Hands-on with the Microsoft Surface Pro

Here's a rundown of the key features of the Microsoft-made Ultrabook for Windows 8

Microsoft Surface Pro

Microsoft Surface Pro ($899 for 64GB storage; $999 for 128GB) – the Windows 8 Ultrabook designed and built by Microsoft -- goes on sale Feb. 9, joining its sister device Surface RT, which debuted Oct. 26. The two look similar, but they are different beasts. Surface Pro has a powerful Intel Core i5 processor vs. an ARM processor on the Surface RT, and Surface Pro can handle any app that Windows 7 supports plus any Windows 8-specific Windows Store applications. Surface RT only supports Windows Store apps. Click through for a look at Surface Pro.

Microsoft Surface Pro
The keyboards

Surface Pro supports two keyboards (sold separately) called Touch (left) and Type. Touch ($120) is a flat, slightly textured surface embossed with a keyboard, but the "keys" don’t depress; they just respond to finger taps. Type ($130) has mechanical keys that move and click when they are depressed. Touch comes in five colors (black, white, red, cyan, and magenta); Type only in black.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Magnetic attachment

Keyboards attach to the body of Surface Pro via magnetic strips that run along the edge of both. A six-point connector handles both power for the keyboard as supplied by the computer and communicating input between the keyboard and computer.

Microsoft Surface Pro
How powerful?

Those magnets hold the keyboard tightly enough that the 2-pound device can dangle from it without dropping.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Dual use

When the keyboard is folded back to lie against the backside of the tablet, it switches off so Surface can be used as a tablet without firing off random keystrokes.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Cooling groove

Running an Intel Core i5 processor generates heat, so Surface Pro has two cooling fans that are connected to the accelerometer in the device so they can alter their rotations to cool optimally based on the angle at which the Surface is being held. Microsoft claims patented technology that controls the fans. Heat is vented through the narrow groove that runs around the edge.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Memory flap

Surface Pro comes in two models: One with 64GB of memory, and one with 128GB. Although they are equipped with that much memory, a significant chunk is unavailable to users due to the size of Windows 8 and backup partitioning. This has caused quite a stir among those who think the 128GB claim verges on false advertising.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Windows button

To return the machine to the Windows 8 Start screen, press either the Windows button on the keyboard or the one on the touchscreen itself.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Passive Pen

The touchscreen can work in notebook mode with the stylus that comes with the device. It’s based on Wacom Passive Pen technology that is powered by proximity to the screen and enables note taking, right and left mouse clicking input, and erasing. When using the eraser in at least some applications, it’s not possible to erase parts of lines; lines drawn with one stroke disappear all at once.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Guard that stylus!

Here's the Surface Pro with the stylus magnetically attached to the power port on the side of the device. When the power cord is attached to the port, the stylus is on its own. It's very light and closely resembles an inexpensive pen and might be treated like one. Replacement styli: $30. The screen responds to other styli and fingers when in note mode.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Ports, ports, ports

Here's a Surface Pro with all its ports filled. On the nearside from top to bottom are a MicroSDXC slot, the power cord, and an audio/video adapter. On the far side are the audio out with earbuds plugged in and a USB stick. Also on the far side out of view is a volume toggle. The on/off button is on the top.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Wi-Fi only

The only way to network Surface Pro is via Wi-Fi. There's no Ethernet port and no cellular support.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Extra screens

Through its mini audio/video port, the device can output HD video and sound to an external screen, appropriate for corporate presentations in which the presenter can look at the Surface Pro display while the audience views a larger screen. The Surface Pro screen is 1920 x 1080 but can output to an external screen at 2560 x 1440.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Kickstand

The kickstand prop snaps out of the back of the Surface Pro to hold the device up at 22 degrees off the vertical, which Microsoft says is optimal for viewing when it is being used as a laptop.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Front-facing camera resolution

The camera at the center of the top bezel is 720p, and the angle of the screen when propped up by the kickstand is supposed to make it optimal for framing the person using the device. (The rear-facing camera on the other side is also 720p.)

Microsoft Surface Pro
Front-facing camera angle

Although the angle of the front-facing camera is supposed to frame the user, it depends on how tall the user is. Here are users 6' 2" and 5' 6".

Microsoft Surface Pro
Grabbing a screenshot

On a Windows 8 PC with a full keyboard, you press Windows+PrtScr to create a screenshot that gets automatically filed in the Pictures folder under Screenshots. On a Surface Pro, it’s a little trickier. There is no PrtScr key, so press the volume-down toggle on the left edge at the same time as the Windows key.

Microsoft Surface Pro
The battery

The battery life for Surface Pro is somewhere between 4 and 5 hours, depending on what it's doing. There is no way to take out the battery and pop in a spare for times when external power is unavailable, like on long flights.

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