We've been waiting a long time for the next Surface Pro from Microsoft. Since October 2015, in fact.
In the meantime, the more powerful Surface Book got a modest design and component upgrade, and Microsoft announced the Surface Laptop, a traditional clamshell. We've also seen Surface-a-like systems such as the Samsung Galaxy Book, Lenovo Miix 510 and the Huawei Matebook. If Microsoft's goal was to kickstart the two-in-one concept, that's a mission more than accomplished.
After an unexpectedly long wait, the successor to the Surface Pro 4 is here. But, it's not called the Surface Pro 5. It's not even called the Surface Pro 4.5, even though that's what it essentially is. Instead, this is simply the Surface Pro, and Microsoft is dropping the generational number from the title -- don't confuse it with the original model from 2013, also called Surface Pro.
It turns out Microsoft's Surface boss Panos Panay wasn't kidding when he told us recently, "There's no such thing as a [Surface] Pro 5."
What exactly is new about the Surface Pro? Highlights include:
The screen size and resolution remains the same, as does the proprietary power plug and the combination of USB-A, microSD and Mini DisplayPort connections (still no USB-C). The stylus, besides gaining in pressure sensitivity, loses its old-school pocket-protector clip. It's also no longer included in the box, but instead will sell separately for $99. The current stylus can be found for as little as $59 now, and most earlier Surface Pro configurations included one.
The $99 Surface Dial, also sold separately and used with the Surface Studio desktop, will work on the Surface Pro screen as well.
The keyboard cover is both the best and worst thing about the Surface Pro. It's a great example of how to build a slim, functional clip-on keyboard for a tablet and remains an engineering highlight of the Surface family. But it also remains a sold-separately accessory, even though it's hard to imagine using a Surface Pro without one. As if to emphasize this point, the basic black keyboard cover -- it's the same size as the Surface Pro 4 model, so they're cross-compatible -- is still $129 (£99 or AU$175). The fabric-covered colored models, available in platinum, burgundy and cobalt blue, will be a hefty $169. The moral arc of the universe is indeed long, but it does not bend toward free Microsoft keyboard covers.
At the time of our early hands-on briefing with the new Surface Pro, pricing was not yet finalized, but it was strongly suggested that the entry-level version, with the Core m3 processor and no stylus or keyboard, would cost $799 (likely £750 or AU$1,300, with official UK and Australian prices still to be announced).
Even though the stylus pen is no longer included by default, Microsoft is making it even more useful by adding new pen-centric features to Office. These new features will work with other touchscreen-plus-stylus devices as well, but they're being launched alongside this new Surface.
The Draw Tab from Microsoft's OneNote note-taking apps is now coming to PowerPoint, Word and even Excel. That gives you a very stylus-friendly set of basic drawing tools, including brush types and sizes, colors, and the ability to save favorite and frequently used combinations.
If you're signed into Office 365, your Draw Tab preferences will now follow you across these different Office apps for a consistent experience. These new features will roll out to members of the "Insider" beta-testing program first, and are included with an Office update expected later in June.
Microsoft originally pitched the Surface Pro as the tablet that could replace your laptop. It took a couple of generations to get the formula right (everything finally clicked with the Surface Pro 3 in 2014), but its combination of high-quality display, best-in-class keyboard cover and artist-friendly stylus is still the best overall tablet-plus-keyboard device for Windows users. An iPad Pro comes close, but fundamental differences in the operating system and available software mean the overlap is narrow enough that you're likely firmly in one camp or the other.
This new model slots in somewhere between the Surface Book and Surface Laptop (and I suppose, the desktop Surface Studio) as part of Microsoft's growing line of PC products. That puts it in direct competition with the very PC makers it sells the Windows operating system to, which has made me witness to some awkward partner conversations. But while this is a very modest set of updates, the Surface Pro is still hard to top as the best example of a high-powered Windows two-in-one. Even though we still can't seem to convince them to include the must-have keyboard in the box.
The Surface Pro will be available starting June 15, starting at $799 in the US. But note that adding a basic black keyboard cover and Surface Pen to the Core m3 base model boosts the cost to a minimum of $1,027.