Someday, the Surface Pro will deserve a spot in a technology museum. Nearly four decades after Microsoft was founded, it has finally delivered its first full-fledged, honest-to-God personal computer.
And itís all right, with an innovative if occasionally impractical design, solid construction and a bright, beautiful screen that fulfills the companyís stated goal of providing a showcase for its Windows 8 operating system.
Itís just that the Surface Pro, which goes on sale today, wants to be more. With its tablet form factor, detachable keyboard and touch screen, it wants to be an iPad too. And it just isnít.
Sure it has flash memory, like an iPad, and a store where you can choose and download applications, like an iPad.
But itís heavier, slower ó it takes about three seconds to wake from sleep ó and doesnít have nearly the battery life. Even its mini-brick power adapter screams ďPC.Ē
Both in design and use, the Pro resembles the Surface RT computer Microsoft released late last year: same size screen (10.6 inches) and same kickstand design so you can prop it up on a desktop or airline tray (but not your lap).
The screen, though, is almost twice the resolution of the RTís. Itís also ever so slightly thicker, and weighs about 2 pounds to the RTís 1.5 pounds.
The biggest differences are price and the amount of software available for it.
The Pro starts at $899 for a model with four gigabytes of memory and 64 gigabytes of storage. Thatís $300 more than the cheapest 32-gigabyte RT and $200 more than a 64 GB iPad.
The RT, which uses the kind of microprocessor found in mobile devices, canít run any of the millions of programs written for previous versions of Windows. No Microsoft Outlook, no Adobe Photoshop, no Intuit TurboTax.
The Pro, by contrast, is built around an Intel Core i5 ďIvy BridgeĒ chip, the same sort found in more traditional PCs (and Appleís Macs, for that matter). I installed fully-featured versions of the Microsoft Office productivity suite, including Outlook and the Access database, as well as the Verizon Wireless software needed to run a Pantech 4G LTE wireless modem.
All performed exactly as they would on any other PC, as did the modem itself when plugged into the Surface Proís single USB 3.0 port. (A second USB port, thoughtfully included on the power adapter, allows for recharging mobile devices.)
The biggest drawback is the limited amount of space available for your programs and data, especially when you subtract the amount used by Windows 8 itself. A more usable 128- gigabyte model costs $999, $200 more than Appleís just- introduced 128 GB iPad.
As with little-brother RT, youíll almost certainly need one of Microsoftís combination cover-keyboards. Theyíre sold separately and arenít cheap: $120 for the Touch Cover, which has pressure-sensitive keys, and $130 for the Type Cover, with physical keys that actually move.
With a little practice, I could type faster on the Touch Cover than I could straight onto the glass. But I vastly preferred the Type Cover, where I could pound away at much the same speed as on a standard laptop.
Still, the keyboard is cramped, and there isnít a clear enough demarcation between the halves of the track pad, which meant I was often left-clicking when I meant to right-click.
I noticed other quirks as well. Using the Type Cover, I found that the cursor would sometimes inexplicably jump to another spot. And the screen was often slow to reorient itself from portrait to landscape mode, even though I had snapped on the keyboard and was ready to begin working.
Microsoft says I may have caused the jumpiness by inadvertently brushing the track pad, though I donít think I did, and that the orientation problem is a known Windows 8 issue.
As part of its Iím-a-tablet-too effort, the Surface Pro includes a pen, as do Samsungís Galaxy Note products. But unlike Samsung, Microsoft doesnít give you a dedicated place to store it. When the Surface isnít charging, the pen magnetically snaps into place where the power connector normally attaches. But when you need to recharge the Surface, youíll have to find somewhere else. (It does have a pocket clip; nerd pack not included.)
Microsoft says it has improved the magnetic connector from the RT, but I still found myself frequently fumbling with it. And the battery life isnít great. I was sometimes able to coax as much as six hours on a charge ó long enough to survive a cross-country flight, but far short of the iPadís nine-to-10- hour life.
If thereís any Apple product the Surface Pro could take on, perhaps itís the $999 MacBook Air. But an iPad? No way. At best, the Surface Pro is a second Windows PC in an era where having two PCs is less and less common.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.