Microsoft announced its brand new Surface Pro laptop/tablet hybrid during a press conference in Shanghai on Tuesday.
A complete redesign, but a familiar look
The new model has no number attached to it. Although it follows the Surface Pro 4, which was released in October 2015, it's just called "Surface Pro," rather than "Surface Pro 5." This suggests Microsoft is moving into a more regular cadence with the products, updating them regularly as Apple has done with its MacBook and iPad lines for some years now. It may also be trying to avoid confusion, as it now has several different products with the "Surface" brand attached to them, including two other laptops and a desktop.
The new Surface Pro is a much more powerful machine with longer battery life -- Microsoft told me it should last up to 13.5 hours, or 50 percent more than the Surface Pro 4 -- and new features.
It's equipped with Intel's latest seventh-generation Core processors, which offer more power and better battery life. These chips are not yet in Apple's MacBook or MacBook Pro, which are expected to get refreshed next month. That's a feather in Microsoft's cap.
Unless you're buying the high-end model, you also won't find any fans, which means the machines are extremely quiet.
Plenty of new features
The kickstand, which sits flush with the device when not in use, now tilts down to a 165-degree angle, allowing the machine to be propped up on a desk for drawing with the Surface Pen. You can also use Microsoft's Surface Dial, first introduced with the Surface Studio desktop last year, which can be placed on the screen and used for anything from flipping through PowerPoint to zooming around 3D Maps and editing in Adobe Photoshop.
The $99 Surface Pen, which is still bizarrely not included with the Surface Pro, is a must-have accessory. Microsoft doubled the levels of pressure supported by the device, which means you can draw and write more accurately, with penmanship that better reflects your handwriting. Users will also find much more accurate tilting and shading, allowing the pen to function like a real pencil in some applications.
Unlike Apple, Microsoft kept a full-sized USB port on the side of the Surface Pro, which I appreciate. While I understand USB-C is the future, most people still own plenty of standard-sized USB gadgets, which means plugging in a keyboard or mouse will work without the need for an adapter.
Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 keyboard was the first in the Surface series I could type on for extended periods of time. The new keyboard builds on that one with increased key travel for a more comfortable experience, though I did notice the keypad still has a bit of flex on it when I typed with force.
The whole Surface Pro package is extremely familiar, despite these changes, which is a good strategy for Microsoft. I think people really enjoyed its previous Surface Pro 4 laptop, and believe sales slowed because consumers wanted something newer.
A whole Surface family
There's going to be some cannibalism going on within Microsoft's Surface family, however.
When the firm introduced the Surface Pro 4, it didn't offer any other "Surface-branded" products. Now it has several, including the Surface Book, a high-end hybrid that competes most directly with Apple's MacBook Pro; the Surface Laptop, a lower-end laptop whose screen cannot be removed to use like a tablet; and the Surface Studio desktop.
But I think most people should buy the Surface Pro.
The Surface Laptop is targeted at the education sector and features a hobbled version of Windows 10 that will need to be upgraded by most users.
The Surface Book is a fantastic machine and can be configured with a dedicated graphics chip for folks who need to edit videos or to play some light games. But it starts at $1499 -- almost double the price of the entry-level Surface Pro.
Overall, the Surface Pro is the most versatile of the bunch and offers the best balance between price, portability and features. It's available for pre-order today starting at $799 (though the model we recommend you buy will set you back more than $1,500), and will start shipping on June 15.