Thursday, 20 July 2017 16:42

Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 – Improving on perfection (review)

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Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 (Pro) is a premium Windows 10 PC tablet/detachable that continues the category defining Surface hybrid family that started in 2012 with Surface RT then the Windows-based Surface, Surface Pro, Pro 2, 3, and 4.

Microsoft initially referred to the Surface Pro as “the tablet that can replace your laptop” and that is quite true if you consider the on-device expansion – the Pro has a USB-A 3.0 port, a mini-DisplayPort, and the Surface ribbon connector that connects to an optional expansion dock providing 2 x HD monitor support, 4 x USB-A 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and 3.5mm sound. These days they call it a “versatile Laptop”.

In fact, since the desktop challenge was issued with the Pro 3, I have used the Microsoft Dock to replace large desktop computers and never looked back. Add to that the fact that you can also Wi-Di (Miracast) to an external 4K/HD monitor and use the mini-DisplayPort to support a 4K/HD monitor — as well as the screen itself — and expansion has never been an issue.

Accessory maker Kensington has an excellent USB-A expansion dock that has 2 x 4K video cards – all issues solved.

And Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Book with Windows 10 have largely been responsible for any turnaround in the “PC” category. The category may have been declining, but parts of it are rapidly growing – namely Surface Pro style detachables and Surface Book driving the 360° hinge for a four/five-in-one experience (tablet, clamshell, tent, tabletop and display).

Bondwell 2

If you think I am waxing lyrical, just think back just five years when most clamshell laptops were large, heavy (well over 2kg), battery sucking, black/silver slabs. Today, the Pro weighs 770g plus an optional 310g keyboard – around 1.1kg all up and the i5/i7 has enough power for Adobe Photoshop, video rendering and CAD, once the domain of big heavy desktops. Come on – we have never had it so good.

The Pro comes in three basic configurations – an Intel 7th generation Kaby Lake, m3, i5, or i7 (with different GPUs), 8 to 16GB RAM, and up to 1TB SSD. Most reviews acknowledge its all-day battery life and amazing screen.

Microsoft says it may look the same as the Pro 4 but there are more than 800 internal changes.

Out of the box – review unit is Intel Core i7, 16GB/512GB model 1796

  • The tablet
  • A 240V ribbon connector charger 15V/2.58A plus 5V/1A USB-A (called a 65W supply)

That is it – no faux leather sleeve, no pen, no keyboard cover – nothing!

Surface Pro no

By far the greatest criticism is that the items you need to make it a desktop replacement e.g. the Surface Pro Type Cover/Alcantara Signature ($199.95/249.95) and to a lesser extent the Surface Pen (price TBA but expect $150) are at extra cost. Although to be fair to Microsoft it often bundles it with the keyboard, a zip sleeve, and 1-year Office 365 Home) and MS Complete Protection with two years of accidental damage protection – an estimated saving of $187.

Specifications: Surface Pro 2017

Model

M3-7Y30 1-2.6GHz, Intel HD Graphics 615

i5-7300U 2.6-3.5GHz Intel HD Graphics 620

i7-7660U 2.4-4GHz Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640

Display

12.3”, 2736 x 1824, 267ppi, PixelSense, 3:2 aspect

Edge-to-edge glass, 10-point touch

Supports a wide DCI-P3 colour gamut

N-Trig digitiser

Pixel Sense controller hardware acceleration, touch, and Dial

Processor

Intel Core i7-7600U, 2.2/3.4GHz, 2 core/4 thread

Core m3 and i5 are fan-less

Graphics

Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640

Supports 3840 x 2160 external display or two via DP daisy chain

RAM

8-16GB, DDR3L-1600

SSD

128/256/512GB and 1TB, PCIe, NVMe, M.2

microSD

Yes (size unspecified but at least 256GB) External hard disk storage at least 2TB

Wireless

Marvel Avastar 88W8897, AC, 2x2, MIMO, Wi-Di

Bluetooth

4.1

TPM

Nuvoton NPCT650SBBWX for mobile device management

Keyboard

Trackpad

Stand

Full size, chiclet, 1.5mm/60g throw

Available in standard and Alcantara fabric with four colour options — Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, Black

