Display: Awesome if Calibrated

Surface RT used a 10.6-inch 1366 x 768 display, for Surface Pro Microsoft integrated a full 1920 x 1080 panel of the same size. The increase in resolution is appreciable and you definitely notice it when switching between the two Surface models. Pixel density isn’t class leading, but it’s at least in the right range. On the desktop, Microsoft enables 150% DPI scaling by default which makes everything legible but still a bit odd in applications that don't deal well with fractional DPI scaling. Ideally I would've liked to have seen a clean doubling to avoid this mess.

The higher res display just makes everything sharper in the modern UI, and the 150% DPI scaling in desktop mode makes everything big enough where the higher res isn't a problem there. It's only in those desktop applications that don't properly implement Windows DPI scaling where the higher resolution is a hindrance. I actually ran into this problem using Chrome on the desktop, where my taps wouldn't always map to the right parts of the application (not to mention that Chrome in DPI scaled Windows looks terrible). Thankfully there is always the pen...

Pixel Density Comparison

Once again Microsoft doesn’t do any substantial color calibration at the factory, but unlike on Surface RT you can run your own Windows display calibration software on Surface Pro to improve color accuracy if you have the right equipment.

Display Brightness

Display Brightness

Display Contrast

Out of the box my Surface Pro sample had an unusually high white point (~7500K), which negatively impacted its grayscale accuracy. To evaluate color accuracy I turned to our own Chris Heinonen's CalMAN smartphone/tablet workflow. Color accuracy is near identical to Surface RT, which is to say that it’s ok compared to PC notebooks from a couple of years ago but still far behind what you get out of the box from Apple.

Given that the majority of users don’t do any color calibration on their PCs, this becomes a real problem for consumer perception if your tablet doesn’t ship with accurate colors by default.

To see what the panel is capable of I ran it through our standard PC display calibration routine (which I can do since it’s running Windows 8 and is effectively a PC). I then re-ran it through our CalMAN smartphone/tablet workflow and ended up with much more pleasing results. While the display still lagged behind the iPad in one of the tests, it bested Apple’s Retina Display in the other two color accuracy benchmarks.

We'll start off by looking at the calibrated white point for these tablets. What you're looking for here is a number close to 6500K:

CalMAN Display Comparison - CCT

The next three charts look at accuracy represented as a difference between various source colors and what's reproduced on the display. The results are presented as average dE2000, with lower numbers being better.

First up is Grayscale performance, here we're looking at the accuracy of black, white and 19 shades of gray spread in between the two extremes:

CalMAN Display Comparison - Grayscale

Out of the box grayscale performance is abysmal on Surface Pro. Calibrated accuracy, on the other hand, is just awesome.

First in our color accuracy tests is a saturation sweep. Here we're looking at 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and 100% saturations of red, blue, green, magenta, yellow and cyan.

CalMAN Display Comparison - Saturation Sweep

Our saturation sweep is the only test where even a calibrated Surface Pro can't match the iPad, it does do a lot better than Surface Pro without any color calibration however. Out of the box Surface Pro is considerably worse than any Apple tablet.

Gamut CIE Chart


 

Saturation CIE Chart


For our final accuracy test we're looking at the difference between a Gretag Macbeth colorchecker chart and the rendered swatches on these displays. Once again, lower numbers are better.

CalMAN Display Comparison - GMB Colorchecker

Out of the box Surface Pro and Surface RT are near identical here, and similar to the Nexus 10. With a good suite of calibration tools and supported hardware under Windows 8, Surface Pro has the potential to easily outperform the iPad if given the opportunity.

GMB Color Checker


Surface Pro’s panel has real potential, it just needs a calibration pass - which is honestly something Microsoft should be doing these days, not the end user.

Mini DisplayPort but No Thunderbolt

Surface RT featured a single video output in the form of a micro HDMI port. Surface Pro adopts a mini DisplayPort output instead, and will have adapters to enable DVI and HDMI support.

The miniDP output immediately activates as soon as you plug a display into it. I sometimes had issues with display resolutions being set sub optimally, but generally speaking the process was as plug and play as you can get.

