Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) full review
The original Surface Pro marked Microsoft’s entry into the tablet market and the 2-in-1 has been refined and improved over the years. We were impressed with the Surface Pro 4 and now, 18 months later, we’re just as bowled over by the Surface Pro.
You’ll have noticed the absence of the expected ‘5’ – this is just Surface Pro. Why did Microsoft change the naming scheme? We don’t know for sure, but the 2017 Surface Pro is such a slight iteration that perhaps it didn’t deserve the suffix.
Note: there is a newer model available now, the Surface Pro 6.
Price and Availability
Excellence doesn’t come cheap, and the base model costs £799/US$799 from Microsoft. This is £50/$50 more than the Surface Pro 4 cost when it launched.
Right now, you can get the 2017 Surface Pro for a lot less than normal. Until April 3 Microsoft is offering bundles of the black Type Cover together with either the i5 128GB model for £749 or the i5 256GB model for £1,099. You can grab either bundle from the Microsoft Store.
In reality, it’s actually a lot more expensive because the new Surface Pro doesn’t come with a Pen in the box. The updated stylus costs £99.99/$99.99 from Microsoft, comes in a variety of colours and now recognises when you tilt it – handy for shading areas quickly.
It also has 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity compared to 1024 in the previous version. Since none of us here has any artistic talent, we deferred to a real artist who checked out the Pen while testing out the Surface Studio. He said it was the best yet, but still feels flimsier and lighter than the Apple Pencil or Wacom pen.
There’s another niggle: Microsoft has moved away from using the phrase “laptop replacement” and is overtly calling the Surface Pro a laptop. Read our Surface Laptop review.
We’ve not yet seen a laptop without a keyboard and trackpad, so while you might be able to accept the absence of a stylus in the box, it’s hard not to take issue with the decision to continue to make the Type Cover an optional extra (unless you already own one from a Surface Pro 4).
The Signature version – the one covered in smooth Alcantara – costs £149.99/$159.99.
If you want an i7 processor, prepare to shell out £1549/$1599 (plus the Type Cover) and the very top model with a 1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM is an eye-watering £2699/$2699.
We were sent the second-from-top config, with a 512GB Samsung SSD, which costs £2,149/$2,199, plus a Cobalt Blue Signature Type Cover.
Features and Design
Place a Surface Pro alongside its predecessor and it’s slightly easier to spot the differences between these extremely similar-looking devices.
For one thing, the Surface Pro is much less angular, with more rounded corners and softer lines in general. The hinge now lets you tilt the tablet back to 165 degrees – 15 more than the older model.
Now it sits almost flat against the desk, but it’s a very comfortable angle to use with the Surface Pen.
The hinge itself has been redesigned again and is now made in colour-matching materials rather than the all-too-obvious black as you got with the Surface Pro 4. The cooling vents are less noticeable, too, and the Core m3 and i5 versions don’t have a fan so run silently.
Overall build quality is supremely good – and you’d expect no less at these prices.
Dimensions are weight are so minimally different that you won’t notice the difference if you’re upgrading from a Pro 4.
Ports remain unchanged, so you get a full-size USB 3, a mini-DP video output and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The microSD slot is – as you might expect - hidden under the kickstand.
Some are unhappy with the decision to omit USB-C, but few peripherals yet use it and it’s easy to argue that USB Type A is still the most compatible. Microsoft is bringing out an adaptor so you can attach USB-C devices to the Surface Connect port, but there’s no date or price for this.
It’s worth pointing out the upgrades to the Type Cover, though. Key travel has been increased from 1.3 to 1.5mm. This seemingly insignificant change makes a bigger impact than you might imagine: the key travel now feels a lot more like a regular laptop and it’s easier and more comfortable to type on.
As before, there’s backlighting for the keys and the trackpad is glass for super-smooth cursor action. We found it surprisingly easy to go from a standard desktop keyboard and touch type on the Surface Pro.
We couldn’t assess whether Microsoft’s assertion that the short-pile Alcantara is resistant to stains and marks in the short time we were loaned the device for review, though. It feels great and the colour options add a little character that was missing last time around.