Oversize glass touchpad with up to five finger gestures

Flap to 165° - almost flat

Approx 310g

Stylus

Optional 4096 pressure levels 12g actuation force

AAAA battery powered

Optional Surface Dial

Audio

Realtek ALC3269 chip

2 x 1.6W, front firing with Dolby Audio Premium max volume 68dB

Dual stereo mics

Ports

USB-A, 3.0

Mini-DisplayPort 1.2

Surface Ribbon - power delivery upstream (charging tablet) and data

1 x 3.5mm combo audio

1 x microSD slot

POGO Pins for keyboard power and data

Microsoft is working on a Ribbon to USB-C dock - TBA

LTE

Will be available on m3 and i5 models

Dimensions

292.1 x 201.42 x 8.5 mm (tablet)

Weight

768/770/784g coreM2/i5/i7 plus keyboard 310g

Chassis

Uni-body machined magnesium alloy

Battery

45 WHr

Claimed up to 13.5 hours with TI Quick Charge circuit

Charger

65W includes 5V/1A USB charge port

Webcam

Front: OV5693, 1.4 µm, 3673.6 x 2738.4 image area, 2x2 pixel binning, EIS, sensor, 5MP fixed focus, auto black level calibration, 1080p video

IR: OV7251 for Windows Hello: 3 µm pixel made for machine vision

Rear: OV8865, 8MP autofocus, 1.4 µm, 4614.4 x 3472 µm image area, 2x2 pixel binning, auto black level calibration, 1080p @30fps video, 10-bit RAW output

OS

Windows 10 Pro

Apps

Trial of Office 365

Warranty

1 year

Price

Retail pricing is as follows (plus a keyboard $200/250 and pen – TBA but assume around $150)

·         Core m2, 4/128GB $1,199

·         Core i5, 4/128GB $1,499

·         Core i5, 8/256GB $1,999

·         Core i7, 8/256GB $2499

·         Core i7, 16/512GB $3,299

·         Core i7, 16GB/1TB $3,999

Drawing

Microsoft believes that pen will take on a more important role in tablet computing – not just for handwriting but its latest iteration supports basic maths, mapping (get from A to B) and more.

Surface Pro Pen

To aid the drawing/inking process it has increased the hinge to 165° so it almost lies flat and is the perfect angle for drawing and writing – a mini drafting board. This is something you can’t achieve with a clamshell or 360° hinge laptop.

It works flawlessly with Windows Ink that was substantially updated in the Windows 10 Creators release. You can write, annotate, draw, sketch, use it with Windows Maps, and in the Windows Edge Browser as well. In short it works perfectly with any Microsoft app.

It is an active (AAAA battery operated) stylus (HB tip supplied but are changeable) and interfaces with the N-Trig digitiser in the screen. The pen is a joy to use – those 4096 pressure levels (up from 1024) and 12g actuation force add a new dimension and things like tilt (for a wider line) make it intuitive to use. It has right click and erase as well as configurable functionality. And it draws lines consistently – not hit and miss like often happened with the previous pen.

I am no artist, but I found it useful for “mud maps”, rough drawings, annotation, noughts and crosses, palm recognition/rejection works very well, with minimal lag and good accuracy. The pen is available in Platinum, Black, Burgundy, and Cobalt Blue. Price TBA, but around $150.

Keyboard, trackpad and kickstand

Key bounce caused by a thin keyboard has been a feature of every Surface Pro – to stop it would mean a thicker or more rigid keyboard so third party keyboards like those from Brydge and Logitech (K830) have been popular.

Mind you the latest Pro Alcantara keyboard has reduced this to acceptable limits, but still short of the high standards set by the Microsoft Surface Book – a good rock, solid, chiclet, metal faced keyboard with a 1.5mm throw and 60g accentuation.

Alcantara is an interesting choice – it is used as a leather substitute in high-end cars and it is prized because of its wearability, stain and water resistance. My call is that it will last the distance and wear better than the standard Vinyl covered keyboard cover.

