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Microsoft Surface Pro – Screen Quality and Software

Andy Vandervell

By Andy Vandervell



Our Score:


Surface Pro – Screen Quality & Sound Quality

While the Surface Pro's design has some rough edges, its screen is outstanding. Fine, the 10.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 resolution screen isn’t ‘retina’ standard, but then a lot of guff is expended on an idea of only marginal import. Thanks to Windows’ Clear Type technology, text is every bit as sharp and crisp as on the iPad 4 or Nexus 10, and you’ll struggle to notice the difference anywhere else.

Vitally, the colours, contrast and the viewing angle can’t be faulted. HD videos from any decent source look fantastic, with lots of fine detail that a typical £700 or so laptop won’t uncover. The Surface Pro's touch performance, with finger or pen, is faultless, too.

Sound quality from the Surface Pro’s stereo speakers, however, is adequate and nothing more. Indeed, they’re scarcely louder than the iPad 4’s mono speaker.

Microsoft Surface Pro 19

Windows 8 Pro on the Surface Pro – The Good Bits

Pay attention. This is important. Everything that makes Windows 8 jarring to use on an ordinary laptop or desktop PC, or even a standard touchscreen laptop as the Samsung Series 5 NP540U3C recently demonstrated, makes sense on the Surface Pro.

You won’t miss the Start button; you’ll grow to love the new Start Screen and its Live Tiles; you’ll love 'snapping' Twitter, the Music app or the Mail app as a sidebar while you work; and you’ll definitely enjoy the freedom of having the tablet world and desktop world at your fingertips whenever you so choose.

Windows 8

The zoomed-out view lets you navigate your Live Tile groups quickly

On the tablet side of things, the interface formerly known as ‘Metro’ is far more engaging and (dare we say it) delightful than anything Apple or Google has come up with. Live Tiles, Microsoft’s alternative to app icons, let apps show live info such as headlines and new emails as they appear. They create a sense of activity and interactivity missing on iOS, and are less fussy and clumsy than Android's widgets.

Live Tiles has small and large modes, too, which adds a nice touch of flexibility and variety compared to a pure grid format. Organise your Live Tiles into groups and you have an instantly more intuitive, engaging and accessible way to organise your apps than the clumsy, easily forgotten folders of iOS. Any rational iPad owner who uses the Surface Pro (or Surface RT for that matter) will quickly realise just how limiting and antiquated Apple’s system is.

Windows 8 2

Apps can snap to the left or right of screen - useful for Twitter, Email and Music.

A special mention must go to Microsoft’s own tablet apps, too. Bing News in particular, which collates the top stories from reputable sources in one neatly designed app, is a joy to use, particularly as it supports offline reading. The weather app is ace, and the tablet version of Internet Explorer is slick if a little basic.

You can even ‘unpin’ Microsoft’s apps – are you listening Apple?

Spare a thought for the provided digitizer pen, too. In truth, unless you’re a devout OneNote user, doodler or in some creative trade, you won’t use it that much, but it works damn well. Handwriting recognition is superb – useful when onscreen keyboard is inconvenient – and it wipes the floor with any capacitive screen stylus. It's just a shame there's nowhere to put it.

Windows 8 Pro on the Surface Pro – The Caveats

But the course of true love never does runs smooth. There’s a great deal to love about the Windows 8 tablet mode, but Microsoft seems determined to hide it under layers of frumpy padding. Instead of easing you into all the new features, and the tips and tricks necessary to get Windows 8 working for you, Microsoft drops you and leaves you to sink and swim.

It’s baffling.

For days we were convinced there was no ‘Mark as Unread’ feature in the Mail app, only to discover that swiping from the bottom screen revealed a set of otherwise hidden options. We only discovered the incredibly useful method for ‘grouping’ tiles in the Start Screen by stumbling across an online guide when in search of something entirely different. Oh, and you have to exit ‘tablet mode’ entirely just to get an accurate idea of how much battery is remaining. Ho hum.

Once you get used to these and other foibles you quickly learn to ‘experiment’ to find what you need, but this opaqueness is at the heart of the mixed reactions to Windows 8. Microsoft alone is to blame.

