Microsoft is largely responsible for popularising the hybrid tablet model thanks to its line of Surface gadgets, which debuted in 2013 as a tablet with a keyboard attachment.
Since then, the form factor has gone from strength to strength.
Apple has jumped in with its iPad Pro models and the likes of Samsung and Huawei also have stellar options on shop shelves.
But Microsoft continues to pump out Surface devices and they’re now a common site on university campuses and airport lounges.
For 2019, the tech giant unleashed two variants: the Surface Pro 7 and the Surface Pro X. I’ve been using the Surface Pro 7 for a few days and it seems very much a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
The Surface Pro 7 boasts a 12.3-inch screen and a choice of several different internal configurations when it comes to price and performance. The starting price is £799 for the basic Intel Core i3 processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space. That goes all the way up to £2,249 if you max it out with an i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive.
It’s important to note that you’re looking at an extra £150 for the Surface Pro Signature Type Cover which provides both the keyboard and the folio-style shield for the screen when not in use. Additional accessories like the Surface Pen and Surface Arc Mouse come in at £100 and £80 respectively.
Quite simply, the Pro 7 is an excellent way to be productive on the move. Because of the full-fat Windows operating system I’d wager it’s actually better for productivity than Apple’s iPad Pro. However, the reverse side of that coin is that it doesn’t function as well when it’s just being a tablet.
For 90% of the time, I was using the Surface Pro 7 as a laptop replacement and it was only rarely that I’d disconnect the Type Cover and use it to consume media. Part of that may be down to the fact 12.3-inches is still a bit unwieldy for a tablet, but it’s also because Windows just isn’t as touch-friendly as iOS.
In terms of outward refinements, Microsoft has added a USB-C port and that’s it. It’s a welcome addition to be sure, but the company has neglected to make it a Thunderbolt 3 standard; a connectivity upgrade which promises theoretical transfers of up to 40Gbps. That seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity to me and when I asked Microsoft why it doesn’t simply convert fully to USB-C and drop the proprietary charger I was told because of the fast-charging and magnetic detachment that its 44-watt brick offers.
Alongside the USB-C port (which can still be used for charging) there’s a standard USB-A port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The rest of the design is exactly the same as last year’s iteration – the bezels are still thick and the kickstand is still great.
Our review unit was fitted with the mid-spec i5 processor and backed with 8GB of RAM meaning it was plenty capable of keeping up day-to-day needs. The majority of my usage is undemanding programs like Word, Excel and Outlook but it was able to multitask comfortably with plenty of browser tabs open and Spotify playing in the background.
Windows 10 can be a divisive operating system but I quite enjoy using it. It’s not perfect – the prompts, nudges and notifications are annoying – but I really enjoy the ability to switch between touch input with a stylus and traditional mouse movement either through Bluetooth or with the decent trackpad on the Type Cover. It’s true that it takes some time to configure Windows the way you want it, but once that’s done it’s simple enough to use.
The screen is the same 12.3-inch display as the Surface Pro 6 with a 2,736 x 1,825 resolution and a 3:2 aspect ratio. It’s not an OLED display but the colour reproduction is still pretty good. I don’t think it’s as impressive as the iPad Pro, however. I’m not an artist but I feel creative types may appreciate the 10-point multitouch and excellent Surface Pen stylus over the actual colour gamut of the screen itself.
Microsoft says the Surface Pro 7 will manage 11 hours of battery life and, in practice, I found it mostly fell just a bit short of this. Granted, I have the brightness dialed all the way up and the Bluetooth chugging away with a variety of accessories – but then I would expect most other users to do the same. Thankfully, the Surface Pro 7 does charge up fast. I was back up to 80% after just an hour plugged in to the mains.
Whether or not you should buy the Surface Pro 7 comes down to a few different factors. For starters, if you’ve got a Surface Pro 5 or 6 that’s continuing to perform, I see no reason to stump up extra cash for the 7. The only main difference is the USB-C port and you can add that to the Pro 6 with an adapter.
Secondly, on which platform do you do the majority of your work? At the office, I’m a Windows user which means a lot of my work is done using tools like Word, Excel and OneDrive so swapping to a Windows machine for the commute home makes sense.
I think if you’re after a hybrid that’ll mostly be used as a tablet then the iPad Pro is still a better bet than the Surface. But if you skew more towards the laptop side of a hybrid device then no question the Surface Pro is what you should be investing in.
The Surface Pro 7 doesn’t rewrite the series in any meaningful way – it appears to be leaving that to the Pro X. So while it’s a solid continuation of the innovative and well-executed product line, it’s not an essential purchase this time around.