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Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: Still the best of its kind

The Surface Pro series has got its number back. Yay. No more ‘the new Microsoft Surface Pro’. So finally we can track the Pro from generation to generation as it, um, doesn’t really progress a whole lot.

In summary the Surface Pro 6 is just a more powerful version of the 2017 model (with an optional and lovely looking matte black paint job). Which, in turn, was a fanless version of the 2016 model. The chassis is basically the same, the ports remain the same as before too.

That might sound cynical, but it’s not. The Surface Pro is still the best-in-class 2-in-1 device on the market. Microsoft’s confidence with the series is clear: perhaps it doesn’t need to change a great deal to continue to be dominant?

We’ve been living with the Pro 6 to find out if it improves upon its previous guises enough, or if now’s the time to hold out for a greater step change in the future.

What’s new?

  • Optional new matte black finish
  • Latest Intel Core i processors (8th Gen)

The Surface Pro 6 is visually identical to its predecessor. It’s got the same footprint, same ports and same feature set. The only differences for the 2018 model are an optional matte black finish, the latest 8th Gen Intel Core i processors, and a slight price bump too.

Pocket-lintMicrosoft Surface Pro 6 review image 3

If you were hoping for a USB-C port or more then, well, this isn’t the year – we suspect this will come in a future guise.

Familiar design

  • 1x full-size USB 3.0, 1x Mini DisplayPort, 1x 3.5mm audio jack, 1x microSD card slot
  • Infinite hinge angles to 165-degrees for versatile positioning
  • Dimensions: 292 mm x 201 mm x 8.5mm; Weight: 770g

But just because it looks the same doesn’t mean it’s not great. The Surface Pro 6 is a good looking tablet-meets-laptop device. It’s not too big, it’s not too heavy, and with the keyboard dock attached it’s a genuinely viable laptop alternative.

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The adjustable stand to the rear is a major part of the Surface Pro’s design, which is able to adjust to near infinite positions. So whether you want it near upright or right down to near-flat 165-degrees then all it takes is a little pull or press in the right direction. It’s a sturdy design that no other maker has matched with the same deftness.

As for connectivity, the Pro 6 sticks with the full-size USB 3.0. We don’t doubt that this port should exist, but what the Pro 6 is sorely lacking is an additional USB-C port to help future-proof the design. If you’re going to be using a laptop for three or more years then you’ll want it to be ready. Rather than of USB-C there’s a mini DisplayPort, when we’d like to see all three present.

As ever, the Surface Pro takes that ‘Pro’ line seriously, deploying Windows 10 Pro, which is fitting of its market position. No Windows 10 S to be seen here, as you’ll find in the Surface Laptop proposition. That means the Pro can handle Windows executable files, not just Store apps like its Laptop cousin.

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We still think the Surface Pro looks and feels like a high-end, well-built and robust device. That solid metal body has become an almost iconic look for Microsoft’s products and in its sixth-gen form dressed in black it looks particularly delightful. But there is room for greater advancement, especially in a world of laptops that are cutting back bezel size, adding ports and greater versatility.

Display

  • 12.3-inch ‘PixelSense’ display: 2736 x 1824, 3:2 aspect
  • 10-point multi-touch operation

The Surface Pro 6 has used the same display for a number of generations now. This 12.3-inch panel is very fine indeed, with so-called PixelSense – yes, it’s just a marketing term – meaning there are heaps of pixels at play. Almost five million of them, in fact, which ensures that content looks ultra crisp.

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But for a 2018 release we think it could be smaller. The screen bezel is the same size as the past two generations, so while the overall footprint is small, given its 12.3-inch scale, there are brands like Dell, Huawei and HP with a far greater screen-to-body ratio. In Surface’s defence, the tablet format means you’ll want to grab the device from its edges without smearing fingerprints over the screen, so there has to be a happy balance of proportion here.

Our only real complaint is the screen’s glossy surface. Just as we said of the Pro 5, the 6’s coating is just as reflective. It’s not mirror-like exactly, but if you allow your eyes to drift then you might catch your own reflection and find it rather distracting. Especially in sunlight should you be working on the move.

Optional accessories: Keyboard and stylus

  • Optional: Surface Pen (£100), Surface Keyboard (£125)
  • Older Surface Pro keyboards will also fit

Out of the box the Surface Pro 6 is effectively a tablet. A chunky and powerful one, but no more than a slate as there’s no keyboard or stylus in the box.