Netflix on Windows 8

The Netflix app is one of the few, big-name highlights.

The Windows Store has a very long way to go to match the variety and depth of rivals, too. Skim the surface and there’s a smattering of excellent, high-profile apps. The Netflix app is great, Twitter has an official app and while there isn’t an official Facebook app, Social NV is an excellent free alternative.

But it doesn’t take long to uncover the perilous lack of depth. After a week or two we feel as if we’ve uncovered everything worth seeing, and when’s the last time you heard about an exciting new Windows 8 app?

It’s not revelatory insight to say this is one of the Surface Pro’s biggest problems.

Storage is another bugbear. Call something a tablet and their expectations change. So when the Surface Pro says it comes with 64GB or 128GB storage out box, people expect something close to those numbers. But this is Windows, which leaves just 29GB and 89GB spare respectively after the OS and various detritus, including a recovery partition. It’s a small(ish) niggle, but a reminder that a simple tablet this is not.


May 24, 2013, 8:03 am

Nice review, and good to hear some positive feedback about Windows 8 for a change!

Just a couple of thoughts I had:

I don't particularly like the mail app. In fact I think it's pretty shoddy, however the feature of having to swipe up from the bottom (or swipe from the top) is the same feature in any app, wherever you are. That's how Windows 8 works, and as far as I can recall is explained when you first switch the unit on. It's quite straight forward and makes all apps a lot more intuitive to use as they all have the same menu systems. Swipe from the right for charms (app options and search) or from the bottom for actions or app controls. Seems a bit odd that you'd complain about that in the mail app in particular.

Also, the comparisons of other machines seem totally irrelevant and as thought you chose them for that reason. Compare poor battery life against more efficient chipsets, and compare good performance against much lower spec chipsets? Why not compare it to a couple 1.7GHz i5 laptops?

I think it's a magnificent step in the right direction, but I agree Haswell, and other future chipsets will make this more of a reality for most, as some limitations are too big a step. It'll suit a lot of people no doubt, and really, when you consider everything it does (mostly quite well), it is a very impressive machine.

I wish the app store were better. I use a Surface RT, and am constantly disappointed by the store. I know, I know, it'll get better with time, but my god it feels like a long wait!


May 24, 2013, 8:15 am

Thanks for the kind words.

You're totally right about the Mail app - it's the most disappointing native app on Windows 8. I take your point about the swiping from the bottom, too. The problem I had with the Mail app is it keeps some functions on the main interface, and then others aren't. As I say in the review, though, it's part of the learning curve. I think Microsoft would just do well to keep reminding people - i.e. each time you open a new app for the first time - rather than a one-stop demo when you first start it up.

On the comparisons, I think they're totally valid. The Samsung laptop I mentioned is a Core i3 which, though slower, has the same basic power properties as the Core i5 in the Surface Pro and lasted an hour longer in the same tests. The Atom processor-based tablets are a useful measure because (if you're looking for a Win 8 tablet) you basically have to decide between performance and acceptable battery life. As a more general point, I don't think you can review any tablet without considering the alternatives, and for most people those will include iPads and the like. If Haswell delivers anything close to Intel is claiming, however, then things will get really interesting.


May 24, 2013, 9:17 am

I am actually on the fence on buying a Surface Pro and have been looking at alternatives and although this review hits some points, it misses others.

I believe - and if you look at specialist tablet sites - that the market for Windows touchscreen tablets/hybrids is a "business" rather than "leisure" market (that one belongs to Apple and Androids tablets). So, to compare the Surface (or any other non-RT tablets) with the iPad is missing the point (when you manage to run Office or Photoshop on the iPad or Android, let me know).

On the business side, the main (only?) selling point of a tablet/hybrid compared to a laptop is the ability to use it, well, on a "tablet" (sheet of paper) format and for that a proper pen is essential. MSFT completely missed the point on the Surface RT by NOT including a digitizer. Why is a pen importat? If you draw, it's self-explanatory but even if you don't (and I don't) the ability to take notes (OneNote) or on-the-fly annotation (PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, etc) is a killer feature.


