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I Used a Microsoft Surface Pro for 5 Years and My Opinion is Complicated

Featured Image for the Surface Pro article. Surface Pro 6 laying on a table.

I Used a Microsoft Surface Pro for 5 Years and My Opinion is Complicated

Key Points

  • The Surface Pro is a 2-in-1 tablet/laptop hybrid with a separate pen-like stylus, and there is a market for a product like this.
  • The Surface Pro keyboard is one of the nicest feeling ones with responsive buttons and trackpad.
  • The Surface Pro tablet does not have access to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, limiting its app selection.
  • Windows 10 Tablet Mode makes the Surface Pro experience more like a tablet, while Windows 11 Tablet Mode has subtle appearance changes and different gestures.
  • The Surface Pro is recommended for those who need a 2-in-1 device for work and media consumption, but not for PC gaming or mobile gaming.

Since 2018, I have been using Surface Pro devices for all my laptop needs. I have a bulky desktop for gaming and home usage, so the 2-in-1 laptop/tablet nature of the Surface Pro simply made sense to me.

I have a lot of experience with this line of Windows products and have used ones operating both Windows 10 and Windows 11.

In this review, I’m going to briefly touch on some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Surface Pro, as well as how the different operating systems affect the computer. Let’s get into it!

Surface Pro: A Brief History

Microsoft’s Surface Pro line of products officially began in February 2013 with the launch of the Surface Pro. Originally named the “Surface for Windows 8 Pro,” this device launched running Windows 8 and was eventually eligible to upgrade to Windows 10. For context, Windows 10 was released two years later in 2015.

From the very first Surface Pro, Microsoft was always quite aware of what they wanted the device to be: a 2-in-1 tablet/laptop hybrid with a separate pen-like stylus. While the initial device had subpar battery life and specs, the general concept was reviewed well. From the very beginning, it was clear that there was a market for a product like this.

Alongside the Surface Pro, Microsoft also produces a budgetary Surface Go line, a more traditional Surface Laptop line, and a desktop Surface Studio line. There is also the Surface Book line, which is a 2-in-1 device like the Pro but offers stronger laptop features. Generally speaking, if you want a laptop that can be a tablet, the Book is your answer. If you want a tablet that can be a laptop, the Pro is your answer.

Throughout the years, there have been a ton of new Surface Pro computers released. In fact, approximately two Surface Pro devices get released per year, with the most recent ones being 2021’s Surface Pro 7+ and Surface Pro 8, and 2022’s Surface Pro 9. The one that I have the most experience with is 2018’s Surface Pro 6.

Best Detachable Option
Microsoft Surface Pro 8
$727.99
  • 13” touchscreen (2880 x 1920 resolution)
  • Windows 11
  • Intel Evo platform
  • Rechargeable Surface Slim Pen 2
  • Surface Signature Keyboard
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03/01/2024 02:44 am GMT

Features

As a device that is meant to act as both a laptop and a tablet, the Surface Pro comes equipped with a lot of features to make that possible. In this section, we’re gonna touch on these different features and how well they work.

Kickstand

The first feature that I want to point out is the Surface Pro’s kickstand. 50% of the back panel of the device can be set to different angles to support the device. This kickstand can be used in both laptop and tablet mode and is great for watching videos or playing games with a controller. The kickstand supports a vast degree of angles and allows for the device to sit straight up or even be laid down in a slightly elevated position.

Surface Pro 6 Kickstand
The Surface Pro’s kickstand can accommodate many different positions, including an elevated laying down position.

Keyboard Cover

Every laptop worth its salt needs a keyboard and trackpad, otherwise, it really isn’t a laptop. Unfortunately, Surface Pro keyboards are sold separately. Despite being an additional purchase, Microsoft advertises them together and is aware of how essential it is. The keyboard alone will cost you over $100, so that is something worth keeping in mind.

In order to attach a keyboard to the Surface Pro, there are magnets built into the bottom of the device and the top of the keyboard. Connecting and disconnecting the keyboard is seamless, easy, and feels good.

In terms of laptop keyboards, the Surface Pro keyboard is one of the nicest feeling ones I have personally used. The buttons and trackpad are responsive, there is a satisfying noise, and it is plug-and-play with no setup required.

