A Month with Microsoft Surface Pro

October 2018 | Dios Kurniawan

As a decade-long fan of Thinkpad laptops, I made a huge decision last month when I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro (2017 model). It is a departure from my original taste of black, sturdy, work-oriented Thinkpad. Surface Pro is small, fashionable, stylish-looking with so much focus on look. The case cover, which also acts as the keyboard, is built around Italian-made Alcantara fabric – which is also used in Porsche supercars – gives the whole system a distinctive, soft-to-touch premium look.

By definition, Surface Pro is actually a tablet, not a laptop; the keyboard cover is an optional accessory that costs me IDR 2,000,000 (I chose cobalt blue color). My original plan was to use Surface Pro to function as a laptop replacement because I needed something small and light, really light to go with me literally anywhere.

After experiencing Surface Pro for a little more than a month, this is what I can share with you:

The Keyboard
Compared to my Thinkpad X1 Carbon, which is regarded by many people as the gold standard of quality laptop keyboards, typing on Surface Pro is somewhat less than satisfying. The keyboard, which is a detachable case, does flex quite a lot. I need a solid flat surface to use the machine properly, something that may not always be easy to find in public places.

Key travel is deep, but does not provide the excellent key travel as in my Thinkpad.

Touchpad is large enough, although not as large as that on MacBook Pro. However no matter how good the latest touchpad technology is, I still prefer using a wireless mouse because it is more precise and easier to work with, so I always carry one with me.

Installing the keyboard is literally a snap, the magnetic connection secures the tablet and keyboard. Keyboard and tablet work so well together that I have barely not needed to separate the two.

Processing Power
My setup comes with the 7th generation Intel Core i5 and 8GB of RAM. While this looks okay on the paper, there is one caveat: it is a fanless design, meaning the CPU is throttled when the temperature starts heating up, preventing the CPU from achieving its full potential power. I frequently experience lags when opening apps and large files. Compared to my Thinkpad which sports Intel Core i7 processor, the Surface Pro is way behind.

I have to admit Surface Pro looks stylish under my arm when walking into a meeting room. Its compact size makes it easy to pack and go. I can barely feel it when it is inside my bag. It is the pinnacle of portability. But as it is literally not a laptop, consequently it is only good on desks or flat tables. It is not so “lappable”; using it on the lap presents its own challenges. The kickstand keeps falling off on my lap.

Using it in airliner tray is even more troublesome, as the standard airline tray cannot accommodate the extra space needed by the kickstand. I cannot use my Surface Pro in the air, except using it in tablet mode.

Using It as A Tablet
The display is excellent, delivering intensely bright and vivid images, rivalling that on iPad Pros. Watching Netflix movies on Surface Pro in tablet mode has become my favorite activity at night.

Reading e-book, on the other hand, is a bit not so fascinating experience because handling it with one hand is challenging. It’s a bit heavy for me. I still prefer using my 8-inch tablet to read e-books.

The Windows 10 Tablet Mode user interface is difficult to use, to say the least. Compared to iOS, in term of tablet-friendly usability, Windows 10 is light years behind.

I purchased the Microsoft Pen (another IDR 1,200,000 or so) to use it for note-taking and it worked just great. The pen also magnetically snaps into the body for easy transport.

Using It with An External Monitor
I have 4k monitor at home to use with my Surface Pro, along with Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. This way, I have a truly desktop experience although the CPU performance limitation remains.

Potential buyers, be warned:  Surface Pro only has one (yes, one) standard USB port. No USB-C. No HDMI port either. Only one archaic Mini DisplayPort for outputting video. If you do a lot of presentation, make sure you have a converter with you all the time.

The Verdict
Surface Pro is not a laptop, but Microsoft wants you to buy it to replace your laptop. Beware, it may not be for everyone. If you rarely use the tablet mode (like me), then you would be better off buying traditional laptop. The lack of solid processing power is a obvious weakness. However, if what you need is a small, very light and truly portable 2-in-1 device which can handle light computing requirements, Surface Pro may be your answer.

I just upgraded to Surface Pro 6, which was released couple months ago. It came with the latest 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor and a faster SSD. Microsoft claims it is 60% faster than the old model, which I can safely confirm : yes, this new machine is considerably more powerful than my old Surface Pro. Programs load faster, lags are less than before. However, the physical design is exactly the same with the old model.