May 24, 2013, 10:00 am

The hundreds and thousands of people using iPad's in businesses would suggest what you say is only partially true. Microsoft would like them to switch to W8 and RT tablets, but it's not a formality.

In fact, I'm of the opinion that Microsoft's tablet strategy is far too reliant on the pull of Office. Yes, it's widely used in business, but until recently I worked at a company that was switching everything to Google Apps. For them, Office 365 has no value whatsoever.

If I were Microsoft, I'd be doing deals left and right centre to get people to support the Windows ecosystem with more business focused tablet apps. I'd start with Evernote. It's awesome, but at present there's no way to use it with a pen on a Windows tablet. OneNote is great and all, but it can't compete with Evernote's breadth and depth of platform support, and I don't think Microsoft has the stomach to get into bed properly with iOS and Android.


May 24, 2013, 10:24 am

Thanks for the nice review. I think you missed some of the more obvious competitors to the Surface Pro when considering alternatives. Both the Sony Vaio Duo 11 and the Toshiba U925 sport Intel Core processors and are closer in size to the Surface Pro than say the Lenovo Yoga 13.
(The Duo 11 in particular which has the same screen resolution and is only slightly larger than the Surface Pro)


May 24, 2013, 10:28 am

I agree that the iPad has enjoyed a decent business penetration, but I have some doubts on its actual benefit. The cases I know (and I freely admit the, they are few) the iPad gets more usage as a company-paid toy than an actual work device.
I have to disagree with you on MSFT tablet strategy being too reliant on Office. I think it's main problema was actually trying to move away for the x86 (and Office) platform. The half-baked Office for RT is one exemple and the lack of a Metro Office 2013 is just absurd! I don't have the numbers, but I doubt Google apps has any kind of proper, real world penetration as office tools (not on mail or calendaring or document syncing, mind you), apart from some locked-down rotating-user environments.
I absolutely agree with you on the lack of tablet-specific apps and MSFT hasn't been playing that front properly. As I wrote above, the simple fact that MSFT itself didn't invest in proper apps (the ones that come with Windows 8 are atrocious) is a telling sign.


May 24, 2013, 10:33 am

Yup. Lack of Metro Office is a massive fail. Going to the desktop mode on an RT is a kick in the teeth. I retain some hope someone at MS will see sense eventually. A Metro Office that retains even 20/30% of full Office functionality would still kick everything else into the curb.

On iPad use in business, I'm certain there's an element of truth in what you say. A decent keyboard case and Evernote, however, makes one totally worth it, and the Google Drive app has just enough functionality for me to make it productive. Will be interesting to see what Apple does in this area with iOS 7 - I don't think it can afford to ignore it.


May 24, 2013, 12:25 pm

Good review. Andy you should do more video reviews you were great at those back in the day. But Christ, cut the background music! Anyway- I bought the vaio duo 11 and have been overall delighted with it, but I had a very long look at the surface pro. The pen works a lot better which is a massive plus, but I found the screen just a bit too small for using desktop apps like cad software etc, whereas the 11.6 vaio seems ok and not so claustrophobic. My ideal would be a slightly higher res (2650x1440) lightweight slider design with a 14" screen. Hopefully the next generation of pen input will be more accurate.
Battery wise the vaio seems to last over 5 hours generally which I find to be fine, but then I don't spend my life on transatlantic flights and don't find having to plug it in occasionally that traumatic.

ps. the pen on the surface pro magnets on to the power thing. When I looked at it this seemed a great solution, and assuming you keep the whole lot in a little bag or case this approach surely makes a lot of sense.


May 27, 2013, 2:03 pm

Fantastic Device. Glad I decided to overlook the negatives posted about this device. If you want an all in one machine, then this is it.
Nothing to complain about really excepting the touch pad- will take some getting used to.
fantastic screen, fluid operation, love win 8, very portable.


July 29, 2013, 3:59 am

I have been deciding between the iPad or windows 8 surface pro. And I have not been able to decide which tablet is better. I will be using it for traveling so I'm going to need it for pictures videos, editing, PlayingGames,watchingmovies, and also using it for School. 'already have a computer that has microsoft office. Which tablet is the most Recommended?


