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Scratching the Surface: The Reviews for Microsoft's Surface Pro Are Mixed at Best


Days before its Saturday launch, we take a look at the best and worst of what's being said about the Microsoft Surface Pro.

Despite the positive initial impressions at CES, the official reviews for Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) champion tablet, the Surface Pro, have been fairly critical. With only days left until the Pro's Saturday release, few experts are giving the tablet/laptop hybrid a strong recommendation. While many are claiming that the Pro has solved several performance issues that were present in the RT, it seems that the new tablet has made many compromises in its attempt to bridge the gap between tablets and laptops.

The Positive
At the moment, the Surface Pro features the most impressive specs of any tablet on the market, and has a processing power comparable to most laptops. The Pro features a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor (NASDAQ:INTC), and 4GB of RAM, allowing it to run even the biggest programs with ease. In his review, Joe Wilcox of BetaNews was sufficiently impressed with the Pro's speed, stating, "The beast roars and runs fast…For sense of speed in the real world, which is the best benchmark: Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) Photoshop Lightroom 4 installed in less than 60 seconds (before the required reboot)."

The tablet's 10.6-inch ClearType HD Display, capable of 1920 by 1080 resolution, seems to be also garnering praise. In her review for ABC News, Joanna Stern claimed that the larger screen accompanied by the Pro's kickstand made watching online TV shows in bed or on the couch easier, but also made it more cumbersome for mobile use.

However, the Pro's biggest selling point may be that unlike the RT, it runs the full version of Windows 8 and all of its programs, allowing it to compete with Ultrabook devices in terms of usefulness. This should allow professionals on the move to access the programs they use on the job, and work on them using the device's Type Cover keyboard and pen. In addition, David Pierce from The Verge mentioned that it is possible to use the Pro as a gaming device, though its potential is somewhat limited. He wrote, "I was able to play most Steam games, like Borderlands 2 (NASDAQ:TTWO) and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (NASDAQ:ATVI), on low settings and resolutions, but frame rates were fairly choppy even then. That's no worse than most of its Ultrabook competition, so I don't really fault Microsoft here."

The Negative
As stated, the Pro's advancements over the RT come with some concessions that are affecting its value. The most universal complaint is that the tablet's two-pound weight -- a by-product of its screen size and processing power -- makes the tablet awkward to use as a mobile device. Like many reviewers, Walt Mossberg from AllThingsD found the Pro even more unwieldy than its predecessor, saying, "I found this bulk made the Surface Pro even clumsier than the RT is to use on my lap with the keyboard cover, even with the kickstand, which works far better on a desk than on one's knees."

Another major issue is the Pro's price, which either sits at $899 for the 64GB model or $999 for the 128GB model. While the tablet is certainly not overpriced for its specs, the 64GB model is currently $200 more expensive than an iPad (NASDAQ:AAPL) with the same amount of memory, and only $100 cheaper than a 64GB MacBook Air ($999). Another concern is that the Pro's almost essential Touch/Type Cover keyboards are not included in the package, and have to be bought separately at $130 and $120 respectively, which weakens it in any price comparison.

The tablet is also being criticized for its unimpressive battery life, which may last four to six hours, depending on what programs are running. David Pogue from the New York Times claimed that the battery only lasted 3.5 hours on his test run, leading him to comment, "Guess that's why there aren't many other two-pound, half-inch-thick laptops with Intel i5 processors." CNET reviewer Scott Stein also disapproved of the limited free memory space on the 64GB model, meaning that users will most likely have to purchase a SD card to expand its usefulness.

The Bottom Line
From the reviews, the Surface Pro seems like another step forward for Microsoft's tablet ventures, but it's unlikely that it will be the knockout the company is looking for. While the Pro's design makes it a powerful computing device, Microsoft is going to have to communicate the device's uses effectively since consumers may be dissatisfied if they buy one expecting to use it like an iPad or Nexus (NASDAQ:GOOG). While a price slash may be unnecessary, Microsoft could considerably increase the value of the device by including the Touch/Type Cover keyboards in the future, which would add considerable value to the package.

Hopefully for Microsoft, the Surface Pro fares better than the RT, which also received mixed reviews at its launch. Microsoft has already made plans for more tablets, so hopefully it will learn from its mistakes and come back stronger the next time around.
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