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Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Review – The best 2-in-1 you can buy

Outstanding workmanship and hardware as powerful as a real laptop - for most people, this looks like the perfect productivity device.

by Markus Sekulla on January 14, 2019
Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Positives
  • Bright, beautiful, 3:2 display
  • Black color looks and feels great
  • Best in Class build quality
  • Improved multitasking performance
  • Excellent battery life
Negatives
  • There’s no USB-C here, and no ThunderBolt 3 support. That means you can’t charge your phone with the same charger as the Surface Pro 6, and you can’t connect an external GPU to transform it into a gaming rig. Other PC makers have embraced ThunderBolt 3 even across Surface competitors, and Microsoft’s disappointing port selection is now in desperate need of an overhaul.
  • Didn’t update to Whiskey Lake processor
  • Outdated ports
  • Windows 10 tablet mode still needs work

If you are looking to pick up a Surface Pro and are debating going for last years to save some money, don’t. Microsoft has upped the battery life making the Pro 6 the 2 in 1 to get. It’s still not the perfect device and the competition is innovating quite aggressively this year but it’s still the device to beat.

Design & Hardware

Pro

  • Solid & Durable

Con

  • Makes no sense the keyboard isn’t included. You have to buy the keyboard for the device to make sense.
  • By the 6th generation it should have a bigger design refresh
  • No USB Type C
  • USB is 3.0 not 3.1 which is twice as fast at transferring data

Save for the gorgeous-looking, lovely-feeling, new black color scheme, just about nothing has changed about the Surface Pro design from the 2017 model to today’s Pro 6. The tablet measures just 0.33 inches thin and weighs a mere 1.7 pounds – again, the same as last year’s model.

The tablet has all of the same ports and wireless connectivity options as before, not to mention the exact same Type Cover. The latter is a good thing, as there is very little – if anything – that needs fixing there.

However, we have to admit that we’re seriously let down by the absence of USB-C this time around, and it’s not even about any perceived benefits of the platform. Microsoft has been gating faster data transfers and wider docking capabilities behind its Surface Connect port for years, forcing folks who want that speed and expansion to pick up one of its $199 (about £150, AU$280) Surface Dock accessories.

Not even the included USB 3.0 is up to the latest standard, USB 3.1, which is twice as fast at transferring data than the former. This is no longer acceptable, if this is meant to be your one and only computer that has the build quality to last a few years, it should at least come with the latest speed related connectivity.

Hardware of the Surface Pro 6 we reviewed

CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8250U (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.4GHz boost)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 8GB DDR3
Screen: 12.3-inch, 2,736 x 1,824 PixelSense display (Contrast ratio: 1,500:1, 100% sRGB color, 10-point multi-touch, 3:2 aspect ratio)
Storage: 256GB SSD
Ports: 1 x USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, microSDXC card reader (UHS-I), headphone/mic jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2 x 2 MIMO), Bluetooth 4.1 (Low Energy)
Cameras: 8MP rear-facing, auto-focus camera (1080p HD); 5MP front-facing, 1080p HD camera
Weight: 1.7 pounds (771g)
Size: 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches (292 x 201 x 8.5mm; W x D x H)

Display

Surface products have historically fantastic screens, and that hasn’t changed on the Surface Pro 6. Microsoft goes above and beyond to find the best panels for its devices, and we really like the one included here. The 12.3-inch (2,736 x 1,824 pixels) screen is bright, colorful, and vivid — and still one of the best screens you can find in this product category.

The display can be cranked up to a blinding 410 nits, which is in the range usually reserved for premium brands like ThinkPad, MacBook, and XPS. Add Surface to that list. The 3:2 aspect ratio is another favorite feature of ours, leaving plenty of screen real estate for getting work done. Contrast is through the roof at 1,290:1, making darks and lights really shine in games or movies. It still doesn’t have the wide color gamut of the MacBook or some of the 4K displays out there, but 70 percent of AdobeRGB matches competition in this range.

Slimmer bezels could have really modernized the appearance of the Surface Pro 6.

Microsoft has again shipped the Surface Pro 6 with two color profiles: The defaulted Enhanced mode and the more standard sRGB mode. In general, we preferred the accuracy of sRGB mode to the artificial pop of Enhanced mode. The colors look great to the naked eye, but if you’re a photographer, we suggest calibrating the display before use.

But again, none of that is anything new. This is the exact same panel that appeared last year. We would have loved to see a bump up to the 3,000 x 2,000 resolution seen in the Surface Book 2 or Google Pixel Slate, but we’re guessing we’ll have to wait until next year to see that.

Type Cover

It is weird that the Surface Pro 6 doesn’t come with a keyboard. These covers, available in a few different materials and styles, range from $130 to $150. Despite some cut-off keys, the layout never feels cramped, every key feels snappy, and the touchpad remains one of the best tracking surfaces for a Windows 10 laptop available.

Another peripheral not included here is the Surface Pen. This is a best-in-class stylus with 4,096 levels of sensitivity — and even a built-in eraser. The $100 accessory comes in many different colors, but Microsoft hasn’t developed a new version for the release of the Surface Pro 6.