In a touch typing test, I could achieve about 85% of my usual speed/accuracy as measured on a Logitech G610 Orion Blue mechanical keyboard. If mechanical keyboards do not mean a lot to you read the iTWire article here.

The keys are backlit – three levels of illumination or off. It clips magnetically to the pogo pins on the bottom of the tablet and can be reversed to fold back to the tablet back with the keys facing inwards and disabled.

The oversized glass trackpad is responsive and allows a single swipe to move the cursor from top right to bottom left.

Surface studio modeI like kickstands but some complain that they are not good on your lap. The new Pro uses a flap of rigid mag-alloy and it will fold almost flat down to 165°. I found it stable and easy to use.

 

 Screen

It is 12.3”, 2736 x 1824 (4,990,464 pixel), 10-point touch, IPS screen.

I like PixelSense screens – the Surface Book sets the standard for colour accuracy and the Pro is perhaps a tad better. It has 128MB of dedicated memory and up to 8154MB of shared memory with the system.

Microsoft do not provide detailed specifications for the screen like nits or contrast.

According to international reviews one said it has 96% sRGB and others said 100% (the Pro 4 was 97.5%) and an enhanced mode (under Display) for even more punchy colours. You can load WCS Gamut Map Model Profiles as well for photography, line art, proofing and more. Peak Nits are 473cd/m2 and contrast is 1312:1. Fine for outdoor light conditions.

The enhanced mode provides a warm schema and sRGB a slightly cooler, more natural one. Some users have reported light bleed from the bottom of the screen (usually occupied by the task bar). This is a characteristic of edge lit IPS screens and Microsoft is aware and working on as driver fix.

It is not HDR10 enabled, but definition in shadow and flare-outs in light were well controlled.

PixelSense also used dedicated chips for hardware acceleration and touch. In short that is PixelSense – a well calibrated, accurate, crisp, touch and ink screen. I doubt that anyone can do it better.

And added to that the new Core processors support hardware 4K video decoding on chip.

Audio/webcam/Windows Hello and microphones

The two front-firing, speakers are placed at the top left/right of the tablet. It comes with Dolby Audio Premium overlaid on a Realtek 24-bit, 48,000Hz audio diver. It also supports 7.1 sound and Dolby Atmos to an external source like an AV amp.

There are no pre-sets or EQ – it is what it is. Sound quality was clear at the upper voice end – what is called a Bright Vocal sound signature (bass recessed, mids/treble boosted). This is good but its bass is pretty thin. If someone invents a good EQ for the Surface it will sell well.

Sound volume was adequate for personal use but still not room filling sound – invest in a set of Bluetooth headphone or a speaker.

The dual array mics record in 24-bit, 48000Hz and do a reasonable job with Skype. There are no other adjustments.

Camera-wise the 5/8MP specifications looks unremarkable until you use it and it produces far better images than could be expected. The key is the use of OmniVision sensors and big pixels making it an excellent low light camera. Still don’t abandon your smartphone camera.

The front IR Windows Hello login is flawless and quick. It uses a special camera with 3 µm pixels specially designed for machine vision.

The front 5MP camera has a pretty tight angle – it is fine for one-on-one Skype although at 2m away it will fit three people in a huddle group. It has good quality under office lighting (500 lux).

It is amazing for an 8MP and captured good, crisp images in low light. HDR produces approx. 1MB image, 3264 x 1836 – without HDR it is 800KB. Digital zoom induces too much noise so use it sparingly.

I recall reading somewhere that Microsoft has concentrated on making the Surface camera best for taking “whiteboard” shots and in office use – they have succeeded.

The Windows camera app is comprehensive allowing for aspect ratio change from 16:9 to 4:3 (narrows angle), video resolution (FHD/HD/VGA @30fps) and digital video stabilisation (EIS), HDR and customisable shutter and other settings.

It uses Microsoft Photos as the default viewer/editor and offers the choice of auto-save to OneDrive Cloud or the device.

Summary: Excellent big pixel front and rear camera fit for purpose.

