Review: Surface Pro ‘still can’t close the deal’

Now that Microsoft’s Surface Pro is available (well, at least the 64GB version is), you’re going to be seeing quite a bit about it in the next few weeks, at least.

After what the company must consider a “modest” sales experience with Surface RT (read: a disappointing failure), there has to be some pressure on it to produce a better example of a Windows 8 hybrid tablet/computer.

As Jon Phillips of says:

Microsoft is Microsoft, damn it! It owns Windows. Its war chest is huge. If it can’t conceive, manufacture, and market the hands-down best Windows 8 hybrid in the world, it’s got unfinished business.

Well said.

Still, it looks like Microsoft is being killed by its own competition. (A similar thing almost happened to Apple with its Macintosh clones in the 1990s before Steve Jobs pulled the plug on the program upon his return in 1997.)

The problem is simple: Microsoft is not a hardware manufacturer…in fact, before the Surface RT it had never built its own computer hardware. So, it has little experience in this field…while its competition, like HP, Lenovo, and Dell, have been making PCs for years.

While this approach–licensing Windows to other PC makers–has helped the operating system to become the overwhelming favorite over the years, it also causes Microsoft to compete against itself, now that it is producing its own hardware.

Which brings us to Phillips’ review of the Surface Pro–he doesn’t think it makes the grade:

Surface RT was a broken promise. When it launched in October, it showed the world a vision of a revolutionary tablet-laptop hybrid, but it couldn’t close the deal. But now we have Surface with Windows 8 Pro, part two of Microsoft’s always fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking Surface saga. This is the hardware everyone has been waiting for. Surface RT was the warm-up act, the proof-of-concept, but the good money has always been on Surface Pro, the Surface sibling with PC-caliber specs and a fully functioning desktop.

The good news: Surface Pro is a marked improvement over Surface RT. It has a vastly better display and Ultrabook-caliber components. And thanks to Windows 8 Pro, it can run all the legacy desktop applications that we need for serious productivity. Surface Pro comes much closer than Microsoft’s ARM-based RT offering to fulfilling that elusive promise of uniting a tablet and a PC in a single, uncompromised package.

The bad news: Surface Pro doesn’t run away with the Windows 8 hybrid crown. And based on your needs, it might not be the best Windows 8 portable you can buy in the neighborhood of $1000. This is a problem because Surface Pro needs to stand out as a kick-ass reference design, and not be just another interesting-but-imperfect hardware option for anyone taking the Windows 8 plunge.

Thicker chassis, better display

Relative to Surface RT and the latest 9.7-inch iPad, Surface Pro is thick, chunky, and heavy with palpable mass. Both the new iPad and Surface RT weigh 1.5 pounds and are 9.4mm thick, while Surface Pro weighs 2 pounds and measures 13.5mm thick. The tablet’s heft and girth aren’t deal-breakers, but I’m disappointed that the engineers in Redmond weren’t able to dazzle the world with a truly svelte design. A technological breakthrough along those lines would have made headlines and buoyed the flagging Surface brand.

Still, if you want a handheld tablet and an Ultrabook-caliber PC in the very same molded magnesium case, you’ll have to accept some compromises (at least until technology catches up to ergonomics).

If you’re considering a Windows 8 hybrid (tablet/computer) from any manufacturer (not just Microsoft), it would be well worth your while to read this review. It’s fair and unbiased, giving Microsoft credit where it’s due, and blasting the company for the Surface Pro’s deficiencies.

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