The Surface Pro looks like a tablet, but it’s not a mobile device. It’s a portable device.
Sure, put the Surface Pro next to the Surface RT and it’s hard to spot many differences. One’s a little thicker, but their shapes are otherwise identical. Both have the same matte-black, magnesium-based casing. They both can be used with snap-in keyboards and they’re both propped up into typing position by built-in kickstands.
While the differences are blurry on the outside, if you use them both for a little while, the dissimilarities become distinct. The Surface RT is thoroughly a tablet, and it exists to directly challenge the iPad. It closely matches Apple’s larger slate in size, weight, performance and price. The Surface Pro, however — which goes on sale Feb. 9 for a starting price of $900 — is something more ambitious than a tablet. It’s a full-blown computer, but one that folds up into a tablet-sized package.
It’s also more expensive than a tablet — and comes with many hidden costs — but is far more capable since it runs full Windows 8 Pro. And though it isn’t perfect, the Surface Pro is certainly very compelling.
Ever since Windows 8 launched in October of last year, Microsoft’s hardware partners have been experimenting with ways of incorporating the OS’s touchscreen capabilities into their computer designs. The result, so far, has been a flood of tablet/PC Frankenbeasts with keyboards that twist, slide, fold, or otherwise play peek-a-boo beneath the touchscreen. The success of these devices varies, but most are flimsy and awkward. They want to be tablets, but they don’t want to leave the laptop behind, and they end up stuck somewhere in the middle.
The Surface Pro is more well-constructed and thoughtfully designed than any of them. It’s the best of the hybrids. The quality of the hardware, the performance, and the simplicity of the design make it a success.
But let me be clear: The Surface Pro is not a tablet. Many people have confusedly asked me if the Surface Pro is even a good tablet. The answer is a clear and resounding, “No.” It’s heavy and thick. It doesn’t invite you to curl up with it on the couch. It’s tough to read with it in bed, and it works much better propped up on a desk than it does resting on a knee or in a lap.
And while it’s portable, it isn’t an amazing laptop, either. Microsoft’s Touch and Type covers don’t come bundled with Surface Pro — you have to pay an extra $120 or $130, respectively, if you want to avoid touchscreen typing (and trust me, you will want to avoid touchscreen typing). And with either keyboard attached, the thing is so top-heavy, it’s physically challenging to use on your lap.