The largest downside for the keyboard cover, outside of being purchased separately, is lap usage. The keyboard is very flimsy and thin when not placed on a hard surface, making the device very difficult to use in your lap. Essentially, when using the Surface Pro as a “laptop,” you’re probably going to want to be sitting at a table.

Surface Pro 6 Keyboard
The Surface Pro keyboard cover is one of the highest-quality keyboards I have used on a laptop.

Surface Pen

Another heavily advertised but not included accessory is the Surface Pen. Much like the keyboard, the pen will cost you an extra $130 if you would like to use it. Modern Surface keyboard covers provide a nice place for the pen to sit. Older Surface Pro devices had the Surface Pen connect magnetically to the side for storage. Microsoft likely did away with this magnetic solution as it was not a particularly safe place to store the pen.

The Surface Pro pen is essentially an expensive stylus, though it is high quality and can offer decent utility. If you’re a student or an artist, getting this pen is likely a no-brainer. There are plenty of office and creative apps where the Surface Pen just feels right to have. That being said, those familiar with Samsung’s S-Pen will likely be disappointed that the Surface Pen offers significantly fewer features.

If you do not believe that you will get much utility from the Surface Pen, we recommend skipping it. Unlike the keyboard cover, the Surface Pen is far less essential to the overall experience. The keyboard cover is required to use the Surface Pro as a laptop, but the pen is not required for either mode.

Easy to Use
Surface Slim Pen Touchscreen Tablet Pen
$86.00
  • Compatible with Surface Pro 8/Surface Pro X/Surface Laptop Studio/Surface Duo 2
  • With haptic motor sensation
  • Real-time writing
  • Pinpoint accuracy
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03/01/2024 12:24 pm GMT

Apps?

When you think of a tablet, what comes to mind? For me personally, I think of the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store and the ton of apps that can be accessed that aren’t available on PC. As someone who enjoys mobile games, a lot of them (like Arknights) aren’t available on PCs.

Unfortunately, the Surface Pro tablet doesn’t have access to the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. Well, it technically has access to the Google Play Store, but specifically the PC version. The PC version of the Google Play Store suffers from a very limited selection of apps that run poorly.

The Surface Pro tablet does have access to the Microsoft Store, and while there are some apps on there, most are simply PC programs that you can download elsewhere. This is, in my opinion, one of the most restrictive parts of the Surface Pro. This is why despite having a Surface Pro, I still frequently feel the need to use my iPad or an Android tablet.

Best Windows Option
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
$377.18
  • 10th-gen Intel Core processor
  • USB-C and USB-A ports
  • Ultra-slim and light
  • up to 10.5 hours of battery life
  • 12.3-inch screen
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02/29/2024 01:02 am GMT

Windows Tablet Mode

Windows has a feature called Tablet Mode and this feature will be quite different depending on if you are running Windows 10 or Windows 11. For Surface Pro priors to the Surface Pro X, your device will come running Windows 10. The new Surface Pros come with Windows 11 already installed. For those with a Surface Pro 6 or newer, you can easily install Windows 11 through Windows update.

Let’s discuss how the two different Windows operating systems work on the Surface Pro line of devices.

Windows 10

Windows 10 received the Tablet Mode feature in 2021. This feature can be enabled via a button press, and as it sounds, it makes your experience more like a tablet. Essentially you can choose certain apps and websites to feature on tablet mode, and those can be opened in one click just like apps on any other tablet. This feature is very similar to how old Windows smartphones looked and felt to use.

a Surface Pro 6 running Windows 10 tablet mode
Windows 10 Tablet Mode makes all of your apps and saved websites into easy-to-click buttons.

Here is a list of just some of the ways Windows 10 Tablet Mode differs from operating the device as a laptop.

  • The entire screen is replaced by Windows Start to provide a tablet-like experience.
  • App titles are hidden to remove clutter.
  • Apps that are optimized for tablet mode will be based around a touchscreen, not a mouse and keyboard.
  • Users can close apps by swiping down from the top of the screen.
  • Two apps can be used simultaneously via split-screen, and the windows are resizable by the user.
  • The taskbar is changed into a bar more suitable for tablets.
  • The digital keyboard will open upon pressing a blank text field.
  • Swiping from the left will bring up the task view.
  • Swiping from the right will bring up the action center.

