What, When and How Much? a Sneak Peak Into Window's Surface Pro 5

Published September 24th, 2018 - 07:30 GMT
What we want to see in the Surface Pro 5. (TR)
What we want to see in the Surface Pro 5. (TR)

You might be thinking that the Windows 10-powered, 2017 Surface Pro is basically the Surface Pro 5. It came after the Surface Pro 4, right? Well, if Microsoft has anything to say about it, you’re dead wrong.

Right now, there is no such thing as the Surface Pro 5, as Microsoft Surface head Panos Panay confirmed last year. However, he did say there would be a Surface Pro 5 just as soon as more radical changes came from the talented folks at the Microsoft hardware design lab. However, we have heard plenty of rumors about a redesigned Surface Pro coming out in 2018 – we just can’t wait to see what it looks like.

And, even though the 2017 Surface Pro gave us better battery life and an improved Surface Pen, it apparently wasn’t enough to call it the Surface Pro 5, we just wonder what would be enough.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it?  The next Surface Pro tablet 
  • When is it out?  Spring 2019 at the earliest t
  • What will it cost?  Likely as much as – if not more than – the current model 

Surface Pro 5 release date

Right now, it looks like Microsoft is shifting the Surface Pro to a biennial release schedule, rather than the annual schedule it enjoyed with the first few iterations. For example, just two years ago, we were convinced we would see the Surface Pro 5 as early as last year, a prophecy that wasn’t exactly fulfilled by the time we did see another Surface Pro in May 2017. 

As much hearsay that had reached our offices at the time, you would have expected a full-fledged Surface Pro 4 sequel, but instead what we received was more of refresh.

At a Microsoft event that took place in Shanghai, China, the Surface Pro was unveiled in front of the whole world, though its improvements weren’t as revolutionary as we had anticipated before. In other words, the spec boost was nice, but not as nice as it would have been to get a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports or two for external graphics. As such, we’re convinced that the Surface Pro 5 is still on its way. 

Microsoft has teased a press event for October 2, and while our money is still on a Surface Pro 5 release in 2019, Microsoft could surprise us. Or, the Redmond behemoth could just reveal an updated Surface Pro with more powerful innards. Otherwise, we’re sticking to the rumor that the heavily redesigned Surface Pro is coming out next year. We’ll just have to wait and see what this event has in store.

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Until then, here’s a look at the history of initial Surface Pro release dates:

  • Surface Pro: February 9, 2013
  • Surface Pro 2: October 22, 2013
  • Surface Pro 3: June 20, 2014
  • Surface Pro 4: October 26, 2015
  • Surface Pro (2017): June 15, 2017

We doubt the Surface Pro 5 will look terribly different from the previous

Surface Pro 5 price

Historically, Surface pricing rarely fluctuates with each new variation. At the Shanghai event on May 23, the Surface Pro was revealed to come with a $799 price in the US or £799 in the UK (that’s around AU$1,380) for the entry-level model.

If the Surface Pro 5 is indeed the Surface Pro, then we now know for sure what the price will be. But, if the Surface Pro 5 is the would-be successor to the Surface Pro, then maybe we can expect a higher price tag. 

While it wouldn’t be ideal for Microsoft’s loyal following if the company deviated too far from the norm, ambitious upgrades may necessitate that it does. For the price of the next Surface Pro to differ from its predecessors, it would have to offer some serious advantages over its last-gen sibling – not just a run-of-the-mill spec boost.

Should the Surface Pro 5 team take any hints from the Surface Book 2, it’s possible that Microsoft’s next tablet will come in two different screen size variants, at two different starting prices. Considering Apple offers both a 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, it would make sense for the Surface Pro 5 to get with the program and introduce a smaller option as well.

Image Credit: Patently Mobile

Surface Pro 5 specs

As it stands right now, the Surface Pro has some major catching up to do when it comes to specs. Just two months after it released, Intel announced its 8th-generation Ultrabook processors, which are quad-core at the most affordable level. 

The 2017 Surface Pro, however, only has a dual-core, 7th-generation Intel processor regardless of how much cash you throw at it. So, when a Surface Pro 5 does arrive, realistically we’d like to see an Intel Core i5-8250U to start with more expensive editions allowing for an Intel Core i7-8550U. But now that Intel has announced a wide range of Coffee Lake U-series CPUs, we would much rather see the Surface Pro 5 come to the current CPU generation. 

What’s more likely though, especially if Microsoft does push the Surface Pro 5 into 2019 like the rumors are suggesting, is that it’ll use the rumored Intel Whiskey Lake processors. This would make a huge difference over the current Kaby Lake silicon found in the 2017 Surface Pro.

We might even see the death of the entry-level Core m3 Surface Pro, especially given the popularity of the recently released Surface Go, which surely will eat into the target market of the lower-end Surface Pro.

Port-wise, for the time being, the Surface Connect proprietary charger is here to stay, meaning the latest Surface Pro – and presumably the Surface Pro 5 – don’t use USB Type-C for charging or data transfers. That said, this is bound to change given that the Surface Book 2 does offer native support for USB-C.

Surface Pro 5 design

Ahead of its announcement, a leak published by VentureBeat showed off a number of press renders that claimed to be of the Surface Pro 4’s successor. As it turns out, that was only half true. These designs ended up representing the Surface Pro rather than a true Surface Pro 5.

Those who were hoping for an intense overhaul of the Surface Pro 4’s appearance had a rude awakening with the Surface Pro, but now that we’ve seen speculation that a completely redesigned Surface Pro is coming next year, there’s reason to hope again. 

