Microsoft Surface Pro 6 : king of 2-in-1 detachables

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Microsoft SurfacePro 6 Review

The SurfacePro is still the king of 2-in-1 detachables, thanks to its sparkling screen and turn of pace, but it’s not as big an upgrade as it should have been.

How do you approach the sixth iteration of a hugely popular product? If anyone should know, it’s Microsoft: just look at how successfully it’s brought incremental improvements to Office.

But, if you’re expecting a Ribbon-style revolution, prepare to be disappointed. This is more Office 2003 to Office 2007, with incremental improvements the order ofthe day.

On the surface, if you’ll forgive the double meaning, the only real change is an additional colour option. Black is back, and this time it’s a stylish matte finish that will turn heads. Minor internal improvements have been made, too, including an important update to the processor family – but more on that later.

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Quad-core 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250UCPU IntelUHDGraphics620
  • 12.3in 2,736 x 1,824 display
  • 8GBRAM
  • 256GBSSD
  • 8MP/5MP rear/front camera
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB3
  • mini-Display Port
  • micro SDXC reader Surface Connect Windows 10Home 292 x 201 x8.5mm (WDH) 770g (tablet only)
  • 1yr warranty. 

Back in black

If you’re familiar with the Surface Pro in the flesh from previous designs, the Surface Pro 6 won’t deliver any surprises.

In its naked, sans keyboard form, it looks virtually identical to every other tablet in existence. The 12.3 in display is surrounded by the same chunky bezels as before, with a 5-megapixel webcam sitting top and centre.

Naturally, the screen is propped up by the fold-out kickstand on the back of the screen. It’s a real lean machine, about the same size as a copy of Mahazine. On its own, it weighs an ultralight 770g; with the Type Cover, it’s still only 1.08kg, which means it can be held easily in one hand.

Depending on how you look at it, Microsoft has taken a sensible approach to the ports or a bizarrely conservative approach.

We side with the latter view. While a USB-A 3 port is always a good inclusion, as is the 3.5 mm audio jack and the microSD slot (which is tucked away on the back, concealed beneath the fold-out stand), it’s bizarre to stick with a mini-DisplayPort when USB-C offers so much more flexibility. Especially if you use the Thunderbolt bus.

Microsoft sticks with its Surface Connect port, with the power supply’s sucker clipping on the lower right hand side via the magical power of magnets. The Surface Connect isn’t just for power, though: buy a £190 Surface Dock and you can add four USB ports, wired Ethernet and two more mini-Display Ports.

The rear of the laptop bears the Microsoft logo and the 8MP rear facing camera, with auto-focus and 1080p video-recording capabilities. Quality is fine but a long way short of flagship phones such as the Google Pixel 3 (see p70) and Huawei Mate 20 Pro (see p68), but that makes sense.

After all, who walks around with a £1,000 2-in-1 laptop to take videos or photos? Write in if you know the answer.

Microsoft SurfacePro 6 Review

Conforming to type

The bottom edge ofthe Surface Pro 6 holds a magnetic connector strip that the Surface Type Cover snaps into.

It’s an exceptionally streamlined process, and it’s equally easy to separate them. It’s the highest form of compliment that almost all detachable 2-in-1 laptops now use a similar design. Microsoft supplied the basic £125 Surface Pro Type Cover to accompany our review sample.

It’s compact but there’s a nice amount of give when you press down on keys because the cover is raised at an angle and is so lightweight. If you’re a heavy-handed typist, this takes some getting used to.

Otherwise, though, its drawback is well documented: typing with the Surface Pro 6 on your lap is possible, but not something you’ll want to do often. If you want a touch more luxury, you can pay £150 for a Signature Surface Pro Type Cover.

These allow you add a touch of personalisation thanks to a choice of colour – platinum grey, cobalt blue and burgundy – but their other benefit is the spill-proof Alcantara coating.

You should seriously consider buying a Surface Pen. This is a lovely, accurate stylus that’s handy for drawing or note taking, but it’s disappointing that it isn’t bundled in – £100 is way too steep. One nice touch, though, is the clicker at the top, to which you can assign shortcuts.

It would come in extremely handy during a slideshow presentation, for example. We could live without the Surface Pen, but the keyboard accessory is essential.

When folded up it also serves as a screen protector, so you can chuck the Surface Pro in a backpack or handbag without worrying about scratches.

Pixel power

The 12.3in, 2,736 x 1,824 display specifications remain identical to the 2017 Microsoft Surface Pro.

