Microsoft's Surface Pro Windows 8 tablet goes on sale February 9 at Microsoft retails stores, Best Buy and Staples. Best Buy told us they'll put a display model out on the 8th and will have it for sale on the 9th (only those Best Buy locations that already sell Surface RT, which is quite a few). The Pro version of Surface looks nearly identical to the RT model and that's a good thing since Surface RT is an attractive and well made device. It's heavier at 2 lbs. vs. 1.5 lbs. for the RT model, and a little bit thicker. The upside is that the Pro is full Windows 8, so you're not limited to Live Tile apps as with Surface RT. Our local MS Store had a few on display so I put it through a few tests.
Yes, it gets warm on the back. The display units were simply idling with MS Office running in the background, and the back of the unit (granted, conductive metal) was quite warm to the touch, though not burning hot. The tablet has an innovative vent grille that runs around the sides of the device and it has a fan so this isn't a silent device, though it wasn't noisy in the least. This shouldn't be a surprise since Surface Pro features the same internals as an Ultrabook s, Windows 8 convertibles and higher end Windows 8 tablets like the Acer Iconia W700 and Samsung ATIV 700T. There's a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U ULV CPU inside, 4 gigs of RAM and a 64 or 128 gig SSD.
The 10.6" display runs at 1920 x 1080 and it supports 10 points of capacitive multi-touch. More interesting to graphic artists, note takers and science types in the digital pen. There's been much confusion around the pen, which looks nearly identical to the Wacom pen included with my Samsung Series 7 Slate. I brought my Wacom pen with me to test Surface Pro and it worked just as well as Microsoft's bundled pen. This is indeed a Wacom digitizer on the Surface Pro. For those of you who are wondering, Wacom and N-Trig are the two big names in active digitizers and digital pens, with the occasional Atmel showing up on a device. The pens are specific to the digitizer brand, thus a Wacom pen only works with Wacom digitizers. The tablet supports 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and it clips on magnetically to the magnetic charging port, to make it slightly less likely that you'll misplace it. Is 10.6" big enough for note-taking with OneNote or Journal? Yes it is. But artists might find the 10.6" virtual surface a bit cramped (zoom, zoom and zoom some more!). If you're accustomed to drawing on a Wacom Bamboo tablet, the size will be just fine.
The display is very sharp and reasonably bright with wide viewing angles. I'm not convinced we need full HD in a 10.6" Windows PC, but those of you with sharp eyes who plan to read eBooks and other material for hours on end will likely appreciate it. Touch targets are small when in desktop mode (the half of Win 8 that looks like Windows 7), but the pen helps, as does setting display scaling to 125%.
Microsoft Surface Pro has dual band WiFi, Buetooth, NFC and cameras. This isn't Intel WiFi so don't expect WiDi wireless display. The tablet has just 1 USB 3.0 port and a mini DisplayPort that can drive higher than 1080p resolution monitors. MS will sell a mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, and that's a good thing because these are still hard to find. Surface Pro has the same kickstand as the Surface RT and it works with the same Touch Cover and Type Cover as the RT model. With the Pro, Microsoft won't be bundling either keyboard, so plan to spend $119 for the Touch Cover or $129 for the Type Cover (which has traditional moving mechanical keys) in addition to the $899 for the 64 gig model or $999 for the 128 gig model. Since this is a full Windows 8 64 bit PC that you can install all your Windows 7 apps on, I suggest you go with the 128 gig. Note that the recovery partition, Windows and associate apps take up around 30 gigs of space, just as with a Windows PC with recovery partition.
Battery life? The MS Store reps said they'd been seeing 4.5 to 5 hours, which is far below Surface RT and Intel Atom Windows 8 tablets, but that's the price you pay for greater computing performance. Surface Pro is fast and capable enough to be used as a main PC, while RT and Atom are better as secondy portables. The Microsoft Surface Pro 10.6" tablet goes on sale Feb. 9 and Microsoft Stores are handing out reservation cards for you eager beavers who must have one on that day.