It’s been a week with the new Pro — Microsoft’s
part-tablet/part-laptop hybrid machine —  and I already
find myself looking longingly at the Surface Laptop. It’s not that the latest Surface Pro isn’t a good and capable
machine (it is), it’s just that, well, the Laptop is much
better for my needs — and, I’m sure, the needs of most
users. Having a keyboard built into your machine is a lot
more useful than you might think.

The convertible category is the sort of thing that looks great
on paper — the idea of essentially getting two products for the
price of one. But at the end day, how often do most users
really switch back and forth? In this past week, I only pulled
off the keyboard case once: when it came time to take the
photos for this story. For the rest of my needs, there’s no
reason to not just keep it in place.

It’s understandable that Microsoft is keeping the category
alive. After all, two-in-ones are a fundamental part of the
Surface’s DNA. But when the company’s own language has changed
from referring to the Pro as a primarily a tablet to, “the most
versatile laptop,” you’ve got to wonder if the company has
shifted its own thinking about the space.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to like about the Pro in
its current form (there is). This latest version pretty much
stuck with what worked on the Surface Pro 4 and souped things
up internally. So, if you liked the company’s Pro line in the
past, there’s happily more of the same here. It’s a bit thinner
and lighter than its predecessor, there have been some changes
to the kickstand, and the company has eliminated the fans and
the noise that come with them from the entry-level models.

Good and welcome changes, all. But none really do much to
address my main issue with the machine: I’d just much rather be
using the Surface Laptop.

Surface sacrifices

The Surface line’s success is actually part of the issue. The
company obviously had modest expectations for the line in its
earliest days, viewing the product as much as a
proof-of-concept as a consumer product. In the half decade
since the release of the first Surface, the line has become a
sort of catch all for Microsoft’s own PC hardware, and
additions like the Laptop and the iMac competitor Surface Studio have put the squeeze on the Pro.

In an ideal world, the company sees the product as serving a
dual purpose. Compatibility with accessories like the Dial and
the much improved Pen, combined with a kickstand that allow for
a lot more degrees of freedom, have allowed Microsoft to
position the product as a sort of mobile version of Studio. But
most of the Pro’s shortcomings stem out of Microsoft’s desires
to make it everything to everyone.

The Pro finds itself in a weird grey area of practicality. The
12-inch screen size makes it a lousy replacement for
the28.X-inch Studio. Yet while it’s thinner and lighter than
the last generation, it’s pretty big and bulky compared to most
other standalone tablets. I wouldn’t really recommend it for
those who are just looking for a slate.

And while the keyboard experience has improved by leaps and
bounds over the earliest models, a keyboard cover still isn’t a
good replacement for a built-in keyboard for those who do any
more than just the occasional note taking. I’ll admit that I’ve
gotten a bit more accustom to typing on the thing than I
expected, but a lot of the old issues are still present. For
one thing, it sucks to actually use in your lap. For another,
typing on it still gives you that hollow feeling of a keyboard
without any guts in it.

As it stands

There’s still a lot to like here. The pen
experience is much more responsive and improved over past
versions. The battery life on the Pro should get your through a
couple of days of standard use, and any time a company can
shave some weight off a product, that’s always a good thing.
The new model isn’t huge upgrade over 2015’s Pro 4, but all of the changes are
welcome.

And hey, had the company not stolen its own
thunder by introducing the Surface Laptop a few weeks prior,
the conversation around the devices would be very different. As
it stands now, however, the Pro arrives as a device with an
increasingly small target audience. Even the pricing doesn’t
really save it. Again, $799 looks decent on paper, but the
additional $130 for the keyboard case puts the system pretty
close to the Laptop’s $999 entry level price (and through
December, the obligatory upgrade to Windows 10 Pro is
free).

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I’m sure there are still people out there for
whom the Pro still makes sense. But I’m certainly not one. Nor
are most of the people I’ve spoken to about the space over the
last week. For those who really do find themselves switching
back and forth between form factors and don’t mind the
compromises that entails, by all means, this is a solid
choice.

For everyone else, don’t come complaining to
me when the Laptop envy sinks in. 

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