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Now, considering the £879 starting price we feel the keyboard should be included, as we’ve said since the Surface line began. Yes, older Type Cover keyboards will fit the Pro 6 no problems, but if you’re getting a new laptop then having everything shiny, clean and new is the ultimate goal.

In 2018 the Type Covers’ price-points have settled to around £125 (down from the £150 of 2017). But add that to the base model and it pushes a few quid over the critical £1,000 mark.

As clip-on keyboard go, however, the Surface has got it very right. Not only do the Type Covers look great, with soft finishes proving supremely comfortable to use, but the key travel feels spot on for a truly laptop-like typing experience. There’s no bend and flex like you’ll find with some cheaper competitor products too.

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On the stylus front, the Surface Pen also works with the Pro 6, but you’ll have to fork out £100 for one if this way of working is up your street. With pressure sensitivity up from 1,024 levels to an impressive 4,094 levels it’s a great input device for drawing, annotating, design application work and more. It won’t be for everyone, but we know plenty who swear by the Pen. Its built-in battery lasts for months at a time, too, if not a whole year.

Performance and battery life

  • Intel Core 8th Gen i5 or i7 options, to 16GB RAM
  • Full Windows 10 Pro included (not Windows 10 S)
  • Windows Hello face authentication camera
  • Base model: £879 (Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
  • Top-spec model: £2,149 (Core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD)

The biggest change in the Surface Pro 6 is what you can’t see. The Intel Core M offering from the 2017 models has been dropped in favour of Intel Core i5/i7, which are not only more powerful, but also fanless.

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We’ve been using the Surface as a day-to-day machine, for emails, word processing and Photoshop, where it’s been able to crunch through images quicker than our MacBook Air. No surprise given the greater power available, but it’s things like this that tempt us to pack in the Mac and covert to Microsoft’s offering.

The great thing about 8th Gen Intel Core i processors is that they’re fanless and don’t require noisy cooling. As a result the Surface Pro 6 is wonderfully quiet. Which might sound like a small thing, but the number of whistly, whiney laptops that we’ve seen over the years makes this experience simply more tranquil.

When we reviewed the Surface Pro 5, Microsoft sent us the most powerful version, which resulted in so-so battery life. For the Surface Pro 6, however, Microsoft has sent us the entry-level Intel Core i5 model with 8GB RAM. As a result the battery life is a lot, lot better.

With the screen brightness set to maximum we’ve been able to watch YouTube videos for seven hours. With the 2017 model (with Core i7 caveat noted) that was just four hours. This is thanks to better power consumption from the 8th Gen chipset, plus a better balance in setup: the Core i5 option, for us, is the best match in this form factor, when you’ll want to be working out and about.

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In normal use we’ve found the seven hour use case scenario ring true. More can be eked out of the battery if dropping the brightness and throttling Windows performance, should it be needed. Conversely, set everything to maximum and you’ll quickly cut the use time in half – but at least that degree of power is available when specific tasks require. 

Verdict

Although the Surface Pro 6 is essentially a soft update of the Surface Pro 5 – with better chipset options and therefore battery life – it’s still the best-in-class laptop replacement on the market. And it looks particularly fetching in matte black. 

No, there’s no USB-C. Yes, the screen bezels are still quite large compared to the current competition. It’s not getting any cheaper either, with the ‘entry’ combination of Pro 6 and a keyboard accessory costing over a grand.

But it doesn’t matter: the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is a really well made and great performing Windows device that looks and performs better than many of its rivals.

Also consider

Pocket-lintLenovo Yoga C930 review image 1

Lenovo Yoga C930

That bezel thing we were talking about? No issue for this Lenovo, which has three of its four edges with almost none of the back stuff. Add a Dolby ‘soundbar’ hinge and 360-degree rotational flexibility and this powerful laptop becomes a versatile competitor.

Pocket-lintmicrosoft surface laptop review image 1

Surface Laptop

Keeping inside Microsoft’s stable here, the Surface Laptop would be our preferable choice. No, it’s not got the 2-in-1 flexibility, but its lovely design and better price point (pound for pound anyway) make it among the best laptops you could buy.







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