Microsoft’s long-awaited PC-based version of the Surface tablet, called Surface with Windows 8 Pro, will launch Saturday in the United States and Canada. The flagship Windows 8 device comes at a starting price of $899 and jams standard PC innards into a tablet design that can be transformed into a hybrid Ultrabook of sorts with elegant, attachable keyboard covers. There’s just one question: Will buyers bite?
Windows 8 is infamously off to a tough start, despite Microsoft’s repeated public protestations. But where the erstwhile software giant was quick to blame its PC maker partners for not delivering elegant hybrid tablet designs in time for the Windows 8 launch last October, I’m surprised no one thought to turn this critical lens on Microsoft itself: Here, months late to the party, is exactly the kind of elegant Windows 8 device that no company was selling in October. Including Microsoft.
And Surface with Windows 8 Pro does indeed make a far more compelling case for Microsoft’s vision of the future of computing than does its previous and bizarre entry, Surface with Windows RT, which resembles the Pro unit but comes with the poorly performing innards of a smartphone and is completely incompatible with any PC software and most hardware. Surface Pro, finally, is the real thing.
Alas, it’s also a huge compromise of a different kind. As I note in my exhaustive Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro Review, Microsoft’s new flagship device gets paltry battery life of 4.5 to 5 hours in real-world use. It runs warm, and loud fans kick in when you do anything more strenuous than browse the web or edit documents in Word—a reminder of its commoner PC heritage. The vaunted 1080p display is more hindrance than benefit on the device’s tiny 10.6" resolution, and if you connect the device to an external display, which you would do as a power user, the resulting display-scaling issues are a downright deal breaker.
But Surface Pro succeeds in some interesting areas. It is, after all, a two-pound, multi-touch tablet that can run real PC programs, and Apple fans—Surface Pro’s biggest critics—would need to buy both an iPad and a MacBook Air to duplicate its functionality, at a cost that far exceeds that of Microsoft’s supposedly all-too-expensive tablet. It’s incredibly portable and extremely powerful at the same time, and the stellar build quality only gets more impressive the more you examine it. Have you actually snapped a keyboard on one of these things? It really is amazing.
Put simply, Surface Pro is a step forward, but it’s not a slam dunk. To better understand this device and its impact on the way we compute, I’ve turned off my desktop PC and Ultrabook and have switched completely to using Microsoft’s new device. I’ll be reporting on the results of this conversion each day for at least the next two weeks on the SuperSite for Windows. So stay tuned: The tale of the Surface Pro is just beginning.