years have been littered with form factor confusion, and while I don't have clear visibility to what will ultimately emerge as the "right" ones, I do believe there's currently room for something in between a tablet and a notebook. 

Microsoft remains ahead of the curve in building tablet/notebook convergence devices. Unlike Apple however, Microsoft doesn't have the luxury of showing up to an uncrowded market. As a result, Microsoft has to work a lot harder to convince folks that Surface is a platform worth using - the initial flaws are less excusable when the market is full of mature competitors.

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  • Netscorer - Thursday, January 24, 2013 - link

    $899 is for 64GB SSD which is a no go on Windows 8 devices. After Windows installation and Intel SmartStart partitioning, you would be lucky to have 25GB left for everything else. 128GB model costs $999 and once you add type cover and tax, you are well into $1,200 territory. Reply
  • tonyn84 - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Do we really know if it is a 17W chip though? They still don't have a model# listed on their site and both Microsoft and Intel have been cagey about the question. I'd assume it doesn't have the new ones, but why the delay? 3rd gen i5 tablets have been out since last summer. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Could be a standard 17 W TDP chip with configurable TDP set for 13 W. Reply
  • ssiu - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    It seems that a lot of ultrabooks and Windows tablets have single-channel memory that is not user upgradable / replaceable, which significantly impact the integrated GPU performance (which is already not-that-great to start with). Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    While this is similar, the stand and floppy keyboard don't really make it optimal for using everywhere. Yes you get the benefit of using it as a tablet, but with something like a Lenovo Yoga design you could have that too. Reply
  • UpSpin - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Tablet PCs exist since years, and only few use one. I own a convertible with a Wacom pen since almost 6 years. I had a daily use to take study notes, but since I don't have to take notes any longer, I barely use the tablet feature and mostly use it as a notebook.
    The problems in the past and now:
    - Tablet PCs were very expensive, this has changed with Samsung Series 7 Slate models which were priced competive, still nobody bought those. The Surface Pro is priced very low, but availabilty in retail store will still be very limited.
    - Windows 7, and so is 8, is horrible on a tablet PC, it lacks a proper UI and proper Software. If you fall back to Metro UI and Metro Apps then you could have bought a Win RT tablet instead which gives you more for much less. So you buy it because you want to use x86 software, thus you'll use the traditional UI because those programs are not Metro apps. But if you use the traditional UI and programs you can forget finger input, only pen input works properly. The programs which make good use of pen are powerful, but rare, such a program is Photoshop or Sketchbook. But people who buy a slate for those tasks have bought one already and such people are rare. Notetaking programs on Windows are non-existent. OneNote is horrible and full of bugs, it's a nightmare and not reliable. Even worse, the UI is totally tablet unfriendly. Lots of great Microsoft research programs (InkSeine) are beta programs which never really got finished. So people are 'stuck' with specialized software, like Photoshop, Sketchbook, PDF Revu, but that's it.
    - Without a proper note taking app, you still can use the handwriting recognition, but typing is magnitudes faster, more precise and less exhausting. So you won't use the pen for this. You'll use it to draw, sketch, annotate ... or take traditional notes with small drawings, but as already said, this is impossible because Windows lacks a comfortable/versatile/stable software. (Courier might have solved this) I used PDF Revu to take notes, which is much more versatile and stable than OneNote, but misses other features OneNote offers. So far from perfect.
    - The big Windows advantage, Office, is unusable with a tablet. And this hasn't improved the slightest with Office 2013.
    - So to use Office (the must have x86 feature) the tablet must be 'transformable', which the Surface clearly isn't, because its flip stand doesn't make it an ultrabook/netbook/notebook like the Asus Transformer or like the Fujitsu Stylistic Q702, and the touch keyboard just has no tactile feedback.
    - As long as a tablet has a fan, it's crap. Sorry, but even if the fan is quiet, it's still audible, if it's audible, it's annoying. Especially for tablet, which gets used in meetings, lectures, gets used to learn stuff a dead silent system is a requirement.
    - The battery must last the whole day, 10 hours minimum! If it does not last that long, you won't have joy using the machine. The battery life of my tablet was 12 hours max. which I often made use of. 4 hours is a total no go. A working day just is longer than 4 hours.
    - The surface Pro is more expensive than ARM tablets, has crappy battery life for a tablet!, has a noisy fan, is heavier and gets hotter than ARM tablets, the software hasn't improved compared to older Windows based tablets which people had few use for, the Samsung Note (without all the disadvantages the Surface Pro has) might offer better note taking software than Windows 8 (that's a shame for MS) and sketching software is available too for Android. You can't use the Surface Pro as a Ultrabook replacement because of the lack of a sturdy keyboard dock.

