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Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 - improvements are under the Surface (review)
4.6Overall Score

Price (RRP): $From 1999
Manufacturer: Microsoft

The Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 continues the category-defining Surface hybrid family – it is an evolution of the successful tablet and detachable keyboard franchise.

The Pro comes in three basic configurations – an Intel 7th generation Kaby Lake, m3, i5, or i7 (with different GPUs), 8 to 16GB RAM, and up to 1TB SSD. Microsoft says it may look the same as the Pro 4 but there are more than internal 800 changes.

First impressions – review unit Intel Core i7, 16GB/512GB model 1796

The box is a little bereft of accessories. No faux leather sleeve, no pen, no keyboard cover – nada! It contains

  • The tablet
  • A 240V ribbon connector charger 12V/2.58A plus 5V/1A USB-A (called a 65W supply)

The greatest criticism is that the items you need to make it a desktop replacement e.g. the Surface Pro Type Cover/Alcantara Signature ($199.95/249.95), Surface Pen ($150) are at extra cost.

Specifications – Microsoft Surface Pro 2017

Model M3-7Y30 1-2.6GHz, Intel HD Graphics 615
i5-7300U 2.6-3.5GHz Intel HD Graphics 620
i7-7660U 2.4-4GHz Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
Display 12.3”, 2736 x 1824, 267ppi, PixelSense, 3:2 aspect
Edge-to-edge glass, 10-point touch
Supports a wide DCI-P3 colour gamut
N-Trig digitiser
Pixel Sense controller hardware acceleration, touch, and Dial
Processor Intel Core i7-7600U, 2.2/3.4GHz, 2 core/4 thread
Core m3 and i5 are fan-less
Graphics Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
Supports 3840 x 2160 external display or two via DP daisy chain
RAM 8-16GB, DDR3L-1600
SSD 128/256/512GB and 1TB, PCIe, NVMe, M.2
microSD Yes (size unspecified but at least 256GB) External hard disk storage at least 2TB
Wireless Marvel Avastar 88W8897, AC, 2×2, MIMO, Wi-Di
Bluetooth 4.1
TPM Nuvoton NPCT650SBBWX for mobile device management
Optional Keyboard
Trackpad
Stand
Cover
Full size, chiclet, 1.5mm/60g throw
Available in standard and Alcantara fabric with four colour options — Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Black
Oversize glass trackpad with up to five-finger gestures
Flap to 165° – almost flat
Approx. 310g
Optional
Stylus
Optional 4096 pressure levels 12g actuation force
AAAA battery powered
Optional Surface Dial adds more drawing functionality
Audio Realtek ALC3269 chip
2 x 1.6W, front firing with Dolby Audio Premium max volume 68dB
Dual stereo mics
Ports USB-A, 3.0
Mini DisplayPort 1.2
Surface Ribbon – power delivery upstream (charging tablet) and data
1 x 3.5mm combo audio
1 x micro-SD slot
POGO Pins for keyboard power and data
Microsoft is working on a Ribbon to USB-C dock – TBA
LTE Will be available on m3 and i5 models
Dimensions 292.1 x 201.42 x 8.5 mm (tablet)
Weight 768/770/784g coreM2/i5/i7 plus keyboard 310g
Chassis Uni-body machined magnesium alloy
Battery 45 WHr
Claimed up to 13.5 hours with TI Quick Charge circuit
Charger 65W includes 5V/1A USB charge port
Webcam Front: OV5693, 1.4 µm, 3673.6 x 2738.4 image area, 2×2 pixel binning, EIS, sensor, 5MP fixed focus, auto black level calibration, 1080p video

IR: OV7251 for Windows Hello: 3 µm pixel made for machine vision

Rear: OV8865, 8MP autofocus, 1.4 µm, 4614.4 x 3472 µm image area, 2×2 pixel binning, auto black level calibration, 1080p @30fps video, 10-bit RAW output

OS Windows 10 Pro
Apps Trial of Office 365
Warranty 1 year
Price Retail pricing is as follows (plus a keyboard $200/250 and pen – TBA but assume around $150)
·         Core m2, 4/128GB $1,199
·         Core i5, 4/128GB $1,499
·         Core i5, 8/256GB $1,999
·         Core i7, 8/256GB $2499
·         Core i7, 16/512GB $3,299
·         Core i7, 16GB/1TB $3,999
URL https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/store/d/surface/8NKT9WTTRBJK/2318?icid=Cat_Surface-Hero1-Pro-052317-en-au

Draw like never before

Microsoft believes that the pen will take on a more important role in tablet computing – not just for handwriting but its latest iteration supports basic maths, mapping (get from A to B) and more.