August 18, 2013, 2:06 am

a overheating overpriced piece of.....well enough said.


August 28, 2013, 3:07 pm

I have recently purchased one of the 128GB Surface Pro models and can honestly say that I am very pleased with it. I have an iPad, my wife has an iPad Mini and my work computer is a Mac Book pro 15" so I'm no stranger to technology.

I can say that the surface Pro is everything i expected it to be - Its a tiny little computer in the form of a tablet - the games and apps on the iPad are far better (for recreational use) but if your after something that you can use as a real computer and be fully portable, then the surface pro is for you.

I use mine every day and would recommend one to anyone if your after a computer as well as a tablet. If you can do without PC type features then get an iPad, but if your after a proper computer then get the Surface Pro. I use mine to record Music on using Traktor Pro software and this is the main reason I purchased it.

Battery life is not a problem, I can use it on and off all day without charge, but I generally get about 5 hours out of it doing everyday tasks. It runs iTunes and I can have my photo stream on there. My Ical from my Mac and iPhone all sync with Outlook 2013. I can play PC games such as Dirt 3 (Steam runs fine) and its decent quality. Photoshop and Illustrator all run well (its no Mac Pro with an i7 and 16 GB Ram but still quite good enough).

If you want to use a bigger screen, just plug it into a monitor and us a cheap keyboard and mouse and you also have a fairly decent desktop replacement.
All in all it don't really see that its any kind of compromise, its an 10 inch PC so you cant expect the performance of a larger laptop or games PC.

Best of all I got mine for £625 band new - off ebay and it has warranty until October 2014 with Microsoft.

Go on, treat yourself, Windows 8 all makes sense on the Surface Pro.

Bob Brewster

January 9, 2014, 1:42 am

Microsoft Just Doesn’t Get It!

is a mistake to by Microsoft Product these days. Let me share my story.

I made the decision to update my technology, and after lots of research came to
the conclusion that the best thing for my needs was to buy a Surface Pro
2. The thought was I could buy a system
that would act like a tablet (a large and heavy one, but still a tablet),
laptop, and desktop computer depending on my varied needs. I thought I could use the docking station
(with my wireless keyboard and large monitor) when at home to use full applications
(like Office, Adobe ect.), attach type cover 2 when I needed laptop functions,
and use the tablet to surf on the couch or read articles leisurely on the
web. I could even use the tablet to
watch movies on a plane or when working out.
Sounded like a real good solution to me.
Frankly I didn’t mind the fact it cost significantly more than other
products as long as it could take care of all of my needs.

an aside, I have a long history of using Microsoft products all the way back to
DOS. I have invested many hours becoming
an expert at PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and have lived through the many
iterations of Windows. In fact I have
been a long term shareholder of Microsoft and thought they may have found their
way back. The Surface Pro 2 would help
them use the legacy advantages they have established over a long period of
time. In short I was rooting for Microsoft.

to my experience. I ordered a Surface
Pro 2, Type Cover 2, Office 365, Docking Station, and VGA Adopter (for use when
giving presentations on the road). Spent
a good deal of time researching just what I needed. 8 gigs of Ram, 256 gigs on the hard drive,
and a bonus of 200 gigs of storage on Microsoft’s cloud. Hell, if I got a Windows phone everything
would sync without me having to do much of anything. I could access all my files wherever I was and
on whatever device I was using. Finally
someone gets it! It cost me almost $2000
for this outfit, but it would be worth it if it worked as advertised. I would be able to use my legacy knowledge,
all my files, and it would tie me in to Microsoft for a long time to come.

