Monday, May 16, 2022

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review: Microsoft adds quad-core power to its tried-and-true tablet

Our review of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6 focuses even more than usual on the differences between this new generation and its predecessor, the Surface Pro (2017), because they seem nearly identical—at least on the, er, surface. Visually, you’d be hard-pressed to differentiate the Surface Pro 6, the Surface Pro (2017), or the Surface Pro 4, all iterations on Microsoft’s iconic 12.3-inch two-in-one PC.

This time around, the major changes are inside: A bump up in the processor to an 8th-generation Core chip, some weird adjustments in pricing, and a new color— black—separate the new from the old. There’s actually a downgrade of sorts in the GPU compared to the Surface Pro (2017), which is a bit of a disappointment. The Performance section of our review shows the clearest differences among the three generations.

We’ve given the Surface Pro 6 what some would consider an “average” score of 3.5 stars, a lower score than we’ve given some other tablet PCs we’ve reviewed recently. But we’re also giving it an Editor’s Choice, like those other products. Despite being underwhelmed by the Surface Pro 6’s failure to break new ground (or even add USB-C), we will give it this: It also has a nice, long 8.5 hours of battery life in our tests, which has been an Achilles heel with reviewed competition. It is still one of the best-designed Windows tablets you can buy, and its pricing is competitive with similarly configured products. (Editor’s note: We neglected to give the Editor’s Choice designation at the time the review posted due to author error. PCWorld regrets the oversight.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 6: Basic specs and buying advice

As you may recall from our hands-on with the Surface Pro 6 after Microsoft’s event, we discovered that Microsoft is selling both the Surface Pro 6 for Business, as well as the more generic Surface Pro 6 for consumers. The Business model begins at $999, rather than $899 for consumers. The additional $100 buys you a slightly more powerful Core i5 processor with vPro capabilities, an improved warranty with the ability to receive a new device before sending in the defective model (Advanced Exchange), and Windows 10 Pro, rather than Home. We reviewed the consumer version.

  • Display: 12.3-inch (2736×1824) PixelSense display, with 10-point touch
  • Processor: 1.6GHz Core i5 8250U (as tested) or 1.9GHz i7-8650U (consumer); 1.7GHz Core i5 8350U or 1.9GHz Core 17-8650U (business). All processors are quad-core 8th-gen “Kaby Lake-R”
  • Graphics: Intel HD 620
  • Memory: 8GB-16GB DDR3 (8GB as tested)
  • Storage: 128GB-1TB NVMe PCIe SSD (256GB as tested)
  • Security: TPM 2.0
  • Ports: USB 3.0 Type-A, Surface Connect, miniDisplayPort, microSDXC card reader, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
  • Cameras: 5MP/1080p (front) with Windows Hello; 8MP rear
  • Battery: 45Wh
  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home (as tested); Windows 10 Pro for business
  • Dimensions: 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches
  • Weight: 2.36 pounds (with Type Cover); 2.82 pounds (with power brick)
  • Colors: Platinum, black
  • Optional accessories: Surface Pen model 1776 ($99.99); Surface Pro Type Cover (black), $129.99; Surface Pro Type Cover (platinum, cobalt blue, burgundy) $159.99
  • Price: $1,199 (as tested), plus a $129.99 Type Cover

Purchasing a Surface Pro 6 can be confusing—unnecessarily so, in our view. In addition to the $100 premium for selecting the Business edition over the consumer version, configuring your purchase feels a bit like a puzzle. Here’s an example:  If you select the platinum Surface Pro 6, you can select a Core i5/8GB RAM/128GB SSD model for the minimum price of $899. But that same option is not available in black; instead you’ll be forced to upgrade slightly to a Core i5/8GB/256GB model, for $999. Would you like a Core i5 with a terabyte of storage? Sorry, you can’t right now. And so on.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Mark Hachman / IDG

In choosing between the black and the platinum colors, consider how tarnished the platinum Surface Pro (2017) has become in a year or so of use, being shuttled back and forth to work in a backpack.

You have two CPU options, period: a Core i5 and Core i7, and not the power-sipping Core m option of the Surface Pro (2017). The 7th-generation Core i7 chip powering the Surface Pro (2017) came with a powerful Iris Plus GPU attached. This time around, Microsoft’s returned to a more basic integrated graphics chip, the HD 620, on both the Core i5 and the Core i7.

Then, of course, there’s the Type Cover, a virtual requirement for any useful work. Microsoft still hasn’t bundled the Type Cover with the Surface Pro, forcing you to pay an additional $129.99 to $159.99. The difference depends on the color you choose: black, burgundy, cobalt blue, and platinum. Ironically, a black Surface Pro 6 represents a slight premium of sorts, because of the configuration. But the cheapest Type Cover is the black one, forcing true cheapskates to mix a platinum Surface Pro 6 with a black Type Cover to achieve the lowest price.

All told, the “real” minimum price of the Surface Pro 6 is $899 for a platinum SP6 plus $129.99 for the black Type Cover, or $1,028.99. The $100 Surface Pen is truly optional.


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