Surface Pro 5 stylus and Dial

One can’t help but wonder how Microsoft will go about refreshing Surface Pen this time around. A next-generation Surface Pen is an idea we’ve contemplated for quite some time, but it wasn’t until Microsoft itself patented haptic feedback technology for the Surface Pen that we saw a clearer picture of what’s to come.

Without divulging too many drab details, the patents suggests a stylus whose tip retracts when it’s pressed against a flat surface, such as a screen per sé. From there, a coil will be compacted and subsequently vibrate from within the Pen’s chassis. It’s an idea that Apple has been toying with for years, but has yet to integrate into its existing Pencil stylus. As such, it’s now more evident than ever that Microsoft wants to beat its Cupertino rival to the punch.

Another Surface Pen patent describes a retention clip that can emulate the functions of a mouse’s scroll wheel, perhaps indicating that the Surface Pro 5 won’t need a mouse (or a trackpad) at all. This would come in handy for those users who desire the creative benefits of the Surface Pen, but would prefer not to shell out the cash for a physical keyboard.

Of course, Microsoft also has the Surface Dial in its clasp. The designer-focused, puck-like accessory was briefly mentioned in a slideshow presentation in December, with ZDNet having picked up the slides itself for use in a news story. The company claims that peripherals such as the Dial, wearables, headsets and more are factors essential to what is perceived as the ‘modern PC.’

Also mentioned was the incorporation of ‘hero features,’ such as Cortana and Windows Hello, and although a fingerprint scanner didn’t make it into the new Surface Pro itself, there is an optional Type Cover that includes this functionality. With that in mind, we can surmise that, if or when a Surface Pro 5 is announced, it will also support fingerprint recognition.

Microsoft's Panos Panay revealing the Surface Pro 3 in May 2014

What we want to see

As much as we've been impressed by the Surface Pro 4 and its follow-up – hibernation bugs aside – there will always be room for improvement. (That would be the case even if it had earned our Editor's Choice award.) From the screen size and resolution to the hardware found inside, we have a few ideas for how Microsoft could craft an even better Windows 10 tablet.

Longer battery life

This is a bit of low-hanging fruit, but countless customers have lamented the Surface Pro 4's battery life, regardless of issues with its ‘Sleep’ mode. We rated the device for five hours and 15 minutes of local video playback.

That's well below Microsoft's promise of nine hours of video playback, a benchmark that even the 2017 Surface Pro couldn’t achieve in our review (our test resulted in 6 hours and 58 minutes of video playback). Our video playback figure is in line with the average laptop, though it's a far cry from what its nemesis, the MacBook, can achieve.

Ideally, and realistically, we'd like to see at least seven hours of battery life reliably from the next Surface Pro tablet. That would put it closer in line with the MacBooks as well as competing tablets, like the iPad Pro. Surely, you’ll need as many milliampere hours in the Surface Pro 5’s lithium-ion battery as you can get.

That said, if the Surface Pro 5 could garner anywhere near the Surface Book 2 manufacturer’s suggested battery life of 17 hours, you would find no complaints from us. Come on, Microsoft, we know you’ve thought about it.

Can the screen get much sharper? Why yes, it can

An even sharper (and/or bigger) screen

With the Surface Pro 4 and the subsequent Surface Pro, Microsoft managed to outrank countless rivals in both the laptop and tablet spaces when it comes to screen resolution. With a razor-sharp 267 ppi (pixels per inch) already at 2,736 x 1,824 pixels within a 12.3-inch screen, it's not as if the Surface Pro 5 needs to be much sharper.

However, if the next Surface Pro were equipped with, say, a 4K (3,840 pixels wide at the very least) screen, that would rip its productivity and entertainment capabilities wide open. Film and photo editors could work at the native resolution that's increasingly becoming the norm, while average Joe's (teehee) could finally watch Netflix in 4K on a tablet.

That said, the realm of super sharp resolutions might be reserved for the Surface Book range at this point. So, why not up its size a bit?

The Surface Pro 4 is big enough for almost all tasks, but it's still not the established default size for most laptops: 13.3 inches. Then again, doing so may cannibalize Microsoft's market by negating the need for the Surface Book 2.

On the other hand, maybe the iPad Pro is onto something with its 12.9-inch display. After all, we’re not asking for a gargantuan, monster-sized tablet – just a slight size boost. Assuming the resolution doesn't bump up too much alongside a size increase, the extra space could allow for a battery life boost.

Now, imagine if the next Surface rocked USB-C

It might finally be time for USB-C

At this point, no Windows device is complete without implementing USB Type-C, the reversible, versatile port that can deliver power, audio and video while also transferring data at rates of up to 40Gbps. Traditional USB ports won’t cut it any longer, at least not on their own, so the Surface Pro 5 needs to get with the times. 

Now that the Surface Book 2 has been out for a while, maybe Microsoft will start to realize the potential of its USB Type-C port. The current Surface Pro requires a dongle for USB-C connections right now, a sentence that those familiar with the criticisms for the port standard will have a good laugh at.

Simultaneously, Microsoft may want to include a standard USB 3.0 port, as well, in order to natively meet the system requirements for its own Windows Mixed Reality headsets – even if those should work in USB-C compatibility, as well. If Microsoft wants to lead the pack in the business of affordable VR solutions, it’s a no-brainer to make the Surface Pro 5 compatible. 

Whether or not you believe it will be called the Surface Pro 5, the next iteration of Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet is an elusive concept. If one exists at all, we applaud Microsoft for how well it’s keeping its forthcoming hardware under wraps. Nevertheless, we’re sure to see some sort of new Surface product later this spring, whether it be at Build 2018 or otherwise. 

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