Performance

The i7-7660U is a relatively new 2-core/4 thread, 2.5/4GHz, with Intel Iris Plus 640 Graphics

PassMark gives it 6133 which is better than the 5244 of the i7-7500U found in many ultralight notebooks. It is a good choice.

The i5-7300U version rates 5121 and the m3-7Y30 gets 3648. The Core m3 is an interesting low power draw processor and to put it in perspective it is not an old “m36Y” but in fact provides about 90% of the processing power of a 6th generation Core i5-6200U.

The m3 and i5 do not require a fan. The i7 has a single fan and vented from the top of the tablet. Under full load the vent temperature is just above the ambient temperature. Independent reviews however state that the m3 and i5 temperature management is via CPU throttling. That is not bad unless you are running it to the max.

Video performance of the Iris Plus Graphics 640 ups the external resolution to 4K, 4096 x 2340 @ 30fps for HDMI 1.2 and 60fps for DisplayPort. It will support three displays – two external (one can be Wi-Di) and one internal panel.

SSD performance was good getting 1000MB/s or more for read/write to the drive and 300MB/s to an external Samsung T3 SSD. Independent tests claim around 1600MB/s for read and 1000MB/s write.

Wi-Fi was adequate – the Marvel AVASTAR is 867Mbps capable and supports 2 x 2 MIMO (not MU-MIMO) and beamforming. On the test bed I got from 170 to 350Mbps from a D-Link DIR895L AC5300 MU-MIMO router about 20 metres away and through a concrete floor. I suspect that later drives will enable higher throughput.

Battery – i7 tested

Microsoft claims 13.5 hours in a video loop (methodology undefined, but independently replicated).

I ran a HD video loop test at 50% brightness with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off and achieved 11.5 hours. Still, on the Surface Pro 4 the same test gets seven hours.

In general office use it got between seven and nine hours with Wi-Fi and the screen at 75%. You can count on eight-hour use.

But there is a little secret to extending battery life – delve into the Power settings and make choices. You can wrangle 12 hours plus in office use but it may mean throttling the processor (and for Office programs that is no big deal) and dimming the screen a little more. Or just click on the battery icon in the task bar and use the slider to select more, or less, battery life or performance.

Security

It comes with a TPM module for enterprise management and tracking if needed. That is a must have for enterprise use.

Pros

  • The original and most will say the best.
  • Great screen.
  • Great keyboard (not quite as good as the Surface Book) and trackpad.
  • Pen is vastly improved.
  • I like the kickstand.
  • Impressive quality from the cameras despite low MP rating.
  • Microsoft support by way of drivers and updates.
  • A top-drawer experience.
  • Outstanding build quality.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • Still waiting to see a USB-C dock/dongle.
  • Love to see a Pen and Keyboard bundled with it.
  • While it has 800 changes to the Surface Pro 4, the latter is damned good and may present a run-out bargain.

Summary

As a holistic device — the whole is greater than the sum of the parts — the Pro evolved from the genesis of hybrid notebooks. It would have been hard to improve on the Pro 4 and Microsoft sensibly kept with the winning formula and tweaked it.

Sure, like its competitors, you could add a coloured chassis, maybe a Brydge-like keyboard, beef up the speaker volume and include an EQ, and add USB-C, but frankly that is not why you buy it.

You buy the Pro as it does everything right, it’s a great travel companion, a versatile laptop, and it is perfectly matched to Windows 10 Pro and it's an enterprise class device.

I won’t give it 10 out of 10 simply because nothing is perfect – a 9.5 is more like it. And as a reference device it is upping the ante with HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS and Acer et al realising that the hybrid/360 market is where it is at and making some great, competitive kit.

You will find a shootout between the new HP x2 Spectre and the Surface Pro (2017) here.

BUSINESS WORKS BETTER WITH WINDOWS 1O. MAKE THE SHIFT

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With Windows 7 support ending 14th January 2020, its time to start looking at your options.

This can have significant impacts on your organisation but also presents organisations with an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the way users work.

The Details

When: Thursday, September 26, 2019
Presenter: Dell Technologies
Location: Your Computer

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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