Surface Pro Design

When I first saw Surface Pro, the Microsoft rep giving me the demo did a simple test. He stood Surface Pro right next to Surface, with the same start screen, and asked me if I could tell the two apart. The planar dimensions of Surface Pro are identical to Surface RT. Both feature the same sized 10.6-inch display, the same capacitive Windows button and the same 1-inch border around the screen. Looking head on, the only way you can tell the difference between Surface Pro and RT is the former’s 1080p display does make text a bit sharper.


Surface RT (left) vs Surface Pro (right)

Turn the two tablets to the side and the differences quickly become evident. Surface Pro is over 40% thicker than Surface RT (13.7mm vs 9.3mm). While the latter was of a similar thickness to an iPad with Retina Display, Surface Pro is clearly in a different league of dimensions.

The thickness of Surface Pro doesn’t really impede its portability, but the weight definitely makes it a lot less pleasant to carry around. Surface RT was already heavier than the competition but it hid its weight well. Surface Pro is just heavy for a tablet. I wasn’t originally impressed by the Surface RT form factor, but in switching between the RT and Pro models I immediately wish that Surface Pro came in the RT chassis and Surface RT came in something even thinner and lighter.


Surface Pro (left) vs. iPad 4 (right)


From top to bottom: iPad 4, Surface RT and Surface Pro

Shift the comparison to Ultrabooks however and all of the sudden Surface Pro seems quite light. It’s lighter than an 11-inch MacBook Air and Acer’s 11.6-inch Aspire S7 (although with optional keyboard cover it is heavier). It’s all about perspective. Compared to an iPad, Surface Pro is heavy, but compared to an Ultrabook or MacBook Air it’s light. The Pro model embodies the vision Microsoft had for the Surface family: to create a new type of device somewhere between a tablet and a notebook. That’s not to say there’s not room for improvement in the physical department. Surface Pro will likely go on a diet as it’s given more power efficient silicon, but even then you’ll always be able to build something thinner and lighter based on slower hardware, or go thicker and heavier with a notebook.

The fit and finish of Surface Pro are just as good as Surface RT. The tablet is built out of the same injection moulded Magnesium process (VaporMg) as Surface RT, however the chassis itself is somewhat simplified. While Surface RT featured three discrete VaporMg components (frame, back and kickstand), Surface Pro is made up of only two (single piece frame+back and kickstand). The result is no different to the end user, but the simplification on the assembly side is likely better for Microsoft.

I am fine laying the same praise on Surface Pro’s build quality as I did on Surface RT. The unique finish doesn’t feel like the aluminum we’re used to seeing on iPads, and definitely feels better than the plastic we’ve seen elsewhere. The VaporMg surface doesn’t feel like it would scratch easily, and after a few months with Surface RT I don’t see any visible scratches on my unit.

Surface Pro’s construction feels more utilitarian and understandably more oriented towards productivity, just like its little brother. I still believe that the Surface lineup is as much about Microsoft showing that it too can build high quality devices as it is about getting into the tablet market. If we compare it to the iPad, Surface Pro feels just as well built, if we compare it to every Windows RT and Windows 8 tablet or notebook on the market today - it’s worlds better. Say what you will about Microsoft entering the PC hardware business, but as of today Microsoft builds the best Windows RT and Windows 8 hardware on the market. If I ran a PC OEM I wouldn’t be angry at Microsoft, I’d be angry at myself for letting this happen.

Surface Pro retains the integrated kickstand from Surface RT, although the kickstand has been beefed up to accommodate the heavier tablet. Surface Pro’s kickstand keeps the device propped up at a fixed angle of 26-degrees away from the vertical axis. The rear facing camera is also angled to compensate (it shoots parallel to the ground with the kickstand opened).

The kickstand is allegedly good for over a million open/close cycles and it still doesn’t feel like something that would break. There are only two hinges in the kickstand compared to three for the RT model.

The kickstand on Surface Pro feels different than the kickstand on Suface RT. The Pro kickstand feels lighter and sounds less like metal and more like plastic if you tap on it. Feel around on the underside of the kickstand and you’ll notice a coating that seems to dampen sound and perhaps add some structure reinforcement to the design. Microsoft had to thicken the kickstand to support the added weight of the Surface Pro, but the difference is on the order of a fraction of a millimeter.

The tweaked kickstand does have different acoustics than Surface RT’s kickstand. While the latter sounded a lot like a thin metal door shutting, the Pro’s kickstand is far more muffled. I’d almost say it’s preferable.

