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Tech Review – Surface Pro

This weekend marks the second stage of Microsoft’s foray into the tablet market with the release of the Surface Pro, a big brother to the Surface tablet, which went on sale last October.

In many ways, the Surface Pro represents the inevitable merger of high-end tablets with Ultrabooks, those ultra-light notebooks foreshadowed by Apple’s MacBook Air and popularized for the PC market by Acer, Lenovo, Samsung and others. Packing a 3rd generation Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM, the Surface Pro is clearly aimed at the power-user and enterprise market and doesn’t pretend to compete with bargain basement tablets like the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7.

Unlike the Surface tablet, the Surface Pro runs a full-blown version of Windows 8, Microsoft’s new operating system, so all your favorite desktop applications are available just the way they are on your PC. And whereas Windows 8 might be a bit confusing on your desktop, here it comes into its own, with all the touch, tap and swipe features working in perfect harmony.

Despite all the additional muscle under the hood, the Surface Pro looks and feels like its less-powerful sibling. It’s still finished in the same dark titanium casing, still weighs less than 2 pounds, and still has a 10.6-inch full HD display (albeit at slightly higher resolution). The Surface Pro comes with two 720p front- and rear-facing cameras, stereo speakers, a full-sized USB port, a microSD slot for additional storage, and an HDMI port for streaming to HDTVs and other displays.

The Surface Pro also comes with a choice of two optional keyboard covers. The Touch Cover ($119.99) is a lightweight pressure-sensitive keyboard, while the Type Cover ($129.99) is more like a classic keyboard and lends itself better to the heavier workload for which the Surface Pro was designed.

But despite the impressive hardware, it’s the software that really sets the Surface Pro apart. The inclusion of a full version of Windows 8, together with built-in apps such as SkyDrive, Windows Mail and Messaging, and Xbox Music really does make it feel like you are working on a computer. And that’s before you dip into the Windows Store to sample the rapidly-growing collection of Windows 8 apps.

However, all these aspirations to be a PC come with a cost. An $899 cost to be precise. And that’s for the 64GB model, without a keyboard cover or any other accessories (although it does come with a stylus pen). And here’s the rub: packing a full version of Windows 8 into just 64GB of space leaves less than 25GB for all those storage-sapping work files, and that’s before you load up with movies, songs, photos, games and more. The 128GB model is priced at $999, but again, system files eat up as much as one-third of that space.

The other problem is battery life. The Surface Pro barely lasts 4½ hours on one charge, severely limiting its use on cross-country flights or a full day away from a power outlet.

So those are the twin problems with trying to make a tablet behave like a PC – space and battery life. The Surface Pro is a beautiful device, but if you want storage and staying power, that $1,000 can buy you a whole lot of notebook!

The Surface Pro goes on sale online and at Microsoft stores on February 9. It is not currently available for pre-order.

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