Performance results are still excellent, but have dropped slightly since last year. In our calibration tests the sRGB colour gamut coverage was clocked at 88.6%, whereas last year’s model had a coverage of 94.3%.

Delta E colour accuracy is also down: the previous Surface Pro had an average Delta E of1.16, while the 2018 iteration managed 1.28. That’s still an excellent score and up to professional standards, mind you, and to the naked eye there would be no difference.

The maximum brightness on the Surface Pro 6 display is an exceptional 416cd/m2 – that’s slightly lower than in 2017, but vivid enough for work in bright conditions.

The 1,308:1 contrast ratio is basically the same as last year’s. It’s still a brilliant screen, but don’t be lured into choosing the colour profile mode called Enhanced.

This gives everything a garish, oversaturated tone that’s similar to the “vibrant” modes found on many smartphones. On the Surface Pro 6, sRGB mode is the way to go.

Microsoft SurfacePro 6 Review

Speed bump

While the display quality may have suffered a small knock, performance is on the up.

  • In our media-creation benchmarks, which measure the speed of video encoding, image editing and multitasking, the quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U CPU helped the Surface Pro to a solid overall score of 69.

That’s faster than the 60 achieved by the 2017 Surface Pro, which had a dual-core Intel Core i7 processor on board, and far surpasses the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (it scored 31), which also housed an Intel Core i7.

This isn’t an irrelevant result. A score of69 indicates the Surface Pro 6 is an all-rounder, capable of being your main machine, while the XPS 13 2-in-1 feels relatively lightweight.

Fine for basic office tasks, but it will stutter under pressure. It’s a little unfair to compare the Surface Pro 6 to the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 – one weighs close to 1kg and has a 12.3in screen, the other is a 15.6in behemoth that weighs 2kg – but the Dell’s overall score of123 shows how much power is on offer from other convertible designs.

The XPS 15 2-in-1 also has the advantage of AMD-Radeon RX VegaM GL graphics, while the Surface Pro 6 must make do with Intel’s integrated UHD 620 Graphics.

These managed an average frame rate of26.9fps in the GFX-Bench Manhattan 3 test, and 35fps in the Dirt: Showdown 720p benchmark at High Detail.

It’s well suited to a spot of Minecraft or Sim City, but don’t try to play any Triple-A games. Given the impressive 11hrs 33mins of video playback battery life on the 2017 Surface Pro, we expected the Surface Pro 6 to go the same distance.

  • We’re sorry to report that it’s considerably worse, managing 8hrs 2mins of continuous video before running out of steam.

Compared to other 2-in-1 laptops, that’s still a commendable result but, due to the marathon battery life of the 2017 Surface Pro, we can’t help but be disappointed.

The right spec for you

Of course, all those results are based on the model we were sent: a Core i5-8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

That costs £1,149 inc VAT, but as you can see from the pricing table above, five options are available. Note that, at time of publication, only three of the five were available in black.

With no way to hack into the Surface Pro 6 to upgrade the memory or storage, you’re stuck with the spec you choose at the time of purchase. As is obvious from the table, there’s a big jump from the i5/8GB/256GB model to the i7/16GB/512GB option, and unless you need the extra storage on-board we’d suggest the £1,149 model offers the best value for money. 

And let’s not forget that none of those prices include a keyboard or the stylus. It’s worth remembering that Microsoft sells the Surface Book 2, where the screen detaches from the rigid base, and you can buy the 13.5in/ Core i5/8GB/256GB model for £1,299.

Business buyers should also note that all the prices in the table are for the Surface Pro 6 with Windows 10 Home.

If you want Windows 10 Pro, you’ll pay an extra £100 for the Core i5 models (which use the Core i5-8350U rather than the i5-8250U) and another £50 for the Core i7 offerings. They’re only available in grey, too.

Lift-off for the Pro6?

The other alternative is to buy the fifth-generation Surface Pro, with Microsoft offering up to a £200 discount on its existing stock.

Prices start at £599, but that’s with a genuinely slow Core m3 processor, 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM – avoid. However, given that last year’s model had superior battery life and was only a shade slower, we’re tempted by the £1,599 Core i7/16GB/512GB offering or the £999 Core i5/8GB/256GB model.

Stock levels of all the models are unpredictable, and longer term there won’t be a choice: it’s the Surface Pro 6 or nothing. And if you want a 2-in-1 laptop that’s stylish and speedy, it’s still a fine – if expensive – choice. 

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