To aid the drawing/inking process it has increased the hinge to 165° so it almost lays flat and is the perfect angle for drawing and writing – a mini drafting board – and something you can’t achieve with a clamshell or 360° hinge laptop.

It works flawlessly with Windows Ink that was substantially updated in the Windows 10 Creators release. You can write, annotate, draw, sketch, use it with Windows Maps, and in the Windows Edge Browser as well. In short, it works perfectly with any Microsoft app.

It is an active (AAAA battery operated) stylus (HB tip supplied but are changeable) and interfaces with the N-Trig digitiser in the screen.

Those 4096 pressure levels (up from 1024) and 12g actuation force add a new dimension to pen use and things like tilt (for a wider line) make it intuitive to use. It has right click and erase as well as configurable functionality. And it draws lines consistently – not hit and miss like often happened with the previous pen.

The pen is available in Platinum, Black, Burgundy, and Cobalt Blue. Price TBA but around $150.

Keyboard, trackpad and kickstand 

Key bounce caused by a thin keyboard has been a feature of every Surface Pro – to stop it would mean a thicker or more rigid keyboard.

The latest Pro Alcantara keyboard has reduced this to acceptable limits, still short of the high standards set by the Microsoft Surface Book – a good rock, solid, Chiclet, metal faced keyboard with a 1.5mm throw and 60g accentuation.

Alcantara is used in high-end cars because of its wear-ability, stain and water resistance. It will last the distance and wear better than the standard Vinyl covered keyboard cover.

In touch typing test I could achieve about 85% of my usual speed/accuracy as measured on a Logitech G610 Orion Blue mechanical keyboard.

The keys are back-lit – three levels of illumination or off. It clips magnetically to the pogo pins on the bottom of the tablet and can be reversed to fold back to the tablet back with the keys facing inwards and disabled.

The oversized glass track pad is responsive and allows a single swipe to move the cursor from top right to bottom left.

I like kickstands but some complain that they are not good on your lap. The new Pro uses a flap of rigid mag-alloy and it will fold almost flat down to 165°. I found it stable and easy to use.

Screen

It is 12.3”, 2736 x 1824 (4,990,464 pixel), 10-point touch, IPS screen.

I like PixelSense screens – the Surface Book sets the standard for colour accuracy and the Pro is perhaps a tad better. It has 128MB of dedicated memory and up to 8154MB of shared memory with the system.

Different international reviews stated that it has 96% sRGB and another said 100% (the Pro 4 is 97.5%) and offers an enhanced mode (under Display) for even more punchy colours. Peak Nits are 473cd/m2 and contrast is 1312:1. Fine for outdoor light conditions.

The enhanced mode provides a warm schema and sRGB a slightly cooler, more natural one. It is not HDR10 enabled but the definition in shadow and flare-outs in light were well controlled.

Audio/webcam/Windows Hello and microphones

The two front-firing, speakers are placed at the top left/right of the tablet. It comes with Dolby Audio Premium overlaid on a Realtek 24-bit, 48,000Hz audio driver. It also supports 7.1 sound and Dolby Atmos to an external source like an AV amp.

There are no presets or EQ – it is what it is. Sound quality was clear at the upper voice end – what is called a Bright Vocal sound signature (bass recessed, mids/treble boosted). This is good but its bass was thin.

Sound volume is adequate for personal use but still not room filling at 68dB – invest in a set of Bluetooth headphones or a speaker.

The dual array mics record in 24-bit, 48000Hz and do a reasonable job with Skype. There are no other adjustments.

Camera-wise the 5/8MP specifications produces far better images than could be expected. The key is the use of OmniVision sensors and big pixels making it an excellent low light camera.

The front IR Windows Hello login is flawless and quick. It uses a special camera with 3 µm pixels specially designed for machine vision.

The front 5MP camera has a tight angle – it is fine for one-on-one Skype although at 2m away it will fit three people in a huddle group. It has good quality under office lighting (500 lux).

The rear 8MP camera captures good, crisp images in low light. HDR produces approx. 1MB image, 3264 x 1836 – without HDR it is 800KB. Digital zoom induces too much noise so use it sparingly.

Microsoft has concentrated on making the Surface camera best for taking “whiteboard” shots and in office use – they have succeeded.

