The powerful new Microsoft Surface Pro: Is it worth the $900 price tag?

Critics are impressed by Microsoft's beefy new Windows 8 slab

The Surface Pro is compact, flexible, and fast, but at the sacrifice of its battery life.
(Image credit: Microsoft)

When Microsoft unveiled two Surface models last year, tech bloggers were momentarily befuddled. Was it a tablet? A laptop? Or some sort of new category altogether? Either way, when reviewers got their hands on the $500 Surface RT, which employs less-powerful ARM processors and runs a stripped down version of Windows, they were less than dazzled by its performance. It was new, yes, but buggy software and an identity crisis kept it from being everything it could be.

So now: Enter the Surface Pro, a beefy, powerful piece of hardware that runs any Windows 8 app imaginable. It goes on sale Saturday, comes with an impressive Intel Core i5 processor, can run Photoshop and iTunes, and is more akin to an ultrabook than an iPad.

"That framework helps justify the price of the Surface Pro ($899 and up), but it also accommodates this device's overall capability," says Michael Gartenberg at Computerworld.

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Where Surface Pro really shines is in its versatility. If you spring for the same Touch or Type covers that are available for the Surface RT, it comes closest to ultrabook functionality, with its additional power setting it apart from Surface RT. But it also functions as a pretty good tablet thanks to the Windows 8 user interface. I had no problems running touch-enabled apps for both work and play, and while the app selection is still somewhat limited, it is growing on a daily basis. [Computerworld]

"The Surface Pro is fast, flexible and astonishingly compact for what it does; that much is unassailable," says David Pogue at the New York Times. "But in practice, there are some disappointments and confusions."

The Surface Pro runs Windows 8, which is two operating systems in one. You get a tablet operating system, whose Home (Start) screen is filled with colorful tiles that represent apps and real-time information. (Since Microsoft refuses to give this environment a name, let’s go with TileWorld.)

TileWorld has been jarringly stapled to the regular Windows desktop underneath it. You wind up with two web browsers, two control panels, two Mail programs, two completely different looks. That weird duality makes zero sense on regular desktop computers, but it’s somewhat more reasonable on the Surface Pro. [New York Times]

The battery life is also horrible, says David Pierce at The Verge. The device only gets four to five hours of usage time versus the Surface RT's 10 hours. But while the RT was riddled with "dealbreaking performance problems," the Surface Pro, thankfully, "has none of those."

It's as fast, consistent, and capable as any ultrabook I've tested in the last several months, and from a touch and responsiveness standpoint may be the best I've used. It has no confusing app incompatibilities, no weird performance issues. Sure, it's heavier and thicker than the Surface RT and has frustratingly poor battery life, but it's worth both the tradeoff and the extra expense. If you're going to buy a Surface, buy the Surface Pro. Period. (And buy the 128GB model.) [The Verge]

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Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for Previously, he was a tech reporter at TIME. His work has also appeared in Men's Journal, Esquire, and The Atlantic, among other places. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.