Both add-ons are fantastic, though we really wish Microsoft included these with the device. Without them, you’re stuck using Microsoft’s half-hearted tablet mode which is a disappointment when you put it up against what Apple or Google is doing with their devices.

You can, of course, hook up your own keyboard or mouse to the device, whether through Bluetooth or the USB port.

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Software

Pro
We love the Windows Ecosystem

Con
Windows 10 tablet mode still needs work

One particular change Microsoft has also made to Windows 10 with the Surface Pro 6 is that it’s now the Home edition of the operating system, rather than the Pro version. If you need the features in the Pro version, like BitLocker encryption and Remote Desktop, then you’ll need to pay to upgrade to it.

The Surface Pro 6 is great at replacing your crusty old laptop. It runs a full version of Windows 10 Home, meaning any type of specialized software you might need is at your disposal. Less can be said about the operating system’s tablet mode, which still feels under-cooked.

App selection in the Microsoft Store is painfully limited, and even navigating around the settings or app launcher doesn’t feel optimized for touch. Because of its size and performance capabilities, this isn’t as big an issue for the Surface Pro as it is for the Surface Go, which relies much more on the success of its tablet mode. We’d still like to see Microsoft make a serious attempt at revamping tablet mode a bit, especially if it expects people to buy into its vision of a true 2-in-1.

Battery Life

Battery life has also been solid. I’ve averaged around eight hours of battery life for my daily workload of browsing on Chrome with around 10 desktop apps also running. That’s not the 13.5 hours of battery life that Microsoft claims, but that’s based on local video playback and it’s not how most people will use this device. The battery life will be enough for a day of work, or to play Netflix videos and some games. Like most Surface Pro devices, you won’t be playing high-end games on this due to the built-in Intel graphics, but casual games from the Microsoft Store will run just fine.

Price

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The new Surface Pro 6 starts at $899 with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. That’s a $100 price increase from the base model of last year’s Surface Pro, but you’re getting a better processor and more RAM for that extra cash. For most people, the base model should be enough thanks to the RAM improvement and cloud storage, but if you want the new matte black option then it’s only available on the $1,199 model with 256GB of storage.

Performance

The entry-level version that we reviewed comes with an Intel 8th-gen quad-core processor that is a meaningful upgrade over the 2017 Surface Pro, especially in the realm of multitasking. You’ve also got the option for either 8GB or 16GB of RAM.

As good a performer as the Core i5-8250U processor is, we were a bit disappointed to see Microsoft not opt for a newer Intel chip, like the latest Whiskey Lake U-series processors from Intel. The Kaby Lake-R CPU featured here is nearly a year old — and while it’s still capable — it lacks some of the new features found in Intel’s latest and greatest. Most notably, you’re not getting features like higher base clock speeds and Gigabit Wi-Fi.

The Surface Pro 6 can handle a full day of work at the office, as well as the tablet usage on the bus ride home.

Not a gaming laptop — or an iPad

The Surface Pro 6 is not a gaming machine, and it never claims to be.

As it turns out, the move to Intel’s integrated UHD 620 graphics provides a bit of a boost over 7th-gen HD 620 graphics in synthetic benchmarks, but nothing noticeable in actual gameplay.

As a tablet, it has a lot less gaming prowess than even the iPad Pro. The iPad has a huge wealth of games at its disposal, as well as some powerful graphics capabilities. The biggest letdown was in Fortnite. It’s a game you can play on your phone — and beautifully on an iPad — but not on the Surface Pro 6. It was playable at around 30 frames per second, but we had to turn down settings quite a bit.

Sound

The dual, front-facing speakers on the Surface Pro 6 are still great for a laptop. They can easily fill a room with music or provide adequate audio for watching movies.

Rating
Design / 7
Camera / 8.5
Sound / 8.5
Performance / 8
Battery Life / 8.5
Software / 8
Price / 8
Editor's Choice / 9
Hardware / 8.5
Display / 8.5
Microsoft Surface Pro 6

I love the versatility and weight of the Surface Pro, but the lapability is still an issue, especially for long periods where the kickstand can dig into your legs. I’d also like to see Microsoft optimize the screen bezels on the Surface Pro. While they’re not as big and noticeable as the Surface Go, there are plenty of laptops and tablets that have shrunk them down in size recently.

If you’re still holding on to a Surface Pro 3 and thinking of upgrading, then the Surface Pro 6 will be a noticeable change. It’s lightweight, portable, and has the full power of Windows 10 and desktop apps. There’s still nothing quite like it in the Windows world, despite some similar offerings from PC makers.

Microsoft has led the way in this laptop and tablet hybrid design, but it now risks competitors catching up. Apple is still selling the same MacBook Air design, years after most PC makers have caught up and surpassed a laptop design that changed the industry 10 years ago. The Surface Pro 6 might look a little familiar and lack modern ports, but it’s still the portable laptop and tablet hybrid to beat. For now.

8.3
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