Microsoft’s Surface Pro has been our favorite 2-in-1 for a few years, so when a new version arrives on our digital doorstep it’s an exciting time for us here at Digital Trends. The question remains though, how much better — if at all — is the next-generation hardware? To find out, we pitted the Surface Pro 6 vs. Surface Pro 5, comparing them on all of the most important factors of a modern convertible laptop.
Sidenote: Yes, the Pro 5 was technically just called the rebranded “Surface Pro” when released in 2017. That was confusing, and Microsoft now calls it the “Surface Pro (5th Gen).” We’re just calling it the Surface Pro 5 to make things easier.
The Surface Pro 5 only saw minor physical alterations over its predecessor, and the Surface Pro 6 is much the same. It sports a matte black material coating that arguably gives it a more professional look, and it feels comfortable on wrists and fingers alike. The finish itself is said to be a little thicker than previous ones, leading to some weight and size shaving on the internal frame to maintain the exact same dimensions of its predecessor. Its overall weight is a few grams lighter, though it’s not noticeably so.
The layout of the two devices is much the same, with bezels that are on the thicker side — a hallmark of devices earmarked for regular tablet use — though they are a little more rounded at the corners than the 2017 Surface Pro.
Even port selection — one of the weak points of the Surface Pro 5 — hasn’t changed. Both 2-in-1s come with a single USB-A 3.0 port, a microSDXC card reader, a mini-DisplayPort, a headphone jack, and a Surface Connect port. Neither device sports a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connector. While that wasn’t so much of a problem with last year’s Surface Pro, the lack of it on the Surface Pro 6 is of greater concern as few modern 2-in-1s or laptops come without one.
The most important upgrade of the generational refresh of the Surface Pro is the internal hardware. The Surface Pro 5 offers a base model with a seventh-generation Intel Core m3 CPU with Intel HD 615 graphics, paired with 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. There are a variety of configuration options offering more powerful Core i5 and i7 CPUs, as well as up to 16GB of memory, better onboard graphics, and lots of extra storage space. The top configuration would set you back $2,700.
Even the top offering of a Core i7-7660U CPU, however, is dual core (with four threads thanks to hyperthreading). That all changed with the Surface Pro 6, which not only has far more powerful hardware on offer, but at a far more competitive price too. Its $900 base model comes with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and an eighth-generation, quad-core Core i5-8250U CPU. That’s not only much more powerful than the Core i5 models that Surface Pro 5 offered, but far, far more capable than the Core m3 CPU that the $900 Surface Pro offered.
But that’s just the start of it. There are upgrade options for an i5-8350U, or for $1,500 you can get a Core i7-8650U CPU with 256GB of storage. The top configuration comes with 16GB of RAM and a terabyte of SSD storage for $2,300.
While the new model is faster in most respects, it is slower in one area. Top-tier configurations of the Surface Pro 5 can be purchased with processors that have Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics. That’s a much more powerful graphics core than the UHD 620 found in the Core i7-8650U used in the Surface Pro 6. While the newer 2-in-1 will be a much more powerful machine when it comes to general computing, gaming and 3D rendering may be slightly better on the last-generation hardware.
There was no change in display technology between generations. Both the Surface Pro 5 and 6 sport the same 2,736 x 1,824 resolution PixelSense display.
Physical changes to the Surface Pro 6 were minimal with the new-generation hardware, so there isn’t much difference in the physical portability of the two devices. The Surface Pro 5 and 6 both measure 11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33-inches, so the new version is no more compact and should fit in all the same carry cases and sleeves. Weight is also close to identical. The Surface Pro 6 weighs 1.71 pounds with the Core i5 CPU, and 1.75 pounds with the Core i7, while the Surface Pro 5 weighs 1.73 pounds with the Core i7 and 1.7 pounds with the Core i5.
Battery life, however, has seen much improvement between generations. In our original testing, the Surface Pro 5 came in with five and a half hours of battery life when web browsing, and 10 hours when in a video playback loop. With our most recent review of the Surface Pro 6, we got to 9.5 hours when browsing the web and more than 14 hours in video playback. That is a big jump in battery life, and something that is definitely a highlight of the Surface Pro 6. However, we should note that both models have experienced battery problems in the past due to firmware updates, so battery life for both hybrids can vary.
Neither device even approaches the battery life of the market-leading Surface Book 2, however.
The Surface Pro 6’s small tweaks are worth the upgrade
The Surface Pro 6 is better the Surface Pro 5 but retains some of the same old problems. It has a new, optional black finish which we adore, and the biggest upgrades are the new quad-core processor and improved battery life. The bezels are still big, the screen resolution is unchanged, and there’s no USB-C or any modern ports on board the device — not to mention Microsoft is not using Intel’s Whisky-Lake processors.
Still, considering the $900 starting price, the Surface Pro 6 is a nice upgrade that might last you longer than a previous generation Surface Pro 5. It’s faster, has improved multi-tasking performance, holds a longer battery charge, and offers more hardware for your money.
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