Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Review

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: Redmond's latest hybrid laptop-tablet arrives just ahead of Apple refreshing its iPad Pro and MacBook Air range.

Verdict

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6 is a light and portable 2-in-1 with a decent display that’s ideal for office work and streaming.

Pros

  • Great screen
  • Good battery life
  • Solid performance
  • Light and portable hybrid design

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Keyboard dock may be too small for some

Key Features

  • Review Price: £849
  • Rich, detailed 12.3-inch touchscreen
  • 8th Gen Intel laptop CPUs
  • Flexible hybrid format
  • Surface Pen stylus support
  • Front-facing camera for Skype and face unlocking with Windows Hello
  • Mains adapter features extra USB port for charging

What is the Microsoft Surface Pro 6?

The Surface Pro 6 is the latest 2-in-1 hybrid tablet-laptop device from Microsoft that takes on the iPad Pro and laptops such as Lenovo’s Yoga series.

Aimed at people who need to work on the go, the Surface Pro line of 2-in-1 laptops are lightweight, but promise enough processing power to handle the basics with ease and batteries big enough to last for a whole working day.

The latest Surface Pro line features Intel Kaby Lake Refresh processors, which offer less energy-intensive quad-core processing power, as well as support for Microsoft’s Surface Pen stylus, so you can take notes by hand and sketch on the go, too.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

The Surface Pro 6, Microsoft’s latest Surface 2-in-1, improves on last year’s model by adding more up-to-date processors and a fetching new-look black jacket

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 – Design and features

Like all of Microsoft’s 2-in-1 range laptop-tablet hybrids, the Surface Pro 6 comprises a Windows 10 tablet with a kickstand and a six-pin port, which lets you attach a TypeCover keyboard dock.

Even without the (separately sold) keyboard dock attached, the Surface Pro 6’s kickstand is wide and stable enough to ensure that if you have the tablet stood up on your desk and you’re using another Bluetooth keyboard, it’s not going to get knocked over easily, no matter how hard either of your pet cats try it.

The keyboard dock features magnetic strips that enable it to snap and lock into place snugly. The angle of the dock makes the whole thing rise up on your desktop, so that you’re not tied down to a flat surface, as you would with lesser keyboard docks.

There are no extra connections on the dock itself, which is a shame, seeing as it costs £150. In terms of other ports, you don’t get a huge amount on the Surface Pro 6.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

You don’t get many ports with the Surface Pro 6, but that’s normal for 2-in-1 hybrids like this

There’s a single USB-A 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort port, and a microSD card reader along with the 3.5mm headphone jack and power supply connection. That’s more than what you get with most tablets (and some laptops, come to think of it), but anyone looking for a ‘pro’ device might expect to see an HDMI port or a USB-C port here.

Microsoft has actually released a Surface Connect to USB-C Adapter, which you can connect to the proprietary charging port and give your devices some extra juice (or charge your Surface Pro 6 over USB-C), but it’s an extra $80 and, at the time of writing, isn’t available to buy in the UK.

As a neat touch, the mains adapter you get in the box features a USB-A port that you can use to charge phones or other devices, leaving the USB port of the Surface Pro 6 itself free for other things. There’s no data passthrough though, so you couldn’t have, say, your phone and an external drive connected at the same time.

The Surface range is also generally synonymous with bright colours, or smooth, spaceship grey plastic. But, for the first time, Microsoft’s launching a new Surface in matt black. The Surface Pro 6 is available in either black or platinum, which is bad news if you’ve enjoyed Microsoft’s colourful styles of the past few years.  

Related: Best laptop

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

My left index finger doing a convincing impression of a brontosaurus. The Type Cover keyboard dock is pretty nice to type on, too

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 – Keyboard

The Type Cover dock of the Surface Pro 6 measures 295 x 217 x 5mm and features a full QWERTY layout including function keys and a trackpad.

Generally the typing experience is pretty good, despite the cramped dimensions. Sensibly, Microsoft has given more acreage to the letter keys, making the function keys smaller. Downsides include the four arrow keys, which are bunched up at the bottom right corner, and the left-hand shift key, which is so small, I found myself ACCIDENTALLY HITTING CAPS LOCK ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION.

The trackpad is very precise and responsive, allowing you to scroll through long articles with ease and get a quick overview of running processes with a three-fingered drag. There are no buttons next to the trackpad, but it supports both left and right clicks.

There was a little bit of flex at the bottom-right corner of the review sample we were sent, which is slightly worrying. Given that these things cost £150 a pop, I’d have hoped for a bit more resilience here.

Related: Best gaming keyboards

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

The Surface Pro 6’s screen is excellent, but a glass cover means that working outside or in an overly bright environment can be problematic

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 – Display

The display of the Surface Pro 6 measures 12.3 inches across and boasts a resolution of 2736 x 1824, which gives you 267 pixels per inch (ppi). The display conforms to an aspect ratio of 3:2, which is common for the Surface range, as well as Apple’s iPad Pros.

