But the scarcity of decent apps or slightly misleading storage claims are the least of the Surface Pro’s problems. The real killer? That’s the Surface Pro’s battery life.
Even by laptop standards the Surface Pro battery life is below average, but by tablet standards it’s woeful. In normal use – writing, web browsing and listening to music – it rarely lasts more than four and a half hours. The Surface Pro battery even falters when used sparingly throughout the day. Throw it taxing work and you’re in danger of dipping to three hours. You can’t leave the charger at home… ever.
This is verified by the Powermark benchmark, the same one we run for all our laptop reviews. It comprises 50 per cent web browsing, 25 per cent video and 25 per cent productivity, and grinded to a halt after four hours and five minutes. That’s a full hour less than the Samsung Series 5 NP540U3C (a £650 touchscreen Windows 8 laptop) we tested recently and over two hours less than the Intel Atom-powered Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 that we tested using our old, more intensive test that included gaming as well.
Those comparisons are unflattering enough, but to fall so far short of the 8 to 10 hours the best non-Windows tablets achieve – even accounting for the Surface Pro’s versatility – is a huge black mark against the Surface Pro.
Since you’ll have to carry the charger a lot, the fact the Surface Pro charger is a standard laptop style one – with a handy USB ‘gadget charger’ port – hardly helps the Surface Pro’s portability. And if you are caught short, a 30-minute charge from near flat is only enough for 66 minutes of use – not that useful.
Here it’s the exact opposite story. The Surface Pro flies. Its 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 dual-core processor is untroubled by everyday tablet tasks, and wipes the floor with many a full-size laptop in our benchmarks. It scored 4,740 in PC Mark 7, making it 32 per cent faster than the Samsung Series 5 NP540U3C and its Intel Core i3 processor, while it’s a whopping 70 per cent faster than the Intel Atom-powered Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2. It’s a serious PC that handles taxing tasks just as well.
It’s difficult to compare its performance in games with the likes of the iPad, but on experience it falls a little short here. Intel’s HD 4000 integrated graphics would likely balk at the likes of Infinity Blade II or Real Racing 3, or at least compromise the visuals compared to the iPad 4.
It’s no good for really graphically-rich games, then. But it’s fine for the kind of low intensity games most people play on tablets. It ran our TrackMania: Nations test at a comfortable 50 frames per second (fps) – par for similar laptops – and handled the Windows Store games we tried without fuss.
The fan vents run all along the top and halfway down each side
OK, so when we say ‘without fuss’ we mean they run fine, but it’s not the whole story. During light use use tablet apps, it’s as cool and quiet as any ordinary tablet. But the Surface Pro kicks out a noticeable amount of heat and noise whenever you play 3D games or multitask on the desktop.
Under gaming load, we measured peaks of 43 degrees Celcius – the warmest point is just below the rear-facing camera. This is warm enough to feel uncomfortable in the hand, but more annoying is when the fan kicks in. Microsoft has done as well as one could hope to minimise the effect, but in a normal home environment – it’s less problematic in an office – it’s distracting.
The Surface Pro cameras are adequate and that’s it. Indeed, the rear-facing camera is only a 720p webcam, which is fine by us as photos taking photos on a tablet this size is pointless. The front-facing camera struggles in low-light, but in decent light it’s fine for video chatting using Skype.