Surface Pro Breakdown: Looking at the Real Numbers

The Surface Pro has finally been priced at $899 for a 64 Gb model and $999 for a 128 Gb model, and a lot of talk, both positive and negative, has been made about the price. The problem with most of the price analyses I’ve read is that they are considering the Surface Pro to be a slate or tablet device, and that may not be appropriate for this situation. Regarding this device, Microsoft hasn’t designated the pro to be either a tablet or an ultrabook, just “Surface,” and that is the way they intend to keep it.

If you look at all of the tablets on the market, there are some very distinct features that are found on each one, with very few exceptions. One feature that is shared between both the mobile and tablet device worlds is neither runs a full feature operating system. Tablets are built for gaming, browsing, and sending an e-mail here and there, and their OS is optimized to do just that. You just can’t take your ipad to cnet.com and start downloading whatever you want; the devices just aren’t built for that type of function. Another feature that is unique among tablets, that may be changing very soon, is that they aren’t designed with keyboards in mind. There are a plethora of cases for your tablet that holds a keyboard much in the way that a surface does, but it is obvious that these devices are optimized for in hand use unlike the surface which can go either way.

With these two simple examples, I can say with some confidence that the Surface with Windows 8 Pro is closer to a laptop than it is a tablet, while its counterpart, Surface with Windows RT, is closer to a tablet than it is a laptop. More specifically, because of its shape and size, we can call it even more of an ultrabook than even a laptop. So how does the surface price compare to other ultrabooks? If we look at the other premium, first party ultrabook on the market, the Macbook Air, is priced at $999 and $1099 for 64Gb and 128Gb models respectively. Assuming that the same touch cover keyboard options will be available for the pro as they are for the RT, the prices for the surface pro and the macbook air are 100% even with each other. This means that we can compare the two devices 1 to 1, feature to feature, option to option, and punch for punch without having to compensate for price at all.

First we see the display. Surface comes in with the minute display at 10.8″ while the air hangs on with a pretty small screen itself at 11.8″. Now feel free to split hairs over 1 inch of screen size along the diagonal, but our friend Pythagoras would have us know that that is quite a bit of usable area as far as screens are concerned. However, Surface has a much better display, as the resolution is a bit better even for its size. Another reason that surface gets the check mark for the display is that when you touch the display, the device responds, whereas if you touch the screen on the macbook air, it questions your sanity, or lingering fingerprints make a good gift suggestion for those who share their macbook air with a family member. But no matter which way you look at it, Surface has to have an edge for being a touchscreen, and to even take it a step further, the pro version’s display has a built in digitizer, which allows you to use a pen with pressure sensitivity to take notes with your handwriting with unparalleled accuracy. This is a great feature that simply cannot be overlooked by college students who are looking for new ways to take notes and stay organized, or parents who’s children love to draw.

Both devices have 4 gigs of ram, which is something that is rarely brought up in tablet space. Both devices have an Intel i5 processor and intel HD 4000 graphics. The splitting point here is that the Macbook Air is clocked in at 1.7 Hz, and the Surface Pro clock speed has yet to be announced. The reason that the clock speed has not been announced is because the battery life details have yet to be announced. It seems that some more fine tuning is going on as we speak on the clock speed that optimizes both the performance and the battery life. However, speculation has that the battery life is not going to be great on the Surface, because of a tweet that stated that the battery life for the pro will likely be half of what the surface RT is. Having a life of around 4 hours, which is near the low end for the ultrabook spectrum, doesn’t help the Pro against the Air, having only 5 hours itself, which is also in the mid to low range for the ultrabook spectrum of devices. Because of all of the negative feedback toward the speculated battery life, I’d anticipate the clock rate on the processor to be less than 1.7, perhaps in the 1.5 to 1.3 Hz range. From a casual or business user’s perspective, this won’t be a big deal because of the good amount of ram and zippy solid state hard drive, not to mention the fact that it is a full blown Windows 8 machine, meaning that you can overclock it to get the performance that you really want out of it. If you are a computer programmer, by comparison, you most likely aren’t interested in either machine.

So if you are looking for a laptop upgrade and a tablet, it seems that the Surface Pro is absolutely perfect for what you would need and in a price range that we can all really feel good about. Of course, if you want a better processor and a bigger screen, there are plenty of really good tablet convertibles that are currently flying under the radar beneath the surface hype that you can also look into for not that much more coin. So if you are needing something right away for a good holiday gift, or aren’t so much concerned with the form factor surrounding pure tablet devices, it may be wise to look outside of tablet wars for a more hefty machine.

Right now, the Surface Pro seems to be preparing to fill quite a good niche market of windows users and touchscreen lovers, with some people on the outside looking in, just waiting to see what is going to happen before they decide to buy. If the surface becomes something widely desired, a touchscreen device that is an actual computer, what is Apple’s next move? Do they upgrade and further diversify the iPad, or do they reassemble the Macbook Air? Either way, the pebble that Microsoft will be throwing this January is expected to make some pretty big waves.

What do You think? Let us know with a comment below!