The Microsoft Surface Pro (2017) Review: Evolutionby Brett Howse on June 15, 2017 9:00 AM EST
The Surface Pro 3 brought about a revolution in the design of the Surface Pro family, bringing the 3:2 aspect ratio that is now the signature on all Surface devices, as well as a much thinner and lighter design. Surface Pro 4 evolved that design, bringing a slightly larger display into the same size chassis, while becoming a bit thinner and lighter again. The new Surface Pro continues that evolution-rather-than-revolution philosophy, and that’s arguably the right choice for a successful product.
The latest design has softened the exterior, moving away from the angular design that has been a part of Surface Pro since the beginning. The edges are now slightly rounded, but without radically changing the look. The new rounded sides provide an improved in-hand feel, without the uncomfortable sharpness of the older generations.
The design is familiar though, with the same silver color on the chassis, along with a thin plastic RF window at the top, where the power and volume controls are. The left-side features the 3.5 mm headset jack, the right-side features all of the ports, and the bottom has the keyboard connector.
Speaking of the ports, they are exactly the same as the Surface Pro 4. There’s a USB-A port, a mini DisplayPort, and the Surface Connect for power and expansion. For those that need to add a bit more storage, the new Surface Pro continues to offer a micro SD slot too.
The lack of USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 in a high-end 2017 device is definitely a knock against the new Surface Pro. Microsoft’s reasoning is that USB-C is a port with too many options, and no two ports are guaranteed to be the same, which will lead to customer confusion. There’s also the argument that most of our devices still use full-sized USB, so Microsoft has stuck to its guns and just kept the USB-A port. They aren’t wrong about USB-C being confusing, though. Other than USB data, which is the one thing that all USB-C should support – although not always at the same speed – ports can support displays, higher power levels, Thunderbolt 3, and more. The counterpoint to this argument is that Surface Pro could offer a USB-C that features everything, although it would cost not only in terms of actual cost, but also space for extra chips, and in a small device like the Surface Pro, space is at a premium.
Their other argument is that, at least currently, almost anything that connects to USB-C needs an adapter or dongle of some sort, and that’s also true. But the counter to that is that the Surface Pro features a mini DisplayPort, which arguably needs a dongle or special cable to connect to almost anything anyway. A USB-C could offer the same DisplayPort signal, but way more.
There’s no argument that keeping the USB-A port is the right idea for today, but it would have been nice to see Microsoft adopt the new standard for the future, since a device with this kind of price has to have the expectation that it will still be around in several years, when USB-C will be more widespread.
The one area that Microsoft both pioneered – and continued to evolve – is the kickstand. Looking back at the original Surface devices, the kickstand really the key to the entire device, allowing Surface to quickly and easily be used as both a tablet, and a laptop. The latest kickstand improves everything, again.
The biggest change is that the kickstand now opens even wider. The opening arc increases from 150° to 165°, which gives the Surface Pro an even better platform for using the Surface Pen, and accessories like the Surface Dial, which works right on the display, just like the Surface Studio.
The new kickstand seems to be even smoother than the Pro 4, and still offers just the right amount of friction to not allow the Pro to change angles when using touch on the display.
The kickstand is still one of the signature features of the Surface Pro, and it’s great to see it continue to improve.
The Surface Pro 4’s cooling was a big improvement over the Surface Pro 3, greatly reducing CPU thermal throttling, but also being quieter. The new Surface Pro develops on this again. When the Surface Pro 4 launched, the engineers let us know that they felt that the cooling system could dissipate the full 15-Watts of heat from the CPU passively, but they still included the fan on both the Core i5 and Core i7 models for the Surface Pro 4.
The new Surface Pro ditches the fan completely on the (15W) Core i5 model now, leaving just the (15W) Core i7 model with active cooling. Microsoft hasn't yet sampled this model of the Surface Pro, but hopefully we’ll be able to test it out soon to see what ramifications that changes has for performance. For noise though, it’s all good news, since it should be practically silent.
The Core i7 model, that we do have for review, is even quieter than the outgoing Pro 4, especially when at its default settings. So despite the active fan, the cooling system is much quieter. The cooling vents have been changed as well, with a much more subtle look to them on the new Pro.
