TORONTO - Microsoft's new Surface Pro isn't the top tablet on the market and it's not the best laptop either.
Although the company boasted its dual-mode device would offer a "no compromise" experience as both a tablet and a laptop, that's simply not the case.
While corporate road warriors and consumers alike would welcome the concept of having to buy just one device that could double as a tablet or a full-featured laptop, the Surface Pro doesn't fully fit the bill. And it's pricey enough that you could buy a budget-priced laptop and a tablet instead of the Surface Pro.
As a tablet, the Surface Pro packs more power than its competitors and runs the same Windows 8 operating system that drives some PCs. Anyone familiar with Windows 8 will be instantly at home using the Surface Pro, which can run PC applications and multi-task. Even memory- and processor-hungry programs like Adobe Photoshop run well on the Surface Pro, which is equipped with four gigabytes of RAM and an Intel Core i5 processor that's commonly used in laptops. On the other hand, the device is also noticeably heavy for a tablet, weighing in at two pounds versus the iPad's nearly one and a half pounds. It sounds like a small difference but given some users already find the iPad a bit onerous to hold for long periods of time, the extra half pound of heft is significant.
As a laptop, the Surface Pro also performs well but its 10.6-inch screen feels undersized unless you're used to working on a netbook or ultra-portable laptop. And typing on the plug-in keyboard (which is sold separately) can require a major adjustment to use effectively.
There are two keyboard types to choose from. The Touch Cover, which is nearly flat and has imprinted keys that don't click, sells for $120. The Type Cover, with real mechanical keys, goes for $130.
It takes some practice to blindly navigate both of the keyboards but the Touch Cover in particular requires a much longer investment of time to master. It takes a while to get used to the feel of working on an unresponsive keyboard — a slight tap may not register a keystroke but slamming the keys isn't required either. If you choose the cheaper Type Cover be prepared for a very frustrating first few hours of typing until muscle memory kicks in.
Both keyboards also have a trackpad to control the on-screen cursor, which is similarly frustrating to use. Manoeuvring the cursor and clicking doesn't feel quite as smooth as you'd like. Luckily, the touchscreen can still be tapped and swiped when the keyboard is plugged in, which is sometimes an easier way of interaction rather than using the trackpad.
Microsoft also sells a wireless mouse to use with the Surface for $70, which performs well when you have a desk to work on.
Another drawback with using the Surface Pro in laptop mode is it doesn't work well when sitting on a couch or away from a desk. The device doesn't sit well on your lap and the keyboard flexes and shifts slightly when typing on it without a firm surface underneath.
There is plenty to like about the powerful Surface Pro but add up all the cons and it's tough to recommend the device, especially considering its price tag. A 64-gigabyte model sells for $900 or it's $1,000 for 128 gigabytes of storage. And then you'll have to add a keyboard (which doubles as a protective screen cover) if you want to use it as a laptop.
The Surface Pro is a decent amalgam of tablet and laptop technology and despite its flaws, might be useful for users who want just one device to carry around. Other tablets, including the iPad, can be partnered with external keyboards but they don't offer the full PC experience like the Surface Pro can. As its name implies, the Surface Pro makes more sense for business users who value portability but don't want to sacrifice on power and functionality. There are compromises in the design, despite what Microsoft has insisted, and it is somewhat expensive, but the Surface Pro can perform well as both a tablet and laptop, albeit not perfectly.