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Getting to know the Surface Pro 7 is like visiting an old friend. Usually around this time of year there's a new collection of computer hardware from Microsoft, and whatever is new ends up being in my PC rotation throughout the rest of the year. In 2019, the same seems to be holding true so far, but there are a couple of curveballs along the way.
First, there are more new Surface products than usual this year. Besides the expected annual Surface Pro update, we got not one, but two new clamshell Surface Laptops, in 13- and 15-inch models, as well as a bolder take on the concept in the Arm-based Surface Pro X (more on that later).
But the Surface Pro is what kicked off Microsoft's current PC hardware line (along with the now-forgotten Surface with Windows RT), and it remains the most refined, most perfected product in the lineup, which is why it earns an Editors' Choice nod.
The new Surface Pro 7 isn't really all that different from last year's Surface Pro 6, but frankly that's because the last couple of models have really pushed this two-in-one design about as far as it can go without becoming something entirely different.
What's new for 2019? A jump to Intel's 10th-gen Core series processors, in Core i3, i5 and i7 versions, adds some processing power, but it's a modest upgrade at best. Wi-Fi 6 is also here, if you have a router to support it (you probably don't yet).
A bigger deal is the inclusion of an honest-to-goodness USB-C port, only about two years behind everyone else.
People have strong feelings about USB-C. Some like that it can handle everything from power to video to accessories, while others decry the possibility of becoming a "dongle person" because of all the extra hassle it is to use your old USB devices. Fortunately, Surface Pro 7 wisely includes both USB-C and USB-A, at least for this transitional period. Will the old-school port survive next year? Hard to say.
If you have a Surface Pro 6, or another Surface from the past few years, there's no compelling case to upgrade. If you're a clamshell laptopper and want to make the move to a more tablet-centric lifestyle, this remains the best overall example of a Windows tablet. Performance is a step up from last year's Surface Pro (we tested both in Core i5 versions), but battery life was flat to down a bit, at a still-respectable 8 hours, 30 minutes for streaming video.
The Surface Pro line gets a lot right about the tricky transition between tablet and laptop. For example, it has the best-engineered kickstand I've found in a tablet, capable of nearly 180 degrees of stable articulation, and able to stop at any point in between.
And it uses the best clip-on keyboard in the (relatively short) history of clip-on Windows tablet keyboards. That's important because, no matter how you slice it, Windows 10 just isn't a tablet-touchscreen OS in the way that Apple's iPadOS is. With the Surface Type Cover keyboard, you get a thin protective screen cover, as well as a fold-out keyboard that is about as good as a laptop keyboard can get with just a few millimeters of clearance.
Likewise, the Surface Pen stylus is among the better Windows pens we've used, and over the past couple of years we've had illustrators, animators and artists test it for us on various Surface devices, always to high acclaim.
There's a bit of sleight of hand going on when you see the $749 (£799, AU$1,249) starting price for the Surface Pro 7. That's for the lowest-end Core i3 model, with just 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. You're going to want to upgrade at least to the $899 (£899, AU$1,499) model with a Core i5 and 8GB of RAM.
But that's not the real issue. Where things start to get sketchy is when you open a brand-new Surface Pro 7 box and discover there's only a slim tablet in there. No keyboard cover, no stylus.
Despite the fact that nearly every promo image, advertisement or TV and movie product placement for the Pro line shows it with the keyboard and stylus, you have to buy each of them separately. The Surface Pro Signature Type Cover is $159 (£150, AU$200) and the Surface Pen is $99 (£100, AU$112). The Type Cover comes clad in the same Alcantara fabric as the Surface Laptop, in red or blue. It's an artificial material developed in the 1970s for boat interiors and other rugged uses.
That means you're looking at $1,157 for the Core i5 Surface Pro, a Type Cover and a Pen. That's a much different mental calculation than $749 or $899. All three parts are well-made and genuinely useful, and that may well be a very fair price for that combination of items, but once you're in the $1,100 and up category, your universe of choices expand quite a bit.
Long story short, since the Surface Pro is so much less useful without its accessories, they really should be included in the box. Forcing a separate purchase is just a bit of pricing theater.
The real wild card here was the Surface Pro X, an Arm-based offshoot of the Surface Pro. Its design is a bit more evolved than the Pro, and the inset stylus pocket on the clip-on keyboard is a great idea. Of course, the stylus and keyboard for the Pro X are different than the ones for the Pro 7, and also sold separately.
Battery life on the Pro X is great (it's basically running a smartphone CPU, after all), and it's be LTE-ready. But, thanks to the still-awkward relationship between ARM chips and Windows apps, it's simply not as universally useful as the Surface Pro 7 as an all-around, do-everything computer.
Originally published last month. Updated with new formatting and Editors' Choice.