There are no noticeable changes to the screen. It’s still a 12.3in, 3:2 display with 2736 x 1824 pixels. It equates to 267ppi, and it’s plenty enough to make everything look nice and sharp.
We’ve become used to the excellent quality screens on Surface devices, and this latest one is no different. It can comfortably output 420cd/m2 when you slide brightness to the max and this helps overcome reflections so you can still see what you’re working on.
Most impressive is contrast, with deep blacks that you’d usually associate with an OLED screen – this is ‘just’ an IPS panel. Our colorimeter measured just shy of 1200:1 which is a stunning result for a tablet (sorry, laptop) screen.
Colours are great too, and the screen is capable of displaying 100 percent of the sRGB standard.
Viewing angles are nice and wide with minimal brightness dropoff if you’re looking slightly off centre.
Above the screen, you’ll hardly notice the Windows Hello camera and its infrared sensor. Microsoft has succeeded in hiding them so they’re less distracting than on the Surface Pro 4. It’s another minor change that makes a bigger difference than you’d think.
If you’ve not used Windows Hello before, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it recognises you and logs you in: far quicker than entering a password.
The optional Surface Dial will work on the Surface Pro’s screen, although it’s a little cramped compared to working on the Surface Studio of course.
Equipped with a Core i7-7660U, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB Samsung KUS040202M SSD, performance was never going to be a problem for our review model.
The SSD in particular is exceedingly quick with Crystal Disk Mark clocking it at 1582MB/s when reading and 868MB/s when writing. So storage isn’t skimped on one bit.
In PCMark 8’s Home test (accelerated) the Surface Pro scored 3345. Last year we tested the Core i5 version of the Surface Pro 4, which managed 2682, so it’s not possible to see if there’s much of an improvement from the seventh-generation CPU compared to the sixth-gen Skylake chips used in the Pro 4.
To put it in context, a £1600 gaming PC, such as the Yoyotech BlackBox SP, scores over 5200 in the same test with an overclocked Core i5-7600K, so you’re not quite getting desktop performance. But let’s not forget, this is a tablet that's 8.5mm thick!
And the PCMark 8 Work score of 4375 isn’t that far behind the Yoyotech’s 5038. Fundamentally, the Surface Pro feels extremely responsive and fast in use.
In Geekbench 4, it scored 4268 (single-core) and 8959 in the multi-core test. These are excellent figures.
And even when it’s working hard, you won’t be bothered by annoying fans: unless you’re in a completely silent room, you simply won’t hear it whirring.
Intel’s Iris Plus Graphics 640 is powerful enough for general use, but it’s no gaming GPU. We ran GFXBench and in Manhattan it managed 27.5fps, and only a little higher - 30.7fps – in the T-Rex test.
You’ll be able to play casual games ok, but nothing demanding like Forza Horizon. We downloaded the demo – all 20GB of it - from the Windows store only to be informed that the GPU wasn’t supported and the game wouldn’t even launch.
Running Civilisation IV at 1920x1080 it averaged less than 20fps, and that’s not even using high settings. If you want a decent gaming experience, the Surface Pro isn’t the right choice – you might be better off with a gaming laptop or even an iPad Pro so long as you don’t need to run Windows apps.
If the Surface Pro 4 had a weak area, it was battery life. It wasn’t bad by any means – the Core i5 model we reviewed lasted just over 11 hours when looping a video. But when worked hard, you’d see around half that time, or less.
Microsoft has upped the capacity from 38Wh to 45Wh for the new Surface Pro, but as we’ve got the Core i7 version this time, it’s impossible to make direct comparisons. Running the usual video looping test at 120cd/m2 it lasted just over 10 hours – not bad but not the 13.5 hours Microsoft claims.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017): Specs
- Windows 10 Pro
- 12.3in PixelSense display, 2736x1824, 267ppi
- Up to Intel Kaby Lake Core i7
- Up to 16GB RAM
- Up to 1TB storage
- USB 3.0
- Micro-SD card reader
- 11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 5Mp front camera
- 8Mp rear camera