Thicker, heavier and with only half the battery life of Microsoft’s Surface RT, the Pro version’s $899 starting price could be a bitter pill to swallow come January.
When Microsoft first outed their Surface tablets earlier this year, many wondered where they would end up in terms of pricing, specifications and availability. The NVIDIA Tegra-powered RT version was the first to make it into the hands of eager consumers. While its sales may not have been up to expectations, reviews were positive and Windows 8 RT looked increasingly like a bona fide mobile market competitor.
During Microsoft’s initial buildup to the Surface RT launch, one nagging question kept on popping up: what about the eagerly anticipated Surface Pro? Unlike the RT, it was to use a full version of Windows, had a more powerful processor and came equipped with premium features. The information everyone was waiting for may have taken a some time to see the light of day but Microsoft has finally clarified where Surface Pro stands.
On the “surface”, Microsoft’s Surface Pro looks very much like the RT version with a 10.6” ClearType HD display featuring a 16:9 aspect ratio but resolution has been increased to 1920×1080 from 720P. All of this is neatly wrapped up in Microsoft’s patented VaporNG casing with a stunning dark titanium finish.
Unlike the mass market focused RT, Surface Pro uses a full x86 backbone and runs the desktop version of Windows 8. This means it will be compatible with desktop applications, apps available in the Microsoft Store and may even be able to run some versions of Linux. The chosen processor is an ultra low voltage i5 based on Intel’s Ivy Bridge architecture alongside Intel HD 4000 graphics and 4GB of memory, hopefully allowing for good all-round performance.
The use of an x86 CPU tends to increase heat output and power requirements when compared against the RT’s ARM-based Tegra processor. While the Surface Pro does use active cooling, the i5’s higher TDP has caused Microsoft to add some meat to its chassis. The end result is a tablet that retains the Surface RT’s length and width but is substantially thicker (at 0.53”) than Android and IOS solutions. Luckily, its weight doesn’t exceed 2lbs so ease of portability has remained the same.
Unfortunately, the i5, svelte design and 43Whr battery pack have contributed to substantially lower battery life. Where the Surface RT could hit a claimed 8 hours of use away from a charger, according to a Microsoft tweet, its Pro sibling will only achieve half of that under optimal conditions. With convertible notebooks from Dell, Lenovo and other companies easily hitting 6 hours of runtime, this could be a major disadvantage for the Surface Pro.
Being a tablet designed for the professional market has led to the Pro receiving a selection of connectivity options that will surely make competitors envious. There’s a full-sized USB 3.0 header, microSDXC slot for additional storage and a mini DisplayPort with the capability to output a 2560×1440 signal to an external monitor. Microsoft has also included the usual front / back facing 720P LifeCams, stereo speakers, Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi but a GPS module and cellular network access have once again been left out of the equation.
Microsoft also will be including a stylus alongside enhanced touch input and digitizer technology. There has been no discussion about which applications will properly support the much-ballyhooed pen input feature but there are bound to be third party apps showing up soon. In addition, the ubiquitous and handy Touch Cover is once again a $100 option (or $129 when bought separately) while the kick-stand has luckily migrated over from the RT.
With all of this taken into account, pricing will probably be a bitter pill to swallow for some. At launch, the Surface Pro will be available in 64GB and 128GB capacities retailing for $899 and $999 respectively without the Touch Cover. There will likely be a lot of moaning about this relatively high starting point since it represents a $200 premium over the Touch Cover-equipped Surface RT 64GB while the $999 version put the Surface Pro into direct competition with some Ultrabooks.
For the time being, it looks like Microsoft is clearly targeting their Surface Pro towards a clientele that is willing to pay more for the “full” Windows 8 experience. The real question is whether or not they’ve overplayed their hand so early in the game.