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Main Surface Pro Improvements Are Beneath the Surface

By John P. Mello Jr. TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
May 24, 2017 11:37 AM PT
microsoft-surface-pro

Microsoft on Tuesday announced a refresh of its Surface Pro tablet-laptop computer.

Although Microsoft said the fifth generation of the unit has been redesigned from the inside out with more than 800 new custom parts, the Surface Pro looks similar to its predecessor.

"If you were looking for a major redesign of Surface, this isn't it," said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.

Nevertheless, Microsoft has made some significant improvements in the tablet cum laptop.

"Overall, the new Microsoft Surface Pro is a significant, even substantial, improvement over the Surface 4," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Better Battery Life

Battery life has been boosted to 13.5 hours, which is 50 percent greater than the new Surface Pro's predecessor, and 35 percent greater than its Apple rival, the iPad Pro.

Microsoft has upgraded the processors in the line, too, giving the new unit 2.5 times more computational performance than the Surface Pro 3, and 1.7 times the performance of the iPad Pro.

The Surface Pro models that use Intel's 7th-generation Core m3 and i5 chips are fanless, so they're quiet as well as powerful. The i7 model of the unit with a fan is relatively quiet, too, with a noise level of 18db.

"The fanless 7th-gen Core i5 capabilities are unique in a tablet, and it's apparent Microsoft did some serious thermal work," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

The new Surface Pro also has a high-resolution screen -- 2736 x 1824 -- with 267 pixels per inch, which is 50 percent more than a 12-inch MacBook.

The display is enhanced by Microsoft's PixelSense Accelerator technology, which is designed to make colors vibrant and precise.

More Sensitive Pen

Improvements also have been made to the Surface Pen, which is sold separately and is offered in four colors -- platinum, burgundy, cobalt blue and black. With 4,096 pressure points, the pen is four times more sensitive than the original Surface Pen, Microsoft said, and with a latency of 21 milliseconds, it's close to capturing the experience of an analog pen to paper.

"The long battery life and the fanless design will be the greatest draws for this Surface Pro," Reticle's Rubin told TechNewsWorld.

Meanwhile, "the new pen technology should resonate with those using their Surface for nuanced drawings," he added.

Drawing on the new Surface Pro is easier, too, thanks to an improved hinge that gives the unit 165 degrees of motion.

Microsoft also has spruced up the keyboards for the new Surface Pro. They're covered with Alcantara fabric, which is treated with a high-performance polyurethane coating to resist spills. Keyboard colors match those of the Surface Pen.

Future LTE Support

The new Surface Pro remains light and thin at 1.7 pounds and 8.5mm, and it's going to support LTE later this year, Microsoft said.

"If you preorder a unit, you will not have the option to use 4G connections," explained Jeff Orr, senior practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research. "You can only use WiFi or Bluetooth connections."

The addition of cellular connectivity rounds out the capabilities of the Surface Pro.

"If you're talking about a truly mobile product, you should be able to connect anywhere," Orr told TechNewsWorld.

Despite its many improvements, the new Surface Pro still doesn't support USB-C connections.

"It would have been nice to have at least one USB-C port," Pund-IT's King told TechNewsWorld.

Microsoft also has dropped numbering with this latest model, which may confuse the market in the long run.

"It's more difficult for buyers to know what is new and what is old in the channel," Moorhead told TechNewsWorld.

"Buying peripherals are more difficult, too," he continued. "We have seen these issues with the Apple iPad, and we will see them with Surface Pro."

Refresh Needed Badly

A new version of the Surface Pro was overdue.

"The product line definitely needed a refresh. This brings the Surface Pro products up to spec with other Surface products," ABI's Orr said.

"This will help Microsoft continue the momentum it's had with Surface and help establish it in more organizations," he added.

Before the refresh, that momentum might have begun to stall.

"The current Surface Pro has been around for a year and half now, so its sales began to slip because it's old technology," said Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

"They really needed to update it," he told TechNewsWorld.

Microsoft began taking advance orders for the new Surface Pro Tuesday, and will start shipping units June 15. Base price is US$799 for a model with an Intel Core m3 processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 128-GB solid state drive. Keyboards are $159.99. Pricing for the Surface Pen was not announced.


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.


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