You think tablet devices, and the first slab of high-tech hardware that comes to mind is likely Apple’s iPad. There’s a reason why that brand has become the default choice for people wanting to buy a tablet, and that’s because the technology is sleek, polished, and surprisingly robust thanks to a number of apps that natively support it.
Apple’s not the only game in town though, and Microsoft’s own range of Surface tablets have become increasingly more viable in recent years thanks to its flexible muscle power that it can flex. There’s a lot that you can do on an iPad, but there’s so much more that you can do on a Surface Pro thanks to it being a Windows device.
Not only is the Surface Pro 7 that I was sent for review a surprisingly terrific tablet, but it’s also technology that works even better as notebook if you’re prepared to shell out extra for its accessories. Being able to effortlessly switch between modes highlights the true strength of the Surface Pro 7, because while it may be exactly what you’d expect a tablet with entertainment options to be, it’s one of the best heavyweight tablets that you could ever use for work purposes.
And that has been a running theme with the last couple of weeks that I’ve spent with the Surface Pro 7, which was an invaluable option during random bouts of load shedding, coffee shop expeditions, and bedtime scribing.
On the surface (PUN FULLY INTENDED), Microsoft’s new tablet doesn’t look too dissimilar from previous devices and actually has a few antiquated aesthetics, but it’s exactly what you’d expect from a tablet. Its bezels are a tad bit thick, but you’re still using a 12.3-inch touchscreen with a 2736 x 1824 resolution.
On my model, there was internally 8GB of LPDDR4x RAM, an Intel Core i5 1.10Ghz processor, and a 256GB SSD. Depending on your budget, higher specs do exist and you can even go up to an i7-powered model with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. Crucially though, a tablet running Windows is going to have a lot of attention focused on its ports, of which the Surface Pro has a handful of.
There’s a USB-A, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a Surface Connect port, but it’s the inclusion of USB-C that most professionals will be interested in. It’s worth noting that the Surface Pro’s USB-C doesn’t use Thunderbolt 3, so you’re limited to USB 3.1 speeds for data transfer.
That leaves you just enough space to hook up a spare flash drive or other peripherals. The tablet even has a nifty kickstand built into it and solid speakers, so as an entertainment unit that can run your favourite multimedia programs it has those bases covered. It’s hard to justify dropping cash on the Surface Pro 7 without grabbing the keyboard as well, as it feels like essential part of the experience.
That’s not included for free with the package mind you, and you’re looking at an additional R2500 expense. But what a keyboard it is. Doubling as a cover, the suede finish feels divine and regularly evokes feelings of carrying around a well-worn book. As the primary way for interacting with the Surface Pro 7, it’s a rather comfy keyboard.
It’s no mechanical peripheral of course, but its keys have a lovely pop to them, the trackpad is well-sized, and the magnets used could probably stop a bus from falling over a bridge. It’s an expensive extra, but at least it feels premium. There’s an extra stylus pen that you can buy with the Surface Pro, which adds up to create an expensive package, but it does its job just as you’d expect it to, and I even managed to do some doodling on the side in photoshop. Having everything fit together into a compact package for travel, makes for a spine-friendly experience.
If the Surface Pro is a solid device on the outside with its hardware, then how does the software hold up? Like I mentioned, I’ve been using it for several weeks and in terms of hammering out words, doing some photoshop, and other boring admin work…it works. That’s basic stuff of course, and even on an i5 processor writing out some content was hardly going to tax the processor.
What I did experiment with though, was using the Surface Pro for more facets of my day-to-day work. For video production I ran Filmora Wondershare, a perfect video editing program for making consumable content quickly and easy. The Surface Pro handled 1080p video rendering easily enough for a review I slapped together on it, I could even downscale some 4K content using my apps, and it worked brilliant for voice recording. Top tip: Plug in a microphone, run Audacity, and sit inside a car. You’ve just made yourself a voice recording studio that’s perfectly isolated from outside interference.
I obviously wasn’t going to push the device with a benchmark test of Far Cry 5, but for some quick ‘n easy indie gaming on the go? I was more than happy to run a few rounds of Into the Breach, which felt fantastic with the touchscreen. Combined with some of the quirkier titles that you can grab with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, and there should be plenty of potential to unwind with the Surface Pro when you’re not busy responding to emails.
Battery life is pretty much standard with the device, averaging between five to eight hours of my working day when I used it for typing, editing, and having some music playing in the background through its punchy speakers. You’ll lose around a percentage point of power every hour for the standby and quick resume function, which is a small price to pay when you can give it a quick charge, and considering how many apps I was running, I was impressed enough with it.
For the South African market, it has been a long wait for Microsoft’s Surface Pro line to be available officially on our shores. In the past, getting your hands on one of these devices required importing it and risking having no local support, but at long last the situation has changed.
I won’t deny that there are aspects of this device that feels dated, and its more utilitarian design doesn’t have any of the wow factor that an iPad does, but it also simply works in the manner that you’d expect it to. Switch it on, activate Windows, and you’re good to go. It’s a notebook experience in a more portable form, that can easily transition into a dedicated and versatile unit if you swipe your credit card for its extra keyboard cover.
Last Updated: May 26, 2021