It’s a very good display. Streamed video and web pages look crisp and clear, with no colours looking overly washed out. Contrast is decent too, with dark areas of pictures not looking flat or grey – like they would on laptops with lesser screens (the recent example of the Dell G3 15 springs to mind).

The tempered glass cover has a tendency to reflect sunlight and harsh striplights, which hampers visibility. But that’s something you’ll encounter on any device with a glass display cover. 

The figures backed up our real-life observations, too. In colorimeter tests, I recorded a maximum brightness of 422.74, which is very good, and a decent minimum of 0.3132 nits, which gave me a contrast ratio of 1350:1. We recorded a colour temperature of 6265K, slightly warm, but close enough to the 6500K ideal for reds to not look overly saturated.

In terms of colour gamut coverage, the Surface Pro 6 gave me 90.2% of the sRGB gamut, which will be good enough for digital art and cartooning.

Photographers will be disappointed by the paltry Adobe RGB and DCI P3 scores of 62.4% and 64.2%. But, frankly, you wouldn’t want to be using a device like the Surface Pro 6, which doesn’t come with a dGPU (dedicated graphics processing unit) anyway.

All this means in realistic terms is that any holiday snaps you take and then load on to the Surface Pro 6 won’t look as good as they would on other devices.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

The Surface Pro 6’s camera supports full HD Skype calls and Windows Hello, so you can unlock the device with your face instead of a PIN or password

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 – Specifications

Specs for the Surface Pro 6 range differ slightly, depending on which of the two processor options you go for. Here’s how everything stacks up:

Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Dimensions 292 x 201 x 8.5mm
Weight 775g (i5) / 792g (i7)
Processor Intel 8th Gen Core i5-8250U /  i7-8650U
Memory 8GB / 16GB RAM
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 620
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Display 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824 (267 ppi): 3:2 aspect ratio PixelSense with 10-point multitouch
Connectivity Wi-Fi ac (IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth 4.1
Ports USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover port,  3.5mm headphone jack, microSDXC card reader
Cameras and mics 5.0-megapixel front camera with 1080p Skype HD video, Windows Hello, 8.0-megapixel rear camera with 1080p full HD video and autofocus, dual microphones, 1.6W stereo speakers with Dolby Audio Premium

 

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Despite a slight increase in weight, there’s no immediately noticeable difference between the Core i5 and i7 versions of the Surface Pro 6

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 – Performance

The Surface Pro 6 Microsoft sent in for review is one of the entry-level models, with an Intel Core i5-8250U (1.6GHz, boosting to 1.8GHz), 8GB or RAM and Intel UHD Graphics 620.

Here’s a rundown of the range with pricing options:

  • Intel Core i5-8250U, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage – £879
  • Intel Core i5-8250U, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage – £1149 (tested)
  • Intel Core i7-8650U, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage – £1429
  • Intel Core i7-8650U, 16GB RAM, 512GB storage – £1799
  • Intel Core i7-8650U, 16GB RAM, 1TB storage – £2149

The Surface Pro 6 review model performed well in benchmarks, in line with mid-range laptops like the Acer Swift 5 (SF514-52T-531B) and Acer Aspire 5 (A515-51G).

Given that those laptops are powered by the exact same processor, the quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U, it’s not that surprising that both the Geekbench 4 single and multi-core results are pretty similar.

For more context, the scores the Surface Pro 6 recorded aren’t that far away from bigger and more powerful devices, such as the Lenovo Yoga 730 and the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (still, at the time of writing, our best laptop recommendation). So, on paper, the Surface Pro 6 punches above its weight.

I should note that the Surface Pro 5 tested by Trusted Reviews last year featured a 7th Gen Core i7 CPU (i7-7660U) and 16GB of RAM, and the same integrated Intel graphics unit.

As we were unable to test any of the Surface Pro 5s with a Core i5 CPU, I’m not currently able to provide you with a direct comparison. I’m including benchmarking figures for the Surface Pro 5 here for reference all the same. Once I get hold of a Surface Pro 6 with an i7 processor, I’ll update this section of the review.

Related: Best Intel processor

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 (i5-8250U version) Microsoft Surface Pro 5 / ‘New Surface Pro’ (i7-7660U version) Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 (9575)
PC Mark 8 n/a 2778 3404
PC Mark 10 3309 n/a n/a
Geekbench single-core 4080 4603 4770
Geekbench multi-core 13913 9300 16055
CrystalDiskMark read 1640 MB/s 1670MB/s 2976.7MB/s
CrystalDiskMark write 807 MB/s 915MB/s 3039.6MB/s
Cinebench OpenGL 46.25fps n/a 86.99fps
Cinebench CPU 595 cb n/a 705 cb

The Surface Pro 6 is really geared towards work and streaming media between writing essays/reports/articles. And to that end, the bulk of my benchmarking focused on that.

If you’re after a hybrid laptop tablet that will let you hammer our essays and satisfy your Netflix/iPlayer/Amazon Prime binges on the sly, then the Surface Pro 6 does all of that with aplomb.

