It's like trying to pick a suspect out of a police lineup of identical twins. Take 2015's Surface Pro 4 and the long-awaited new version just called Surface Pro, and stick them side by side on a table. Now, go and grab the new one. Like me, you might pick up one Surface, spin it around in your hands a few times, open its kickstand, tap or swipe on its screen a bit -- all before you realize you're holding the older model.
Even in person, you're going to have to depend on a few subtle clues to tell these apart. The new Surface Pro is a hair lighter, its fanless design minimizes a thin vent around the outer edge and its optional keyboard cover is available with Alcantara fabric, similar to the covering found on the new Surface Laptop. But at a quick glance, these are two peas in a pod.
Microsoft is hardly alone in its "evolutionary not revolutionary" approach to hardware this year. Apple's brand new and have even more subtle changes, upgrading a handful of internal components while keeping their exterior bodies exactly the same.
But ultimately, there's another adage at work here: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Surface Pro's basic aesthetic and ergonomic ideas have remained virtually unchanged since the Surface Pro 4, now a year and half old, and only slightly changed since the Surface Pro 3, which is where this product line finally hit its stride. This is still the gold standard of Windows tablets, and it still feels modern and practical, despite only incremental changes.
Taking on the TCO
Evolution is, by definition, a slow process. But anyone looking for a bigger, more dramatic change, or a reason to upgrade from an older Surface Pro, may feel a bit disappointed in this unadventurous update. The screen bezel could be thinner. The ports could be updated to include USB-C. The odd disconnect of forcing you to buy the tablet and its must-have keyboard cover separately could have been addressed by including it in the box (it's still $129 for a basic keyboard cover, or $169 for the fancier color versions covered with Alcantara fabric).
In fact, the new Surface Pro moves in the opposite direction, taking the Surface Pen stylus out of the default loadout, and now selling it separately (the new Pen is $99, while most previous Surface Pros came bundled with the older model Pen, which is still available for around $60).
When you look at a Surface Pro, which starts at $799 (£799 or AU$1,199) for a Core m3 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, you have to think about what IT types call the TCO, or total cost of ownership. Even the base model Surface Pro, when you add the Pen and a basic black keyboard cover, comes out to $1,027, which frankly is a lot for a Core m3 laptop (although, to be fair, less than Apple charges for its Core m3 MacBook). The upgraded model tested here has a new Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a big 512GB SSD, which comes out to $2,199 (£2,149 or AU$3,299), and that's still without the keyboard or Pen.
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017)
|Price as reviewed||$2,199 (£2,149 or AU$3,299)|
|Display size/resolution||12-inch, 2,736x1,824 touch display|
|PC CPU||2.5GHz Intel Core i7-7600U|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz|
|Graphics||128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)|
Newer on the inside
But if you can get over the hurdle of buying all the required bits for the total Surface experience, this is still the tablet-style hybrid to beat for Windows users. It takes everything we liked about the Surface Pro 4, which was a lot, and makes a handful of subtle but important improvements.
What exactly is new about the Surface Pro? Highlights include: