Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) review: After a hiatus of almost two years Microsoft is returning to the form factor that originally defined the Surface line with a 2017 rendition of the Surface Pro.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) review: Design
The company claims to have made a wealth of improvements over the previous Pro, but this is unquestionably an iterative update rather than a reimagining of the original Surface formula, and that’s OK. Microsoft’s 2-in-1 recipe is arguably one of the best in the business, so making that even better seems like a smart choice.
As such, you get an almost identical footprint to the Pro 4 with the same dimensions and a weight difference of only a few grams (a little more for the i5 models and a little less for the i7 versions). Once again you’re presented with an aluminium alloy body, a flat back with an integrated kickstand and a glass frontage with a black bezel.
The devil really is in the details with this new Surface Pro, as although it initially appears practically unchanged from its predecessor, a closer look at elements including the hinge mechanism reveal an almost obsessive level of refinement at play. Microsoft has reduced its bulk to give the new Pro’s kickstand a more cohesive and seamless finish with the overall design, whilst also expanding its range of motion to 165 degrees (up from 150), allowing for a new, flatter position that’s perfect for digital artwork and stylus use in general.
There’s softer rounding along the edge of this new Pro, making it more comfortable to handle and less obvious venting, which really only holds purpose for the i7 models, as Microsoft’s has somehow managed to make both the m3 and i5-powered variants fanless – an impressive feat of engineering considering the power on offer but all the more ground-breaking in the compact form-factor that this newest machine takes.
One area in which Microsoft hasn’t really innovated is with the Surface’s I/O, which falls to the same connections as found on the Pro 4: a proprietary connector for power, a single USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, a headphone jack and a microSD card slot hidden beneath the kickstand. If you’re looking for more up to date USB-C connectivity then you’d be better off taking a gander at Apple’s latest MacBooks or the Eve V; a newly crowdfunded and similarly-specced Surface alternative.
Another aspect of Surface strategy that we were hoping Microsoft would rethink is with regards to Type Covers, and more significantly, the Surface Pen. Despite almost always being pictured and paired in marketing materials with the magnetically detachable keyboard, the Surface Pro’s price tag doesn’t include those physical keys and you’ll have to pay at least £125 for the privilege of a basic Type Cover or around £20 more for the Alcantara-laden Signature edition.
What’s worse is the company’s decision to shift away from including a stylus in-box, instead making its latest and greatest Surface Pen, which now supports up to 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, class-leading latency and tilt functionality for shading, an additional £100 on top as well.
By making both the Type Cover and the Surface Pen essential but excluded extras from the standard Surface Pro package Microsoft has made the same misstep as Apple did with the iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. It’s removing some of the defining capabilities of its star hardware product in the hope that people will fork out the extra cash to gain such functionality back, but instead, there’s every chance that users will simply look for more affordable alternatives that come with everything they need under one price tag elsewhere.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Review: Screen and media
Whilst a larger screen within narrower bezels would have been a welcome inclusion, a 12.3-inch PixelSense panel as found on the previous Surface, complete with a respectably crisp 2736×1824 resolution, takes front and centre. Alongside being a worthy fit with regards to resolution and viewing fidelity, being the only member of the current product family to support the full functionality of the new Surface Pen also makes it the best option for digital artists looking for a portable machine right now.
Two small stereo speaker grilles set into the screen’s black surround push out impressively clear and loud audio for their size, with a particular talent for rendering speech, however, the overall experience lacks bass compared to the Omnisonic speaker setup of the new Surface Laptop.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Review: OS
This is the smallest and most compact form factor within the Surface family running full-fat Windows 10 Pro from the off and Microsoft ships the 2-in-1 with the latest Creators Update installed out-the-box. As such you reap all the latest benefits of Windows; such as tighter Cortana integration across apps, Paint 3D and a blue light filter feature called ‘Night Mode’ to reduce eye strain in dimmer conditions.
Spreading Cortana to operate across multiple platforms and operating systems, and its tight integration with Windows 10 makes it a powerful inclusion on the Surface Pro, whilst the operating system’s excellent window management features help make ensure the machine offers an incredibly fast and fluid experience and is a talented multitasker to boot. Coming from reviewing the Surface Laptop running Windows 10 S also makes you appreciate the ability to install both certified apps from the Windows Store as well as any executable you want in the wider world.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Review: Performance
Microsoft’s kept things simple with the hardware configurations you can pick this latest Surface Pro up in. You’ve got the option of three processors: the latest 7th generation Intel Core m3, i5 or i7, which depending on the chipset you choose can be paired with up to 16GB of new, faster LPDDR3 RAM (versus the Pro 4) and up to a 1TB SSD.
Each processor also respectively offers Intel HD Graphics 615, HD Graphics 620 or Iris Plus Graphics 640, all of which should be able to handle applications like Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and gaming with varying degrees of success (set your aspirations at Asphalt rather than Forza). That said, we’d steer clear of the m3 variant outright as your money will go further with the i5/8GB RAM model.
We tested the fan-laden i7 variant with 16GB of RAM (£2149, plus £125 Type Cover and £100 Surface Pen) and never ran into any performance issues, with one of the snappiest Windows experiences from a 2-in-1 in recent memory (and a greatly improved and impressively quiet fan to boot). There was a touch of lag when interacting with elements within the likes of Paint 3D and some unoptimised games simply aren’t worth trying to play on integrated graphics though.
As well as offering the latest chipsets, Microsoft has also made sure that users can expect better battery longevity with a quoted 13.5 hours of video playback that more realistically translates to between eight and nine hours of mixed usage; making it a great everyday work machine. What’s more, the i5-powered models will allegedly last fractionally longer than the i7 versions will.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Review: Verdict
The iterative nature of the 2017 Surface Pro doesn’t detract from the fact that this is an excellent 2-in-1 and a worthy update on 2015’s Surface Pro 4. The machine itself certainly feels like five-star material, with some of the most refined design work in its class, both aesthetically and from an engineering standpoint.
That said, Microsoft’s insistence on making both the Type Cover and the Surface Pen optional extras (that aren’t really optional) undermines the genius and the capabilities of the form-factor and the hardware on offer. £1249 for our recommended i5/8GB RAM skew places it on the same level as the equivalent Surface Laptop but throw in a Type Cover and the Pen and the full Pro experience with the same performance actually costs you closer to £1500. Despite still being a great machine, don’t forget that when you’re reaching for your credit card.