The cooling changes have all been positive, and we’ll check out the performance of them later in the review.
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mkozakewich - Saturday, June 17, 2017 - linkI swear I say this every time, but it bears repeating: One of the original ideas about ultrabooks was that we could throttle them while mobile, but then run them at full power by using some kind of cooling dock. Same thing here: If you had (or made?) something that cools off the chassis, it'll reach higher performance levels. Using it outside on a cold and windy day will give you more frames per second. Stuff like that.
tipoo - Monday, June 19, 2017 - linkYup, very interested about the fanless 15W i5 and how well that can keep up. In theory it would act pretty Core M-ey.
anactoraaron - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - linkI remember owning a pro 4 and being disappointed learning that the review samples used a faster ssd. All retail units had much slower ssds and a ridiculous amount of light bleed on the displays. I had one at launch (and returned a few to try and get less light bleed and perhaps the faster ssd used by the review units) but the first time I got a blue screen negating over an hour of work it had to go. It was a great concept, as I ultimately went with the Vaio Z Canvas (during the fire sale). The Vaio has been by far the better option, with plenty of ports and power (not to mention it also has a better display) to its advantage over the surface pro.
SaolDan - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - linkI actually owned a sp4 i5 with the toshiba ssd and it had faster write. about 1GBps write speed. But tbe screen developed a small preasure point and i got it replaced. I got a samsung ssd on the replacement. not as fast.
samnish - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - linkAs an owner of Surface Pro 2 and 4, I must say, I went from loving the idea to hating the series. To list a few issues:
- Normal sleep mode never works. Either it wakes up to a black screen, or it used up all the battery while sleeping. It is pretty much required to disable sleep and use hibernation instead.
- The Wacom pen on SP2 worked well. The one on the SP4 is a huge step downwards. If you want to draw a straight line, you need to draw it by the edge of the screen, because when you draw in the middle of the screen it'd give you a squigly line. Happaned even after exchanging for another one at MS store.
- On the SP4, I encountered a bug where a process "Microsoft IME" would hog up 100% of the CPU. If memory serves, it was introduced by the Anniversary Update. After a lengthy thread on Microsoft forum with many other victims, MS did fix it. But it took them 3 months.
- When charging, if the SP4 is grounded slightly different than myself, the touchpad would have an jittery response. I have to touch the chassis of the SP4 with my other hand to make the touchpad work normally. Happaned even after exchanging for another one at MS store.
This is enough examples. The Surface Pro series was Microsoft's poster child, yet they couldn't even get all the basic laptop features working stably for 4 generations. With laptops from other manufacturers, one can defend MS by saying "they have many different hardware to support, drivers take time to mature". Sure. What about the Surface Pro series? You can't really defend them with the same points - all the hardware is chosen and supported by Microsoft themselves. By Surface Pro 4, they really shouldn't still be struggling with delivering firmware that don't break your hardware and a sleep mode that works. I hope the new Surface Pro fares better this time on these departments, but I don't have high hopes for them. Microsoft has a much stronger showing for innovation in recent years, yet the hardware that they deliver are full of small glitches, and the stability of their consumer operating system has been such a mess.
mkozakewich - Saturday, June 17, 2017 - linkI had a lot of problems with the little things. When I close my cover, the touchpad starts activating the screen, causing it to wake from sleep or start dragging icons around. I'm actually having a more consistent time with my $400 Chuwi. It feels weirdly magical to be able to close it without worrying about it waking up again.
tipoo - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - linkPretty curious about that 15W fanless middle tier. I'm assuming it would act pretty Core M-ey, but I wonder if it would do worse than silicon selected for the lower TDP, or if the chips are pretty much the same with different TDP-Downs.
id4andrei - Thursday, June 15, 2017 - linkThe Core M SP4 had great cooling. As long as the fanless i5 throttles at about the same threshold as ultrabooks with fans it would be a success.
KPOM - Sunday, June 18, 2017 - linkThe 15w cpus can downvolt to 7W. I wounded if that is what Microsoft is doing with the i5.
tipoo - Monday, June 19, 2017 - linkYeah that's what I meant about the TDP-Down, in theory a 15W chip with a tdp-down to 7W and a 5W chip with a TDP-up to 7W would act the same as the silicon is the same.