Thankfully the kickstand’s functionality hasn’t been marginalized in the transition to the Pro. It’s still a highly integrated and very important part of the Surface experience. It’s simple to flip out and perfect for use on desks. You can make the kickstand work on your lap or chest if you’re lying down, but it’s not ideal for either unfortunately.

The more I use Surface (Pro and RT) the more I feel that Microsoft needs to pursue something a bit more flexible than the fixed 26-degree kickstand. The biggest issue by far is in-lap use with one of the keyboard covers attached. Depending on your seating position, the 26-degree angle that the kickstand opens at might be too small. Mechanically I don’t know the right solution for Microsoft but I do feel like for the kickstand to realize its true potential, it needs to be able to open and hold at multiple angles. It doesn’t necessarily need to have support for infinite angles, maybe even a few would work, but I do believe it’s necessary going forward.

Introduction Touch and Type Covers
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  • DogmaHunter - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    You'ld be surprised.

    It wouldn't be the first time I see pc's in hospitals or private practices rendering a 3d model of for example shoulder joints or whatever.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Consider me surprised. :D
    I thought that tablets for medical purposes would serve as clients to a server running in the background.
    @cknobman: what kind of company do you work for and what did the Atom tablets fail to do? I agree completely that Atom is still anemic. But it would be good enough for my wife for example. Her flash heavy websites would suffer a bit but there would be pros in other areas. :)
    Reply
  • Jollydogg - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    I'm a nurse. The last thing I'd want to do is sit down and do productivity work on this tablet during or after a long shift. I own a Nexus 7 (from which I'm using right now while out to lunch) to get me through times I'm not at a PC.

    I'm also in grad school. I can see one of these being AWESOME for someone who is continually out of the house and is in a grad program that requires short, frequent sessions of checking PDFs and online articles. Then again, any used laptop can do the same thing.......and for far less.......that includes a keyboard.......for far less money........see what I mean?

    I think the design is conflicting. Its like its meant for a very narrow, specific target audience, and even at that, its not competitively priced. Its meant to be a laptop replacement with tablet/portability convenience, yet the situations in which you would need to be in to use it effectively are basically the same ones in which you use a laptop. Somewhere stable and comfortable.

    I mean, I love this concept, and I really, really want one. I just can't really justify the cost, then having to pay additional for a keyboard, and then also only having 23gb of use able space. I'm not a space hog, but damn, if my unit is going to substitute as a laptop, I'm gonna need more than that.
    Reply
  • Jollydogg - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    When I meant used effectively, I meant used effectively for productivity, not just common usage. Reply
  • andrewaggb - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Any used laptop will be heavy and get lousy battery life. 5-6 Hours battery life is pretty good by laptop standards.

    It's not that expensive compared to an ipad with the same storage, and intel charges $225 for the cpu, which is basically the entire reason for the price difference between the ipad and surface pro.

    I think it'll sell fairly well for a device in it's price range.
    Reply
  • Alucard291 - Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - link

    5-6 hours of battery is about double compared to this... Shocking piece of... technology... Reply
  • DogmaHunter - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    You can free up another 20gb by making a copy of the recovery partition.

    And I think you miss the point about its versatility... the whole point of it is to be usable as a tablet, a laptop and even as a desktop by attaching additional monitors. And all that without needing to change devices and thus also shifting files around.

    You can be working at your desk as if behind a desktop, unplug the screen and take your surface into a meeting. You can go to another physical desk next to a collegue, plug in their and you're back on a desktop setting.

    No more running around with docking stations, no more syncing files through cloud or USB, no more cables everywhere.

    I think this is the wet dream of mobility.
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    iPads have been used in hospitals for a few years now, things like entering into patient records remotely.

    You don't need an i5 for that sort of thing, you need something very light with tons of battery life that will either run your applications or a web browser.
    Reply
  • DogmaHunter - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    I've been in a lot of companies for my job as IT consultant, including hospitals, and I have never seen ipads (or anything from apple) being used for another purpose then the "flash factor" by sales people.

    And when they return from their sales talk, they sit behind a desk with a windows laptop or desktop.
    Reason is simple: they don't want foreign devices (ie: non-windows machines) on their network for security purposes.

    While I'm sure you can find a few businesses that actually uses ipads and stuff like you described, I think you'll find these to be a very small minority... most likely with a frustrated and/or angry IT admin.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Sunday, February 10, 2013 - link

    I think you mistyped your comment... you did mean to say that you've been in a lot of caves for your job as an IT consultant, right?

    I don't see any other way that you haven't seen the wave of large/small business iPad usage popping up everywhere in your area.
    Reply

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