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Microsoft Surface Pro: Tablet or Laptop?

The Microsoft Surface Pro on paper is a truly great idea, the power of a laptop with the portability and entertainment value of a high spec tablet.

The reality is very different and it runs the risk of falling through the cracks of the New Zealand market.

Let’s first take a little time to appreciate the good in this piece of hardware. I was fortunate to have access to the 128GB version of the Surface Pro which meant Windows was fast and the boot up times were almost non-existent.

Both models boast a full 1920x1080 display with 10 point multi-touch making videos, games and documents crisp and smooth. The two built in 720p cameras make video calling clear and sharp.

There is a USB 3.0 port and you can add additional storage space via an external hard drive (although there is only one port), there’s Bluetooth 4.0 which means you can connect a compatible mouse and keyboard without taking up the USB port.

My test device came fully loaded with Microsoft Office, which ran perfectly. So whether typing up a document, manipulating a spread sheet or drawing graphs the performance was excellent.

Additionally there are Official accessories such as attachable keyboards in two styles ‘touch’ and ‘type’ one is like using a laptop keyboard where the other is like typing directly onto the tablet screen without taking up the extra room.

Both attach simply and securely to the bottom of the Surface Pro and can be used as covers for the device when on the move.

The feel and look of the device is premium and even goes beyond that of its main competitors. The device hides a kick stand for watching videos, playing games and working – so like I said, on paper these tick all the boxes and the Surface Pro seems like an ideal choice.

Now let’s look at the reality of the device in action.

The Surface Pro is a heavy investment. With this price point (64GB $1349, 128GB $1499) it is competing with a certain brand of fruit for entertaining and apps.

The Surface Pro wins for power, speed and additional storage options, but the Metro store is still empty by comparison. Not only is the selection of apps and games poor, the fact you have such a powerful device in your hands almost makes these types of apps and games feel cheap.

The device runs Windows 8 which is the main stumbling block of them all. Microsoft has struggled to get people to change to its new OS and this has filtered through to its mobile devices.

Consumers seem to prefer a different experience when using mobile devices and Metro has done little to appease the masses.

Windows 8.1 is due for release at some point later this year, but by then there will be a new line up of premium tablets boasting new tech all fighting over market share and it could be too late for the Surface Pro.

There is no 4G or even 3G. If you are marketing this device at business users then there should be an option to open files and read emails on the move. If a sales rep is taking the latest figures to a potential client and there is an error or an update is required. Are they going to stop at the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot or ask the client if they can connect to their Wi-Fi to download the new files?

I just feel at this price point you would expect mobile data option to be included as standard.

Is it a tablet or a laptop? This is the main problem I have been trying to solve. Its specs are too high to be an average tablet but the available apps are not strong enough to compete with other premium tablets in the same price range.

It has impressive hardware for a laptop and the 128GB SSD makes it operate at almost ultra-book level. Having said that 128GB is not a lot of storage for most laptop users, and many would argue about paying this price only to supply their own additional storage.

The geography and lifestyle of New Zealand may also play a big part in the sales figures of the Surface Pro. The only main way to commute between cities here is to drive or fly, which does not leave a lot of time for working during your commute.

In Europe for example, cities are linked via high speed rail and flight times are longer which would enable consumers to work during their commute and also enjoy the other benefits the Surface Pro has to offer when work is complete.

As I stated at the beginning the Surface Pro is a great idea on paper but the reality for consumers in New Zealand might be very different from what they had hoped.

With the release of Windows 8.1 and most likely a price reduction, we shall see if the device sinks or swims in the final quarter of 2013.