    Why should Surface Pro be more succesful than previous Windows x86 based tablets? The price is still higher than the ARM competition and the software still a nightmare.
    If you want a couch tablet, get an iPad, or Nexus Tablet. If you want to take notes, get a Samsung Note. If you want to do sketches, get a Samsung Note or maybe, if you don't mind the short battery life and annoying fan (which will ramp up if you use Photoshop) a Surface Pro. If you want to input text, get a Ultrabook.
    If you want a universal device, with both pen input and keyboard, wait for a ARM tablet from ASUS/Samsung with pen and keyboard dock, they will come. If you want more, buy two devices (Samsung Note + Ultrabook), a good single device doesn't exist yet and won't in the near future.

    I am a Tablet PC lover and love the abilty to input text with a pen, but the Surface Pro doesn't offer anything new.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    With no word do you mention hybrids. Are they not the cross between ultrabook and tablet you might want?
    Also, the hands on with the Surface Pro mention that they only hear the air movement of the fans when they stick their ear right next to it.
    I'm personally thrilled about these new products.
    Reply
  • UpSpin - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    Hybrids: I thought I mentioned them (Asus Transformer/Fujitsu Stylistic Q702). But either they run Android and lack pen or they run Win x86 but use low specs compared to ultrabooks (Atom, no pen input, ...) And even with a proper equipped Hybrid running Windows 8, the main problems: fan, short battery life, no proper pen based note taking software, no proper pen/touch based OS, weight, price, remains. A metro app for pen input is unlikely because Surface RT lacks pen input, but MS seems to have no interest in pen based programs either (buggy/tablet unfriendly OneNote and tablet (touch and pen) unfriendly Office suite)
    Else, yes, you are right, a hybrid is a cross I might want. A powerful lightweight tablet, which I can use to draw on/take notes on it, which can get converted to a Ultrabook with a sturdy keyboard dock, and in the far future, which at home gets placed on a docking station which then gets connected through thounderbolt to a dedicated GPU/larger monitor/HDD/...
    But proper software is a requirement. Microsoft does not offer them, neither with Windows 8 nor with Office 2013. Google with Android and Samsung with their Premium Suite do a far better job in my opinion right now. Tight integration of the pen in the Android OS. Not perfect, but much more versatile and useful.

    The hands on says: 'Surface Pro features two fans that are audible under heavy load'. Regardless that a fan is always audible and annoying the magnitude of how annoying the fan is depends on
    1. The fan control software: If it ramps up as soon as you tax the CPU, after the tablet got used for half an hour, thus the body is warm (so use it at least half an hour, then judge how loud the fan is in normal use), and the fan varies its speed in short time, which such small systems often do because they lack a proper sized heatsink as puffer, then it's totally annoying.
    2. The software you use: If you intend to use Photoshop, expect an always running fan.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - link

    You mentioned those specific devices but didn't make a comment about the device class in general. :)
    As for fan noise: yeah, we'll have to wait and see and probably hear for ourselves. I have no issues with a few fans in the design though. If you want fanless, you can't get powerful. It's a trade off I'm willing to make.
    Win8 tablets with a powerful Core i5 will have short battery life compared to ARM tablets (3 to 6 hours depending on usage is my guess). But that is why I talked about a hybrid which should have a backup battery in the keyboard dock, doubling capacity. 6 to 10 hours isn't short for me. :) If it is for you, then yeah, powerful Win8 tablets aren't your thing. :D
    I don't see how you are comparing Android and iOS to Win8. The first two are clearly toy OSes in my opinion. I have an Android 10.1" tablet and a Galaxy Nexus, but they just don't compete with a Win8 device in terms of capabilities for me. And I can use a lot of Win8 with touch input. But that's the beauty of it, I don't have to. With the keyboard dock I can use it like I use my current laptop and do many more different things. Android and Samsung might have good Pen integration for the few products they offer. But they are still driven by slow ARM SoCs running a mobile OS. That is not appealing to me.
    And I wasn't talking about Atom Win8 tablets, those aren't strong enough in my opinion to be interesting to me (I'm currently using a laptop with a Core i3-330UM which is not fast but still crushed any Atom). With the introduction of Haswell and Kabini we will likely see better battery life and/or lower cost for those tablet/hybrids as well.
    Reply
  • frozentundra123456 - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 - link

    So is there any kind of option for this? I would like a windows tablet, but have to say if I could get an ipad with 3G/4G connectivity for the same price, I would give that strong consideration. When I first bought my Android tablet I thought I would not miss 3G, but it is a major weakness when on a trip and you want to use the tablet (we drive from Minnesota to Ohio and back a few times a year to visit family). And no, I would never even consider another android tablet. I suppose you could use a hotspot, but that is just another device to bother with, and has battery life concerns of its own. Reply

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