The Surface Pro 6 is well equipped to handle light gaming (such as Minecraft) as well, but the small screen and keyboard size means that you probably won’t be playing the likes of Overwatch and PUBG on this anyway. But, in a pinch, you could – if you really wanted to.

To give you an idea of how the Surface Pro 6 might handle games, I ran the standard 3DMark Ice Storm test, which we use when testing laptops and 2-in-1s that don’t have a dedicated GPU. This gave us a fairly middling score of 50,847.

I also ran the Ice Storm Extreme, which was used to test last year’s Surface Pro 5. We got 43,042, which, again, is a good – if average – result. Compared with last year’s Surface Pro 5, which gave us 60,096, it looks terrible. Again, we’re chalking that better score up to the presence of a Core i7 CPU.

For completion’s sake, I also ran Cinebench R15 on the Surface Pro 6. Cinebench is a video and graphics benchmarking tool that generally gives you an idea of how well suited a laptop is to heavy gaming and video editing. While it’s unlikely that you’d want to run Adobe Premiere Pro on the Surface Pro 6, the scores at least give you an idea of graphical processing prowess.

On that note, here’s how I got on with drawing and making art with the Surface Pen. The Surface Pen features 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity and uses N-trig technology, instead of Wacom, which most styli use. This time around, Microsoft has installed everything you need to start using freeware drawing programmes, such as Krita, out of the box – no need for you to faff around hunting for custom drivers.

I’m not a professional illustrator, so you’ll have to forgive my amateurish attempts to sketch out a Dr Pepper can here.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Free drawing programmes, such as Krita, now play more nicely out of the box with the Surface Pen stylus

The stylus also works with Microsoft’s Sticky Notes, so if you like, you could jot down things and add them to your daily to-do list with the Surface Pen, as well as/instead of typing.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

The Surface Pen isn’t just about drawing pretty pictures – it’s good for taking notes as well, which can then be synced to your OneDrive account

As with previous Surface Pros, the magnetised strip of the Surface Pen means it can be easily attached to the sides of the tablet. This is more useful for having somewhere to keep your stylus when you’re sat at your desk. The stylus is liable to fall off if you carry it around, so take it off and stash it in your bag when you need to move around.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

The keyboard dock features magnetic and physical elements that makes for an easy and secure connection

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 – Battery

Using Powermark to simulate 10 minutes of browsing and five minutes of streaming video, we got a result of seven hours and 55 minutes, with the screen’s brightness set to 150 nits.

Typically, a day spent writing and streaming Spotify playlists to a Bluetooth speaker would give us around seven to eight hours of power, and we’d get about the same out of an average Netflix binge session, too. That’s about what we’d expect from a hybrid device of this kind. The Surface Pro 5 gave us approximately eight hours of use off the back of a single charge.

Microsoft quotes you 13 hours 30 minutes of looped video playback in the spec sheet, but in our experience, you’ll get an hour or so less than that. Like most tablets, once the battery falls beneath the 10% mark, battery-saving mode kicks in, but power still tends to fall off a cliff.

From an empty tank, we’d get around 60% full after an hour. Generally, it takes about two hours to completely charge a Surface Pro 6.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Neat-looking and light, the Surface Pro 6 is a smooth operator

Why buy the Surface Pro 6?

If you’re someone who needs a light and portable laptop, and you like the idea of also being able to kick back at end of the day and stream a TV show at home or on the commute (if your rail operator is generous with the free Wi-Fi) then the Surface Pro 6 has obvious appeal.

Using the Surface Pro 6 as a professional work device is limited by the shortage of ports. While getting some dongles will help here, the fact that you don’t get much help out of the box is a drawback. Also, it’s 2018: most laptop manufacturers have embraced USB-C, so it’s a little odd to see Microsoft not leading by example here.

I’m also of the opinion that the Type Cover dock, while providing a decent typing experience considering its size, is a little overpriced. The fact that you have to spend an extra £150 for that (and an extra £100 for a Surface Pen stylus) on top of the £879-£2149 you’ll be paying for the Surface Pro 6 itself feels like a big ask.

That said, it’s quite common to see Amazon, Currys PC World and other retailers do Surface Pro bundles where the cost of those accessories is diluted a little bit. So if you see a similar deal during Black Friday or any other sale, you should grab that.

Either way, that’s a lot of money to drop on a light laptop. If you’re after something a little cheaper, you might be better served by searching for a Lenovo Yoga 730. Or, if your budget can allow it, consider picking up a bigger Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 instead.

Generally though, I’m impressed by the lightness and nippiness of the Surface Pro 6. Yet, I want to see how the Core i7 versions perform. If you want something more powerful, I’d recommend checking out those. As well as giving you more processing power, there’s twice the amount of memory there, so applications and games should move at a much better clip.

Verdict

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6 is a light and portable 2-in-1 with a decent display that’s ideal for work and streaming.

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