I did notice some visual tearing on the Surface Pro display when connected to an external HDMI monitor, similar to what I saw with Surface RT but not nearly as bad. I’m beginning to think something is a bit wonky with Windows 8’s multi-monitor support. What’s interesting is I didn’t see the issue on all displays, which is more than I can say for Surface RT. Update: It looks like this is hardware related. Even if the internal and external panels have the same refresh rate, Intel's HD 4000 won't guarantee that the refreshes will happen at the same time - which is why we see tearing. The tearing should only be present in clone mode, not extended desktop (I'll verify this shortly). It seems like Tegra 3 is worse in this regard, which is why the issue was so much more prevalent on Surface RT. I need to check other Ivy Bridge platforms and under OS X to see if the problem is as prevalent there as well.

The only disappointment here is Microsoft opted against integrating Thunderbolt into Surface Pro. I feel like Thunderbolt would’ve made a ton of sense in a device like Surface Pro, enabling one cable connection to both an external display and high-speed external storage. Given that Thunderbolt adoption remains fairly limited in the PC space I don’t think this is a huge loss for most of Microsoft’s target customer base, but I do feel like it’d be a good way of future proofing the device. The alternative that Surface Pro offers is the combination of miniDP and USB 3.0, which realistically speaking is probably good enough for most users. From a cost of integration standpoint vs. the number of users who would pay for it, it probably didn’t make sense for Microsoft to include Thunderbolt in Surface Pro, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wish it was there. It’d be nice for Apple not to be the only company really pushing Thunderbolt.

Camera Quality

Surface Pro, like Surface RT before it, features two integrated 720p cameras with no flash. Admittedly I didn't spend a ton of time taking photos with Surface Pro but imaging quality is just really bad compared to what you'll get out of an iPad 4. The results are borderline ok for use on the web but that's pretty much it, and forget about decent low light performance.

 

Thermals, SSD, USB 3.0 and WiFi Performance Battery Life: The Downside
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  • bobjones32 - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    Since the Surface Pro is basically half-tablet and half-laptop, wouldn't it make sense to include a graph that compared it to other laptops too? Based on the numbers here, it seems like the Surface Pro would come out well ahead of the Macbook Air 11", for which its specs and price seems to most directly compare to. Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, February 05, 2013 - link

    I second this. I would like to see it compared with laptops as well - a lot of the other tests included laptop comparisons as well. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    The problem is our Windows 8 battery life suite only has one datapoint at this point: Acer's 13-inch S7 ultrabook, which I did include in a table below the graphs on the battery life page. I will try to run the 11-inch MBA this week/weekend in the new suite to get a good reference point though.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • remain_insane - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Awesome! It will be nice to see that included in here so we can see that comparison and have the PRO be put into against another similarly priced competitor.

    :)
    Reply
  • bobjones32 - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    Cool. I was specifically looking at your 11" Macbook Air review from last year where it got around 4 hours of battery, vs. the numbers here.

    Anyway, great review! Thanks.
    Reply
  • JanieMartin - Thursday, February 07, 2013 - link

    Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online.(Click Home information)
    http://goo.gl/VkxIT
    Reply
  • phillyry - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    ^That's SPAM right above me ^ Reply
  • apollomission19 - Tuesday, May 07, 2013 - link

    Dont click the LINK in previous comments... pure SPAM! This should have a "report" button or something to report this piece of *hit. Reply
  • TwistByrn - Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - link

    I would also like them to specify that the RT and the PROs 128GB of storage is partially used up by the operating system were as the iPads storage is not used by the OS. Reply
  • ATGS-Jason - Friday, February 08, 2013 - link

    Actually, the iPad's storage IS used by the OS as well, they're not separate. More importantly, iOS is nowhere near on the same level of capability as Windows 8 or RT. With regards to the Pro, the proper comparison is to the Macbook Air, which uses almost exactly the same amount of the integrated SSD as Windows 8 Pro does (within 2GB), except that the Win8 Pro total on Surface Pro includes a complete recovery partition that can be offloaded to a USB drive. When you do that, Windows 8 on Surface Pro actually takes up about 7GB *less* than the Mac OSX stock installation on an Air. Reply

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