Due to the nature of being activated and deactivated via a button, switching back and forth between tablet mode and laptop mode is seamless. When using a Windows 10 Surface Pro, Tablet Mode has always been one of the most enjoyable parts.

Windows 11

When it comes to tablet mode in Windows 11, the changes are drastic. Firstly, there is no longer a button to manually enable and disable the mode. Windows 11 will enable Tablet Mode whenever the user detaches the keyboard from the device. So, what does Windows 11 Tablet Mode look like?

In Windows 11, Tablet Mode no longer completely overhauls the appearance or functionality of the device. There are some subtle appearance changes, such as a more condensed taskbar, but the Windows smartphone-esque app icons are gone. Using multiple apps split-screen is still an option in Windows 11, though it requires manually dragging the app titles.

Windows 11 Tablet Mode also differs from Windows 10 Table Mode in how it handles gestures. Swiping from the left will no longer open the task view, but rather will open the widgets panel. The action center is also no longer tied to swiping from the right, as that will now open the notifications panel.

In order to access task view in Windows 11, you’ll need to swipe up with four fingers or tap the icon in the taskbar. Swiping down with three fingers will minimize all apps (as opposed to just the active one) for whatever reason. Finally, swiping to the side will switch between currently open apps.

a Surface Pro 6 running Windows 11 tablet mode
Windows 11 Tablet Mode offers a vastly different experience from Windows 10, leaving the device in a much more traditional PC layout.
Best Portability
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 (2022)
$1,319.99
  • 13" 2-in-1 tablet and laptop
  • Thin and lightweight
  • Intel 12th Gen i7 fast processor for multi-tasking
  • 16gb ram
  • 256gb STORAGE
  • Windows 11
  • Platinum
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02/29/2024 06:58 pm GMT

Wrapping Up

If you’re in the market for a tablet that can be used as a laptop when you need one, the Surface Pro devices are for you. However, don’t go in expecting an expansive app store full of games like the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. This is a Windows device that is more in line with your standard laptop, despite being in tablet form.

Unfortunately, I also vastly prefer the Surface Pro devices that run on Windows 10. This is quite a limiting opinion as new Surface Pros run on Windows 11 by default, which has led to me frequently choosing to keep my un-updated Surface Pro 6. Fortunately for me, the Surface Pro 6 still runs well and does what I need from a device of this form factor.

At the end of the day, I recommend the Surface Pro to people who need a 2-in-1 device. If you need a tablet that can run websites with ease and allow you to consume media, you’ll love it. If you need that tablet to turn into a laptop for work, it can do that and do it well.

I do not recommend the device to people who want a PC gaming device. The Surface Pro is also not recommended for mobile gaming as the games aren’t available here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Surface Pro a tablet or a laptop?

The Surface Pro is a 2-in-1 tablet/laptop hybrid. Microsoft sells an external keyboard to turn the device into a laptop, and the keyboard is high quality and works well. When the keyboard is not present, the Surface Pro will act as a tablet.

Which Surface Pro devices can run Windows 11?

Starting from the Surface Pro 6, all devices have been able to be upgraded to Windows 11 or start with Windows 11 natively. Prior to the Surface Pro 6, all devices were able to run Windows 10, including the very first Surface Pro.

Is the Surface Pen included?

The Surface Pen is not included in a Surface Pro purchase. The pen is sold separately for approximately $130, but it is not necessary unless you would like the added stylus.

Is the keyboard included with the Surface Pro?

The Surface Pro does not come with an included keyboard. The keyboard will cost an extra ~$120 dollars, and it is a necessary component to use the device as a laptop. This is a particularly questionable decision as Microsoft broadly advertises the Surface Pro alongside its keyboard as one unit.

Can I download apps on the Surface Pro?

The Surface Pro can run apps from the Windows Store, as well as your standard .exe files from websites. The Surface Pro can also install a very limited selection of apps from the Amazon App Store and the Google Play Store, but these apps are not optimized for PCs and will run at varying degrees of quality.

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