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Surface Pro 2017: The New Gold Standard

The fifth generation of the Surface Pro refines the hybrid computer design, polishing it to a point where no competitor exists. Microsoft can demand a premium for it because there's nothing else out there which does the job of being every device you'll need anywhere close to as well.

The changes to the Surface Pro in losing its model number are minimal. Visually there's little to differentiate it from the earlier version. Which is fine. There's a point when you can claim the industrial design of a product is so right that the smallest tweaks are all that are necessary. This is the iconic Surface Pro design and this is how it will stay. Apple achieved a similar state of perfection with the MacBook Air. The Surface Pro's design feels as right now as it did when Microsoft debuted it in the Surface Pro 3.

Tweaks are limited to slightly rounding to the edge of the tablet, an improved kickstand and new venting around the periphery of the device.

Inside there's a new processor family - Intel's 7th generation Kaby Lake - and new screen technology which makes the Surface Pen perform even more responsively. There's also support for the Surface Dial, which can be used on the screen like the Surface Studio. That processor upgrade is probably the reason for the enhanced battery life. 

On my first charge of this m3 version of the Surface Pro it has signalled its ability to keep going away from the mains. After unboxing it at lunchtime, charging for half an hour to top it off to 100%, and using it for six of the subsequent  eight hours I'm showing 59% battery still remaining. I'd say its a slam dunk that you'll get a full day away from the mains on the m3 model and I suspect the i5 and i7 models will manage the same trick, albeit without the headroom the m3 version will provide.

The biggest benefit of all this lack of change is backwards compatibility. If you have Surface Type Covers or Pens held over from the SP3 or SP4, or the Surface Dock, they'll all work just fine. It's a benefit of Microsoft not including peripherals in the box. Maybe. Still you will get a significantly smaller power adapter compared to older models, even if you probably don't need to carry it with you every day.

The biggest missing technology is USB-C. However the promise of a future USB-C dongle, which will support both power and data, fills that gap for those who want or need it without alienating those upgrading from earlier models.

When Microsoft started its Surface project its main goal was to build a machine which was the best place for Windows to run. The Surface Pro really continues to deliver on that goal. Yes there are other Windows machines with very similar designs, but the original remains the best.

Outside of Windows, competition amounts to the iPad Pro or the MacBook. Neither is anywhere near competitive. Both together might just put up a fight, but the lack of convenience and the additional cost should be enough to put you off that particular solution.

The Surface Pro continues a run of success for Microsoft which runs back through the Surface Laptop, Surface Studio, Surface Book and both its predecessors. Microsoft's ambition with Surface changed somewhere after the SP3 launched. From being the best place to run Windows, Surface became a vehicle to make Microsoft a premium hardware vendor. No question that it has hit that particular mark.

In the next couple of months I'll be working this particular Surface Pro quite hard, with a whole heap of long haul travel and remote working to get through. On the basis of my first experience with the Surface Pro, I'm expecting it to be a solid travel companion.


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