A dedicated mobile data connection used to be a rare luxury in PCs, restricted to a few high-end machines, usually as an add-on to a business system. Years ago, I assumed it would eventually become a standard feature, allowing anyone to effortlessly connect anywhere. But then free Wi-Fi spread to every cafe, coffee shop and airport gate, and we all started carrying around perfectly usable personal hotspots in our pockets, in the form of our smartphones. So, now in 2018, a dedicated mobile data connection is still a rare luxury, restricted to a few high-end machines, usually as an add-on to a business system.
One exception is Apple's iPad ($296 at Walmart) tablet, which offers a consumer-friendly LTE version, requiring a monthly data subscription. Anecdotally, it seems popular with consumers who want to stream movies easily on the go, without worrying about connecting to W-Fi or a hotspot.
Microsoft has previously offered an LTE version of its Surface Pro tablet, but that configuration was limited specifically to commercial sales, targeted at businesses and IT departments. It wasn't available on Microsoft's consumer online store or in consumer retail stores.
In the first Surface ecosystem update of 2018, that LTE option is now available in the consumer version of the Surface Pro. Two fixed configurations are available, one with a seventh-gen Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage for $1,149, and a second with the same CPU, but 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $1,449. We tested the less expensive of the two, using a Microsoft-provided micro-SIM card from T-Mobile. The higher-end version will be available internationally, for £1,849 or AU$2,199. You'll also have to pay for a monthly data plan from your mobile provider; the price for that can vary widely depending on your plan.
And before you ask, yes, the keyboard cover and stylus are still sold separately, no matter which configuration you choose. The keyboard cover, which clicks on magnetically and adds an excellent island-style keyboard and a small but functional touchpad, starts at $129 (£124 or AU$199), while the Surface Pen is an extra $99 (£99 or AU$139).