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Microsoft Surface Pro: Not a Tablet, Not Yet a Laptop

With Microsoft's Surface Pro going on sale this Saturday, the gadget experts have put out their lengthy takes on the bigger more expensive tablet-laptop hybrid, many of them confused about what the gadget is supposed to be.

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With Microsoft's Surface Pro going on sale this Saturday, the gadget experts have put out their lengthy takes on the bigger more expensive tablet-laptop hybrid, many of them confused about what the gadget is supposed to be. With its second piece of tablet hardware, Microsoft aimed for the perfect hybrid between the two portable devices, with all the power and operating system of a desktop, on a portable, touchable slab. The $899 device gets there in theory, but, in practice, it could use some work.

The Surface Pro has a lot of good ideas, writes Gizmodo's Kyle Wagner, but that's about it:

While the Surface Pro might not be the future, exactly as it is, it's absolutely full of ideas and functions that are just off the horizon, or just in from it. A pro-level stylus, touch-based everything, extreme portability, creative new ways to type.

As a tablet, it works okay. But as a laptop, not so much, as CNET explains:

The Surface Pro's gutsy design successfully reinvents the Windows 8 laptop by cramming an ultrabook experience into the body of a 10-inch tablet. Those wanting to go all-in on the tablet experience won't regret buying the Surface Pro, but we're holding out for a future, more polished generation of the device.

Or actually, it's not a tablet at all, notes Wired's Alexandra Chang:

But let me be clear: The Surface Pro is not a tablet. Many people have confusedly asked me if the Surface Pro is even a good tablet. The answer is a clear and resounding, “No.” It’s heavy and thick. It doesn’t invite you to curl up with it on the couch. It’s tough to read with it in bed, and it works much better propped up on a desk than it does resting on a knee or in a lap.

Actually, it's neither, adds Ars Technica's Peter Bright.

From the tablet perspective, Surface Pro is not acceptable. It gets too hot for a hand-held device, its battery life is woefully inadequate, and it's too thick and heavy to be comfortable to hand hold for long sessions...

From a laptop perspective, Surface Pro falls down too. The traditional laptop has a stiff hinge to hold the screen at an angle of your choosing. It is hard to understate the importance of this hinge. I use laptops not just because they're small and I want something that won't take lots of space in my home, but because I actually need portable computing. I go to conferences, I stay in hotels, I ride trains, and take planes. My laptop's hinge means I can comfortably use my laptop with coffee tables, dining tables, the little desks you get in hotel rooms, and wherever else I happen to be.

In other words, it's "compromised," as Engadget's Tim Stevens puts it:

We're still completely enraptured by the idea of a full-featured device that can properly straddle the disparate domains of lean-forward productivity and lean-back idleness. Sadly, we're still searching for the perfect device and OS combo that not only manages both tasks, but excels at them. The Surface Pro comes about as close as we've yet experienced, but it's still compromised at both angles of attack.

ABC News's Joanna Stern gets a little more specific in her run-down of all the trade-offs:

The Surface Pro solves a lot of the issues I had with the Surface RT, but has some new ones. It can now run a lot more programs, but the tablet is much thicker and heavier. It is now a lot faster, but it only lasts five hours on a charge. It has a beautiful, high-resolution screen, but it's now more expensive.

Or, a little harsher from AllThingsD's Walt Mossberg:

Some users may not mind the price or bulk of the Surface Pro if it frees them from carrying a tablet for some uses and a laptop for others. But like many products that try to be two things at once, the new Surface Windows 8 Pro does neither as well as those designed for one function.

Even TechCrunch's John Biggs, who liked the gadget, hints at some trade-offs:

Instead it is a hybrid device that works surprisingly well as both a laptop and a tablet. There are obviously trade-offs, but the simplicity of form, the excellent design, and the promising OS make the Surface Pro a real treat – and threat to other manufacturers.

AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi would recommend the tablet, but again, points out that using it as a  lap computer has its drawbacks:

Surface Pro is an easier recommendation simply because you don’t have to wait for the Windows ecosystem to mature, you can already run all of your existing PC apps on the platform and it’s competitive with other Ultrabooks in terms of performance. If you’re shopping for an Ultrabook today and want that tablet experience as well, Surface Pro really is the best and only choice on the market. If however you do a lot of typing in your lap and in weird positions, a conventional notebook is better suited for you. The same goes for if you’re considering a tablet for reasons like all-day battery life or having something that’s super thin and light. Surface Pro is probably the best foot forward towards converging those two usage models, but it’s not perfect for everyone yet.

The Verge's David Pierce wouldn't mind the compromises, if they weren't so expensive:

It's as fast, consistent, and capable as any ultrabook I've tested in the last several months, and from a touch and responsiveness standpoint may be the best I've used. It has no confusing app incompatibilies, no weird performance issues. Sure, it's heavier and thicker than the Surface RT and has frustratingly poor battery life, but it's worth both the tradeoff and the extra expense. If you're going to buy a Surface, buy the Surface Pro. Period. (And buy the 128GB model.) But if you're going to buy a $900 tablet, get the decked-out iPad with LTE and 128GB of storage, and if you're going to buy a Windows laptop

But despite all the issues, however, the Surface Pro is important, notes Computer World's Michael Gartenberg.

Surface Pro is important, as it serves to raise the bar high for Windows 8 devices while also delivering a traditional, legacy PC experience that will be appreciated by many users. While it might not be the device for the masses, it is the device that points the way for Microsoft's future. It demonstrates the power of integrating hardware and software tightly while declaring that there is room for multiple visions of personal computing in a world increasingly driven by applications and services.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.