Surface Windows 8 Pro. Photo: AFP
As Microsoft's latest product, the Surface Pro, finally hits the shops, the reviews of the company's latest attempt to redefine and rescue the PC market have been rolling out and, what's more, are overwhelmingly positive.
The Surface Pro is the second Microsoft-built tablet device to launch since October. The first, the Surface RT, was aimed squarely at the Google Nexus 7, iPad and iPad Mini, and combined a simplified ‘RT' version of the Windows operating system, with an intuitive cover that doubles as a keyboard. This time around the Surface Pro, which looks more or less identical to the RT, has notebooks and ultrabooks in its sights, as well as anyone who may be in the market for a tablet capable of running more than one app at a time. Unlike the RT, the Surface Pro runs a full desktop version of Windows 8 (Microsoft's latest operating system) and can run full versions of applications, from Office to Photoshop and professional film editing software. It can do this because it has a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 chip as its processor, along with 4GB of Ram and a 64GB or 128BG solid state hard disk, hardware specifications that would not look out of place on a notebook.
When the Surface RT was first scrutinized by reviewers, the device was praised for the quality of its hardware, but then roundly criticized for its performance, operating system and limitations. This time round, the tech community is more or less unanimous in their praise for the Surface Pro. The only minor gripes are about a four-to-five-hour battery life and the fact that, like a notebook or desktop computer, it can run a little hot.
Tech Crunch's John Briggs said, "In short, the Surface Pro is so good that it could drive Windows 8 adoption with enough force to make people reconsider Microsoft's odd new OS. Microsoft bet the farm on a new paradigm and it needs a champion. Surface Pro is the right hardware for the job."
While Zach Epstein, writing for the Boy Genius Report (a blog that never misses an opportunity to highlight Microsoft's failings) was similarly effusive: "The Surface Pro is better than its predecessor [The Surface RT] in every way. It's more powerful, it's faster, it's smoother and it's more useful thanks to the enormous pool of Windows applications that will be available to users on day one..."
He also raises the question of competition. The Surface Pro isn't a rival to the iPad, it is a rival to Apple's own ultrabook, the MacBook Air. They both have similar specs, performance and battery life and are similarly priced. However, unlike Apple, Microsoft may struggle to convince consumers to pay the extra for a premium product. "Microsoft doesn't have huge hardware user base willing to pay a premium price for a premium product. In addition to that huge hurdle, users who want a computer running OS X have no alternatives. They have to buy Macs. Windows, on the other hand, is all about options," he continues.
CNET, the go-to source for thoroughly in-depth reviews, put the Surface Pro through a battery of tests including benchmarking its processor speeds and comparing its stats to other high-end tablets, ultrabooks and hybrid computers. Its reviewer, Scott Stein, was similarly impressed with the Surface Pro's performance but questioned whether or not it might make sense to buy a future iteration of the product. "Microsoft and the Surface have proven the hardest point of all: that a tablet with a funky keyboard cover can replace a regular laptop, or even a desktop PC... Right now, the Surface Pro works. It's not the most price-logical Windows 8 PC in the world -- for $1,000, I might get an iPad Mini and a cheap Windows 8 laptop instead -- but I think a fair number of people are going to end up being Surface Pro fans."
However, what all reviewers seem to be agreed on is that Microsoft is definitely on to something this time and, that the touch cover keypad should not be sold as a $200 optional extra but should come bundled with the device.