was I wrong! When everything was
delivered I was excited about spending the time to get everything set up just
right. I started moving my files to “SkyDrive”,
started to configure Windows 8.1 just like I wanted and it seemed like I
finally found what I was looking for. I
was ok with the fact that the Windows App store was a little light on usable
applications and was sure they would catch up with Apple, Google, and Amazon in
the near future. First issue was that my
Surface would not fit flush in to the Docking Station. The Video prong on the right side of the
Docking Station would not fit into the Surface Pro 2. Thus the 5 power tines just above it would
not line up and it would not be able charge. I immediately called Microsoft
support and explained the issue to the technician (Kaleb with a “K”). After I spent all kinds of time defending the
fact I was not an idiot and was fully capable of placing the Surface correctly
in to the Docking Station, he said he wasn’t sure if it was a defective
Surface, or a defective Docking Station.
He told me he would set up an appointment at the closest Microsoft store
and assured me he would get me up and running ASAP. He kept me on the telephone while he made an
appointment for me the next day at the store at 11 am. I did tell him I had been to the store
previously when researching and had not found them particularly helpful. The store was Washington Square Mall in Beaverton
Oregon, right in the backyard of Microsoft.
In my previous visit they told me all their products were “sold out” and
that in fact the Docking Station was not even released yet. Funny thing was that when I researched the
Docking Stations, they were all over the internet and I ended up purchasing one
at “Best Buy” online.

assured me I would be taken care of and not to worry because he had spoken to
them on the phone and had everything set up.
Gave me the case number to reference ( the whole nine yards). I showed up at the store 10 minutes early and
saw the 4 reps working there standing around with only one customer there. I
stood there for a few minutes before one of them finally came over to me and
asked me if I needed help. I explained
why I was here and told him I had an appointment at 11 as referenced by Kaleb’s
call to them. The rep immediately told
me there were no technicians there and I should come back at another time. I told him I had an appointment and
referenced Kaleb’s call and case number.
He told me I must be mistaken and that he (Kaleb) probably made the
appointment at the Pioneer Square store in downtown Portland. I responded that
I was sure he made it at the Washington Square store. I told him that my Surface Pro 2 did not fit
in to the Docking Station. He told me that
the Docking Station was not released yet and he could not help me. Funny thing is that I had the Docking Station
with me. In addition the VGA Adopter
only works with the Surface RT and does not work with the Surface Pro 2. He told me there was nothing he could do to
help me.

back through the mall I passed by the Apple Store and saw it filled with
engaged customers and service reps. They
all seem to be pretty happy.

have sent my Surface Pro 2, Docking Station, Type 2 cover, Office 365 , and the
VGA Adopter all back. I can’t invest any
more time in a platform and company that doesn’t care about its customers. Great companies start with their “customers”
and work backwards. It doesn’t matter
what your strategy is, if you don’t take care of and listen to your customers,
you are bound to fail. I am sure my
experience is not unique.

will be selling my shares and am sure Microsoft is going to become irrelevant
in the future!

Alastair Carnegie

January 19, 2014, 11:44 am

We all have different needs, I was looking for a handy sketch pad in tablet form. In my view a review can't beat a 'hands-on' showroom demonstration. It's quite a lot of dosh to part with. When I sketch, my shading strokes are so fast my hand is a blur! fast strokes assure even shading. The 5i processor should keep up, but I have tested plenty that don't in the past. Microsoft's Artificial Intelligence projects may open up some very exciting prospects? I have noticed that 'Google Translate' is often excellent. I am sure AI played a part.


January 31, 2014, 4:02 pm

Just looking at buying one (8.1 tablet) It support guy having to support users supplying themselves 8.1 (I run 7 on laptop). Best Buy has the 128GB unit for $499. Is this a slam dunk at that price?


March 7, 2014, 3:07 am

Who in there right mind is going to read that whiny rant. Do something better with your life.


March 12, 2014, 9:58 am

R u serious !!!! All this story to say the docking station is not fitting ur Pro ??? Wasting our time

Richard Conde

May 18, 2014, 1:40 pm

You wrote an entire story and ended it abruptly. The comment you made about the apple store had nothing to do with anything. It would be like you saying you walked by the Victoria Secret store and saw it filled with engaged customers and floor reps. They all seem to be pretty happy. Zero to do with the surface. For someone who has had high hopes for microsoft.... enough to buy shares of the company.... gave up really easily. Especially over workers that obviously just didnt care about their jobs. Oh anf Microsoft becoming irrelevant in the future. What does that even mean? That they will fade away? Mmm not unless these little products and software by the name of oh i dont know xbox or office amongts others decide to fall off or disappear. Oh an by the way i'm not even a huge microsoft fan. Quite frankly im an Apple Fanboy. Just saying.

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