Microsoft Surface Pro a Nice but Mixed Bag: Reviews

Microsoft's second tablet impresses with good performance and a solid design, but reviewers ding it for forgetting to be a tablet first and foremost.

Microsoft Surface Pro may go on sale Feb. 9, but the reviews are already in.

Judging by the first batch of reviews, potential buyers will find a lot to like even if the product itself doesn't exactly knock it out of the park. And after failing to set sales records with Surface RT, Microsoft needs a hit on its hands if it hopes to become a major tablet vendor.

Unlike Surface RT with its ARM-based processor, the Pro version is powered by an Intel Core i5 chip that enables the device to run the x86 PC version of Windows 8 and the vast majority of software published for the Windows ecosystem. Microsoft is betting that the combination of a tablet form factor, Ultrabook-like performance and the full Windows 8 experience will be a hit with businesses and power users.

So far, tech reviewers say that Surface RT is generally good—very good in some cases—but not great.

The New York Times' David Pogue, who shared some positive hands-on impressions last month, praised the device for its versatility, portability and raw power in his latest review. But some drawbacks didn't escape his attention.

"The speakers aren't especially strong," Pogue wrote. "The screen and keyboard are both slightly smaller than what you'd get on a real laptop. The magnet on the power cord is stronger than on the non-Pro Surface, but attaching that cursed cord is still a flummoxing operation."

The Surface Pro's operating system—the same as in Windows 8 Pro PCs—and preinstalled software take up the majority of the base model's on-board storage, leaving users with only 23GB of space to store files and apps.

However, the biggest knock against the device is its battery life. "Microsoft says the Pro will get about half the battery life of the non-Pro Surface, which would mean about 4.5 hours. I say, you'll get 4.5 if you're lucky; I barely got 3.5 hours from a charge," lamented Pogue.

In his review, Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal wrote, "It's something of a tweener—a compromised tablet and a compromised laptop." His verdict: "Some users may not mind the price or bulk of the Surface Pro if it frees them from carrying a tablet for some uses and a laptop for others. But like many products that try to be two things at once, the new Surface Windows 8 Pro does neither as well as those designed for one function."

The Verge's David Pierce gave the Surface Pro a score of 7.5 on the strengths of its design, vivid screen and performance. He liked some of the device's refined, business-casual aesthetics and thoughtful touches like the included stylus and a charging brick with a built-in USB port. Pierce noted that overall, Surface Pro "runs remarkably smoothly."

Despite its impressive capabilities, the device occupies an uncomfortable middle ground between tablets and laptops, he concluded. Pierce wrote, "It's too big, too fat and too reliant on its power cable to be a competitive tablet, and it's too immutable to do everything a laptop needs to do. In its quest to be both, the Surface is really neither."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...