Reviews were not really kind to the Surface Pro. For quite good reasons: the battery was too short, it was heavy, it had a fan (so passé), the design was very unfriendly for lap-typing and Windows 8.0 was too touch-friendly (yet not enough too). Sales probably didn’t meet Microsoft’s expectations either, as the previous-generation Surface Pro is now available for $499 at its base configuration - nearly half off. The 128GB model is selling for $599, and I decided to buy one of those for myself.
Long story short, my experience with the Dell Venue 11 Pro showed that it wasn’t a good idea buying machines from any company without a good hardware reputation - basically leaving Apple, Microsoft and Lenovo. For 11-inch machines, Apple’s outside my budget, and has an outdated display. I didn’t see any Lenovo machines that didn’t seem overpriced. The 1st-gen Surface Pro was the only well-built, portable, high-res machine that I thought made sense to buy.
I expected a pleasant, but flawed, experience with the hardware. It was, however, somewhat better than I expected - it’s not very inconvenient at all. It’s heavy compared to an iPad, but it’s not so heavy that it’s useless as a tablet, nor tiring to carry. The hardware build quality and design are all top-notch. It’s unfortunate that it has a fan, but it’s really a non-issue in actual use - you can’t block a vent like that, and the fan is quiet. The 1080p screen is maybe 66% of the way to true Retina quality, but it still makes a huge difference. Overall, worse than other tablets in many areas, but not in ways that really matter to me.
The keyboards are pretty neat. I initially bought a Touch Cover, and I had no problems getting work done on it - my typing speed was nearly as quick as my “real” keyboard speed. However, I push keys quite hard, and when the keys have no give, my fingertips are mashing a hard surface, and ache after a while. I switched to a Type Cover to relieve that rather self-inflicted irritation, and I haven’t looked back. The new ones have backlighting, too. You can fold them behind the tablet to switch to touch-mode without misplacing the cover. It is also made of a pleasing soft-felt material; it feels quite good to hold when it’s closed.
Much has been made of how the kickstand makes it unusable on a lap; many see that as a dealbreaker. I thought it might be, but that only applies to times where you need the keyboard, and in my usage I rarely need it when I’m in a chair or on a couch. I use it more often as a tablet in those circumstances, and I have to admit that I get more use out of the machine this way than I would have if it was a laptop only. I’d like more viewing angles to use, but the Surface Pro 2 fixes that.
The battery life is only rated for four hours. If you fly, that’s not good enough, and you won’t be working all day in a coffee shop. For the rest of us, like me, I keep it charged during the work day and overnight at home, and that’s adequate for the vast majority of situations. However, I would have taken a slower Bay Trail processor to get longer battery life (and reduced cost). The Dell proved that those processors are more than adequate for the tasks I put it to.
Windows 8 is certainly usable - there are no frequent tasks that I would want to do through the touchscreen that I cannot comfortably do, and there’s nothing about a touch-optimized UI that is hard to use with a keyboard and mouse. It is, however, incomplete. All OS functionality should be touch-friendly, with the desktop being restricted to legacy, non-Microsoft applications. Unfortunately there are still features only configurable on the desktop, so very occasionally you have to abandon the finger and use the keyboard. It can be frustrating, though all the common tasks are not affected by this anymore.
I think Microsoft needs to put effort into giving WinRT apps feature parity with desktop apps - don’t block them from using things like the Entity Framework ORM, for instance. It needs to be entirely possible for the Desktop to be deprecated and eventually removed, for then Windows would be a single OS again - one that would be complete and awesome on both the tablet and the desktop. However, as it stands, many apps are difficult or impossible to convert. Resolving this would go a long way toward that goal.
Finally, the Surface Pro has an active stylus. I’ve said for years that the stylus is underrated; that it’s such a capable tool for certain applications that it shouldn’t be locked out just because it sucks for other applications. With the stylus, I can annotate PDF’s with the built-in PDF reader, do mediocre paintings in Fresh Paint, and draw up flowcharts much, much faster in OneNote than I could set them up in Visio. I’m glad it’s there; it’s a welcome addition.
At $730 with the type cover, it’s not cheap. However, the more expensive 11-inch machines are either outdated or overpriced, and the cheaper ones don’t work properly. I’m personally satisfied that I made the right decision in getting last year’s Surface Pro.