Summary: Excellent big pixel front and rear camera fit for purpose.

How does it perform?

The i7-7660U is a relatively new 2-core/4 thread, 2.5/4GHz, with Intel Iris Plus 640 Graphics.

PassMark gives it 6133 which is better than the 5244 of the i7-7500U found in many ultralight notebooks. It is a good choice.

The i5-7300U version rates 5121 and the m3-7Y30 gets 3648. The Core m3 is a low power draw processor and to put it in perspective it is not an old “m36Y” but in fact provides about 90% of the processing power of a 6th generation Core i5-6200U.

The m3 and i5 do not require a fan. The i7 has a single fan and vented from the top of the tablet. Under full load, the vent temperature is just above the ambient temperature. Independent reviews, however, state that the m3 and i5 temperature management is via CPU throttling.

Video performance of the Iris Plus Graphics 640 ups the external resolution to 4K, 4096 x 2340 @ 30fps for HDMI 1.2 and 60fps for DisplayPort. It will support three displays – two external (one can be Wi-Di) and one internal panel.

SSD performance was good getting 1000MB/s or more for read/write to the drive and 300MB/s to an external Samsung T3 SSD. Independent tests claim around 1600MB/s for read and 1000MB/s write – excellent.

Wi-Fi was adequate – the Marvel AVASTAR is 867Mbps capable and supports 2 x 2 MIMO (not MU-MIMO) and beamforming. On the test bed, I got from 170 to 350Mbps from an MU-MIMO router about 20 metres away and through a concrete floor

Battery – i7 tested

Microsoft claims 13.5 hours in a video loop – methodology undefined but I could not replicate that.

I ran an HD video loop test at 50% brightness with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off and achieved 11.5 hours. Still, on the Surface Pro 4, the same test gets seven hours.

In general office use, it got between seven and nine hours with Wi-Fi and the screen at 75%. You can count on an 8-hour day’s use.

Security

It comes with a TPM module for enterprise management and tracking if needed. That is a must-have for enterprise use.

Pros

  • Great screen for IPS
  • Great keyboard and trackpad
  • Pen is vastly improved over the previous version
  • I like the kickstand
  • Good quality from the cameras despite low MP rating
  • Microsoft support by way of drivers and updates
  • Outstanding build quality

Cons

  • Still waiting to see a USB-C dock/dongle
  • Love to see a Pen and Keyboard bundled with it
  • While it has 800 changes to the Surface Pro 4 the latter is damned good and may present a run-out bargain

Who is it for?

Microsoft reinvented the hybrid category and the Surface is a reference machine to show what can be done.

Personally, I prefer the x360 style and keyboard of the Surface Book but there is no doubt this is a great travel companion that sacrifices nothing in power or performance.

But flexibility is the key here and the Microsoft Dock https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/store/d/microsoft-surface-dock/8qrh2npz0s0p is fine to replace large desktop computers. You can also Wi-Di (Miracast) to an external 4K/HD monitor and use the mini-DisplayPort to support a 4K/HD monitor – as well as the screen itself – expansion has never been an issue. Accessory maker Kensington has an excellent USB-A expansion dock that has 2 x 4K video cards – all issues solved.

Summary

The Pro 2017 has evolved from the genesis of hybrid notebooks. It would have been hard to improve on the Pro 4 and Microsoft sensibly kept with the winning formula and tweaked it.

You buy the Pro as it does everything right, it’s a great travel companion, a versatile laptop, and it is perfectly matched to Windows 10 Pro.

As a reference device, it is upping the ante with HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS and Acer et al realising that the hybrid/360 market is where it is at and making some great, competitive kit.

Rating

Overall: 4.6 out 5
Features: 4 out of 5 – I would like a few more ports and USB-C Thunderbolt 3c but these are not deal breakers
Value for money: 4 out of 5 – Hey its Microsoft, nuff said
Performance: 5 out of 5 – the i5 has all the power you need and the i7 is for rev heads
Ease of Use: 5 out of 5 – Windows 10 is easy to use
Design: 5 out of 5

Price: See table above for models and prices

 

Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 - improvements are under the Surface (review)
Price (RRP): $From 1999 Manufacturer: Microsoft
Great IPS screen, great keyboard and track pad even if you have to pay more, integrated kickstand, outstanding build
Love to see Thunderbolt 3, Please bundle the keyboard at least
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
4.6Overall Score
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